Another year, another Call of Duty. The always-successful series appears in three subsets in 2013; Modern Warfare, Black Ops, and most recently Ghosts, each one alternately released every year with minor tweaks to a now-legendary winning formula. By now, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting, which will be enough for some to have already decided whether or not to invest. However, for any looking to indulge for the first time, there’s little to recommend in this installment over older editions with more solid single-player offerings to balance the crazily intense online multiplayer.
Large set-piece battles, that are one-step away from being totally on-rails, guide you through a shooting gallery of opponents with constant explosions and collapsing scenery dulling your mind enough to enjoy the ride. Although the game injects your mute protagonist into situations that exist solely to force emotional beats more fleeting than a reality TV romance, it is a constant reminder that single player is not the focus of this game. In the first 10 minutes, you’ve gone from a campfire-light family conversation, to an erupting volcano, all the way up to an orbiting space station, and back to a more familiar-looking dusty war zone. Make no mistake, Ghosts’ campaign is extremely short, and with the bangs existing in abundance throughout this short period, you’ll have to decide whether or not that is worth your buck.
Where it falls down is in the attempted execution of a family-focused narrative, delivered with minimum dialogue as the world literally crumbles around you. There really is no drive or motivation to anything that happens around you or the characters, outside of the game assuming that if they mention a plot-point or family tie, by virtue you’ll put your all into the following mission regardless of establishing context. You’re literally thrust from one set-piece to the next, with all and sundry being demolished around you, trying frantically to justify who you’re firing at and why. Occasionally, you will have the “Wow, that was bad-ass!” reaction, as with the likes of roller coaster-style ‘strap-yourself-in-for-the-ride’ thrills, Call of Duty does succeed on an immediately visceral level, providing that is all your after.
What is a slightly new take on an old formula are the sections where you control your dog, Riley. You have full control over him to run up to platoons of soldiers and take them out, throat-rip style. By implementing the new system with Riley, standard slow-motion door-breaching, and occasional vehicular combat, Call of Duty could create a pretty varied gameplay structure that would place the element of choice in the hands of the player. You could argue that is where the appeal of oppositional series Battlefield lies, yet for all the trading of mechanics between the two franchises, any semblance of non-linearity would go a long way in future Call of Duty games.
Over to the multiplayer side of things and it’s still the same experience you’ve grown to love (or struggle with) every year. Coming at COD’s online mode and expecting anything less than being seared to ribbons within seconds is still par for the course, although the new Squads mode does present an A.I-powered alternative to let you practice somewhat before diving in. There are a variety of sub-modes on offer that allow you to slowly build up your reaction-times and load-outs with friends or random online buddies, before taking on the big leagues. The essence of successful, regular Call of Duty playing is born out of creating a bond with your teammates, and newcomers can find solace in the fact that such a mode exists to foster those relationships in a slightly more relaxed setting.
The main draws are classics like Team Deathmatch or Capture-the-Flag, with standout addition Blitz offering up a mode that takes the idea of running for a touchdown to new levels. Each base has a zone they must protect, alongside heading out to touch the opposing sides for points. However, as soon as you enter the enemy base you’re teleported back to your own, offering up the perfect mix of risk/reward gameplay, balancing the instant-death nature of your average match with the new incentive to leave the comfort of cover. This is in addition to Cranked, a mode where buffs and perks are liberally thrown out based on how many kills you can rack up, speeding the games up even more if you’re a regular annual player. That’s all alongside grounding the usually overhead UAVs so they can be taken out easier, alongside the inclusion of a canine companion in the form of a one-hit-kill buff you’ll obtain after five successful kills, ensuring all the motion-capture work the team did carries into matchmaking.
Another new mode is Extinction, Ghosts’ answer to the regular-featured zombie-survival mini-game. What’s required of you is to lug around a large drill to various alien spawn-points, set it up, and then defend from the hordes until it’s done. It does provide some variety at least aesthetically to the standard zombie-horde, yet mechanically aside from designating one person to be the carrier of the drill from one point to the next, there are not any fantastical alien weapons to get your hands on, although the visual thrill of things like exploding bullets and contextual actions like road-wide towers of flame to keep the hordes back are a fun inclusion.
In the end, Ghosts is more of the same, the entire spectacle looking as exhilarating and engaging as always, yet a lack of single-player substance this time round makes the campaign feel completely forced. It serves its purpose well for those expecting nothing else, and will be subsequently nourishing fodder for the online die-hards, finishing up another solid entry to the series.
This review was based on a review copy of the Xbox 360 version of Call of Duty: Ghosts provided by Infinity Ward, distributed by Activision.
- Solid Shooting
- Robust Multiplayer
- Clichéd, Rushed Story