Call of Duty: Ghosts Review

By Adam Ma on November 5, 2013

We can break the Call of Duty game formula down to some pretty simple elements. First you have the blockbuster style single player with huge sets and lots of action, then you have a fast paced multiplayer element that involves rewarding players for successive kills in an arcade style fashion, and finally, a co-op portion that blends together the best of both worlds for friends to try and hold off waves of AI controlled enemies. Those elements are always there, year after year, in some very basic form. The real difference between each new game is in the fine details within each portion of the formula; how players execute a kill, where the missions go in story mode, how in-depth the co-op functions are and so on.

Ghosts is no exception to the rule, following the formula close enough that those looking to make a purchase should already have some idea of what they're getting into with an almost cursory guess. The offline story will take players into the shoes of Logan, the son of an (apparently) well known military figure and brother to the more stubborn and hot-headed character Hesh. Set a few short years after the Federation (a coalition of current day South American countries) has put a stranglehold on the USA players will travel with both Hesh and Logan as they tour the world fighting against...

Well you're never really quite sure what you're fighting against actually. The Federation is most definitely the enemy, but as to why they're so bent on conquering the United States is something of a mystery. Like the many other Call of Duty campaigns before it, the story suffers from a lack of real solid narrative, but those who are looking for a bit of summer blockbuster action shouldn't find themselves too disappointed. Gunfights aboard aircraft carriers, in underground arctic bunkers, within coral reefs and around space stations should keep players engaged enough to at least get a good laugh or two between the fairly dry narrative.

Call of Duty's real bread and butter comes in the form of multiplayer, and it's in these modes that Infinity Ward's design really shines. Multiplayer can be broken down into co-op or competitive, and each mode features a slew of options depending on what players are interested in.

For co-op enthusiasts, Squads mode pits players against AI in either an online or offline format, with some sub-modes taking advantage of various AI design. Entering Squads alone enables players to create and fight against opponents that are largely guided other players' custom load outs, supported by their own team of bots which work off load outs of your own design. Players can set up a match against a specific friend, play alone offline, or challenge a random group online in addition to editing their own custom settings and participating in Squads still nets players experience and levels to work with in multiplayer.

The AI is designed to make intelligent choices depending on what weapon they have on hand, acting and using strategies similar to what a real player would do. In most ways, it works fantastic. Sniper loadouts will take the time to protect their perch while sitting in unconventional areas in an attempt to take out players from afar. SMG and assault rifle bots may not always make the best decisions, but make up for it by actively reacting to players in surprising ways; double backing around corners for an ambush, sliding into cover or objectives after a sprint, or switching weapons to maximize damage.The one downside to this is how dependent that AI is on what weapon it seems to be holding, and frequently players will find that a bot they've exclusively designed for a single purpose may under perform depending on how many options it has. For example, bots holding sniper rifles are on a constant mission to find a good ranged position to cover and when caught in the open can be easy to dispatch (assuming they haven't switched to sidearm, which isn't often). Bots holding an array of weaponry may also find themselves thoroughly confused, as they struggle to determine which weapon is best for what situation.

Players who want to team up against the AI have even more options still, with Extinction and Safeguard offering two very different kinds of co-op play. Safeguard tosses players against waves of enemies armed with nothing more than a pistol, occasionally dropping in killstreaks and bonus guns as you progress between each round. Successive kills with a weapon will level that weapon up, adding bonus damage to reward players who dedicate themselves to one weapon. Perks also drop as added boosts, making players increasingly more effective at surviving waves as the rounds go on.
Extinction is similar to Safeguard in that players must work together to fight hordes of enemies, but differs greatly because bunkering into a corner isn't an option. Instead players must take a portable drill from one pod to another, defending it from increasingly difficult waves of marauding aliens while slowly working their way through an abandoned midwest town. Strewn about the town are weapons and traps that can be purchased with cash, which is earned by killing aliens.

Unlike Zombies from other Call of Duty titles, players should find that Extinction's variety of aliens is what draws in the real challenge early on, with each successive phase sending in more and more aliens that gradually increase in variety. Smaller scouts quickly give way to armor plated hunters and accented by aliens that fire pools of acid, explode on contact or charge with the force of a rhino. Players must work hard and work together to pass each successive round.

Additionally Extinction mode lets players customize a class and purchasable support options prior to the game, and continue to update those options as the game progresses. Armor, bonus damage ammo, mannable turrets and sentry drones are a few of the options available with more unlockable as players continues to progress in levels. Hidden weapons, items and gun attachments are left all over the level to be discovered as well, though it becomes more difficult to explore as time goes on. The four classes (assault, tank, medic, and engineer) contribute their own bonuses that can be leveled as matches progress, ranging from additional damage to bonus health.

While co-op and offline modes have seen a significant boost in features it's the increase in depth to multiplayer brings a new (much needed) level of balance to the Call of Duty scene. Single shot rifles were pulled away from the Assault category into their own class, Marksman, which creates a range of weapons that are both incredibly accurate but require a degree of skill to use successfully. Infinity Ward was also careful to balance the individual tiers, and although some guns still seem to perform remarkably well compared to others (a special shout out goes to the Honey Badger) most will find that each weapon brings something new to the table.The biggest and best change comes in the form of Killstreaks, which have been largely made more interactive and far less game changing than they were previously. No longer are players able to summon a series of harriers and air strikes to blanket the entire map in death, instead Killstreaks earned must be largely navigated by the player, and are extremely vulnerable to standard weapons fire. For example the remote controlled gryphon drone can be used to launch missiles at players, or a support chopper can be manned to provide aerial sniper fire, or call down a juggernaut suit with minigun to wade through opponents. All of which are deadly, effective, but require actual effort to use.

Non-interactive killstreaks (things you don't directly control) provide utility in a variety of ways such as Riley barking, growling and biting nearby enemies. Other examples include UAV scanners, which are now placed on the ground and work in tandem with other UAV's placed by the team for more accuracy; or the vulture drone that will constantly keep a rear guard for players, firing at anyone who comes close. Long gone are the days where a few good helicopters can shut down an entire match, and the change makes Ghosts' multiplayer far more rewarding because of it.

Weapons, Perks and Killstreaks are all guided by a purchase system where players earn points for their performance online and can use those points to unlock individual items or weapon add-ons. Perks are scaled into tiers and the better the perk the more it costs, allowing players to (within reason) customize their load out even further.

What all this boils down to is a greater balance in multiplayer. Call of Duty as a franchise has always been an arcade shooter, but with features that were often drawing from larger scale battles. Despite what massive sales may suggest there has always been an innately un-fun element to Call of Duty's multiplayer that came in the form of jets and helicopters. Fast, twitch corridor gunplay just doesn't mix well with aerial weaponry that denies you the moment to even step outside in a level; and the removal of all that coupled with the refined interaction across all weapons and killstreaks makes Ghosts feel like the franchise has finally found its niche.

From a graphical standpoint your experience with Ghosts will differ depending on the platform you buy it for. Current gen systems look great, but fail to offer the fine details in particle effects that the PS4 can do. It's to be expected, but the next gen does provide a large difference visually, although it has no bearing on the core mechanics of the game. Sound wise Ghosts wins a lot of points for its design, as everything from shot to impact is handled by a new audio engine which adds quite a bit of extra realism to the game. Those with appropriate sound systems should see a notable difference in quality from previous titles.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of options on the FPS market these days, and it's easy to get lazy when you're one of the few ahead of the pack. Ghosts is neither a game made lazily, nor a game that was designed to sit back and take advantage of its loyal fans. It's a labor of love through and through and the attention to detail is something easily noticeable with even just a cursory playthrough. For those of whom who already love Call of Duty this is wonderful news. For everyone else hesitant to give Call of Duty a try the available features, variety of modes and rebalanced multiplayer make this a fairly safe bet.

Multiplayer is far more balanced across all game modes
Extinction mode is great fun, scales nicely with more players
Riley is awesome in single and multiplayer
Story is an absolutely confusing mess
AI ranges between remarkable to idiotic with very little in-between
Not nearly enough Riley in game
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