With the "It's Call of Duty time" tagline that's plastered across advertisements far and wide, comes expectations; the expectation that we know what to expect. If you’re one of the people who think they know what kind of experience is to be found in Infinity Ward’s latest military shooter, chances are you’re probably spot-on. Call of Duty: Ghosts follows the same recipe that the series is famous for, while adding new modes and keeping changes minor. But does that make it any less fun to play? Ready those reading glasses, Soldier, it’s time to find out.
Call of Duty campaigns are about putting the player up against immeasurable odds time-after-time, and somehow, always walking out alive. Basically, the core plot exists to blow things up in the most bombastic manner. It’s the video game equivalent of a Michael Bay film, and it succeeds at what it aims to do – drop jaws. The story is slightly more intimate this time around, focusing on the relationship between two brothers and their father, all enlisted in the military. As an opposing force, called the Federation, masses in South America, they launch an attack on the United States which turns the place into a warzone. Of course that war reaches out to the depths of the ocean, the tallest skyscrapers, and outer space – yeah, outer-freakin-space!
Majority of the missions consist of pushing through linear environments and gunning down a seemingly never-ending supply of enemies. But there are quieter moments, too, that require stealth and strategy. It’s nothing particularly deep – crouch through tall grass or under water, sneak up to enemy – but it does add a nice sense of variety to the pacing. Missions that involve commanding vehicles have also been incorporated at regular intervals to break everything up. Then there’s Riley, your uber-obedient, throat-ripping German Sheppard. When he’s along for the ride, you’ll either take full control to silently slaughter enemies, or use LB to send him after a specific target during standard play - then Riley will swallow their larynx on his own. It’s a small part of the action, and adds virtually nothing, though there’s little to whimper about.
Mechanics are identical to previous entries in the series, and still perform rock-solid. Aiming feels smooth and precise, weapons are varied, and movements are fluid. What did happen to be a regular controller-squeezer, though, was navigating tight corridors with multiple friendly AI crowded around. Sometimes they'll accidentally block your path, and sometimes you’ll block theirs; creating a small pileup of sorts, occasionally lending to your body absorbing an undeserved torrent of bullets.
The flashy in-game cinematics and set-pieces come in at a smooth-as-butter frame rate, and believe it or not, for a console at the end of its life cycle, the Xbox 360 can still produce some awe-worthy graphics. We encountered very few rough edges, ensuring that we stayed engaged in the experience around every turn. And even if the five-hour campaign did often feel rehashed, we’d be lying if we didn’t admit that it succeeded as mindless escapism. Outside of a couple missions just not being any fun to play, we were thoroughly entertained; even if the story did wrap up in flatter fashion that usual.
But who cares about the story besides us and a small number of fans out there? Achievement tracking suggests that very, very few players even touch the single-player campaign. For those people, it’s all about the robust online multiplayer offering, which in this installment keeps the changes minor, but brings the thrills, regardless.
The new maps don’t do much to wow, but appear designed to keep players moving around a lot in close-quarter combat, instead of camping. This can be a good and bad thing. Unsure whether it’s due to poor respawn locations or the tight map layout, we’ve never been shot down from behind in any game as much as we have in Call of Duty: Ghosts. With almost every room having numerous points of entry, lots of deaths seem to come without the opportunity to defend yourself. It’s absolutely infuriating when you die three consecutive times from out of sight, not a few seconds after spawning. Certain maps condone this more than others, but it always seems to happen at some point. We’re hoping this can simply be tweaked in a future update.
Outside of that, everything seems to be in top shape with plenty of modes to keep owners occupied for months - or at least until Titanfall lands in March. Classics like Free-for-All and Team Deathmatch are here to comfort those looking for a simple agenda. Then there are new modes like Cranked and Blitz which invite more chaos into the mix. Cranked whips things into a frenzy by forcing players to follow one kill with another in under 30 seconds, or risk exploding all over the battlefield, and Blitz is a variation of capture the flag that has teams entering each others zones, which concurrently require diligent protection, to score points. We didn't expect to be too enthralled with these modes initially, but were pleasantly surprised upon logging in a few matches.
Your accomplishments during online warfare will earn you squad points, which are used as currency to unlock weapons, attachments, perks, and killstreaks. The level of customization available is better than ever, and not only can you tailor your avatar to new degrees, but combining various perks with complimentary weapons is immensely satisfying. Whether your style of play is run-and-gun or slippery stealth, there are more than enough options to accommodate your needs. These components are beginning to introduce greater dynamics into the battlefield, ensuring no player can know exactly what to anticipate when entering a match. Utilizing multiple loadouts to make sure you’re prepared for any type of opponent actually matters if you want to become elite.
Then there are a couple notable additions to the home menu. The first is Squads. The easiest way to explain Squads is by labeling it a bot mode. Here, players can create a team of AI soldiers that can be brought into a handful of game types. Not that their behavior is perfect in any way, but you'd be surprised by just how human these bots can act at times. Camping with proximity explosives nearby to provide cover, sneaking up on your six to plant a knife in your back, and even just reacting to certain circumstances in unexpected ways, you may forget you're up against artificial intelligence. Initially, we found this mode to be an exercise in confusion, but once we were fully briefed, it became an intriguing proposition. That said, we imagine not many people will find it all that novel, especially when they could be partaking in pretty much the same events with human players online.
Replacing Zombies from past installments is Extinction, an alien-invasion mode that can be played cooperatively with up to 4-players. As you gun down waves of aliens while conserving ammo, your team will need to protect the equipment being used to exterminate the enemy hives. Scoring well by massing kills and completing challenges will earn money; which can be used to purchase guns, equipment, and even activate environmental defenses. It plays a lot like Zombies when it comes to strategy, yet there’s slightly more to manage here. The change of pace is indeed a welcome one, however, the lasting appeal of Extinction is in question, at least in our case, as we found ourselves headed back to competitive modes after a short amount of time.
For us, there’s no such thing as one more match. It always ends up being another ten. That fast-paced, pin-point shooting keeps up coming back for more, despite of any uneven edges. People like to judge the series for not changing much over the years, but there’s something to be said about the fact that every year can manage to be as addicting as the last. We won’t deny that change needs to come soon, and new ideas need to be capitalized upon as we venture into next-gen, though regardless of our desire for evolution, there’s still plenty of fun to be had here for fans of the genre.
Call of Duty is once again, Call of Duty. From that sentence alone you’re likely to know whether there’s anything here for you or not. The series has become this behemoth blockbuster that somehow has nearly as many people that despise its existence as it has die-hard fans. To some, the proposition of “on-rails” first-person shooting is too limited, but to others, it’s the perfect outlet to turn off your brain and let this rollercoaster take you for a ride. Call of Duty: Ghosts is a finely-tuned game that offers loads of quality entertainment for those interested, it just isn't reinventing the wheel.