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Last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II proved that even with an aging formula, Treyarch manages to take chances with taking the franchise into new directions. From the campaign having key story choices and multi-branching levels, the Strike Force missions, the pick 10 system in multiplayer, and an expanded zombies mode, Black Ops II was a breathe of fresh air for the series while keeping the core gameplay intact.
This year’s Call of Duty: Ghosts brings Infinity Ward back to the fold especially with the next generation of consoles around the corner. After ending the Modern Warfare trilogy, this was Infinity Ward’s chance to start over again with a new set of characters for the campaign and make some drastic changes to the multiplayer. Turns out it wasn't the case as they sticked to the Modern Warfare formula too much and the result is the most uninspiring, unambitious, and disappointing Call of Duty game in a while.
The campaign for Ghosts stars Logan Walker, a silent protagonist along with his brother Hesh figure out a new threat to the United States. The first minutes have you trying an escape a wrecked San Diego and all of a sudden you’re in space out of nowhere playing as someone else to prevent more Odin satellite attacks from happening. This new threat behind the attacks is a South American entity known as the Federation. It is to up to Logan and Hesh once they join up an elite squad known as the Ghosts to take down the Federation and its leader Rorke, a former Ghost. The storyline gets more personal when Rorke gets involved, but besides that, it is a run of the mill Call of Duty campaign that doesn’t take any chances gameplay-wise like how Black Ops IIdid.
When the campaign tries to mix things up, it is pretty much a checklist Infinity Ward marked to make sure it is a Call of Duty game. From vehicle chases, stealth sections, helicopter/turret levels, escaping some tall skyscraper at Caracas, all of these are not as fun anymore to play in the campaign as they used to in past games. The underwater and space gunfights surprised me a bit, but it is still all part of the absurdity these Call of Duty campaigns end up being. As the story was trucking along, I was just there for the ride not caring what is going on with the characters and the war between America and the Federation itself.
The only noteworthy addition during the campaign is Riley, your companion dog that can assist you in certain situations. Unfortunately, after all the hype and big focus back in the initial reveal earlier this year, Riley only shines in one early mission of the campaign and ends up underutilized for the rest of it, so this is one many reasons where Infinity Ward dropped the ball in this new Call of Duty. Ghosts' campaign ends up flat, uninspiring, and a chore to play through and if how the story played out at the end is any indication, Infinity Ward better go back to the drawing board for their next game.
Multiplayer was also Infinity Ward’s chance to change things up as some of their decisions ended up for the better while other decisions are questionable. There is finally character customization now and this is also an integral part in the Squads mode, which I’ll mention more about that a bit later. Players can customize their multiplayer characters by gender and outfit, but all of these are for cosmetic purposes than gameplay, which is fine. New modes Cranked, Blitz, Infected, Search & Rescue, and Infected are good additions, but most players are still going to stick to the traditional Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, and Domination modes. Leveling up is slower than past games, so you have to grind more to climb up the ranks to unlock new perks, attachments, and squad points to spend.
These squad points can be spent on unlock certain perks early if you don’t feel like leveling up to get them, different weapons, attachments, sights, and killstreaks from the three packages, which return from Modern Warfare 3. Assault, support, and specialist packages are back and worked the same as they did back in the last game they were in support packages having killstreaks count even with deaths and specialist packages giving you random perks. Speaking of perks, the perk system has been changed a bit along with the loadout system as a whole. At default, you only have eight points to use on perks and each of them range from one to three points. However, you can take out secondary weapons, grenades, and attachments out of your loadout to accumulate more points to use on perks if you feel like. This new system change can be a little complex for some, but you’ll eventually know what to do as you keep playing multiplayer.
While the core gameplay and shooting are intact in multiplayer for Call of Duty: Ghosts with the addition of leaning, my biggest gripe with it are the maps and a big omission that has been a staple for the series. On current gen versions (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U), there is no 9v9 Ground War playlist for big scale team deathmatches, Kill Confirmed, and Domination games. The maximum amount of players in one game is only twelve, but the next gen and PC versions will have the Ground War playlist. I don’t know why Infinity Ward decided that a big series staple is missing in the consoles where the franchise became mainstream, but is still in the next gen versions. The maps, which none of them stood out as good maps yet from my playtime so far, are big enough to fit 9v9 and even only at twelve players, some are too big for that maximum. Another big promise by the developers was that some maps can change dynamically. However, I didn't notice it that much other than Strikezone where an entire stadium can explode and turn into a completely different map, so I didn't think Infinity Ward delivered on that promise.
My other major issue with the multiplayer is how quickly you can die. Sure, perhaps Call of Duty players have been getting better over the years, but most of the time, all it takes is one or two good shots and you’re dead. It would be nice to have a little breathing room than come out of a corner and boom, you’re dead. The spawning system can also not go your way every now and then when playing matches. You would respawn and usually be at the wrong place at the wrong time against the opposition. The obvious solution would be to play better, but I’m honestly not someone that plays these games on a regular basis compared to the hardcore fans.
Squads mode is essentially Ghosts’ version of Combat Training where you can play matches against bots. You can customize your squad of bots and pit your team up against other team in the multiplayer maps. I would use this mode as a warmup to multiplayer and the game does tell you out of the gate when you first boot it up to play squads first before multiplayer. Obviously, I don’t know why Infinity Ward would have that option when multiplayer is the sole reason for the majority of players that play Call of Duty every year. Other than a wave-based survival mode called Safeguard, there’s nothing about the new Squads mode.
Then there’s Extinction mode, which you actually to unlock it by beating the campaign. Again, another questionable design decision by Infinity Ward where Zombies is unlocked from the get go on Black Ops II and Extinction is basically Infinity Ward’s take on zombies. Instead of zombies, there are aliens to shoot at and the goal is take a drill on many alien hives before planting a nuke to end the co-op mission. Along the way, you gain money by shooting down aliens to buy better weapons, turrets to defend the drill, body armor to stay alive, and more. A class system also makes Extinction interesting if you’re going in as a tank with more health or a weapons expert that deals more damage. The action gets intense and frantic fast with swarms of enemies attacking you and the rest of the team, but a good mix of teamwork, usage of traps, and money management will be key to your success to this co-op mode. Only one map is in this mode, so I could see more DLC coming for this later in the future. Extinction is arguably not as good as zombies, but it is a good enough substitute for now.
Another indication that the Call of Duty franchise is showing it’s age is with its graphics. Sure, the game still runs fine at 60 frames per second, but the environments and textures are starting to look off on current gen consoles. The character face models also don’t look as detailed either especially during the campaign, but we’ll see if the game looks a bit better on next gen consoles later this month. As far as the sound is concerned, it is okay for the most part with your typical Hollywood blockbuster-like music for the campaign, sub-par voice acting, and solid gun sounds. The multiplayer battles do get a bit chat-chatty now and some of it works for the better when they are saying they are reloading or if they see nearby enemies.
After playing hours of Call of Duty: Ghosts, it proves that even one of gaming’s biggest franchises has its transitional year and that is indeed the case. Activision has a long history of running franchises into the ground with yearly releases that don’t significantly change their core formula and Call of Duty could be next as we head to the next generation of consoles. This was Infinity Ward’s chance to start fresh with a new global conflict and characters, but the campaign ended up flat, soulless, and unambitious.
The absurdity is still there such as space gunfights, but the four to six hour single player effort is arguably the worst one I played of the series so far. The core gameplay and shooting are still fine on single player, multiplayer, and co-op modes, but this game is filled with questionable design decisions to the point even Infinity Ward doesn't know where to take the franchise they created next. Call of Duty: Ghosts is the most disappointing Call of Duty game I played, but I’m still interested to see if Treyarch can get this series back on track next year assuming they are developing the next one.