Ask ten people what they think of Call Of Duty and you’ll get ten different opinions. For a game that rightly or wrongly has done more than any other to personify the current mainstream perception of gaming it’s an incredibly divisive franchise. Each new release is met with a seemingly equal measure of both celebration and derision.
Personally, I have little issue with the games. Yes, they may not change much between titles, but the single player campaign always offers the gaming equivalent of a big dumb summer action movie and the multiplayer aspect is almost the quintessential modern twitch shooter experience, plus since moving out of home I find the online community very useful for telling me what my mum’s been up to and how fat she’s got.
Call Of Duty Ghosts is an attempt to inject some fresh energy into the franchise by casting aside Modern Warfare and Black Ops for a tale involving a newly rich South America unifying and attacking their neighbours in the north. There will be no spoilers here, so rest assured that the campaign features the usual twists and turns as the previous iterations.
And that’s a problem.
If this is your first Call Of Duty game then maybe the plot would feel exciting, but there’s a tremendous sense of deja vu for those of us who’ve played several installments of the franchise. There’s the bit that’s set outside of the main story to add some context, there’s the emotional chapter where it all gets bumped up a notch, the bit where you’re running through a structure that’s falling down around you and you leap onto a helicopter at the last possible second and the section where you’re suddenly in control of an overhead aircraft and you decimate the enemy with large calibre weapons. Throughout my play-through of the 6 hour campaign I was constantly reminded that I’d played a very similar section or set piece in a prior installment and, more disconcertingly, it was better first time around. While previous games in the franchise have had moments of genuine emotional impact, such as the soldier slowly succumbing to a devastating nuclear blast in the first Modern Warfare title, there’s nothing here that comes close.
Much of the build of up for Ghosts paid mention to a new addition to the game, Riley the attack dog. So much press time was giving to this motion captured mutt that I find it odd how little he actually features in the game. Save for two sections where you briefly control him, Riley is sparingly used, so much so that it’s easy to forget that he’s a potentially useful tool to swing the tide of a battle.
Also new this year is the Extinction mode, which is effectively a replacement for the popular Zombies element seen in Treyarch’s Call Of Duty games. Essentially it’s pretty much the same as Zombies, merely with aliens replacing the undead enemies. It’s a fun and chaotic distraction from other modes, however a full team and communication are absolutely musts and it sadly falls apart there. In every game I’ve played people have randomly quit mid-game, leaving us outnumbered, and the remaining team-mates are more than often silent, which is odd considering how vocal Call Of Duty players often are.
Squad Mode is a further addition this year, containing three different modes. In Squad vs Squad you and an opponent fight it out with the remainder of your team made up with bots. Wargame sees you and 5 bots attacking a team of enemy bots. Safeguard harks back to the Survival mode from Modern Warfare 3 in which you and 3 other players can take on wave after wave of enemies. With the exception of Safeguard, I saw very little benefit to these new additions, unless they are supposed to be a training mode for new players.
The campaign and Extinction isn’t really why people buy Call Of Duty though, is it? The vast majority will pick up Ghosts for the multiplayer. Fans of the series will be pleased to see all the popular modes present and correct, with the usual smattering of new additions. One of these is the Cranked mode, which adds a somewhat chaotic feel to the proceedings. Earning a kill has you become ‘Cranked’, and with it a boost in speed. You then have 20 seconds to get a kill. Felling an enemy will reset your timer back to 30 seconds, however failing to do so will cause you to explode.
Whilst the multiplayer is undoubtedly the highlight of the package, it is certainly not the tour de force that it once was, and I believe this is down to the developers trying too hard to counter Battlefield 4’s strengths. While Battlefield focuses on tactically approaching large scale warfare, Call Of Duty has always been a tighter, more claustrophobic affair that relies primarily on your trigger finger. The multiplayer maps in Ghosts feel much bigger than seen on previous games, however it doesn’t have the increased player count to make the space useful, in fact on several occasions I spent time running around a map and finding absolutely no one, something unimaginable on previous Call Of Duty games.
One topic that was (tiresomely) brought up repeatedly preceding release was graphical comparison to other formats. To firstly knock the big question off the list; Does 720p negatively impact Ghosts? Quite simply; no. Ghosts is still an attractive game during single player, although by far not the most visually impressive game so far in this new generation.
There’s a noticeable downgrade during multiplayer though, even to the point of some maps looking downright ugly. Infinity Ward went with a gritty overall look with Ghosts and throughout you’ll see muted colours which seems to work well during the campaign, however the drop in quality seen during multiplayer leaves your surroundings feeling dull and severely lacking, with some seriously low res textures thrown in as well.
So, where does Activision go from here? One could argue that this is the worst possible time for them to deliver a dud, with Battlefield continuing its growth in popularity and facing competition from the much-hyped new IPs, Titanfall and Destiny. Rumours abound that the franchise is moving to a new three title cycle, but is another annual installment what it needs, or does it need a break to refocus and address issues that are repeatedly brought up in criticism, such as the creaking engine?
Call Of Duty: Ghosts is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s lacklustre when compared to the previous highlights of the franchise, providing a disappointment for fans and more ammunition for detractors. When you consider that the competition can taste blood and are circling for the kill, Activision needs to step up their game for the inevitable 2014 installment.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Format: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One Release Date: 29/11/13
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Callo f Duty: Ghosts for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on a Xbox One. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.