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December 8, 2013 / Jett

Call of Duty: Ghosts Review

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was a bit of a write-off. Sure, it sucks that we as gamers got a sub-par experience due to the turmoil between Activision and former studio heads at Infinity Ward, but there’s nothing anyone can do about that now. With Ghosts, now is an opportune time to make good on their last misstep while proving that they can continue to deliver the goods even without many of the staff that originally established the franchise. On one hand, I think they’ve done just that by providing an experience that is on par with their past efforts. However, the innovations we saw in Black Ops II are sorely absent here, while Infinity Ward’s new ideas do little to liven up a stagnant formula.

Call of Duty: Ghosts takes place in a new universe with no connection to Modern Warfare or Black Ops. America was decimated to bits after terrorists took over a powerful satellite weapon and unleashed its fury on the United States. Years after that attack, you and your family are part of a small military group that’s attempting to take them out.

From a story perspective, it helps that you almost never switch between characters. This helps keeps the story from being convoluted beyond repair, though to say that this is anything riveting. Once again, it’s plain to see that the game is stringing you along from one blockbuster setpiece to the next. On top of that, some of the major story beats are mind-numbingly stupid in their plausibility. Thankfully, the gun battles and bombastic moments are well done, though they tread heavily on familiar ground. Having Black Ops II-style branching paths would have gone a long way towards making this mode a bit more meaningful, but we’ll have to wait till next year’s version.

A lot has been said about Riley, your trusty German Shepherd sidekick. While he gets no shortage of screen time, his actual impact to the gameplay is fairly limited. At times, you can use him to attack one enemy at a time. It’s fun to watch Riley maul your foes, though it would be faster in most cases just to shoot them. There are also a few instances where you control the dog directly to run recon or stealthily kill enemy soldiers. I’m not an expert in video game dog control, but handling Riley would be a bit easier if he wasn’t so sensitive.

On the PlayStation 4, there’s a bump in visual fidelity that I haven’t seen the franchise pump out on console before. I appreciate how crisp the visuals look, though it’s evident that this is a current gen game with a few extra bells and whistles. In comparison to Battlefield 4 though, there’s clearly room for improvement. I’m sure that next year’s game will make the full jump, but for now we get a relatively minor upgrade. One aspect of its presentation that falters is its framerate. The game doesn’t stay steady, which leads to a judder effect at times in both single and multiplayer. A patch was introduced to fix some of this, though it’s not gone completely. It hasn’t impacted my performance or overall enjoyment of the game, but it is annoying to see, especially when the franchise prides itself in keeping its framerate locked at 60 frames per second.

I don’t always play Call of Duty multiplayer, but I have put in a lot of time into this one. Years after Modern Warfare laid the groundwork, Ghosts proves that the core formula is still great. Even though I’ve never been good at it, I love gunning down my competition while earning XP in the process. I’m not normally one to criticize map design in these types of games, but I take issue with many of the game’s maps. Many are designed in a way that make you highly vulnerable to attack from a myriad of angles. I’ve found that in this game more than other Call of Duty games that most of my lives end with me getting shot in the back or in the side. Because of this, you’re highly prone to die unless you play a very defensive style. My least favourite map is the space station, which has overly tight hallways and awkward vantage points.

Call of Duty once again noodles with its customization package. This time, upgrades are driven by Squad Points. Each time you gain a level, you earn points that can be used to purchase upgrades. However, certain upgrades are only available after reaching a specific level. Perks are a little different as well, as they’re driven by a points system as well. Perks are worth different values and you can give yourself additional perk slots by forgoing a secondary weapon or equipment, which is sort of like the Pick 10 system in Black Ops II, though not as elegant or straightforward. I personally prefer the Pick 10 system, though I was able to trick out my guy the way I wanted with enough work.

There are other innovations to multiplayer that ultimately add little to the experience. When certain enemies get gunned down, they drop a suitcase. If you pick up the suitcase, the game gives you a specific objective, such as kill an opponent from behind. If you successfully pull it off, you’re rewarded with a Strike package. If you die, you drop the suitcase for someone else to pick up. Maybe I just suck, but I find the risk of trying to complete the objectives far outweighs the benefits. Environments are now touted to have some level of destructibility to them, though they almost never happen, let alone impact the gameplay. If you’re expecting Call of Duty to catch up to Battlefield in that regard, this is the tiniest step in that direction.

After many consecutive years of mining from the same well, it’s easy to knock Call of Duty: Ghosts for being more of the same. To Infinity Ward’s credit, I think this is a solid effort, especially as a follow up to their disappointing conclusion to the Modern Warfare series. However, coming off the heels of Black Ops II, the absence of that game’s innovations are sorely apparent here. It also stinks that PlayStation 4 owners are currently dealing with some framerate issues. If you’re still in need of your regular fix, this will likely keep you busy for another year, though I’m already looking ahead and anticipating Treyarch’s next kick at the can.

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