Who’d have thought we’d ever miss the Modern Warfare timeline. While Call of Duty: Ghosts checks all the prerequisite thrill-a-minute boxes, its story strays from the tried and tested tongue-in-cheek bombast of the now-concluded Modern Warfare universe and careens headlong down a path paved with the most potent of cheese. It would also make for an intriguing post-mortem. Is Stephen Gaghan (Traffic, Syriana) to blame for possibly underestimating the average gamer’s intelligence and phoning in something he could have penned in his sleep, or was it Activision that diluted an Academy Award-winning writer’s script down to its most basic? We’ll probably never know.
Ghosts gives Americas’ traditional enemies a rest and opts instead to create a wholly (and unlikely) new set of antagonists – the poor South Americans. Corralling an unclear number of nations under a banner known simply as the ‘Federation’, their credibility is shot pretty much from the start. Apparently Infinity Ward wasn’t very convinced either, because they’re soon relegated to fancy-pants cannon fodder in favour of a figurehead American deserter who’s worked his way up the Federation food chain.
…a setting that can best be described as an inferior version of The Last of Us with the Codemasters’ piss-filter smeared over it.
After a near-catastrophic attack on the Western seaboard (played out via a quick prologue level), the game jumps ahead ten years to a setting that can best be described as an inferior version of The Last of Us with the Codemasters’ piss-filter smeared over it. You kick the campaign proper off by playing through a handful of slow-as-molasses levels clearly designed to endear you to the key protagonists – Major dad and his two soldier sons, along with members of the elite Ghost squad. Oh, and Riley the dog. None of the go-slow story build-up makes a lick of difference thanks to the clichéd, hammy acting and a complete lack of empathy for any of the lead cast. To add to the fun, the marketing-dollars-fuelled dog is only (barely) relevant for a handful of levels.
Thankfully, the game’s pace picks up past the first hour, settling down to a more familiar location-hopping rhythm with the story taking a back seat for the most part. There are set pieces a plenty, location variety, and it’s also a damn sight more entertaining than the Battlefield 4 campaign. That said, the formulaic, heavily choreographed levels where you can’t even move between areas before a scripted event is triggered feel very been there, done that. This is the seventh consecutive game after 2007’s seminal Modern Warfare 4, and the magic has most definitely worn off.
It’s especially disappointing with all the next-gen talk in the air that Ghosts not only looks barely improved from previous iterations, but actually looks worse in places.
Where Battlefield 4 absolutely obliterates Ghosts though is in the underlying technology running the game. Aside from the Frostbite 3 engine simply looking better, it’s also able to render vast open spaces more convincingly – something that becomes increasingly evident in the some of the more open levels towards the end of the game with their basic geometry and destruction. It’s especially disappointing with all the next-gen talk in the air that Ghosts not only looks barely improved from previous iterations, but actually looks worse in places thanks to the drab colour palette. The game also comes with several optimisation issues, including a ludicrous minimum RAM requirement, and appallingly low-res textures and an unstable frame rate even on high-spec machines. If you really must play Call of Duty in single player, I’d recommend the Modern Warfare trifecta. They’re class games and are all leagues above Ghosts in overall quality.
Multiplayer really does feel like a zero sum game. I like the fact that there’s a lot of overlap between Squads, which is the mode where you play with and against teams of bots, and the game’s standard multiplayer component. You also now have a basic character creator that lets you create separate profiles that you can then max out. These profiles can be specced differently, and combined with the customisation, give you a sense of ownership over your online avatar. Your band of soldiers can then be pitted against other squads across a handful of game types, where they can theoretically increase their experience even when you’re not playing the game. Unfortunately, bots are still just that – bots. So the enjoyment you derive from this mode will be wholly dependent on whether you fancy the idea of playing against them when you could just hop online and play against real folks instead.
There’s very little real innovation here, as opposed to just shifting features around so that it looks different.
The wave-based co-op Extinction mode has you deploying and defending a rather slow drill to destroy alien hives, all while being attacked by increasingly suicidal (read: dumb) alien vermin. There’s a single large-ish map that comes with the mode, and while it doesn’t do anything new, it can still be quite fun by virtue of the co-op experience alone. There’s an in-mode economy with unlocks and a small skill tree that’ll help you see through each wave. That said, it isn’t as fleshed out as Treyarch’s similar zombie mode just yet, and I really would have liked to see them continue with Modern Warfare 2 and 3’s Spec Ops mode instead.
Your affinity towards the main multiplayer modes will wholly depend on where you sit on the Battlefield-Call of Duty fence. Ghosts retains its infantry-only combat, while maintaining the series’ focus on individual K/D metrics. There are a number of new modes this time round, although most of them seem designed to appeal to the hardcore fans more than welcoming new ones. There are a few gameplay tweaks as well, but none that drastically changes the way the game plays. There’s very little real innovation here, as opposed to just shifting features around so that it looks different (squad points being a good example).
While Ghosts has more base maps than Battlefield 4, some of the settings can be quite uninteresting.
The maps themselves seem well designed, with plenty of crossing paths and opportunities for kills and counter-kills. Unfortunately some of them do seem a bit too spaced out for Call of Duty’s low player counts. There’s also a dynamic element to some of the maps, but the minor variations feel hopelessly lacking next to Battlefield’s ‘Levolution’ mechanic. And while Ghosts has more base maps than Battlefield 4, some of the settings can be quite uninteresting, dominated as they are by hazy brown destruction and rubble. Again, hardcore fans who purchase the season pass will receive the four announced map packs spread out over the next year.
With the generational transition just a couple of weeks away, you’d have thought that Infinity Ward and Activision would have brought their A game. Instead, we’re back treading familiar waters. There’s a modicum of fun to be had here and multiplayer nuts will still Prestige a few times over, but you’ve got to wonder what next. The yearly FPS update is a zero sum game, but for what it’s worth, Battlefield 4 seems to have done just enough to win.