Call of Duty: Ghosts Review
Activision, Infinity Ward 2013
Risen on the battlefield as if from the dead, covered in sand and the blood of their fallen brothers, fifteen soldiers take on a force of hundreds. After the dust settles, these elite warriors stand victorious with but only one enemy escaping their wrath. He is found later in the desert, delirious, muttering something about ghosts. Call of Duty is back, and clearly still shamelessly dripping with testosterone.
It’s the sort of pubescent nonsense you’d only hear in a middle school cafeteria; just a relentless glorification of wartime badassery that in Call of Duty: Ghosts is just really hard to stomach. Despite the ‘M’ rating, it’s clearer than ever just how aggressive the marketing towards children is with this series. Just listen to the game’s premise: The middle east runs out of oil, crippling the world and leaving the United States to defend her homeland against the rising force of the Federation. Oorah!
Still, playing the first twenty minutes of this campaign is enough to treat you with its best sequence, briefly controlling an anonymous astronaut as his space station is infiltrated by Federation forces. Zero gravity firefights in claustrophobic corridors, bodies and blood suspended in their chambers as you toss empty magazines into the vacuum of space, the scene is a must play. Afterword, back on earth and in the devastated cities of the U.S., its a story about meeting up with the legendary Ghosts. You’ll slide behind the cover of blown out cars and concrete slabs, and essentially engage in the usual duck shooter, occasionally controlling machine gun turrets, drone strikes, or remotely controlled sniper rifles. The much touted use of dogs in Ghost extends little past some cookie cutter stealth sequences, sneaking a German Shepherd through certain areas, having him bark to distract enemies, and viciously mangling their jugulars.
It all certainly lies on the lower spectrum of campaigns this series has offered in the past — narrow as that spectrum may be — but it serves as a cool backdrop for the game’s multiplayer features. Though you don’t directly control it, the dog reappears as a killstreak reward and aptly lives up to the title of ‘man’s best friend’. It follows at your heel, growls when it senses enemies, and is a fairly efficient killing machine as many fail to see the dogs before it’s too late. When you hear that your furry bro is killed in action, it’s hard to stifle a quiet whimper of your own, and from the other point of view it’s also kind of sad having to kill the animals. Once you get pounced enough times it’s easier to pull that trigger, though. The little shits.
One of the biggest stylistic changes Ghosts brings to the table is larger map sizes, and with it a shorter time to kill. This somehow still creates the fast paced and unforgiving circus shooting the series has always been played for, but the nature of the new maps demand some subtle changes to the CoD player’s mentality. Not in just memorizing the new and mostly bombed out locales, but becoming aware that each contains so many vulnerable lines of sight from any given position. Many maps like Freight are large but still cluttered, each corner you turn greeting you with multilevel warehouses, hollow shipping containers, and train carriages that could all house an enemy, whether from up close or down range. Double that with your meager amount of hitpoints and the often ridiculously random spawn points, and every step you take in Ghosts will be one that sets you in the lethal view of an enemy’s iron sights.
Truthfully, this hurts some of the more classic multiplayer modes. Team Deathmatch might as well be Free For All because enemy seem to spawn right up in your team’s grill, meaning that the presence of allies is no guarantee for safety, and that the map will never offer any kind of map control that you and your friends can gain. This does, however, make awareness a key factor to success in Ghosts. The smallest kill streak of 3 can reward you with SAT devices to lay down, and these are quite nifty. The more your team has on the ground and can protect, the better you can manipulate the radar. Having one down will ping enemies you see on the map, having three down will give your whole team a constant radar sweep.
The 360 degrees of danger you’re always in will force some interesting ultimatums in your class customization. You can assign a limited amount of perks, some taking more space than others. ‘Amplify’ will allow you to hear footsteps more easily, allowing you to hover around a position and better protect it from multiple angles. ‘Off the Grid’ makes you untrackable by enemy devices, while ‘Wire Tap’ let’s you those enemy devices, a nasty strategy in Free For All. Of course, you could opt out of all these perks in favor of improved gunplay, giving yourself faster aiming, better control at the hip, or quicker reload times.
And the gunplay is as good as ever, the firearms always well detailed — perhaps more in look rather than feel — and offering the usual slew of sick looking holographic scopes, silencers, underbarrel grenade launchers, and other attachments. Otherwise, the weapons you unlock offer little variance of performance amongst their class. The low health counts of players mean that any one Assault Rifle will work about as effectively as another provided your aim is on, and overall seem to outclass SMGs given the size of the environments. A robotic manufacturing plant probably offers the closest quarters for apt shotgun use, while ‘Marksman’ and Sniper rifles can prove nasty on the larger maps, especially in Hardcore game types where your position won’t be given away by radar or the franchise’s pesky killcam.
Worthy of mention is a tutorial like feature called Squads, and though it’s geared towards new players, it’s an excellent way to practice various game modes against bots, outfitting your own personal squad of computer players to fight alongside you. Extinction is another mode that pits players against aliens, asking you to drill into their mounds of goo as you defend the device’s progress. It’s of the typical quality that Zombies players will recall, but takes even longer for an interesting challenge to ramp up and seems even more lazily produced and graphically dated than the rest of the game.
Most of all though — the selling point of Ghosts, really — are a few game types in particular. A new one called Cranked incorporates a brilliant emphasis on kill satisfaction by getting you ‘cranked.’ Once your juiced up, you have considerably faster movement and reload speed and are given 30 seconds to get another kill before you self detonate. It’s an incredible form of the franchise’s high octane hilarium, and Ghosts only has more to offer. Domination utilizes the larger map sizes by asking your team to fight for control over 3 points, environmental variety now appearing as more strategic than confusing. Team games typically forming a 6v6, it’s one of the few modes that create a rewarding sense of teamwork beyond that of racing for highest kill count. Finally, Search and Rescue serves as the elimination, defuse-the-bomb setup, but with a twist. To keep an enemy from respawning, you’ll have to put yourself at risk and pick up his corpse’s dogtags before his allies do. It forces player movement on both sides, keeps an interesting pace, and a adds fun layers of approach such as baiting enemy dogtags to lure another out.
By now it’s clear Call of Duty is sticking within its own boundaries, and by that standard, Ghosts is yet another solid entry. It’s beginning to feel notably lazier in many aspects, but it’s still the same stress relieving shooter it’s always been. An old but loyal friend.