Call of Duty is the James Bond of video games. It’s fast-paced action-packed blockbuster entertainment at its best. Yes, it’s formulaic, but if that formula works so well, why ruin it? Like Bond, CoD isn’t trying to take itself too seriously, it is what it is, and it’s bloody great at it. What Infinity Ward have done with CoD: Ghosts is actually quite brave. Starting with that very familiar formula, they’ve taken a step back to re-think what works and what doesn’t. The game has been re-balanced on a level we haven’t seen before from a Call of Duty game.
After a brief introduction, the game opens with a jaw-dropping vista. The ODIN level, or “CoD in Space” as some like to call it, fades-in as you and a fellow astronaut overlook Earth in all its wonder. The lighting in this scene, as the sun reflects off the space station and your colleague’s helmet, is quite distractingly beautiful. If there was any one scene to show off the true HD resolution of the next generation of games consoles, this is it. It’s hard not to be blown away, as the game hints at the scale of the experience you’re about to be a part of.
Fifteen minutes in and we’re introduced to man’s best friend, Riley. This German Shepherd isn’t your typical video game companion; he’s not some hapless pup that you need to worry about getting hurt. Riley is a lean, mean killing machine. Interacting with Riley is entertaining, for example sending him in to attack an enemy while your focus is elsewhere, but the real fun comes from the missions in which you’re given full control of the dog, using the mechanic of a head-mounted camera and headset. Riley possesses stealth skills that human soldiers can’t match; stalking through long grass and leaping out at the enemy is more fun than it should be, but it’s a shame there aren’t more of these moments. Riley only features in part of the campaign, but when he is on-screen he definitely steals the show.
The one exception is a moment when Riley gets injured, and it’s your job to carry him across the battlefield, which would be all well and good if you had an extra hand. Placing the dog on the ground to take a few shots at enemies before picking him up and continuing your journey is the least enjoyable experience in the game, especially when the grenades start dropping at your feet while you’re busy in the pick-up/put-down animations.
There’s always something happening to grab your attention, and the developers are always throwing curve-balls to keep you guessing. After mowing down a squad of enemies with your rifle, you might need to grab a MAAWS guided rocket launcher and take down a couple of enemy helicopters, or you might be asked to operate remote-controller sniper rifles while flying on the back of a helicopter yourself. Then there’s the mission where you rappel down the side of a sky scraper and assassinate a few enemies through the windows.
One of the most exciting yet probably unrealistic moments of the game is towards the latter half, when you get to drive a tank. This thing glides around at 50 mph, rotating at speeds probably currently impossible, but that doesn’t matter, because it’s so undeniably exhilarating. Forget those slow-moving tanks from other FPS titles, you can’t beat the feeling of rushing around, taking out turrets with your cannons and just causing general mayhem.
The story is cheesy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way, and it’s made even more dramatic by the amazing musical accompaniment throughout. The soundtrack offers some intense moments, as a rising crescendo informs you that some epic shit’s about to go down. Eminem’s Survival is such a great number to close the show with, too – you won’t be able to avoid singing along as the credits roll.
The graphics are sharp as hell on the PlayStation 4, which is by far the best way to play Call of Duty: Ghosts. There are a few times when the frame-rate drops, making this perhaps the first Call of Duty game without a solid 60 fps framerate, but those moments are few and far between. The drop in framerate usually occurs when shooting, as a grenade or explosive of some kind goes off, damaging some of the destructible environments, while the snow particles or smoke is blowing into the camera.
As great as the single player campaign is, Multiplayer is when Call of Duty truly comes into its own. This is what we buy CoD for every year, and what we’ll still be playing next November, and Ghosts’ Multiplayer doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it seems the re-structuring at Infinity Ward has given them a chance to really take a look at multiplayer with a fresh pair of eyes. Treyarch’s Black Ops was very much a “me too” game, borrowing a lot of ideas from Modern Warfare 2, and MW3 and Black Ops 2 have been pretty much the same thing, all idea-pinching and iterating, ultimately leading to an undeniable feature-creep of doom. Ghosts takes a refreshing approach by really looking at what works and what doesn’t, and attempting to fix most of the problems that have naturally occurred during the series’ evolution. It’s worth noting, however, that there’s no 4-player split-screen multiplayer in CoD: Ghosts, and it only supports 2-player split-screen for local play – although system-linking is still an option.
Infinity Ward have actually done something quite bold in dropping the ranked levelling system for a flat progression system. What this means is that instead of unlocking weapons, gear and perks as you level up, you can buy them at any time as long as you have enough points. You will still earn new perks from ranking up, but now you no longer have to wait to use the perks vital to your set-up. It essentially levels the playing field, because people who have been playing long enough to prestige several times won’t have access to equipment that is unavailable to a newbie.
Perks have been separated into seven sets of 5 perks (Speed, Handling, Stealth, Awareness, Resistance, Equipment, Elite), for easier sorting, and can now be purchased individually at any stage – again, providing you have enough points. Each perk has its own cost, ranging from 1 to 5 points, and you can carry up to 12 points worth of perks at any given time. So you could be using 10 perks at once if you go for the cheapest options, or only 4 if you pick the most expensive of the bunch. Knives don’t appear to latch-on to the target from such a great distance anymore, making their use a more “up close and personal” method.
There’s still a lot of familiarity for the seasoned CoD-player, with many maps following the traditional CoD-style 3 route formula (such as Freight and Octane), but then there are a few new maps that are genuinely quite astonishing. Not only do Whiterun and Stonehaven do away with the circle route for a more organic approach to the environment, but they’re two of the most beautiful maps ever featured in a CoD game. Stonehaven in particular is absolutely gorgeous, with a British-influenced castle surrounding greenery that appears to stretch for miles. They maps are also a lot bigger than we’re used to seeing from a Call of Duty map, so it could take a while to get used to such large playing fields.
The majority of the guns are brand new entries to CoD. Out with the M4A1, M16, SCAR and TAR; in with the Remington R5 and the Honey Badger – two weapons that could be extremely popular. The Remington is fully automatic, with increased damage and range, offering a great alternative to an M16. The Honey Badger however, with its fixed suppressor, is great for close-to-medium range assault, making it more of an SMG/assualt rifle hybrid.
Marksman rifles offer something between an assault rifle and a sniper rifle, perfect for a quick pew-pew at mid-to-long range. The IA-2, being the flagship marksman rifle, offers a sniper’s scope with dual render sight, meaning you can target your enemy while still being aware of your peripheral vision – a handy feature indeed.
There’s a lot of new gear, too. I.E.Ds (Improvised Explosive Devices) are the new proximity explosive in Ghosts: throw an I.E.D onto any surface and it’ll stick. The proximity sensor is going to be especially useful in Blitz, Grind and Domination where enemies have to approach a stationary flag position to earn points. Pop a few I.E.Ds around the flag and watch the fireworks.
Either weapons are more powerful this time around, or player Health Points are lower, because killing enemy players feels a lot quicker in Ghosts than in previous incarnations. Hit detection works great though, so there’s still plenty of skill involved in the aiming – having lower HP just means reaction times are very slim.
Team Deathmatch, Free-for-All, Domination and Search and Destroy game types are all make a come-back from MW3. New modes on the playlists are Search and Rescue, which is basically S&D but with the added benefit of being able to bring a team-mate back to life if you grab their dog-tags before the enemy does. Grind is another new dog-tag based game mode, similar to Kill Confirmed, only you have to “bank” the enemy dog-tags you collect to earn points for your team. Infected was a custom game mode in MW3 that’s making an official comeback in Ghosts – where one player is chosen at random to be “the infected” and it’s his job to stab other players, in turn infecting them and bringing them onto his team against the opposing soldiers with shotguns.
Hunted is a little like some of the community game types from previous CoDs, only this time you start off with limited resources and have to battle over random weapon drops throughout the map. Each new weapon only holds one clip, so you’ll have to be careful with your rounds when taking out enemies on your way to pick up the next drop.
Challenges are no longer hidden away in Barracks; objectives are displayed on the left of the screen for easy viewing when in Multiplayer lobbies – a small touch that makes it easier for players to see what they’re working towards between matches, for a more effective levelling experience.
“Squads” is an interesting new addition to the game, this time aimed at the CoD player who’s not necessarily interested in playing online competitively. Squads has a focus on smart AI, programmed to appear more human than ever before, with moves like strafing, jump-shotting and the funky new tactical slide.
Wargame and Squad Assault in particular are for gamers who like CoD, but have no interest in playing online multiplayer with strangers. Wargame is one for those fed up of abusive teens with headsets, as you join up with 5 AI squad members to take on enemy bots in an experience that is supposed to mirror online multiplayer in every way besides actually playing with others. Squad Assault is a little different to Wargame, enabling you to team up with five real friends to face enemy AI together. This mode could be good for clans to train their team tactics. If there’s a downside here, it’s the lack of communication options; Squad vs Squad, for example, could benefit from the ability to issue orders to your AI team mates, either via Kinect voice commands or at the very least Mass Effect style D-pad controls. The AI does communicate with the player by shouting out enemy locations and such, but it would be nice to have that communication work both ways, somehow.
Safeguard is a re-imagining of Survival mode from Modern Warfare 3. This time with a full time of 4 players, as opposed to 2 in the previous instalment. There are a few other changes: weapons and gear are no longer purchased from stationary stores and will be dropped at random throughout the level. Two player split-screen makes a comeback too, with Safeguard offering offline capabilities. Squad Assault and Squad vs Squad are online game modes.
Another new entry to this year’s Call of Duty title is Extinction Mode, Infinity Ward’s answer to zombies, if you will. Available to play with 2 players locally, or a team of 4 players online, Extinction provides a really tight cooperative experience. Teams will need to assign roles to individual players, and combine classes in order to complete the wave-based objectives. Tasked with taking down alien hives, teams will face waves of enemies as they drill away at numerous hives in four major craters. Taking down a cater is a tough job, as you’re protecting air-support from toxic-goo-firing scorpion aliens, while defending yourselves on the ground from all types of deadly aggressors. Getting past the second crater is an achievement in itself, as this is the half-way point where you’re introduced to the armoured “rhino” alien, which is one hell of a beast to take down. After successfully eliminating all four craters, your team must race back to the start of the map for evac while being chased by every alien type imaginable – and you mustn’t leave a man behind.
Similar to the Zombies mode in Black Ops, money is earned by killing foes, and guns can be purchased from semi-hidden locations around the map. As you progress through the game you’ll also earn skill points, which can be spent on several perks to help you and your team through the round. Weapon Specialist is the first class available, with Tank unlocking at Rank 3, Engineer at Rank 5 and Medic at Rank 10. Each class has their own natural abilities: Weapon Specialists have an advantage in ammo damage and reload speed, Tanks have more health and do a lot of melee damage, Engineers can repair the drill faster and place traps that last longer, while the Medic moves faster, sprints longer and provides team health regeneration. As well as their natural class abilities, players have different loadout options available, with choices ranging from dropping ammo boxes or health packs, to portable mini-guns and personal protection drones.
Extinction is a really intense experience. You come away from a play-through feeling exhausted, with a sense of either exultation or frustration, depending on how far you managed to get. The team-play in this mode is second to none, though. If you can get through an entire game of Extinction together, you’ll be friends for life.
VERDICT: There’s so much content on offer in Call of Duty: Ghosts that everyone will get their money’s worth, and then some. Infinity Ward could quite easily have rested on their laurels, stayed in their comfort zone to release Modern Warfare 4 this year with little negative critical reception. Instead, they’ve done something bold with the franchise they gave life to, and as a result have created the best Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare 2. Big, brash and absolutely stunning.
INCREDIBLE. This is the pinnacle of our scoring spectrum, reserved for games that truly affect us, that capture our imagination so completely that they affect the standard by which we measure future games. 10/10 is not a declaration of perfection, but an assurance that the game in question is of amazingly high quality and has exceeded our expectations.