After ten games in the massive Call of Duty series, the big word one will likely associate with its success is “iteration.” With iteration comes incremental change, but with iteration also comes quality improvement. Call of Duty: Ghosts, the first Infinity Ward game since the Modern Warfare series ended, is fascinating in that it actually manages to iterate backwards.
In Black Ops 2, the campaign was a cool adventure featuring rocket launcher-wielding soldiers on horseback and a creative design inspired by more than standard cover shooting. In Ghosts, the campaign is the exact opposite; the story takes itself too seriously, and the entire game is a monotonous shooting gallery that plays all of the same cards found in previous installments. Not only do the levels look similar (there are obligatory jungle levels, vehicle levels, aircraft levels, and space levels), but the levels themselves have almost no creativity behind them. The only exception to this is in a few very specific levels/sequences towards the end, but it takes a lot of plodding to get to that point.
The story follows you and your brother Hesh living in America as soldiers after a massive attack on the US is carried out by a South American union (called The Federation) while they’re fighting a losing war. It has interesting moments and a creative conclusion, but the biggest failing of the story is its inability to set up a compelling antagonistic group or a fully-explained world. They throw you into the conflict and expect you to get it as you go along, but this isn’t pulled off well in execution.
My other big issue is that the writing and characters come across as lazy. The family unit presented through you, your brother, and your father is a vehicle to tug on the heartstrings in the most predictable way imaginable, and though Infinity Ward does add an excellently characterized German Shepherd companion (Riley – the most realistic dog I’ve ever seen in a video game), they underuse him and only throw him into scenes when they feel the player needs to feel a greater emotional connection to the game. At the very least, Riley the dog does get some cool scenes in the game when you actually get to play as him slaughtering the opposition, but those scenes plays a secondary role to the cover shooting.
In response to the Zombies mode found in Treyarch games, Ghosts offers Extinction, a cooperative wave-based horde mode that pits you against an alien menace. It’s relatively tame compared to Zombies, offering a single large map to play on and alien creatures who somehow manage to be less interesting than zombies. Running across the ruined cities and turning your kills into weapon unlocks and skill points is fine in execution, but Infinity Ward doesn’t even make an effort to catch up to the quality or excitement presented in previous modes. Also, it’s worth noting that the fact that Infinity Ward and Treyarch are different companies is no excuse. If you make a Call of Duty sequel, you better make it better than the last one.
Another mode offered is Squads, a mode where you and other people can play cooperatively against AI opponents in what amounts to the online modes but with bots. It’s okay, but playing a worse, controlled version of multiplayer is fundamentally useless to all but the least confident beginners to the franchise. I can’t knock them for adding it, but the mode itself comes across as benign on its best day.
With Ghosts lacking in the campaign department, I was hoping Call of Duty would take a page out of Battlefield and make the multiplayer loads better in comparison. There are a few more tweaks like the ability to customize a character significantly, the ability to play as a woman, and a few new modes that are essentially re-purposed old modes, but the multiplayer never stretches beyond same old, same old.
The maps are decent and larger than I remember, but the spawns are loose and poorly calculated, leading to a few confrontations where I would die, respawn, and die by the time I got to turn around. In addition, many of the enhancements the previous entry brought with its futuristic tools are gone, which is likely one of the biggest bummers to be found here. I did play hours of the multiplayer for the sake of review, but I feel nothing but boredom towards the lack of real improvement found in this sequel.
The game offers no surprises in the visual and sound department either. The game looks okay on PS3 like the last four did, but the draw distance is a little questionable and the aliasing leaves quite a bit to be desired this late in the generation. The game, meanwhile, sounds like gunfire, tired orchestration, and even more tired voice actors. Would you expect anything more?
Actually, I would.
I know this sounds like I’m complaining about Call of Duty: Ghosts because it’s not Black Ops 2, but the differences are far more troubling than that. A game released twelve months ago by the alleged Call of Duty B-team has better voice acting, more interesting multiplayer, and an infinitely better campaign than the purportedly exciting new entry made by the more respected developer. If Ghosts is anything to go off of, I think the days of Infinity Ward leading the quality charge are over. Call of Duty: Ghosts isn’t bad – it’s just sickeningly middling.
PS3 review copy provided by Activision. Call of Duty: Ghosts is available now on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, and Wii U. It will also be available at launch for both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.