It’s that time of the year again. This time, Infinity Ward has strayed away from the Modern Warfare universe to create Call of Duty: Ghosts. With a fully reworked multiplayer, more modes and a story that focuses on a crippled America trying to fight back, Ghosts sounds like an entirely new game. Does it actually feel like new or is it just a glorified map pack?
Ghosts‘ single player campaign focuses on brothers David and Logan as they fight alongside the few elite soldiers known as Ghosts. After America is crippled by a devastating attack, its enemies are poised for the killing blow. Small holdouts peppered across the United States are the only defense the country has. Logan is sent out into No Man’s Land with his brother David by their father who doubles as commanding officer. The five-hour campaign spans the globe as Logan and the Ghosts hunt down the bad guy and try to shut down The Federation.
Some missions contain moments that are all-too-familiar, like sneaking through tall grass past oncoming enemy soldiers or assaulting an oil rig and escaping by helicopter. Enough is new before and after these moments, but those who have spent enough time in the Modern Warfare universe will feel some unwelcome deja vu. However, there are a number of truly unique experiences peppered throughout the story that need to be played. Ghosts checks every box in the Call of Duty formula, but does so in style.
Another drawback is the voice acting, which is hit or miss. The delivery is uneven, coming off as melodramatic and cheesy during scripted gameplay conversations. The between-mission cutscenes have fantastic visuals and fill in the story gaps with some fantastic narration. It is unfortunate that these extreme ends of the spectrum can occur just seconds apart. Paired with the uneven voice acting is the dialogue. There are far too many cliches and bad action movie one-liners that would be fine if Ghosts only had a sense of humor about itself.
Gameplay remains largely unchanged from previous entries, with the exception of three additions to player movement. The contextual lean allows for peeking around corners by aiming down the sights. The crosshairs gain a yellow arrow in the possible direction and lasts as long as the trigger is held. This helps to maintain as much cover as possible while taking out groups of enemies. Mantling allows players to automatically climb over short walls and barriers while still being able to shoot if necessary. This allows for more aggressive attacks on enemy cover or added style in the game-winning killcam. Lastly, the knee slide takes the place of the “dive to prone” feature found in the Black Ops titles. During a sprint, players can hold the crouch button to slide on their knees, allowing the player to shoot while smoothly transitioning to a crouching or prone stance. Whether the player ends in a prone or crouched position at the end of the slide depends on how long the button is held.
Story missions that allow you to fight with Riley the dog as a partner add a great layer of teamwork that is not found with the Ghosts. By aiming at a visible enemy and pressing the trigger, Riley rushes to the enemy position. If they aren’t scared out of cover and picked off, Riley will take them down with ease. He can even take down groups of enemy targets with some forethought. Alas, the number of missions that allow players to utilize Riley as a partner is agonizingly low considering how much he has been featured in game discussions and marketing. Riley feels like more of partner than the soldiers, who often prioritize cover and yell at the player to push forward.
Graphics and Sound
The new lighting system and depth of field help to add more realism to the visuals. Images will be overexposed when transitioning from dark to light areas until the player’s “eyes” adjust. Dark areas become darker when the character is in direct sunlight and at a distance. It creates more areas for enemies to hide in plain sight and reinforces the concept of player customization. Creating a player coated in black and finding the unlit corners to crouch in can be incredibly satisfying, as hiding in plain sight has never been a viable strategy. Snipers and scoped rifles now have dual-render vision, meaning the image on the periphery is now visible, albeit very blurred. It makes for another more realistic feature that aids significantly when sniping in hot areas.
Sound has gained a major upgrade in Ghosts. Gunfire sounds sharper and more menacing than ever before. Certain weapons, like the new Remington R5, have the perfect pop that both gratifies and terrifies at once. Battle environments play a significant role in how a weapon is heard. Weapons fired in warehouses will echo and augment the volume, whereas a carpeted and upholstered bedroom will absorb and distort it. Sound has always played a major role in the multiplayer mode; now rather than just relying on distance and location, players can infer which building or even which specific room a gun has been fired in. Knowledge of the environment will have a greater effect in Ghosts than any of the previous titles. Expect the occasional hesitation in pulling the trigger.
Call of Duty has never looked this good on console. The extra power of the PS4 allows for sharper textures and a higher resolution, making everything appear more crisp. While the aging engine has improved incrementally with every title, it still retains a distinct look that has not drastically improved in recent years. Animations frequently fail to blend smoothly from one to another and AI pathfinding is either locked to a set path or running back and forth trying to find viable cover. Allies will often run too far ahead of the player, turn around to run at them, only to turn back around and awkwardly fight for who takes point. It is a holdover from older iterations of the engine, but needs to be addressed or left in the past. Call of Duty needs a brand new foundation.
The new loadout system is a refinement of the Pick 10 system introduced in Black Ops II, but with a massive overhaul. Primary weapons and attachments no longer count against your total allotment, though lethal and tactical equipment still do. Surrendering an unused secondary weapon or any equipment can grant enough for an additional perk and choosing the proper combination of perks that augment a player’s skills is a more effective strategy than using the top-tier weapons and equipment.
Perks fall into seven categories: Speed, Handling, Stealth, Awareness, Resistance, Equipment and Elite. Each tailors to a specific play style or they can be combined to great effect. Perk cost varies depending on the strength or effectiveness of the ability, with point values ranging from one to five. Balancing cost with benefits requires hours of experimentation and new perks like Ping, which sends out a sonar ping that reveals nearby enemies when an enemy is killed, can be equally valuable in support builds as well as assault variants. Player skill ultimately determines how powerful a perk is.
Strike Packages and streak rewards have been reworked, now with less focus on the air. UAVs have been replaced with ground-based Sat Coms. The Helo Scout allows a sniper to support from the air in a controllable helicopter, but can be picked off due to a lack of cover. Helicopter gunners are not only more realistic in their control and handling, but it also removes the player from the ground and transplants them into the seat of the chopper. This eliminates the need to find a quiet corner in which to go prone, only to find yourself dead when the killstreak runs out of time.
The new weapon class, Marksman Rifles, add a middle ground between snipers and semi-automatic assault rifles. They are a great balance between damage and demand, as more skilled players can quickly place the two to three shots needed to down an enemy. With a higher fire rate than snipers but lacking automatic fire, Marksman Rifles offer a great option for those who like to engage from mid- to long-range.
Maps are much more alive in Ghosts, complete with environmental traps and deformation, thanks to dynamic map events. The Tremor map occasionally experiences short quakes, which shake the foundations of surrounding buildings and drown out any noises or chatter which could give away enemy locations. Strikezone is a baseball stadium that can be completely deformed by a nuclear strike, which is very disorienting and removes valuable cover. Stonehaven is a welcome change of pace, taking place in and around a damaged medieval castle. Interaction is a minimum on Stonehaven, but its atmosphere and detail was untouched by the other map. The stark contrast between the surrounding sun-drenched hills with the darkness found inside the castle walls gave Stonehaven character that was unexpected in a map, and what appeared as simplistic design revealed itself to be a plethora of pockets and valleys in which to disappear. The variety found in the 14 maps is impressive, and exploiting the idiosyncrasies for certain modes should be more than worth the time investment.
Field Orders offer small, secondary objectives to each game mode. Dropped from the first kill, only one player can have the Field Orders at a time. The objective is randomized and can be as simple as killing someone with a headshot to more complex and difficult, like picking up a dropped weapon and getting a few kills. If the player holding the Field Orders dies, they are dropped and a new objective is given to the holder. The player that completes the objective is given a care package with a random reward. These can be any killstreak reward, even a stage deforming nuke. Field Orders add more tension to the battle and give players a reward for style or execution instead of just kills.
Prestiging has also been reworked. With soldier creation and squad management, players can create up to ten soldiers. Each soldier can prestige once, giving a total of ten levels of Prestige. However, a soldier will retain all in-game progress and unlocked equipment after they prestige, making it much more reasonable for those who felt they were undoing all of their work. This also allows for specialization of each created soldier, as certain loadouts and appearances can be adjusted to excel in specific game modes and maps. Not only will gaining experience for each soldier pay off, but selecting uniforms and headgear to properly blend into select environments adds yet another level of strategy.
Squads contains four modes: Squad vs. Squad, Squad Assault, Wargames and Safeguard. Squad vs. Squad is a competitive mode where one player and their squad challenges another player and their squad. AI controls the other squad members and behavior is entirely dependent on their loadouts. This time around, AI has been revamped and functions like real players. Bots with snipers will pick bottlenecks and camp, while shotgunners will sprint and jump.
Squad Assault allows up to six players to attack an offline squad. The challenged squad plays on a designated map and preferred game type, determined earlier by their creator. Any experience gained by their squad while defending the online attackers will be awarded to the player when they next sign on.
Wargames is a freeplay option, allowing experimentation in any game mode with bots or other players. All weapons, perks and killstreaks are available from the outset, which makes it easy to see what works and what doesn’t, without having to sacrifice online rankings and stats. A local player can join in on the fly, making it easy to convert the game into a co-op session to formulate strategies or share knowledge.
Safeguard picks up where Survival left off in Modern Warfare 3. Like Left 4 Dead, enemy positions become a visible outline for teammates if they are within another player’s line of sight. This shared vision aids in threat assessment, as well as resource management. It is invaluable when one player has to bait enemies away from the group. Between each wave, care packages are dropped in marked areas on the stage. These can be weapons, equipment like sentry guns, ammo refills or perks. Proper distribution of these resources can mean life or death, so teamwork extends to the moments between firefights.
Extinction is a survival mode where players select one of four classes and cooperatively attack hives to remove the alien threat from a remote Colorado town. Sections are blocked off by larger hives, which need to be attacked by a helicopter gunship that the players need to protect from the alien defenses. Players earn cash, which they can spend on weapons found on the map as well as class-specific rewards. A player can buy an ammo cache to restore the party’s ammunition or a sentry gun to rack up the kills and protect their flanks.
The four classes included are Weapon Specialist, Tank, Medic and Engineer, with each class having a unique stat bonus tied to it. Loadouts then include a pistol type, abilities for ammo, team support, strike packages and an equalizer. Each ability can be augmented to a fifth level during gameplay using points earned by leveling a character and completing bonus objectives at each hive. Experience earned in Extinction can be used to unlock new classes, abilities and weapons.
Special items and equipment can be found by searching the dark corners of the town. A hypno knife will turn an enemy unit into an ally when stabbed by the player. Weapon attachments, equipment and extra cash are scattered around the map for curious players to find and benefit from. The mode depends purely on coordination with other players and utilizing each ability at the proper time. Incorrect use of each player’s abilities or a lack thereof can mean the difference between a swift victory or bitter defeat. Those who loved the Zombies modes in Treyarch‘s titles should be right at home in Extinction.
Clan Wars and Call of Duty App
Developed by Beachhead in collaboration with Infinity Ward, the Call of Duty app will add a new level to multiplayer. Clans can strategize and chat with members regardless of what system they play on, allowing friends to work toward a common goal even if they cannot play in the same game. Clan Wars adds a metagame to each game mode and map, placing players against one another in competition for bonus experience and camos. Second screen functionality adds a faster loadout selection, a loadout editor, quick post-game result sharing via Facebook and Twitter as well as a touch-based emblem creator. The app will be available for free on iOS and Android mobile platforms with support for the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Ghosts. Support for PS4 and Xbox One versions will coincide with their respective release dates.
Clan Wars is a mode that each player participates in, whether they use the app or not. The mode places clans of similar skill in competition with each other on a number of levels and gameplay modes. The team with the most wins on the specified map and mode at the end of the time limit secure that location and gain extra experience while playing that game mode. Other teams can take over the location if they accrue enough wins, either as a team or separately. Five players winning in the same match or five players winning their own matches separately both count as five victories. Clan members do not have to play together in order to progress toward their clan’s goal.
Call of Duty: Ghosts feels like an anthology of the series since the first Modern Warfare. Some missions may seem too familiar to previous titles, but enough is new that they don’t come off as cheap or obvious. Most will flock immediately to the multiplayer, and long-time fans will appreciate its added features and tweaks while new players can easily jump in and find a mode that fits their play style. Ghosts is loaded with options and has the most content of any Call of Duty to date. The new story does an admirable job of stitching together a series of memorable missions that span the globe and the various multiplayer modes add even more value to the multiplayer package. It’s a great way to send off the last generation and welcome the new one.