Call of Duty: Ghosts - Review

Call of Duty has once been known as the landmark franchise that changed the face of online-multiplayer-shooters with the milestone that is known as Call of Duty 4.
Over the years however, the Call of Duty franchise only took small steps to improve their successful formula. While still breaking sales-record after sales-record, there's no denying that the franchise eventually went somewhat stale and too careful towards trying something new.
Although titles like last year's Black Ops 2 try to shake up things with a new future setting, branching campaign paths and some revamped multiplayer ideas, it's still pretty much the same core mechanics every year that evoke serious feelings of deja-vu.
Being in competition with the highly acclaimed Battlefield franchise, Call of Duty now finds itself in danger of losing its title as the king of online-shooters to a seemingly evergrowing competition.
With the newest entry in the franchise, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Activision promises big changes to the game's multiplayer mechanics.
Is this first next-gen Call of Duty title also the true next big step for the franchise? Or is it the same old in new packaging?  


The plot:
Call of Duty: Ghosts is set in an alternate timeline that follows the nuclear destruction of the Middle East. The oil-producing nations of South America form "The Federation" in response to the ensuing global economic crisis and quickly grow into a global superpower, swiftly invading and conquering Central America and the Caribbean. The game's main antagonist is Gabriel Rorke, a former Ghost who turned traitor after being captured and brainwashed using torture and hallucinogens who now works for the Federation.
10 years after the Federation's devastating attack on the U.S., it is up to the remaining U.S. military and their elite special force team, the "Ghosts", to prevent the Federation and Rorke from executing their next ultimate attack.

The storylines in Call of Duty games never have been anything to truely write home about. And Ghosts falls right into that tradition.
But whereas some entries, like most notably 2010's Call of Duty: Black Ops, showed that it could tell a remarkably solid, entertaining and fairly intriguing action story (the best of the franchise to date), Ghosts features a pretty plot holey storyline, which puts most focus on worn out COD-action clichees and overly-over-the-top set pieces that end up as being more comical than anything else.
Once again, Call of Duty shows that it takes itself far more seriously than it can be taken by the players.
Astronaut shootouts in outer space, shootouts against combat divers underwater (along with guns that shoot in a straight line underwater, of course!), giant nuclear missile satelites, and other over-the-top plot devices that remind one heavily of eariler cheesy James Bond (or Austin Powers) movies.
But even with that said, we've come to a point from which such ridiculous situations in COD-games don't even surprise anyone anymore but were just a matter of time.

Underwater shootouts. Now nothing surprises me anymore.

The real problem with Ghosts' story however isn't necessarily the cheesy/clicheed plot, but lies more in the characters leading you through the events.
With the main villain group now being the so called "Federation", it never is clearly established why this South American force even starts a war against America in the first place. It all unnecesserily obviously comes over that the developers just wanted a big force for the player to fight against and people to shoot in legitimation without giving the player a clear one (regarding narrative context).
And although the main personal antagonist Rorke doesn't fare much better in that regard, he actually does make for a well presented (although not well written) villain to pursure and kill. A guy you love to hate if you will.

But why actually is this game called Ghosts? Of course because of the main elite force in the game that (for some reason) is the biggest hope for victory against the overwhelming Federation.
Focussing the entire theme of the game on a specific special force group has to be tackled with much care, which unfortunately Infinity Ward didn't here.
The player is never made clear what exactly makes the Ghosts anything more special than any of the other special forces from other COD games...and no, a supposed focus of them on stealth approaches is definitely not the case. The Ghosts completely behave and tackle operations and missions like any other elite force team in any other COD game. Oftentimes even in more ridiculous fashions than their supposed stealth-expertise allows (like driving a truck full of explosives right into an enemy base!).
It's therefore even needless to say that unfortunately also the other ghost members in the team of protagonists remain largely faceless. You might remember their names throughout indicators during missions, but other than that, nothing above their similar grunting, yelling and commanding voices makes them differentiate from one another that much.
Overall, the story focus on this specific special forces team gets fairly clear and is consistently pulled off, but in no way is this elite special force anything special or unique.

Still, stealth is rarely the case for how the Ghosts do things.


Due to the fact that a COD-game is far better divided up into its singleplayer and multiplayer component, this section of the review will mostly focus on the fundamental gameplay mechanics presented in the singleplayer campaign and how the campaign gameplay itself holds up.
Everything about the multiplayer gameplay is written in the according "multiplayer" section.

The Campaign - "Fun in shallow waters"

Despite the fact that Ghosts is far away from having a strong story in its campaign, this doesn't necesserily mean that the campaign isn't enjoyable.
In pretty much a total contrast to last year's Black Ops 2, which put the player into numerous monotonous, futuristic metal hallways, Ghosts does a remarkably good job in letting you fight in cool places.
From post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, to assaults on sky-scrapers, to snowy mountains, underwater missions, moving trains, etc., Ghosts might not have the necessary strong story to make its campaign something truely memorable, but as far as simple shooter entertainment goes, it gives you many nice and colorful things to look at and a big variety of places to fight in.
Another big step up from Black Ops 2 in this regard, is the pacing of the campaign. While Black Ops 2 threw a ridiculous overkill of (fairly annoying) explosions at you, Ghosts does fare way better with missions that alternate between stealth and full-frontal attacks in a nice manner.
In addition, the usual suspects like turret sections, aerial attack segments, vehicle sections, etc. are all again present here of course, making atypical sections like space- and underwater shootouts stand out even more among the common COD-deja-vu.

One of the game's most advertised and cherrished features, the K9 dog Riley represents on of the most refreshing new additions. Yet still, this pet companion turns out to be more of a short lived gimmick than anythig else. With only about 2 missions, in which you can command Riley to attack enemies or control him in stealth sections to gather intel or silently take out enemies, his presence is very much underplayed (although for better and for worse).
After all, given the fact that you can only interact with Riley through controlling him or giving him attack-commands, he is sadly more of a gadget than a companion with character in the game.
Still, credit has to be given that this truely is the first game that i know of, in which you can bite enemies' throats out.

Sure, overall you are always pretty much doing the same thing over and over again throughout the campaign - shooting/killing people (what did you expect from a shooter?). But as far as military shooters (or COD games) go, Ghosts' campaign is without any doubt entertaining enough to warrant a playthrough despite its numerous narrative weaknesses.

Ever bit an enemy's throat out as a dog? Me neither.


But even the best campaign's in any COD game have never been able to overtake the position of COD's multiplayer as THE selling point of the franchise.

Core multiplayer suite - "Inventing new problems"

Despite promised big changes for the franchise's multiplayer that is going to be introduced via Call of Duty: Ghosts, the actual Call of Duty press conference earlier this year (around E3 2013) turns out as kind of a farce looking at the grand scheme of how the multiplayer works.

Although changes indeed can be found in Ghosts' multiplayer, mechanically Ghosts is largely the same compared to previous COD games, despite the gianormously advertised changes and improvements.
Most changes relate to how the game handles picking your own specific loadout and how weapons and perks function now. Changes are almost always welcome, if pulled of right. Sadly, this is not the case in Ghosts:

The first change (and problem) arises through the change that now, weapons don't get unlocked automatically through ranking up but instead by earning so called "squad points" for accomplishing specific challenges or tasks during game sessions. "Squad points" represent the currency through which you can buy perks, weapons and customization items for your character.
While this new system offers a lot of freedom, considering that players can now right from the get-go choose which type of playstyle they want to pursue (sniper, assault, etc.), this also makes ranking up pretty much pointless.
Through the fact that now any weapon and item can be purchased at any rank, players will intentionally look through all of the weapons' stats and compare them or use the internet to find out which weapon is the best one. They then will immediately save up squad points to purchase this specific weapon, eliminating any reason to try out any other weapon in the process.
Summed up, the squad points system might sound more player-friendly in theory, but in practice it nullifies any sense of accomplishment in the ranking-up-process.

With only minor changes, multiplayer is basically the same.

Maps - "Bigger isn't always better"

Looking at Ghosts' new multiplayer maps, it is obvious that Infinity Ward tried to counter their biggest rival in the market, Battlefield 4, with bigger maps.
But Infinity Ward forgot one essential thing: Battlefield is a franchise focussed on combat with vehicles, while COD does not.
The result is maps that are quite a bit too big for COD matches. Being forced to always traverse the map on foot, in almost every map, finding and enemy player takes up way more time than usual (or necessary).
It surely doesn't help that most of the maps turn out to be mostly very building heavy and corner-loving mazes, or that the game often has problems regarding choosing spawn-points.
It sure isn't usual when i encountered getting killed within 3 seconds right after spawning more than 5 times on one game-evening.

Another aspect, through which Infinity Ward tried to directly counter its big competitor, are dynamic maps.
Whereas in Battlefield 4 dynamic maps or the so called "Levolution"makes for impressive and dramatic changes on how the match and the map is played, this is barely the case for Ghosts.
Here, only small changes like breaking down poles, destructible specific spots at specific buildings, and gates that can be opened represent the dynamic aspects of the maps.
Although Ghosts dynamic map changes are a nice addition to the multiplayer, they aren't necessary ones or something revolutionary (you could already open gates, etc. in Counter-Strike back in the 90's).
Needless to say that Ghosts' dynamic maps can barely compare to the jaw-dropping huge Levolution effects of Battlefield 4. It goes even so far, that most of the time you even forget that the maps in Ghosts actually have dynamic action spots at all.

This is only a small section of a very big map.

New Modes - "Between new ideas and classic tradition"

More successful changes in Ghosts' multiplayer are present in some of the game's new modes that it has to offer.
Most of these modes are remixed versions of older successful modes with a few tweaks here and there, but there are also some completely new ideas. Now, let's take a look at some of the most notable ones:

Search and Rescue
One of the best new remixed modes is Search and Rescue - a variation of the classic Search and Destroy.
In this deathmatch mode, you are allowed to revive teammates, as long as you snatch their dog tags after they died. This scramble for dog tags is what makes this mode something special. Teamwork is notably encouraged through the higher chance to grab dog tags when everybody is sticking to his group.
It's one of the rare modes where teamwork is almost an essential part of the game if you want to win.
We definitely should get more of such teamwork-modes in future COD-games.

Another new remix mode that is inspired by the survival mode of MW3 is Safeguard.
Here, a group of 4 players is put against hordes of enemies that arrive in waves. The goal is to survive as long as possible (just like in MW3), but instead of having to buy your arsenal, now, ammo and weapons appear in spawning crates giving the gameplay a welcome unpredictable variable and faster pace. This also adds great tension whether you should run out of your safe defense and get a new crate or stay in safety.
Also weapons can be leveled up through dropped stars of enemies that increase your weapon's efficiency. Through this factor, you often have to decide who of the teammembers needs the star the most, and therefore manage your teamwork. It's one of the modes which clearly show efficient improvements over the original Survival mode in MW3.

Some modes have been improved for good.

Some completely new modes however are fairly flawed.
In the mode Blitz each player/team scores by running to a specific spot on the map located in enemy territory. Therefore, it's like Capture the Flag without a flag.
Yet, due to the fact that every teammember therefore can score for himself (although the entire team wins), it all results in a big map rush, where it's "everybody for himself". But maybe that was the idea.

Cranked is a new deathmatch variant. Here, each player has 30 seconds after a kill to take another player down before he himself explodes. It's a neat and pressure-heavy concept and a refreshing new idea. But since self-destruction is the biggest concern here, teamwork is generally ignored by players, making the mode overall very chaotic and another one of those "everyone for himself"-modes.

Squads is a new mode, that has only little to offer for players in the long run.
Squads is practically nothing more than training for multiplayer sessions against other human players.
In Squads, you and your squad of A.I. controlled bots are put against another player and his squad.
It works quite well for what it is and there's little to nag about here, but it doesn't take long for any player to switch back to matches against real less predictable human opponents.

Extinction might at first seem like a reskinned version of Treyarch's popular Zombie mode, which it to some deggree is, but there are some essentially changed aspects here.
Whereas in the well known Zombie Mode you were basically put in a Horde Mode against neverending waves of zombies, the goal in Extinction is to destroy a set number of alien hives and then extract via helicopter.
In that process, you have to carry a large drill from hive to hive and defend it with your team against incoming alien attacks.
Teammembers can choose specific classes with unique abilities and even upgrade their abilities through spending skill points and ranking up, but there's one big flaw that makes Extinction a short lived experience:
Once every chapter in Extinction is done, there's only little reason to actually replay it once it's finished. Unlike the Zombies Mode, where highscores can be unlimitedly increased due to the endless waves, there's not much more to gain in Extinction. Therefore, it's a mode that is very obviously designed to be fed with DLC content.
As of now, especially since there's only one map and always the same goal, it additionally adds to the mode's repetitiveness.
It's a fairly fun new mode but lacks variety to be relevant for players for a longer period of time.

Extinction often gets fittingly chaotic.


Despite a supposed new engine in Ghosts, COD: Ghosts is not exactly a game whose selling point are its graphics.
Improved lighting effects and way better character models in constant 60fps are indeed very welcome improvements, which makes Ghosts without any doubt the best looking COD game to date (also on current-gen), yet still it never really feels like you are playing a true next-gen game (especially compared to titles like Killzone: Shadow Fall).
However looking at the next gen versions of the game, higher 1080p and 60fps do actually make Ghosts quite a bit more appealing. Textures and models are remarkably sharper and put some nice shine on what Ghosts has to offer.
While the next-gen version of Ghosts therefore is the version to get, Ghosts still lacks a definitive next-gen-charisma that every player is expecting nowadays in the wake of this year's new consoles. 


Looking at how Ghosts holds up soundwise, there hasn't changed that much.
Yet, gun sounds are improved, making them sound more meaty than before, which should still be further picked up on and followed in future COD games.
Also a fittingly eerie and tragic soundtrack underlining the theme of the "post-apocalyptic", crumbling United States by David Buckley does a great job setting the right mood and atmosphere.

Despite not feeling like next-gen, Ghosts is not an ugly game.

The Verdict

Summed up, Call of Duty: Ghosts is a game that created fairly little buzz before its release, and now finally playing the released game itself, it gets pretty clear why.
With COD games being released yearly, its the kind of game that you pick up because you already exactly know what you are getting. True changes in the game's formula are rare but therefore also very welcome.
But despite a big Pre-E3-Call-of-Duty-Press-Conference, which promised big changes with COD: Ghosts, it is obvious that Ghosts is a game that isn't interested in change.
Instead, it's a game that feels very much like it's scared of screwing anything up that has already been established as a successful formula in the franchise.
Numerous remixed modes from older COD games are of course appreciated, but only further underline this aspect, while truely new modes are indeed created with unique ideas, but which sadly don't always work as well in online practice.
Ghosts' narratively extremely shallow but still somewhat entertaining and well paced campaign isn't going to change the game's overall feel either.

Call of Duty: Ghosts is certainly not a bad game. It's just one of the COD games with the least amount of new ideas or surprises to amaze you with.
With that said, if you are looking for more of the same, then you are getting it here, but not much else. 
It can be clearly and undoubtedly said, that Ghosts is only a game for die-hard fans of the franchise or at least people who don't expect (or want) anything new and just want a yearly update with new weapons, maps and modes.

 Final Verdict: 6 out of 10 

Status: Only for Fans

Big thanks goes out to Activision for providing us with a review copy of the game.

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