Call of Duty: Ghosts Review: Permission to Speak Freely, Sir?
Call of Duty is an interesting predicament. Every year, detractors decry the series for being too similar to previous outings, but complain when it changes too drastically. That’s a tough position, but Call of Duty: Ghosts manages to innovate in incremental ways that make it worth your time, even outside of its multiplayer.
Call of Duty: Ghosts might not revolutionize the first-person shooter campaign, but it does manage to make it enjoyable and narratively fulfilling outside of shooting sequences, even if these instances are few and far between. On the multiplayer front, things are a bit more complicated than that. Ghosts plays fast and feels really great, but outside of the core gameplay, it’s filled with design choices that just don’t really make sense.
New “Squads” modes are forced upon the player, even when just trying to play standard online multiplayer, which wouldn’t be that big of a deal if it was at least somewhat fun, but it isn’t. It’s dull and nears on broken thanks to insanely difficult enemy AI. Worst of all, it’s likely to just confuse players rather than entice them to try something new. Instead, Extinction, Ghosts’ substitute for Treyarch’s Zombies mode, takes the gold medal, proving to be one of the best Call of Duty — and perhaps even cooperative — experiences to date.
When you look at the whole package, Ghosts is inconsistent. It’s serviceably fun and looks great, but confusing design decisions and some poor mechanics keep it from being truly special. Instead, Ghosts feels like a step backwards on multiple fronts, especially the competitive aspects.
Call of Duty: Ghosts
Platform: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Infinity Ward
Release Date: Nov. 5, 2013
As is usual for the series, Call of Duty: Ghosts is essentially a typical summer blockbuster. With little in the way of dense storytelling, the campaign kicks off with a wide variety of mission scenarios, and manages to keep that pace set throughout the entire game. It’s done well, though some of the dialogue is extremely cheesy. (Really, if “South Park” did a Call of Duty episode, this is the dialogue its creators would write.)
Ghosts takes place in the near-ish future when the Federation, a rogue South American military force, is taking over areas of Central and North America, destroying nearly everything in its path. At least, that’s the portion of the plot that’s being shared. The story begins by throwing you into the action without much explanation. The United States somehow still has weaponized satellites capable of firing off large rods of destruction, but can’t keep a South American military force from taking over most of the western hemisphere? The basic premise verges on nonsensical at times.
Regardless of the unexplained reasoning behind it, the Federation takeover of key areas of the United States is no joke. It destroys nearly everything in its path, and has no problem killing civilians to get what they want. And yet, for most of the game, it’s oddly unclear what the Federation actually wants, other than to destroy things.
Once the action gets going, you play as Logan Walker, a soldier who, along with his stupidly-named brother Hesh Walker, leads a defensive task force in charge of the local area’s safety. Things go poorly, as they’re bound to, forcing Logan and Hesh to join the Ghosts — a secretive and highly-trained military sect tasked with missions of the utmost importance — and trek out into No Man’s Land, the deserted area between San Jose and San Diego.
From there, it’s all high-intensity, action-packed set pieces with story exposition sprinkled throughout. You travel to a variety of different climates, including space and the deep sea, but one of the coolest missions takes place at a Federation snow base. It starts off like your typical Call of Duty snow mission, but turns drastically when you use a Federation uniform to disguise yourself and mingle with the very men tasked with finding you. It might not mark a drastic shift in gameplay for the series, but quick jabs of non-kill ‘em all gameplay help sell the narrative far more than in past iterations.
The narratives held within gameplay scenarios are all very easy to follow, but take note: Most of the justifications behind the characters’ choices are hidden within the loading cutscenes — so don’t take them as your cue to zone out. Without that information, it was occasionally confusing following how characters ended up in various situations.
You’ll want to pay attention to character specifics as well, as it’s clear that Infinity Ward is looking to have these ones stick around for a while. Thankfully, they aren’t the worst protagonists the series has seen, and since we get to see a more personal side to their brotherly bond, they actually come off as likable occasionally. Logan and Hesh say and do things that show they actually care about each other, which is somewhat refreshing for a game all about killing people.