Review by AvantgardeAClue
A refresh on the Modern Warfare series that does its best to impress.....and for the most part, succeeds.
The initial experiences I had encountered with Call of Duty: Ghosts had created low expectations for me before I had even begun playing it. The PS3 and 360 versions of the game had several game modes removed for little to no reason, except for Ground War, which was explained as not being possible due to the custom soldiers that could be created, which I'll get into a little more later. The graphics weren't much of an improvement, if an improvement at all, and the game seemed to retain almost none of the multiplayer elements from Black Ops 2.
But after experiencing all the elements of the game through the PS4 and Xbox One, I am pleased to say that this game has impressed me several times and counting. The graphics are visually appealing in all modes, something I haven't said about a Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare 2, the gunplay is smooth and satisfying, and there of plenty of new features that attempt to make the tiring series feel somewhat fresh, and in many cases, it succeeds. Even the aforementioned removed Ground War and Search and Destroy modes are restored for the PS4/Xbox One versions.
However, there are several other popular game modes that are strangely absent for no apparent reason (including my personal favorite, Demolition), the frame rate hiccups that were initially reported are still present in both single player and online, the challenges have been dumbed down and tied to nearly every unlock worth unlocking (virtually all of them), and the squad point system gives you so little points per rank up, encouraging you to use different squad members online, which is often rewarded if you decide to rank up your characters evenly. The more things change, the more they stay the same, but in the case of Call of Duty: Ghosts, change is good.
My review is divided into campaign, the new Extinction mode, and multiplayer.
Infinity Ward is ready to show that they are willing to move past the Modern Warfare series in every way, shape, and form, starting with the campaign, featuring an all new cast of characters, weapons, and resetting the world from World War III....only to have it be subject to a series of attacks from a hijacked satellite laser, a weapon that has earned a place in my heart for being so awesome, yet so unnecessary. But it's this weapon that drives the story, which has the Federation, a superpower consisting of basically all of South America, hijacking the weapon in the prologue mission and using it to put large holes into most of the U.S.
Despite the change of scenery, some things never change. For example, the protagonist, Sgt. Logan Walker, is much like "Soap" MacTavish from Call of Duty 4: silent. This wouldn't be too much of an issue of it wasn't for the fact that his family are also his teammates, his brother David "Hesh" and his father, Elias. The dynamic between them, as a result, is somewhat lost with this presentation. The Walkers eventually encounter members of the legendary Ghost squad, who fortunately turn out to be as awesome as they are spoken of beforehand. The bad guy that we are supposed to shake our fists at is ex-Ghosts member Gabriel Rorke, who was brainwashed into doing the bidding of the Federation: killing the unkillable Ghosts. If this sounds like a dumb excuse for an antagonist, it is. There is a much more clearer reason for him to hold the Ghosts in contempt, one that is explained to the player outright, and it's something that Rorke only mentions once or twice in appearance. But hey, brainwashing is cooler, I suppose.
Terrible antagonist motive aside, the game's gorgeous graphics only compliment the setpieces that compose the game's campaign, including the utterly destroyed city of San Diego and Los Vegas, to the Federation's capital city of Caracas, with the draw distances complimenting the detail of the city down to the ground level down to the ground level. You'd never think the ground looked so pretty when you're on the side of the skyscraper, 52 floors up. Everything from grenade explosions to bullets hitting the water is visually appealing, and the frame rate does its best at staying at a constant 60 FPS during all the action.
At 18 missions, the campaign is a decent length, not exactly BioShock Infinite, but not the brief bout that is Battlefield 4, either. On Hardened, it took me around 6 hours to beat, and you can add 1-2 more hours for that on Veteran. Throughout these 6 or so hours, I was always fascinated by what I was currently doing, and it doesn't try to be particularly over the top with the explosions and plot twists as the Modern Warfare series. However, the ending in particular was not what I was hoping for; it ruins what would have been an otherwise great stand-alone campaign in the Call of Duty series. But despite the wacky ending and the antagonist being an expy of Bane, this relatively-lengthy campaign is worth playing through and should please anyone who invests themselves in the COD campaign even for a single run.
This takes place alongside the Ghosts campaign, so I thought it should be described before the bread and butter of the game: the multiplayer. Taking a leaf from Treyarch's successful Zombies game mode, it is similar to Zombies in that you fight endless amounts of things wanting to rip your throat out and swallow it, but different in that you actually fight to an objective, instead of just fighting to stay alive as long as possible. Black Ops 2 tried to do something like this with Tranzit, but it was a complete disaster. In Extinction, having a clear goal ahead makes everything feel worthwhile, and with a leveling system similar to multiplayer, complete with classes and unlocks for said classes, makes it a great mode for both Zombies lovers like myself and people who preferred the ranking system that multiplayer has.
The premise? It takes place two years after the satellite laser ODIN puts the US in a state of ruin, and either by yourself or with up to four teamates, your job is to plant a nuke in the center of an alien infestation, destroying any nests you see along the way with a portable drill. You can buy weapons found on the ground and upgrade them in between waves with obtained squad points, or you can upgrade your purchasable support weapons such as a machine gun turret and grenades, which can be bought at anytime provided you have the money. Aliens will constantly attack you and your drill while the latter does its work, and while they usually go down in a few shots, the amount of them that spawns can easily overwhelm the unprepared.
It's exactly as awesome as it looks. Or horrific. One of the two.
The ranking system is similar to multiplayer, with you getting experience points as you kill aliens and plant drills, and the class system that unlocks as you rank up is a fresh experience that encourages teamwork. The Medic class, for example, focuses around making sure your teammates don't trip over aliens for as long as possible, while the Engineer class focuses on making sure the drill stays fixed and is resistant to alien attacks. The upgrades available in-game varies depending on what class you choose, a great motivation for people to play their class for all it's worth.
While I didn't spend as much time with this mode as I had did with the other two game modes, the fact that I had uncovered so much depth in such little time makes me feel that this is a game mode that can only get better as it goes along, rewarding players who persist in it, much like in multiplayer.
At first glance, the multiplayer was the base of much of my skepticism with the entire game, based on a few multiplayer gameplay videos I had seen of the game running on the PS3/360.
I still haven't quite gotten over the loss of the game modes that had been a part of the series for several games already, but the new game modes that have been added to the series are suitable replacements (for now), and nearly every aspect of the standard COD multiplayer experience has been tweaked to provide for one of the freshest online experiences to date.
One such new aspect is the Create-A-Class and Prestige system. In previous COD games, you had a single character that you could Prestige a certain number of times. However, in Ghosts, you now have ten squad members that can Prestige at level 60, and you can unlock several of these squad members very early on with the game's new unlock currency, Squad Points. Each squad member has a preferred weapon class, which determines what weapons and equipment will serve as the default class for the squad member. A squad member who chooses CQB equipment, for example, will have the Vector SMG unlocked from the beginning, but another squad member who chooses Support equipment will have the M27 AR unlocked, but would have to unlock the Vector SMG with Squad Points. This element means that while every single squad member is capable of using every single weapon, perk, and equipment in the game, they start off with gear in their preference category already unlocked. This is an evolution of the default classes that have been around since Call of Duty 4, and it's a welcome one.
All weapons, perks, and pointstreaks are unlocked with Squad Points, a move that wouldn't be so bad if there were easier ways to earn them.You earn one squad point with every rank up, and the occasional one for completing challenges (that change every few weeks) and other acts of valor, but when things cost anywhere from 2-10 squad points, you'll be finding yourself sticking with the same class for long periods of time, especially if you use multiple squad members like I do. Still, this means that all weapons in each class are purchasable from an early level, and you're not restricted to waiting until a weapon is unlocked with your current rank like with Perks, so persistence pays off, whether you stick with a single squad member and class or try and complete challenges to earn even more squad points.
If you feel like a natural leader, you can also take your Squad of created characters into the new Squads mode. While the basis of Squads mode, fighting computer bots with bot allies of your own, is nothing new to Call of Duty, the ability to create-a-soldier adds a new level of depth to the mode. While you can only control one character at a time, your team's AI is determined by several factors, including their weapon preference and squad levels. XP earned in this mode carries over to your multiplayer progress, although it's obviously much limited in terms of the amount you can earn. You can even have your squad fight by themselves another AI squad, and if your squad wins, you get XP without even doing anything. While it's not going to draw away anyone from the main multiplayer experience, at least not for a long time, anyway, it's a welcome distraction from human players and a great way to gain both literal experience with the weapons and maps, as well as XP for your multiplayer progress.
The Perks system features both new and familiar perks, with some weapon attachments being converted to perks from Black Ops 2 (although said weapon attachments were converted from perks in Modern Warfare 3, so the cycle continues). In a style very similar to the way The Last of Us handles multiplayer perks, each perk having a certain amount of points that it takes up, and you only have a few perk points at your disposal. You can have several perks that only take up 1-2 perks each, or you can have only two perks that are still equally viable, such as the classic carry two weapons perk Overkill or the new perk Deadeye that slowly turns your gun into a Golden Gun with every consecutive kill. This balance of perks allows for much more experimentation than in past titles and encourages constant changing to suit the needs for your class.
In a move that wasn't particularly great, the Assault/Support/Specialist pointstreak packages are back. On one hand, there are several new ways to earn rewards and all of them are balanced enough so that people aren't automatically going for the Remote Turret/Stealth Bomber/EMP combo in MW3 as support, for example. On the other hand, the Scorestreak system that Black Ops 2 had was a system that rewarded objective players by giving more points to objectives. So naturally, when a kill is worth the same as capturing a flag, less-objective inclined people are going to risk the kill over a flag cap.
Nevertheless, this didn't seem to be as big of a problem as I had thought, for there were equal amounts of support and assault streak users in a game, with the occasional Specialist, a pointstreak package that gives you more perks with every kill and all the perks in the game after a certain amount of kills. While it sounds like a goal to reach for at first, the fact that a single death can knock you back down to mortal status is still discouraging more people from using it. But with even more perks to work with in this game, I can easily see some of the better players going for this package when they play, and relying a little more on a little help from friends to keep them alive.
All these features are fine and lovely, but they don't really mean much if the gameplay is anywhere similar to Modern Warfare 3: A glitchy, lag-filled mess that isn't helped by the sub-par graphics and unbalanced weaponry. Thankfully, this game plays similarly to Modern Warfare 2, with an improved netcode that might also go hand-in-hand with the presence of dedicated servers, although matchmaking is still the same. The cramped hallway maps of MW3 infamy are replaced with much larger, open maps that may make some 6 on 6 matches feel a little lonely, but at right at home for the chaos of 9 vs 9 in Ground War. The graphics don't seem to compromise with the 60 frames per second and are comparable to campaign.
My biggest problem with the multiplayer, however, is the omission of several game modes, for no real reason at all. These include Demolition, Capture The Flag, Headquarters, Sabotage, and Search and Destroy, although S&D was quickly added in a patch. The party games, that Modern Warfare 3 threw in despite not having any benefit besides playing for fun, are also absent. The new game modes, Cranked, Blitz, and Search and Rescue, aren't nearly as memorable, and while I would be lying if I admitted that I didn't enjoy them, it's perplexing to see the party game mode Infected as an official mode over any of the omitted ones. Of course, time will tell if these modes will be brought back, either as part of DLC or due to popular demand, but I'm sure there's a certain part of the fanbase who was feeling disappointed at the selection of objective-based game modes, maybe even enough to warrant not buying the game.
But within all the other modes, there are also little touches that also enhanced my enjoyment while impressing me simultaneously. Teammates and enemies alike will shout out context-sensitive locations within the map if they spot an enemy there, like in a window or in tall grass. Your own score is posted in the top right of the game, eliminating the reason why most people open up the leaderboard every 5 seconds in previous games. You can now mute everyone else within the game, although I wished this would expand to the pre-game lobby. The dolphin dive that was implemented in the Black Ops series finds a counterpart in the equally unbelievable baseball slide, and leaning around corners makes a comeback for the first time since COD4 on the PC, a gameplay element that isn't as overpowered as it may seem. Anyone who played Modern Warfare 3 would notice that there were clearly elements of the game that were directly copied from Modern Warfare 2, but Ghosts' multiplayer is unique in that that it doesn't try to resemble the Modern Warfare series before it, but instead redesigned nearly every element of the multiplayer experience while making it feel instantly familiar and adding the aforementioned details to further polish the addictive gameplay of multiplayer. Call if the iOS 7 of the COD series.
Before I had written this review and even played the game, I had vehemently recommended to people not to buy it, for I believed that the refusal to accept Black Ops 2's positive changes would hinder the gameplay experience, and that a new setting couldn't save the series from still feeling all-too familiar. But I'm pleased to say that I was wrong on both accounts, and that COD: Ghosts provides more than enough reason to put up with the series for at least another year. There are enough new gameplay elements and a lengthy campaign that should spark your interest, and the advances done to the aging engine and the multiplayer experience should keep you playing....until the next COD game comes out, at least.
Originally written for Reaper Media
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Call of Duty: Ghosts (US, 11/19/13)
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