For over half a decade we have been treated to an annual franchise that never seems to stop impressing its fans. With every release though, the counter movement grows more and more livid, annoyed by the celebration of repetition and a lack of innovation. Since the first Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward has tried to push the series forward with more intense combat and slightly bigger explosions. So goes Call of Duty: Ghosts do either of these things? Well, no. It is business as usual with a fresh coat of paint and a few new bells and whistles.
The majority of the review was on a PS3 copy of Call of Duty: Ghosts, but the highlighted sections are on the PS4 version of the game.
Basic gameplay remains the same as it always has. You run from room to room gunning other players or AI down in a virtual orgy of bullets and gore. It is the same song and dance, with some new guns and gadgets. Weapons sound great and audio fits the tone well. How can this be a bad thing? Well, it doesn’t do anything bold or interesting. These mechanics are exactly the same as they were six years ago. A mechanical rehaul isn’t expected from the series, but something to add a small change of pace would have been welcome.
You play Logan Walker, a faceless American soldier. Along with his father and brother, you are taken across North and South America to fight The Federation, a South American empire united after an energy crisis in the wake of the Iraq war. The game isn’t interested in giving you anything other than the bare-basics to get on with the action, which given the quality of the writing is a good thing. The entire South American continent decides to invade North America and to exact genocide on every American with in shooting distance. After the desolation of the southern US, a massive 30 foot wall across the entire border is created. Pretty quickly you and your brother become part of the “Ghosts”, a team of super-soldier misfits with no personality or distinguishing features who take the war to the Federation. One grizzled tough guy quickly becomes the same as the next, making the team indistinguishable.
Things Don’t Go Well For The US…Again
Even with this premise, the four hour campaign feels padded, with the narrative stopping dead after the half-way mark to have you blow a few more structures up before moving onto the end game. Not only does this cut one of the few moments of actual drama dead, but it’s like the game has to fill a quota of “things that must explode” before pegging it to the finish line.
Sadly while I played it, I felt uncomfortable by some of the games insinuated undertones. The premise sounds like a white conservative American’s nightmare, with South Americans pouring over the border to take over their beloved homeland. This is particularly weird however when almost every character, even the South American antagonists, are predominately white. In the few moments you see under the body armour, you generally see pale white men, feeling like all Infinity Ward did was texture swap the character models to wear a different uniform. Even so, this literally white-washes and entire continent. Also the only reason the game gives you to know they are evil is because they have a single-minded obsession with killing Americans, which in its own way is lazy. Even if their cause and aims were characterized and detailed a little better, it still sends an off-colour message when you murder thousands of white Mexicans because they basically jump the border. The previously mentioned giant concrete wall also seems like something from Glen Beck’s fantasies to keep out “undesirables”. All of these issues feel more like lazy design, rather than anything insidious on Infinity Wards part, and it is just my interpretation of the game. This interpretation however is enough to raise a few eyebrows in one of the worst ways possible. Sure Call of Duty’s single-player has always been advanced target practice for the multiplayer, but that isn’t an excuse to make something that raises a few red flags along the way.
Aside from this, the game is a remarkably rehashed. The majority of the game feels lifted from the older Modern Warfare titles, with a splash of Black Ops for “variety”. America getting invaded, an oil-rig is captured and on rail turret sections has Infinity Ward treading old ground. Maybe the game should have been re-titled “Call of Duty: Greatest Hits”.
Walking On The Windows Isn’t Generally Considered The Stealthy Option
Imagination does occasionally come through in small glimpses. Both the underwater and space sections offer a welcome change of pace. The slower, more open mission design force a different approach and careful use of cover as you float through the void. Riley the dog also appears in two small playable interludes. Twice in the same level, you get to use him to rip the throat out of enemies in enforced stealth sections. It isn’t until you think back that the experience seems out of place. It is set up like it is a big thing you will use throughout the game, but after that section it is never used again. These short bursts of originality sadly can’t tough Treyarch’s advancement for the series in last year’s Black Ops 2, but the inclusion is welcome.
The visuals haven’t received much attention over the years. Environments still attempt to evoke a sense of gritty realism and facial animations appear stiff and lifeless. The strive for some kind of photorealism isn’t doing the game much favours while using the ageing IW Engine.
Multiplayer takes a noticeable step back. Instead of using a variant of the pick 10 point system from Black Ops 2, it reverts to the basic method of unlocks being tied to levels. This is the system that Modern Warfare series itself made popular six years ago. After so long you would expect some form of evolution or refinement, but instead offers the exact same progression that has been offered by the same studio for the fourth time in a row. Pick 10 wasn’t a huge leap, but it offered something with a bit of vigor.
Where Do You Go From Here?
New multiplayer modes are implemented rather well, changing up previous implementations to add a breath of fresh life. Search and rescue has a keen emphasis on teamwork, much like the new Safeguard mode. While not every new game type is a hit, it shows that Infinity Ward can take something and improve on it with evolution and iteration.
The much advertised Extinction mode is one part that is actually fun, and succeeds for the most part. Aliens swamp the map in droves as you protect a drill to destroy their hives. With one map and the same objective, it is a good playground to experiment with the different classes and how they interweave while playing with friends. However, it is hard to shake the feeling that this is a taster, with the full meal coming through later DLC maps and updates.
The shooting works fine, both Infinity Ward and Treyarch have had that mastered for a very long time. If it isn’t broke don’t fix it. But after half a decade of the same offerings year after year, this seems to be the first time the series has taken a step back. The seams have begun to rip, and a simple patch job will fix it. A trite story is poisoned by worrying undertones, multiplayer seems nearly three years out of date, and even the best parts are underused in service of playing it safe. I am unsure if Call of Duty can ever make some kind of a grand comeback, but that works on the assumption that it disappears long enough for us to miss it. With the repeated success of the games sales every year however, it is unlikely the franchise is going anywhere any time soon.