I purposely held off writing my Call of Duty: Ghosts review until we had all the versions in hand. It isn’t often I get to sit down and see the progression from current to next-gen, especially in a title with such a large user base. Now that I have had time to sit down with all four console versions of Ghosts, I can say that whether players choose to stick with the current crop of consoles, or move to the new hardware, Ghosts is the most disappointing entry in the series in a while. Having two teams work on the series on alternating years is starting to show who really drives that series forward now.
Ghosts starts off interesting enough, with a dramatic intro discussing an elite group of soldiers hardened by war. Then it flashes into an epic attack on US soil by one of its own satellites. The ensuing space level only continued to ramp up my excitement as the plot began to unfold. Sadly, this is where it ends. After the initial segment, the campaign starts flying all over the place. Scripted events plague every facet, and all of the advancements the series has seen over the years disappear. This is the by-the-numbers experience the series is often criticized for, only this time it is amplified a hundred fold.
Still, the actual story is refreshing, if not a bit confusing. The attack this time comes from the south, as a South American nation becomes the dominant force, creating a world where the US is attempting to fight back. It is the quintessential focus on America once again being the hero, fighting an evil nation, but at least it decides to present it from another perspective. The overall story still falls apart often, and doesn’t focus on its namesake nearly enough. The Ghost characters are cool, but highly underused.
This is Call of Duty. For anyone who has played the series before, everything here feels just like it did back in 2005. Pull left trigger to aim and pop shots repeatedly with fast-paced and plenty of scripted, hand-holding events. Pressing A/X to win, is commonplace. Being Infinity Ward’s turn though, some small things have changed. For example, when running, holding down the prone button now forces my character to slide, instead of diving into prone position. It isn’t game-changing, but it takes some adjustment coming off Black Ops II.
The biggest change though comes in the form of Riley, the oft-mocked dog companion used throughout the campaign. Riley can be controlled remotely, or even taken over in first person for some DPB (dog-person-biting) action. It is novel at first, but grows stale quickly. He is best used to take down enemies while my character is shooting them. In other words he is a good distraction.
Set pieces and action still rule though. Ghosts delivers moments not found in other shooters, and feels like a big dumb action movie. Rappelling down the side of a building is as fun as it sounds, and seeing the destruction on a massive scale, like the dam level, is truly entertaining. I have always enjoyed the brief CoD campaigns, and Ghosts does what it needs to do to survive. The story is a mess but everything else is very pretty to look at, especially on next-gen.
So for this review I played through the PS3 and Xbox One versions, while also toying around with the 360 and PS4 iterations. It is weird to see how they all play out. The 360 and Xbox One versions are the smoothest when it comes to frame rate. Things rarely drop below that magical 60 frames per second, even during intense action. The PS3 is by far the worst of the bunch with muddy textures and plenty of slowdown. The PS4 version sports the sharpest resolution all around, but also hit bouts of slowdown during the campaign that left me befuddled. Overall if players want the best experience, I would probably recommend 360 for current, and for next gen just pick where your friends play, and controller preference. Their distinctions are far less noticeable.
Ghosts multiplayer is both the same, and different at the same time. As with most off-year entries, there are weird changes made to every facet of the online, which in turn forces players to re-learn what they have been playing for a solid year.
First off is the create-a-soldier portion. This allows players to completely customize their avatar and equip it with a bevy of weapons and perks. Each player has access to ten soldiers, each with six load outs, which is just as insane as it sounds. There is so much to keep track of, but it does give players enough options for every single game style. I spent hours in there just tweaking my main load out, so I can imagine the die-hards spending ten times that to perfect the way they play.
There are also new modes to liven things up such as Cranked. This mode is insane. Once a player is cranked, a timer begins and they must rack up kills to add more time. If it expires, they explode. It is as crazy as it sounds, and is actually pretty fun. There is also a zombie-style mode much like the one found in Halo, and Search and Rescue puts a spin on Kill Confirmed by allowing teammates to pick up your tags to respawn you, but if the opposing team snags them, players have to sit out a round. Blitz is essentially FPS football. All in all the new modes are a nice addition, but none of them stand out as much as Cranked.
Infinity Ward has also replaced Zombies with a new mode called Extinction. I never liked Zombies, and Extinction isn’t going to draw me in anymore than its inspiration. Instead of boarding up windows, players now carry a large drill from place to place. Then they have to protect it while aliens come charging in. That’s it. There are some challenges that crop up, and each wave earns points that can be spent on upgrades and weapons, but it just grows tiresome after a few matches, and never incentivized me to keep coming back.
The last new addition to Ghosts is Squads. I like to refer to this as multiplayer with training wheels. This mode gives players a chance to play all the multiplayer modes with AI bots. I could use my customized soldiers and even play 1-v-1 matches with a friend using our squads. It is a novel concept, and one that someone like myself appreciates considering I have anxiety going online in CoD games. Sadly the AI is limited, and only satisfies at lower levels. Once I was good enough to bump it up, I wound up dying constantly. Let’s face it, I just suck at CoD games.
Call of Duty: Ghosts boasts a lot of new ideas, but sadly none of them take flight in practice. Learning the entire system over in multiplayer is also a bummer, considering how much people invested into Black Ops II. I really wish Activision forced Infinity Ward and Treyarch to work closer together in between versions. Perhaps then we wouldn’t get so much inconsistency with each new version. I am stoked to see how the first, truly next-gen version delivers next holiday, but for now Ghosts feels like a lateral move for the franchise.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox One.