Its that time of year again, nestled snuggly between the end of summer holidays which promise darker let alone colder times ahead and of course that big ever more expensive event known to many as Christmas. I am of course talking about the triple A gaming season, and more specifically the release of one of the biggest games ever made, an FPS called Call of Duty. You may have heard of it.
With ten instalments under its belt, omitting any handheld incarnations that spring to mind, the series didn't really hit its peak until the modern warfare entries which were handled by Infinity Ward and now after the world record breaking success of last years Black Ops II, Infinity Ward are back with a brand new branch of the highly anticipated annual series. Call of Duty Ghosts.
Looking to inject some much needed fresh air into the franchise, can ghosts really carry the legacy to new heights, or is it just another small sign of the future self cannibalisation of the current king of shooters? unfortunately Ghosts stands on some pretty shaky ground, trying its hardest to keep everything the same while making it all different and ultimately this is down to a clear amount of pressure to be the first next-gen iteration and last the current-gen will experience, but its not all bad news as the games campaign manages to still retain all the fun you would expect, albeit with some mating issues.
For this heart pounding adventure that’ll send you around the globe and back, Ghosts offers up a somehow even more confusing story than last years Black Ops II which is so devoid of explanation its almost frustrating, but if you can set this aside and remember the golden rule ‘shoot first and never ask questions. Not even later” you’ll have a great time blowing enemies to smithereens in a mixture of some the most beautiful settings imaginable to some of the easily most blandest around. A truly mixed bag then it seems.
You play as logan, your archetypal silent but strong protagonist whom fate has some how deemed worthy to take charge of the next generation, in the aftermath of a hugely devastating attack by the evil ‘south american federation’ who have hijacked americans ultimate weapon ‘odin’ an orbital laser beam, thingy which can apparently destroy multiple cities in one fell swoop. You and your brother Hesh decide to take the fight back to the federation as a part of what remains within the US military. This is essentially the campaigns biggest stumbling point, with each mission you pass the story gets ever more far fetched with even less explanation. All of this quickly boils down to a plot of, “shoot that guy because he's wearing different clothes” which just never excites. With so many characters left as hollow as a kinder egg, from beginning to end I honestly didn't care who killed who, or who I shot. I often found myself getting a slap on the wrist for friendly fire as everyone was dressed in a pale grey.
Even the games lead villain lacks any kind of real motivation, the only explanation offered was a small line from a partner explaining “he's just crazy”. Its good to see crazy people can so easily take charge of full scale armies and attempt world domination, so much for care in the community.
All the excitement fortunately comes from the, pretty much expected, constant switching from setting to setting, getting to pilot jets, control tanks, fight underwater and even in space. Yes, you read that right, you can float around in the great abyss and deliver head shots and blows to the arm which will send your enemies zooming off into the distance. All of this is delivered with the type of precision and control that infinity ward are known for, meaning you're never in one spot long enough to get too bored of the games mechanics.
The addition of fights in space and deep underwater were a really refreshing element to experience, and some of the best the game had to offer, demanding that you pay even more attention to your surroundings as your cover can often be compromised now that an extra dimension of movement has been thrown into the mix.
What about Riley the wonder dog, i hear you cry?
Well after hearing about the now infamous canine companion, I have to admit that I was less than excited at the concept of having a dog on board. Don't get me wrong, I love dogs but I just couldn't see how having one following you around a battlefield would be anything other than clumsy and awkward, but as I played through ghosts I was surprised to find that far from being a pain in the proverbial, Riley was actually one of the most genuine characters offered up (crazy I know) offering up some patches of alternate gameplay, involving stealth and using him as a blunt weapon of mass throat tearing, that I looked forward to. While it still takes a leap of faith to accept that you're controlling this dog, somehow, I was glad for the partner in crime. He offers his own little emotional roller coaster later on, but i’ll save that for you to uncover.
Overall the campaign is a fun romp through your typical COD tropes and high calibre set pieces, with explosions that would leave Micahel Bay wetting his Y fronts. Just don't expect an intelligent story (even an understandable one) or a life alteringly fresh experience. Think fast-food, not steak.
With any other game, that’d pretty much be the end of my thoughts but of course, what would any Call of Duty game be without its multiplayer? After all, this is one of the few franchises in which people will do their best to completely ignore any campaign and jump straight online, ready to ‘Pwn n00bs’ and fight for that all important prestige. Again. Oh and again of course.
While Ghosts undoubtably offers up some great multiplayer, this is not the best iteration the series has ever seen, with some big changes that leaves me pondering wether fans will stick to Ghosts for their death match fix or instead move backwards to Black Ops iII (or perhaps even Modern Warfare 3 which is one of the old favourites for many)
The most obvious change you’ll encounter is how Ghosts allows you to customise your digital self and deal with your load outs. Gone is the simple 10 selections only that Black Ops II offered us, only to be replaced by a much more confusing and possibly frustrating system of points.
You see, the amount of perks you can equip is directly correlated to what you're carrying as each perk has a different point value, and you’re only allowed to spend eight points in total. Unless of course you throw away all of your weapons and equipment, leaving you with 12 perk points free but dangerously unarmed. I guess that options only for the John Mclains among us.
This new system isn't the hardest thing to get your head around, but with no obvious advantages, it does take some getting used to and with so many perks now available (thirty five by my last count) choosing your load out isn't something that can be done on the fly like in previous instalments.
Perhaps more controversially, Ghosts takes level caps off of almost everything within the multiplayer experience, meaning almost every player can unlock all the guns and perks they want. No longer can those who’ve prestige so quickly dominate the stage. As you level up online you’ll earn yourself some squad points, these can then be used to unlock whatever you so choose, cutting out any need to wait until your level 52 for that beefy rifle, just go straight to the shop and get it. Perks have a similar situation, although they initially present a level requirement before you can purchase them, for an extra fee of squad points you can indeed get your hands on them earlier. I personally see this change as a good thing, leaving those with perhaps a shorter attention span a much better chance of getting more deeply involved, but at the same time it does take away from your drive to level up, after all you could be packed out with everything that you need by level 25. Unless badges and prestiges are your thing in which case you’ll still be going at it for hours.
Its clear that Infinity ward have put some thought into levelling the playing field, just a little bit, for those of us who felt that CODs multiplayer realm had gotten somewhat ridiculous. Aside from quickscoping being shown the door, Ghosts has put a focus on Killstreaks staying mainly grounded, with UAVs now taking the shape of satellites that you can place anywhere you see fit. Yes they can be destroyed by gunfire, but the more you hide around the better your coverage and for those of you who want more Riley, Attack Dogs are back but this time you’ll get your own personal mutt to hang by your side as extra protection. Perfect.
These may again be controversial changes but they certainly stop matches becoming nothing more than you hiding in a building, hoping someone can take down a chopper, or UAV or even avoid those pesky Hunter Killers.
While some of the veterans favourites such as Hardpoint and Ground War don't make a return in Ghosts, there are some new modes to cover the short fall. From Infected, which dares you to survive with a shotgun as zombies come to pick you off one by one, to Grind, which much like kill confirmed asks you to collect the dog tags of your fallen enemies only then adding the extra task of dropping them off at one of two banks on the map, theres a little something for everyone. I found Cranked to offer the most fun, tasking you with getting a kill every 30 seconds or BOOM, the fast paced nature just suited my style.
Of course if standard multiplayer isn't your thing, Ghosts offers up Extinction mode which is not only a unique alternative, its a more than adequate change of pace for fans of the previously popular Zombies mode. Throwing you and your friends into a city overrun by aliens, its your job to place a drill at each nest and protect it while hordes of the ugly beasts come for your throat.
Much like zombies there are traps and weapons to unlock and aid you along but interestingly you can now level up your character with perk points you can earn by completing challenges ranging from ‘kill 15 with a pistol before the drill finishes its job’ or ‘take no damage for X minutes’
While these upgrades only last until you die, its a nice option that adds a little depth to what is essentially an arcade experience.