Cranked and Hunted multiplayer modes discourage camping; Squads is a good way to learn the game against AI; playing on the GamePad works very well, especially for two players
Campaign is bland and predictable; multiplayer maps are some of the worst I've played; Extinction is only fun for a short time
Every year a new Call of Duty game is released, and every year the developers boast new features and promise innovation. This year’s offering, Call of Duty: Ghosts, is no different. It features a new campaign, new competitive multiplayer modes as well as cooperative ones. Some of this new content succeeds, but most of it falls flat. Ghosts wants us to think it’s an all new experience, but really it’s just a known value that has taken another form.
Call of Duty: Ghosts opens with a father telling his two sons the legend of the Ghosts, a military force that earned its nickname for being so unstoppable that enemies claimed they couldn’t be human. Shortly after this legend comes to a close, an apocalyptic event occurs, setting into motion the events of the game. Sadly these events feel like the same ones we have seen over and over in every Call of Duty game. The bad guys this time around are a South American superpower known as The Federation. Having conquered their way through Central America, their leader sets his sights on the United States. In pursuit of The Federation’s leader, our troupe of soldiers travel all over the world, protecting or destroying every place they stop. These locales include an oil rig, an enemy base in the tundra, and more than one ruined city. These are all familiar places to fans of the series, and even levels set underwater and in space don’t feel any fresher. No matter how interesting the level, the gameplay always devolves into pop in, pop out cover shooting. The only notable level was a shootout in a flooded city. Our character spends a good amount of this area wading through waist deep water and can duck into it at any time for cover. No longer tied down to the stationary cover I had a lot of fun sneaking up on enemies from beneath the surface like a ninja with a bamboo straw.
In the end the story of the Ghosts falls flat, which disappointed me because the idea of the Ghosts was really interesting, but in practice they are no different than any other military group you have been a part of. Not even the much hyped inclusion of Riley the dog can bring life to the game’s cast, and in fact his role in the game has been massively exaggerated. Riley only appears in a few missions, and you only get to control him during sort sections in one or two of them. Although you see one of the other characters playing fetch with him for a few seconds at the start of the game you never actually get a chance to interact with him in a playful way, so he ends up feeling like a weapon rather than a pet. The game makes one attempt at getting you to care about Riley, but it is so shallow it’s almost laughable.
The gameplay is the same as it has always been, but that has always been one of the Call of Duty series’ greatest strengths. They are always mercifully simple and easy for anyone to pick up and play. However, no matter how good the controls feel it can’t save the painfully repetitive campaign missions. Level specific objectives and vehicle sections pop up from time to time, but these are equally tedious, especially the helicopter section that consists of firing homing missiles at marked targets which just boils down to pointing and clicking for ten minutes. Taking less than ten hours to complete, the campaign doesn’t overstay its welcome and serves as a pregame for the multiplayer.
Chances are you bought the game for multiplayer anyway, and you will be happy to hear the online modes are as good as ever, with a few caveats. Team Deathmatch, Domination, Kill Confirmed, and many other popular modes are back alongside a few new ones like Cranked, Hunted, Grind and Blitz. Team Deathmatch still seems to be the most popular mode online, but I was pleasantly surprised by the new modes. Cranked (taking inspiration from the movie of the same name) is a twist on Team Deathmatch that gives players who recently got a kill a huge boost in speed. The catch? You only have 30 seconds to get another kill. If the timer runs out you explode. If you continue to beat the timer and get on a kill streak you will gain more perks, eventually becoming a perk-packed super soldier. But remember, one death and you lose it all. This system strongly discourages camping, and quickly became my favorite mode.
Hunted is another twist on Team Deathmatch that forces players to fight with limited ammunition. Upon spawning you only have a pistol and one clip. If you kill another player you can take whatever ammo they have left to keep going, but the real hunt is for the weapon boxes that are periodically dropped all over the map. Inside is a random weapon with one clip, encouraging you to use their power carefully or be demoted to your pistol. Although the weapon boxes are tempting I had just as much success using just the pistol, so I was constantly asking myself if chasing a new weapon was worth the risk. Blitz is the replacement for Capture the Flag, where every player is the flag. Reaching the enemy base scores a point and spawns you elsewhere on the map. Halfway through the game the sides change and you do it all again. Another notable mode is Grind, which takes the Kill Confirmed model one step further, requiring players to turn stolen dog tags in at a marked location to get their points. Each kill gets you one tag, and takes one away from the enemy player.
The main reservation I have against calling Ghosts‘ multiplayer offerings as good as previous games is the maps. Most of them are simply too large to get a grasp on and don’t feel suited to Call of Duty’s style of play. A past favorite like Firing Range from Black Ops works because it is small enough that you can memorize every entrance, exit, nook, and cranny while still being open enough for 12 players to spread out and hunt each other down. Maps like Stonehaven in Ghosts are so huge that getting kills often feels like a right place right time scenario as all players wander around in search of each other. One time I went a full 30 seconds without seeing another player, which was shocking given Call of Duty’s rapid pace. Still, there are a few gems mixed in, like my favorite Octane, based on a ruined Las Vegas gas station.
Ghosts features a huge number of guns and perks, and creating your loadout will likely feel very familiar to any veterans of the series. Pick a gun, put on sight, a grip, then pick a good sidearm and your favorite grenades. Even if the names are new we have seen most of these options before. Even most of the perks are familiar, but like most things in Call of Duty the developers know what works so there is no reason to change it. This time around you have ten points to spend on perks and each one has a value depending on its perceived usefulness. You can pick a lot of weak perks or a few stronger ones; in the end it just has to add up to ten. However it will take a while to unlock all of the guns, perks, and attachments you need for your perfect soldier. Everything costs squad points earned by leveling up and you will be playing awhile before you will be able to put together a full set, and unlocking it all will take true commitment, promising that dedicated players have plenty to do. A new feature in Ghosts is the ability to change all aspects of your character model with unlockable gear, and the ability to choose between a male and female character.
As if the competitive multiplayer content wasn’t enough, Ghosts comes packed with two more multiplayer modes, Squads, Safeguard, and Extinction. Squads lets you customize a full team of AI soldiers, everything from their looks to their guns and perks, and take them into battle against other AI teams or another player’s squad. Squads is a great way for new players to get a handle on the multiplayer maps and modes, as well as loadouts which are completely unlocked from the start when playing locally. When played online your squad progress will earn you points toward multiplayer unlocks. You can even use your Squad in the wave-based Safeguard mode (similar to Gears of Wars’ Horde mode). In Safeguard you and your squad (or your friends, either locally or online) battle against increasingly difficult waves of enemy soldiers, gaining new gear and perks as you progress. This mode is a lot of fun, especially with a full group working together.
Finally, there is the all new Extinction mode, heavily inspired by the Zombies mode from World at War. The main difference is that Extinction has an end point, completed once you manage to destroy all of the alien hives. To do this you must move a large drill from hive to hive across a large map, all while battling waves of alien foes. Much like Zombies, you gain money for killing aliens and can use it to pick up new guns and items from the map. You can also spend your points on a variety of gear including a sentry gun or automated missile thrower. As you progress, your character will level up allowing you to put points into a few different passive skills based on what loadout you picked from the start. The replay value in this mode comes from unlocking different loadouts to approach the battle in different ways. Sadly this isn’t very alluring and I never felt myself drawn back to Extinction. It has none of the interesting, comedic story elements from Zombies or the crazy fun weapons.
Running on the Wii U, Ghosts looks just as good as any of the other last gen consoles. The environments are big and detailed, even if some of the textures and models look a little jagged up close. Most importantly I never noticed a drop in frame rate at any point.
The GamePad doesn’t make much of a splash in Ghosts, serving no purpose in most modes. During the campaign it lists your objectives, and when playing online it shows the map and loadouts. None of this is very useful, especially since you would never want to be looking down anyway. Its main purpose is being used as a second screen for multiplayer, giving both players a screen to themselves instead of splitting one. You can also play entirely on the GamePad during solo play, but you might notice some lost frames and off colors. Surprisingly the game supports full motion control support and I had a lot of fun playing the campaign with the Wii Remote. You can also use a Wii Classic Controller, but due to missing inputs it doesn’t work very well. When it comes to controllers, I would rank them Wii Pro Controller, then the GamePad, Wii Remote and Nunchuck, and finally the Wii Classic Controller.
In the end Ghosts is indeed another Call of Duty game, but one of the weaker releases over the past few years. The new multiplayer modes are exciting, but they are bogged down by the low quality maps. If you just need a game to scratch your FPS itch, Ghosts will tide you over till another Call of Duty comes out, but if you are looking for a shooter that is surprising and profound, you are better off passing on Ghosts.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.