The Call of Duty franchise has been in existence for 10 years now, taking the player through the battlefields of the past, present, and near-future. Like clockwork every November, Call of Duty amasses metric tonnes of money for its publisher, Activision. Modern Warfare 3 has sold over 26 million copies since its release in 2009. Black Ops II in 2012 grossed over $500 million within 24 hours of going on sale, a record for the largest entertainment launch of all time that clung to until September of this year when GTA V took the crown (which, in case you didn’t know, we reviewed over here a few weeks back). And news is that Call of Duty: Ghosts, the latest main installment in the series, pulled in a ego-inflating $1 billion in a single day. That’s not sales to customers though, rather to the stock sold to the retailers. Still, Call of Duty is a very large, hugely-uddered cash cow that seemingly isn’t going to run out of milk any time soon. And I’ve not suckled at its teat…until now (Ed: That’s a very disturbing metaphor you’ve got there). Did the experience leave a bad taste in my mouth? (Ed: You’re not making things better.) Find out after the jump.
Two patch installs later, and Ghosts’ opening sequence is cinematic and more out of the pages of a graphic novel. The script penned by Stephen Gaghan (Traffic, Syriana) sets the scene of a world at war (again!), where a coalition of countries called the Federation has been at war with the United States (again!). After a mass event that occurred 10 years ago, they’ve fought to a shaky stalemate but there are fears that the Federation will break it in a rather grand manner. A small team of clandestine (Ed: When AREN’T they clandestine?) U.S. Spec Ops personnel—the so-called Ghosts—have been tasked to go behind enemy lines and ruin their plans. For most of the story, you assume the role of silent soldier Logan Walker as he and the Ghosts attempt to tip the balance of power.
If there was one word that describes CoD: Ghosts, I think it would be cacophonous. It’s like an orchestra where every member has automatic weaponry of some kind and they’re firing all at the same time. It makes for a rambunctious soundtrack that excites some and overwhelms others. I fall into the latter category, and even though Ghosts leads you by the nose to the completion of the mission objectives, all the sights and sounds of war can be shell-shocking. I get disoriented, sometimes not knowing where to go, who is friend and who is foe, and feeling an entirely real threat upon my life. The action in Ghosts is certainly immersive.
The environments in Ghosts aren’t all that spectacular, the color palette doesn’t do much to awaken the eyes with the exception of an unplanned excursion through a tropical rain forest. While they may lack looks, the levels are certainly functional, providing areas to flank your enemies. One level in particular gives you a great deal of freedom to not only pick a route through a steamy rain forest, but to silently pick off enemies as well. It makes a welcome change from the usually loud firefights. Your boots aren’t firmly fixed on terra firma either. For a change in scenery, some missions have you up in the skies in a chopper to eliminate battlements or assuming control of a drone to provide aerial support to the ground troops. You even take the fight into space, in an EVA to capture a satellite. Some missions have you donning your scuba gear and sending your enemies to their watery graves. And others have you rolling in a battalion of tanks as they assault a heavily fortified site.
The single player campaign is short, and can be completed in four to six hours by an average player on the normal difficulty. What it lacks in length, it makes up with explosive action—on the scale of 1 to 10, it would be a Michael Bay. The story is a simple one, but does anyone who buys Call of Duty expect a stellar narrative? According to the statistics, players have logged over 1.6 billion hours of online play in Modern Warfare 3 since its 2011 release. Given that it is the main selling point of the Call of Duty franchise, you won’t be surprised to find that the developer has focused its attention on the multiplayer component.
“Squads” is an entirely new co-op mode that has you creating a team of A.I. combatants, their gender and looks, and even giving them names. The game touts 20,000 possible combinations when creating your soldier. You and your team compete online against other teams in a variety of game types. For example, the “Safeguard” game type is co-op survival mode where a four-player team has to survive waves of enemies, and “Wargame” pits your team of six versus another squad of six, where you can swap out your A.I. team mates with a real-life friend. Kills net you XP and squad points to upgrade weapons, perks, and strike package components. I can see how easy it is to be obsessive about getting a leg up on the competition in the multiplayer. Better guns, best attachments, and top tier perks are incredibly attractive carrots. I just wish earning XP would be a little faster. There are meagre XP returns for the average player who has many more deaths than kills in their KD ratio.
A spin-off of the popular “Zombies” mode, “Extinction” is also a new online co-op mode task you and three other players to destroy 14 “hives” while a barrage of aliens attempt to stop you. You start off in the weapon specialist class that affords you faster reloading and better bullet damage and as you rise up the ranks (this rank is entirely separate from Squads and the multiplayer), you can unlock further classes of soldier: tank, engineer, and medic. Kills earn you money to upgrade your pistol, types of ammo, provide supplies for team, choose strike packages, and to purchase heavy firepower when in a pinch. Having different types of soldiers in the team is key to survival in this mode, but if you’re not a team player, extinction can be done solo (with great difficulty I’d imagine) and individual scores can be posted to the leaderboards.
“Cranked”, a TDM-style mode where a player is gifted with a set of perks whenever the score a kill. A timer is set off, and said player has 30 seconds to kill again lest they explode. “Blitz” too is a new mode similar to CTF where players need to reach the enemy team’s goal (or portal) to score points. Together with the new modes, the staples like Kill Confirmed, Domination, and Team Deathmatch make their return from previous games. The 15 large maps offer a good balance of choke points for close-quarters combat and the large open areas make for a sniper’s paradise.
For someone who prefers single player narratives over multiplayer mayhem, I found the tiresome story and lifeless characters make Ghosts to be an underwhelming experience. The multiplayer, however, adds a boatload of new modes to enhance the core experience that the franchise is known for. Perhaps there will be a day when Call of Duty provides the best of both. Until then I leave Ghosts the same way I approached it—with indifference.
Final Score: 6.5 duty-free prawns out of 10
Developer: Infinity Ward
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox360, PC, PS4, Xbox One
Age Rating: 18