Who Ya Gonna Call?
The nights are growing darker, the mornings are getting frosty and that can only mean one thing: it's Shooter Season. Yes, the pre-Christmas build up of first-person mayhem and explosions is now officially under way as the annual COD release - Call of Duty: Ghosts - is finally here.
Just don't come to Ghosts looking to be surprised. Returning to the series after handing over to Treyarch for last year's Black Ops II, and faced with the task of developing a game that can comfortably straddle the limitations of the last console generation with the potential of the new, Infinity Ward has played it safe. This is COD Classic, consisting of a relatively short but high octane single player campaign and a bulging Santa sack full of multiplayer modes.
The campaign story, penned by Hollywood screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, takes the apocalyptic rumblings of the Modern Warfare series and takes it to its logical extreme. Set in the 2020s, it finds the United States knocked off its superpower perch when orbital weapons platforms are hijacked and turned against the west coast by The Federation, a coalition of South American forces that sweep up and invade.
Logan's Run (And Gun)
Playing as Logan Walker, a young soldier who finds himself recruited into a secret elite squad of guerilla fighters known as the Ghosts, you'll strike back against the enemy across missions ranging from skyscraper assaults, undersea sabotage and undercover infiltration. You'll also shoot and explode a hell of a lot of stuff, as you'd expect.
It's a typical COD campaign - often taking place in fairly narrow and scripted gameplay corridors, but delivering eyebrow-searing intense action along the way. Changes from the formula come in the shape of Riley, Logan's camera-mounted dog who can be controlled and used to take down enemies, and some later stages in which you take the controls of helicopters and tanks for some arcade-style vehicle combat. It's not the best COD campaign you'll ever play, but for the duration of a Veteran-level playthrough, it does the job in muscular style.
Multiplayer is where you'll be spending most of your time, and Infinity Ward has tweaked its formula but hasn't risked gumming up its purring engine with any massive changes. There are seven new multiplayer modes, but most are variations on playstyles that have already proven popular. Grind is essentially Kill Confirmed, for example, but with two "banks" on the map where dog tags must be dropped in order to score. The maps are predictably excellent though - tight and dense mazes that span multiple levels, with very few safe spots that would slow the action down and encourage campers.
That's why it's so tempting - comfortable, even - to stick with Team Deathmatch, but the game has a few cunning ways of encouraging players to vary their play. A free companion app lets you take part in Clan Wars, matching your clan up with similar teams from around the world, and measuring your success across different game modes in short leaderboard-style tournaments. Dominating across multiple modes grants bonuses such as XP boosts and customisation options. There's also Squads, in which your performance in multiplayer is used to "train" AI bots that others can then fight against, similar to driving against ghost data in a racing game.
Arguably the best multiplayer addition, however, is the co-op Extinction mode in which you and three others battle through an alien infestation. Lugging a remote drill from one alien hive to another, and then protecting it as scuttling creatures and hulking brutes attack from all sides, it's a typical survival mode but the Call of Duty weaponry and some fun environmental traps mean that, while it feels very much like a companion to Zombies, it's also its own thing with a unique pace and flow.
So all told, Call of Duty: Ghosts is the game you expect. It's slick and impeccably crafted, more than a little over-familiar, but still the sort of beefy action game that offers multiple ways to get your bullets and boom fix until next year's edition. And if you can pick it up for a next generation console, you'll definitely justify that new hardware.
GAME's Verdict: 8/10
- The campaign's setpiece highlights are stunning
- COD still has the best deathmatch multiplayer of any shooter
- Incredibly generous spread of online modes and maps
- Very few surprises.
- Some technical rough edges and shrunken lobbies on older consoles
- Cool campaign ideas from Black Ops II have been ignored