The newly released Call of Duty: Ghosts is yet another landmark for the videogames industry. While it’s more than likely to become one of the biggest selling videogames of the year it’s also expected to sell less than last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II for two reasons: franchise fatigue and the huge popularity of Grand Theft Auto V. The former is Activision’s own doing, the latter is perhaps unavoidable.
Marketing aside the videogame stands as a fine example of mainstream gaming in its own right. It’s the lowest common denominator stuff; appealing to the masses by way of only opting for the most popular features of previous titles and the bombastic approach to story design that the series’ latter entries have become famous for. Its campaign is short and hard hitting, its co-operative modes work with surface level strategies and its multiplayer will surely prove to be just as enduring as previous titles. This is, for all intents and purposes, the exact same videogame that Infinity Ward has been producing for the last six years, for better or worse.
Much has been made of the necessary installation process for Call of Duty: Ghosts, arguably diminishing the videogame’s ease of access for many. However, only 3GB of free space is required to install the videogame and the process takes less than five minutes so it’s hardly a steep barrier for entry. And of course, doing so allows for much richer textures to be accessed directly from the harddisk drive; a feature that was once considered an optional extra but in the run up to the launch of next-generation systems is more-or-less essential.
Upon actually starting to play, beginning with the campaign, Call of Duty: Ghosts proves yet again that the Call of Duty franchise has the power to dominate the Hollywoodisation of videogames. This is the same direction that Call of Duty has enthused for many years, and the same direction that its imitators have followed. A dramatic opening sequence pitching two very different lifestyles into a climactic cliffhanger: a world at war for reasons as yet unknown, and the player thrown bang into the middle of it all. It’s brainless and bombastic, and nobody does it better.
In terms of gameplay however, Call of Duty: Ghosts’ approach is less convincing. All too predictably the player will be funnelled down a set path of increasing difficulty, engaging with more and more enemy numbers until they’re drawn to a standstill and have to slowly pick off troops until they can advance, cover by cover. When reaching the end of the sequence they’ll be given an exciting task as a reward – using laser guided rockets, remote snipers or directing a drone – but rarely does Call of Duty: Ghosts deviate from this prescribed formula. And when it does, it’s no less familiar.
The most interesting aspect of Call of Duty: Ghosts’ campaign – though you could hardly call it innovative – is when the player is given control of Riley, your canine sidekick. An odd combination of direct control and virtual alignment, the player is told that Riley will act as a guide and will follow orders, but is then given direct control of the four-legged fighter. They move, run, attack and even bark as the dog, pulling them forcefully out of the role they were playing while still presenting them with the viewpoint of their character looking through a wireless camera feed. It’s a startlingly disjointed approach and one that was clearly designed out of comfort rather than a passion for offering something new to the interactive entertainment medium.
Outside of the single-player component Call of Duty: Ghosts performs considerably better. The brand new Extinction mode is arguably the videogame’s finest moment, answering Call of Duty: Black Ops’ Zombies mode with an odd juxtaposition of its own. Here, players must work together to eliminate an alien infestation by reaching designated points on the map an then protecting a drill as it bores into an alien hive. This is essentially a variation on the King of the Hill ruleset made for co-operative gameplay, but what it does it does well.
The Squads mode is Call of Duty: Ghosts’ regular co-operative gameplay option in which players fight through increasingly difficult waves of enemy numbers or take part in a standard Team Deathmatch challenge, either locally or online. Again, Squads is favourable to the campaign and yet feels lifeless next to the Extinction mode. It’s a shame as the Spec Ops component of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is undoubtedly where most players invested much of their time.
In it’s standard multiplayer option, Call of Duty: Ghosts plays just as that: standard. There’s little involved in Call of Duty: Ghosts’ online gameplay that will surprise anyone, with a familiar assortment of maps, modes, ranking system and unlocks. The videogame does feature mid-map challenges when claiming a briefcase from the battlefield and this does spice-up the action somewhat, but given that no other players are notified when you have the briefcase – or that one is even available on the map – it can be a fairly soulless challenge to hunt for headshots, melee kills or streaks without anyone acknowledging your potential victory.
Of course, Call of Duty: Ghosts looks and sounds far superior to almost any other title on current-generation hardware. Its rollercoaster ride campaign takes the player through some hugely impressive locals featuring the kind of detail that most developers could only dream of squeezing out of current-generation hardware, while the sound quality is without precedent, despite the forcibly cool intention of presenting Eminem as the aural talent externally. The multiplayer component – though excelling in terms of map design – doesn’t stand well next to the single-player campaign. Low resolution textures and a poor variety of building blocks make the maps feel as if they may have been rushed in many instances; a shocking outcome, considering that necessary install.
As the latest in a long line of industry defining titles, Call of Duty: Ghosts stands next to it’s predecessors as a videogame built for the masses to enjoy. It’s lowest common denominator stuff, po-faced fluff that’s hard to take seriously, but that’s not to say that there isn’t room in the market for such a title. Throughout its ham-fisted exposition and the demand to embroil the player in a Hollywood adventure that would push the limits of even a Bruckheimer production, Call of Duty: Ghosts remains, for the most part, entertaining. There is most certainly an audience that will gobble up Infinity Ward’s latest just as they have the three previous, and they are welcome too to do while the core gamers continue to invest in BioShock Infinite and Metro: Last Light for the future of first-person shooter gaming.