The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Since 2008, every Call of Duty release has featured a Modern Warfare or Black Ops subtitle in its name. After finishing the Modern Warfare story with the decisive conclusion of its third entry, Infinity Ward had every chance to inject the long-running series with new life. With Ghosts, the developer introduced a new universe, populated it with a new cast, and brought the franchise to a new generation of consoles. One thing the studio hasn’t done is introduce significantly new elements to the gameplay experience.
Even on PlayStation 4 [NOTE: The Xbox One version of this review is embargoed until next week], Ghosts feels like any number of previous Call of Duty games. Most of its predecessors featured at least one big hook that made them stand out. For example, Modern Warfare 2 greatly expanded on the killstreak system, and Black Ops II offered branching campaign paths and smartly streamlined loadouts with the Pick 10 system. Ghosts simply doesn’t have its own hook.
Sure, it contains a handful of new multiplayer modes. Grind mixes Halo’s Headhunter mode with Call of Duty’s own Kill Confirmed match type, and it results in some tense moments as you struggle to return dog tags before you’re killed. Blitz is fast-paced and fun, tasking players with sprinting into a designated scoring zone before enemies stop them with a hail of gunfire. Search and Rescue is a smart variant of a series favorite, and gives players hope to return after being eliminated. These new match types can be a lot of fun, but the only thing that feels different is the method of scoring.
Infinity Ward touted environmental destructibility in Ghosts’ multiplayer maps, but these moments rarely have an impact on the matches. A gas station may fall over, some doors can be opened and closed, and specific sections of walls are destructible, but these events never feel like an organic (or necessary) development of shootouts. The most significant tweak to multiplayer is the toning down of air-based killstreak rewards. Without choppers, fighter jets, and drones constantly buzzing above you, there are far fewer instances of dying seconds after spawning.
Squads is a new multiplayer mode that aims high but simply isn’t much fun to play. Players have the ability to create 10 different soldiers, each with their own specific loadout. These squads can be put to work in a variety of match types, most of which involve one or two human players in rounds otherwise populated by bots. Unsurprisingly, spending a ton of time in menus as you tweak characters for AI-filled matches isn’t nearly as fun as participating in shootouts filled with real opponents.
While Squads misses the mark, the new Extinction mode is a great co-op distraction. It may be limited to one large map, but teaming up with three friends to take down increasingly difficult waves of aliens and their hives is a blast.
For better or worse, Treyarch took risks with Black Ops II’s campaign in the form of branching paths, alternate endings, and the disappointing Strike Force missions. Rather than continuing down that path, Infinity Ward chose to play it safe with the story of Ghosts. New characters are devoid of personality, and the plot is so clichéd that it plays out like a South Park parody of action movies. You’ve got your badass soldier flipping his captors the bird, the tough-but-loving father whose two boys are “all he’s got left in this world,” the melodramatic death speeches, and the once-noble soldier who’s gone rogue and joined the bad guys.
As stupid as the story is, I found myself enjoying it for exactly that reason. This is a big, dumb action game, and it makes no attempt to be more than that. Instead of the convoluted techno-babble of the Modern Warfare series, Ghosts’ campaign is simply about blowing up everything you see in progressively bigger ways. It’s short and wastes no time with character development, opting instead to shuttle you along to the next exploding satellite station or chaotic chase scene.
Ghosts had potential to be more than it is. As the first series entry on new consoles and the first of what will assuredly be a new brand, I was disappointed to see it resemble its predecessors even more than the franchise typically does. Even without its own significant hook or sense of identity, however, Ghosts is still fun thanks to Call of Duty’s polished and reliable backbone that’s been established for years.