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"A New Hope, but Continuing the Downward Trend..."
In quick succession over the past few years, there have been three titles in the "Black Ops" series and three in the "Modern Warfare" series respectively. Call of Duty: Ghosts looks to bridge the gap between the gameplay of each and start its own near-future story as well. No longer are the Russians solely the bad guys, nor indoctrinated black ops agents- this is a new breed, or at least it tries to be. I have reviewed Black Ops 2 and Modern Warfare 3 in the past, and with each successive game, I have noticed a decrease in quality and an increase in retail sales. Interesting, no? Yes, the games up until this point have still been acceptable, but now the formula is really starting to show its wear and is in dire need of help and more than simple patchwork additions that Ghosts brought to the mix. Ghosts manages to keep the series afloat, but it is treading water just barely in the choppy sea of originality and polish- although you wouldn't be able to tell from the massive sales it has already had. First off, I just want to revisit an old scoring guide I made myself for the Call of Duty series, showing the trend I've been noticing in recent years and reflecting it with my own personal scores:
Call of Duty | 8.0
Call of Duty 2 | 8.5
Call of Duty 3 | 8.0
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare | 9.75
Call of Duty: World at War | 8.75
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 | 9.75
Call of Duty: Black Ops | 9.25
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 | 8.5
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 | 8.0
Call of Duty: Ghosts | 7.5
In recent years, although my review scores have fluctuated from time to time, you'll notice that they have decreased continually from Modern Warfare 2 on. The games have still been fine in most respects, but they have become more repetitive in what was once unquestionably successful, and haven't done enough new quality work to keep from becoming both stale and less polished- take MW3 for example. I gave it a respectable score, and did the same with Black Ops 2, but they have many noticeable flaws between the two of them. Ghosts is the same, despite its newer coat of paint- it still has the same core mechanics for the most part unchanged underneath. I commend Infinity Ward for crafting a new cast of characters and an entirely new Call of Duty universe, as that took some real thought instead of churning out yet another selfsame sequel- however, was it too much to ask for some truly significant gameplay changes to be made to spruce things up a bit?
Although it may specify differently because I am writing my review from Dan's PS4 article, I am in fact doing this review based upon current console versions only- so I'll concede that some things may function a tad bit better at the higher levels, but most likely not enough to change my score drastically one way or the other. As fairly mentioned in Ryckert's own article, and instantly noticeable by me after playing through a match of multiplayer and a few campaign missions, Ghosts is more of the same- and I mean this with all literalness, as there isn't a single new major mechanic and the only real upgrade is in the graphics. Sure, there are some minor control gimmicks such as sliding, but really- would that be enough 'new' to carry an entire game? I don't think so. Even Black Ops 2 offered some excellent multilayer hooks in the form of Pick 10 loadout customization, and the Modern Warfare trilogy defined killstreaks and buzzkills for modern multiplayer shooters. But what does Ghosts have to offer? A few gimmicks at best sadly.
What Ghosts does manage to get right resides, as usual, around multiplayer. The new modes, while old after awhile, don't lack for ingenuity and creativity- something that Call of Duty has not lacked in recent years, but that it has been stingy with. For once, instead of purely realistic modes, we can have such fun-driven games as Cranked and Blitz- where the only goals respectively are to run to areas without getting killed (Blitz) and where you must kill as many people as you can before exploding (Cranked). While even some of these new modes, such as Grind and Search and Rescue are only reformations of classic modes, or piggyback off of other series' multiplayer modes- they work well for the most part, and provide an exciting multiplayer experience yet again. However, as far as they go in terms of being groundbreaking, despite their originality, these modes have only tweaked the scoring- everything else stays much the same as always. But that's okay, I guess I can live with that for now. It's a start.
One thing that seems to be a reneged upon promise in my mind is the fact that Infinity Ward promised environmental destructibility a la Battlefield in the multiplayer maps, but- although there is some, it is very minimal and obviously set piece contained. Granted, there have always been little touches both in campaign and multiplayer, but I just want to be able to blow holes in walls for a change- after all, Battlefield allows me to do so! What destructibility is there is hardly game changing, and not nearly on the level of Battlefield 4's 'levolution' so it isn't as epic or on the same grand scale. Some walls might eventually blow out, or a gas station or building might cave in partially, but that's about the extent of things aside from between matches on the pre-ordered 'Free Fall' map- where the falling skyscraper chunk will slide down a bit occasionally during matches. While the environment might not have received as many tweaks in multiplayer, one readily noticeable change is the slimming down of air-based killstreaks, of which there are much fewer. While this may cut out some raging and abuse of streaks and instant death upon respawning (the biggest frustration of the Modern Warfare series), it also leaves the gameplay significantly grounded. Sure, it works, but its a new change of pace, and a little too much too fast.
The mode I was was most skeptical about, and apparently with good reason, is the Squads, AI-driven multiplayer mode. It has a promising premise, but as i suspected, it doesn't work nearly as well as it should, and in this respect it is essentially the strike-force mission mode for this particular Call of Duty game. It works sometimes, but never great, and isn't very exciting or enjoyable at all. You can create and customize up to ten different soldiers, each with their own loadouts and traits, and enter them in a small variety of match types. In a twist of fate pretty much like a rehashing of Combat Training from Black Ops, albeit much less fun or helpful, Squads has some bot versus humans matches with one human on each 'squad' in addition to the selected soldier bots. For all of the rich customization it offers, Squads mode isn't nearly as fun simply for the reason that you're facing brain dead enemies instead of even the worst noobs in death matches. Now, when machines become as good as the Skynet Terminators, short of being pure aimbots, then I'd enjoy this match type a little more... Thankfully, there is at least a decent and interesting cooperative addition a la Zombies in the form of Extinction, which pits humans versus aliens and further makes things less about realism and more about fun. However, even this mode is killed by the fact that it is thus far limited to only one single map, albeit a decently sized one.
Now, we've done enough talking about multiplayer- let's talk about the 'story' campaign of Ghosts short offering. While Black Ops 2's campaign was anything but perfect, it was one of the first to really have a pretty gripping, if convoluted and branching story. Simply look at the ingenious number of different outcomes and other aspects that added to replayability if you doubt me. Rather than take the same risks as Treyarch did, Infinity Ward further embraces the old, tried and true format of one single, linear, and quite short story moving from explosion to explosion. For all intents and purposes it's an even more near-future version of MW3's campaign, except it's shorter and you care less about when your companions die because you haven't become attached to them over the course of a series. Pretty much all the characters have either the same personalities or have personalities so unbelievably over-the-top that they just can't be taken seriously. All the usual characters make appearance, by which I mean the action is totally mundane and you can call things by a mile away. There are some awesome set piece moments spread out throughout the campaign, but they are the only real highlights between mindless exposition and completion of objectives. You can enjoy the story as short as it is, but it's hard to get truly invested in it, as the characters that seem so interesting at first are never really explained of dug into any deeper during development. It suffers from the same cancerous campaign disease that Battlefield does, but is slightly better off in some ways.
I think the bottom line is simply that Ghosts could have been a real turning point from the downward spiral that the series is intently following, but it didn't come through at many of the right moments. As happens when people become too complacent in there assurance of the same thing occurring every year, intentionally or otherwise, the quality of game has gone down as the sales have increased. It has a firm foundation set in stone already for it, but lacks the nerve to actually branch out any more than adding a few new interesting multiplayer modes- aside from that, nothing has changed despite the setting and characters being entirely new. It feels like the same game, which doesn't earn any brownie points in my book. New isn't always bad, but you can at least risk a little new here and there so that things don't become old and boring. Sure, it's not broken and so doesn't have to be completely changed, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't change a single thing in the core gameplay. I did enjoy some of the minor details such as the new knife-wielding juggernaut killstreak and the intense matches of Cranked and S&R, but aside from that and a few fun and frenetic campaign moments, there wasn't much else to peruse. I like it, but am far from impressed. While it might not do so in numbers, Battlefield 4, despite its own flaws, has won this bout in terms of quality and damage control.
Concept: The same old same old.
Graphics: Easily the highlight of my experience, the game does look a lot better than it has in the past few titles, which all looked respectable as well.
Sound: The firearms and explosions all sound swell as usual.
Playability: As smooth as ever, but with no new advancements or additions.
Entertainment: While it is fun and the multiplayer is polished and the campaign shines brightly for its special moments, it isn't anything we haven't already seen in most instances, and grows stale quicker than the previous games have.
Replay Value: Moderate.
Overall Score: 7.5
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