It’s been a year since Call of Duty: Black Ops II launched so that can mean only one thing – it’s time for the next instalment. As insanely popular as the franchise is it also gets its fair share of stick with each release. This year’s release isn’t Modern Warfare 4 or Black Ops 3 but Call of Duty: Ghosts. Surely the new name means big changes are afoot? Sadly not.
This year Infinity Ward (creators of the original CoD) are back in the development seat. Their last entry was 2011’s Modern Warfare 3. This year they also have the help of Raven Software, Neversoft and Treyarch with Activision handling publishing as usual.
Don’t worry the Ghosts in the title doesn’t mean that you’re joining the Ghostbusters this year. Instead it refers to an elite unit of U.S Special Ops. However the game could just as well have been called Call of Duty: Dogs as this year’s biggest feature is the addition of a trained German Shepherd attack dog.
The campaign is relatively brief and very easy to beat on the standard difficulty with very little reason to revisit it. It exists mainly to entertain with big set-pieces and many players will only touch it to earn the achievements. The story focuses on brothers Logan and Hesh, their dog Riley and father Elias. Players take the role of Logan for the majority of the campaign. The world is in conflict with South America who have become a major military power known as the Federation.
The game begins in space with the Federation hijacking ODIN – the Orbital Defense Initiative. After taking control of the superweapon they turn it on major cities across the US. It’s a spectacular opening and suitably over the top for Call of Duty. Unfortunately the missions that follow rarely reach the same high and instead present you with similar versions of mission you’ve seen before.
It’s all very linear and predictable as the campaign takes you to different locations to put you in plenty of danger. As with other Call of Duty games it tries to make you feel part of a squad but we all know by now that it’s mostly an illusion. Your AI team mates tend to spend most of their time just waiting for you to push forward.
As mentioned the big new feature is your dog Riley and it’s clear an awful lot of time has gone into making him look as realistic as possible. Riley tends to follow you around until you give him something to do. He’s particulary useful for sending ahead to bite the enemy out of cover. This is done with a tap of the left shoulder button and while it works well it can often feel like pressing some kind of win button. It’s often possible to sit behind cover and just send Riley ahead to clear the enemy out. There are also some sections where you can remotely control him. Skulking around in the long grass before leaping out to chomp on an enemy throat is a nice change.
Multiplayer is the big reason to play Call of Duty: Ghosts and while there have been some changes it feels very familiar. Long-term CoD fans will feel at home quickly but if you’ve been playing the multiplayer to death for a few years now then you might find yourself a bit disappointed with just more of the same. Players relatively new to the series will probably get the most enjoyment out of it.
There’s a mix of classic modes that return such as Free-for-all and Team Deathmatch. Our top three of these new modes are Search and Rescue, Infected and Cranked. Search and Rescue demands teamwork as players only respawn if revived by teammates. Infected randomly picks a player to infect who must then infect the other players in order to win.
Cranked is the most interesting multiplayer mode with players becoming Cranked after obtaining a kill. They then have 30 seconds to get another kill. Cranked players gain effects such as quicker movement and faster ironsights. If a Cranked player fails to get another kill within 30 seconds then they will explode.
Last year’s Pick 10 system has been changed in favour of a new Create a Soldier system. Here you can customise your solider and their loadouts, perks and strike package. There are an insane number of permutations which means that you’ll be tweaking your soldier for weeks and months. Amazingly the system manages to feel balanced and we haven’t found a combination that has felt like we have an unfair advantage.
Outside of the normal multiplayer is a new and interesting mode called squads. Here you can create a squad of up to 10 soldiers and then play on or offline in a variety of modes. The interesting part is that your squad members are controlled by the AI and can even fight against other players when you’re not around which earns you XP. Next time you’re online you can view reports to see how your squad is performing and make changes if desired.
Some modes allow you to play with friends or other players with the AI filling in while others are just you and the AI. Depending on the mode you will play with or against other players and their AI controlled squads. Essentially you’re playing with bots that you can customise. The most interesting mode on offer is Safeguard which is a survival based mode that puts you up against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. You can go against 20, 40 or even infinite waves alone or with up to 3 players.
New mode Extinction plays similar to the Zombies mode in Black Ops II. The mode can be played solo or in co-op for up to 4-players. This time you face-off against different types of aliens across a multi-stage level. Killing the aliens earns you cash to spend on new weapons, ammo and upgrades.
You start Extinction with a drill that you can place at alien hives to clear them out. After placing the drill you need to defend it until it’s finished and repair it if it takes damage. The game constantly presents you with challenges such as killing aliens with melee attacks, getting a specific number of kills before a drill operation is completed or keeping your weapon accuracy over a certain percentage. Completing the challenges rewards you with skill points that you can spend to improve your skills.
The mode is very different to the other modes in the game and gives players something else to do. It’s certainly most fun with other people but also a nice challenge when played solo. It’s not for everyone but fans of co-op should definitely be interested.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is more of the same and you can’t help but feel that the franchise is suffering somewhat with annual releases. The multiplayer is a good as ever and tries to mix things up a bit but this might not be enough for some players. This year is one of the toughest for developers with the imminent arrival of next-gen consoles. Hopefully next year we’ll see some bigger changes. Fans of CoD multiplayer should find enough here to entertain them until the next game.
Stay tuned to EF later this month for a look at Call of Duty: Ghosts on Xbox One.