Release Date: Nov. 5, 2013
Developer: Infinity Ward
ESRB Rating: “Mature” for Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence and Strong Language
Perhaps Infinity Ward is feeling the pressure from critics who say the Call of Duty series does nothing different. That’s the best explanation I can come up with for a game that includes gunfights in space and doggie stealth missions. Both were unexpected diversions in the latest installment of the world’s most popular military shooter. After completing the Modern Warfare trilogy, the series has moved into the “not too distant future.” Both Black Ops 2 and Ghosts deal with similar themes of America’s own technology being turned against it. This time the enemy captures a military satellite and begins raining down death and destruction on American cities. The majority of the game takes place with the US backed against the wall.
A story co-written by Stephen Gagnan (Syriana, Traffic) tells of The Federation, a group of South American countries whose military pulled off the space station heist or highjacking. What do you call the theft of a space station, a skyjacking perhaps? Introduce the Ghosts, an elite military unit inspired by Modern Warfare series character Simon “Ghost” Riley. Gagnan will not win many accolades for the story here, the usual “there are the bad guys, blow them all to hell” narrative. Although the mission in which the android likenesses of Ronald Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt storm the Federation headquarters was awesome. I’m just kidding, as I know most of the people reading are going to skip straight through to learn about the multiplayer.
Compared to the branching campaign paths in Black Ops II, this feels like a step backward. Of course, Titanfall is shipping next year without a single-player campaign. I suspect that is going to be the industry standard for military shooters within the next 2-3 years. Better than half of the players never step foot in the campaign, and publishers know this.
One can’t talk about Ghosts without mentioning Riley, the guard dog who is now a huge star with his own Twitter account. He puts in some work during the campaign, and it’s fun to send him after opposing soldiers. There are some stages in which you play as Riley, who has a camera on his back so he can be a second pair of eyes. I didn’t actively hate these sequences, but I can’t say I looked forward to them.
In multiplayer, the guard dog is a powerful ally. He acts as your own personal radar, growling when an enemy is close by. At close range, the dog is almost an instant kill. He’ll even chase down somebody to avenge your death, earning you a “Martyr-Dog” XP bonus.
So on to the multiplayer main event. I was in love of the Pick 10 loadout system introduced in Black Ops II. Ghosts continues it in spirit, but adds a lot of complexity. Your loadout now consists of eight points, with each perk having a value between one and five points. It allows for unprecedented customization, but new players will easily be overwhelmed with all the options. On the subject of customization, players can finally change their gender and race as easily as they can their gun camo. This is a long overdue addition, and the games should keep it.
Though the campaign includes some space war, killstreaks are much more ground-based than in previous installments. UAVs are gone, replaced by satellites you place on the ground. The more your team has, the better map coverage you will get. New killstreak Oracle highlights enemies and allows you to see them through walls. It’s available as part of the support package at 14 kills. That package counts your cumulative kills as opposed to consecutive kills, so it’s possible for even an average player to get consistently. Deathstreaks are gone entirely this year.
Another huge change is the progression of your character. There is no prestige mode, rather you create 10 different soldiers and they level up individually. There are preset classes to choose from for players who aren’t ready to tackle all the different loadout combinations. Squads mode is designed as a training ground for the whole online experience.
In keeping with the space theme, aliens replace zombies in Ghosts‘ survival mode, called Extinction. They are a much more nimble foe, and teamwork is necessary. It supports up to four players who can customize their loadouts to best figure out how to battle the alien hordes. Extinction is a fun distraction from a game that strikes hard at a more serious tone in its other aspects.
That’s only one of several new game modes offered. Cranked is a Jason Statham-inspired take on Team Deathmatch. One you get a kill, you have 30 seconds to kill someone else or your character explodes. Blitz challenges players to defend goals while the opposing team tries to score points. After scoring, you get teleported back to your spawn. It’s a sort of high-energy capture the flag, only without the flag. This one really seems best played with friends.
The game launched without the Broadcaster mode featured in Treyarch’s last installment, but Activision has announced this is temporary. Players will be able to gamecast soon as part of COD‘s continued commitment to eSports.
Critics can’t say Infinity Ward hasn’t taken some chances, particularly in multiplayer. The campaign lacks memorable characters or a compelling story, but something tells me that won’t slow this franchise down.. The multiplayer is still intense and addictive, especially with all the customization now available. Call of Duty: Ghosts certainly does not reinvent the military shooter, but its only real rivals are Battlefield 4 and the games in its own series. It is more evolution than revolution, but at the core Ghosts is still headshotting, assault rifle-slinging, orbital satellite attack calling down fun.