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Call of Duty: Ghosts review

Seth Barton
19 Nov 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
35
inc VAT

Singleplayer: Underwater and Zero-gee sections do little to move the franchise away from its well-worn rut

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Having not received a review copy until after release, and given the franchise seems to be critic proof anyhow, we're taking our time reviewing this year's iteration. First up our thoughts on the single-player campaign

SINGLE PLAYER CAMPAIGN

It's impossible to review sequels objectively, as you have to make some assumptions of your audience's familiarity with the franchise. And with a franchise as big as Call of Duty, that familiarity is at the crux of the whole review.

If you haven't sampled any of the six Call of Duty games since 2007's Modern Warfare, then Ghosts is unlikely to entice you. To the handful coming to it afresh, it's the gaming equivalent of Red Bull, a short-term kick of adrenaline served up in a wrapper of bombastic marketing.

For the vast majority, though, the very idea of another Call of Duty will only engender jadedness; so you'd think that Ghosts would try its hardest to at least appear different to its predecessor. No such luck however, with the game taking a path now so well-trodden it must resemble a First World War trench.

RORSCHACH TEST

Thanks to Google I know I'm writing the first part of this Ghosts review on the 129th birthday of Hermann Rorschach. His inkblot test was supposed to reflect unconscious parts of your personality and is undoubtedly reflected in the Ghosts symbol. This is somewhat ironic as the game appears to have no conscious of any kind. It consists wholly of macho, nationalistic, steroid-driven posturing without a single shred of self-criticism in sight.

Call of Duty: Ghosts singleplayer

The Rorschach-esque masks look cool, but unlike the protagonist from Watchmen, they hide nothing worth discovering

The voiceovers between the episodes take on the style of Zack Snyder's 300. The American special forces heroes are portrayed as mythical warriors, baptised in the blood of their comrades before rising from the earth to defeat many times their number. All in the defence of a hospital full of innocents, threatened by blood thirsty enemies.

Usually this would simply be moronic but Call of Duty: Ghosts has moved towards the offensive in our eyes. The game unites South America into a single military force hellbent on invading the United States. It's powerful stuff given tensions in the US over immigration from its southern neighbours, and the poor working conditions and treatment of many such migrants. It could have made some interesting points but the simplistic good vs evil approach on offer here offers no such redemption.

Call of Duty: Ghosts singleplayer

The loading screens ape the surreal visuals of a Bond movie title sequence, but mix in the sledgehammer-like exposition of 300's voiceover

A PLOT ON THE LANDSCAPE

If you gave the NRA and US military hawks a shedload of cash to make a videogame, this can't be far off what they'd come up with. The invading troops are completely faceless, simply providing targets to be shot. Not one South American character is named, and their motivations remain utterly unexplored.

The plot centres on what it sees as a more worthy opponent, a US traitor from the same special forces cadre as its protagonists. Having demonised the South Americans, the game can't even give them a decent character to represent them, possibly a new low for the series. Worse still, the traitors reasons for turning bad are risibly shallow, and the character comes across as little more than self-obsessed.

Call of Duty: Ghosts singleplayer

If you thought Batman's Bane failed to live up to the hype, then god only knows what you'll think of Ghost's Rorke

You could just argue that the team were running out of credible enemies to invade the US, not that a land invasion of the US from the south is very credible anyway. The game does use some high-tech gizmos, but it's still essentially a contemporary setting, not some sci-fi fantasy, though its plot makes many such games appear realistic in comparison.

Even if you can swallow all of that, chugged down with the aid of a Red Bull maybe, this is hardly cracking stuff. The characters are thin and undeveloped, the twists are blatantly signposted and it falls back on Call of Duty staples, such as using flashback sequences in order to try and provide substance to the narrative, and using cutscenes and quick-time events for most of the important parts of the story. They probably wouldn't thank you for the task, but Last of Us developer Naughty Dog could surely have come up with something better in a lunchtime.

Call of Duty: Ghosts singleplayer

The game loves to engineer moments of epic macho posturing

The game has abandoned the often-confusing character switching template of previous games. Plus there's a brilliant array of locales, all lovingly rendered with appropriate environmental effects. Call of Duty is still the bond movie of video game franchises in terms of production values. Unlike Bond though, there's isn't a single appearance of a significant female character in the entire single-player game - the fact that female avatars have been added to multiplayer makes this choice even stranger.

LEAN AND MEAN

By now you may be thinking: I don't play Call of Duty for the plot or care about its lack of a moral compass. And if those things really don't bother you, then this new iteration does have a handful of fresh mechanics to enjoy.

PC gamers can rejoice that the ability to lean around corners has made a return; and it's a first for console gamers. The new lean move is context sensitive, so pressing up against cover brings up a small yellow arrow by your crosshair. Aiming down the sights of your gun will now also lean you out of cover. It helps you feel connected to the world around you, reduces the amount of incoming fire you take and is implemented without any fiddly controls - a great success then.

Call of Duty: Ghosts singleplayer

Call of Duty's vehicle sections feel crude in comparison to the competitions'

Much has been made of the addition of a dog to the game - Riley. He largely appears in the opening levels of the game, and you can direct him to take out opponents. You can even take control of him, and guide him using a camera to recon an area. However, as with all of Call of Duty, this only occurs in pre-scripted sections, so you can't experiment with your canine companion as you wish.

In that respects Ghosts is the same military rollercoaster ride that Call of Duty has always been. It's a short ride too, with around five hours of gameplay if you blast straight through it on normal difficulty.

Call of Duty: Ghosts singleplayer

Some levels are genuinely stunning to behold, though the gameplay remains little more than a shooting gallery with set piece thrills

There are a couple of nice scenes, fighting vertically down the side of a skyscraper is well executed; and we enjoyed sneaking through a lush tropical forest, though all your stealthy efforts are rather undermined when you later see six heavily armed Ghosts saunter past a group of enemies only 10m away in broad daylight. The game even attempts some Battlefield-like scale with a helicopter assault, but flicking between the ground and air elements is scripted and fails to gel in any meaningful way.

The game has to be lauded for how effortless it is to pick-up-and-play. Moves into zero-gee or underwater scenes don't require many extra controls and those that do are perfectly signposted just when you need them. Hollywood perfected continuity editing long ago so it can tell a story without confusing its audience, and Infinity Ward look to have perfected continuity gameplay, so you can play a game without ever thinking about the controls. It's a feat in a certain sense but one that comes with its own limits on ambition.

GENERATION GAP

Call of Duty: Ghosts has been released on more gaming platforms than ever before - PC, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and 4, plus Wii U. It seems that developing for all these platforms at once has taken its toll on Infinity Ward.

Proper support for console controllers is welcome but the PC version in general looks to have suffered from a lack of polish. It appears that the game's 6GB minimum memory requirement is unnecessary, with mods appearing to let the game run in a far smaller footprint. We also found that the automatic graphics settings seemed a little strange, forcing us into numerous tweaks to detail levels and texture settings in order to get the game running smoothly and looking good. Even then we came across some shoddy-looking textures on the Normal setting.

For those with next-gen consoles there's certainly nothing here that will wow you in terms of special effects. The Xbox One version that we tried looked to run at a rock solid 60fps at 720p (1,280x720), which is a definite step up over the 1024x600 native resolution of the current Xbox 360 release, and a big step up on the 860x600 resolution on PS3. The PS4 version looks a little crisper, running at a native 1080p.

It's a prettier looking game then, but a cross-platform title such as this was never likely to provide next-gen excitement. It's telling that there's no support for either the Xbox One's trigger-based rumble effects or the PS4's touchpad.

INSUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

The single-player segment of Call of Duty has long been seen as merely an appetiser before the main course of multiplayer. In Ghosts it continues to be a much overblown affair, packed with set pieces and spectacle but lacking in any real dynamism. This latest iteration has hit a nadir with its plot and characterisation, the Ghosts name implies some uncertainty, something sinister, but there's no such subtlety here.

It still impresses in its ease of play and some great locations, but it's not enough to recommend anyone buy the game for this segment alone - let alone that this could be the high point of the annual gaming calendar that its sales figures suggest. Not that Battlefield 4's campaign mode has much more to offer this year.

We're pretty certain that, after some lengthy play of the multiplayer segment, that the game as a whole will represent decent value for money. Some will play online year-round, and it's far cheaper than say a year's worth of Sky Sports. However, it's an incredible that given the resources obviously on offer to the developers that this is the best game they could come up.

Details

Price£35
Detailswww.callofduty.com
Rating***