Call of Duty: Ghosts – review

Six years ago Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare conquered the world and turned Activision’s flagship shooter into an institution.

Now the CoD series is in the crosshairs of every discerning gamer and everyone knows what to expect.

One expects a brief six-hour campaign filled with enough action set-pieces to send Michael Bay into orbit. One expects a deep and robust multiplayer that rewards those with lightning reflexes and the ability to take advantage of kinks within the aiming mechanics (quick-scoping, anyone?). And one expects a co-op mode of sorts and perhaps a bone thrown to those who feel the whole enterprise is getting a little stale at this point.

With Call Of Duty: Ghosts, one gets what one expects.

While this may sound like a damning appraisal of the game, bear this in mind; if your lip is curling into a contempt-filled sneer, this game is no longer aimed at you. It’s aimed at the people who buy CoD every single year and, for all it faults, enjoy the heck out of it. It’s aimed at trash-talking eSports crews, potty-mouthed online warriors and connoisseurs of Big Dumb Entertainment that blows your hair back until the roots snap.

Infinity Ward’s core audience is bigger than the population of the greater London metropolitan area. To that end, the developer deserves a couple of nods for creating a campaign that takes risks with a template that, while eminently recognisable, contains a new narrative and attempts to make the player’s progression more varied than before. They also deserve a bow for serving up a stonkingly great co-op mode, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let’s deal with the online multiplayer – the mode that most players are here for. For the most part, Infinity Ward has built an online fragfest that fans of Modern Warfare will sink snugly into – both in terms of load-outs and gameplay – while borrowing a bit from Treyarch’s open-ended approach to the online mode of Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2.

Players earn both in-game currency and XP for everything they do in any online mode – and that includes the new entry level Squads mode. The currency is a way for players to take a tad more control over their customisation options; anything that can be used on the battlefield – weapons, tech, armour, perks and so forth – can be bought. Anything that’s purely cosmetic needs to be earned. This means that the less talented among the pack need not grind their way into the best weapons and equipment, but only the elite can deck themselves out in pretty, pretty skins.

Maps are mostly hot-box affairs and favour the close-quarters, knee-jerk pace this series has been know for since … well, forever. The match types compliment this setup beautifully and there’s a ton of variety on offer. You have age-old stalwarts like Free-For-All and Domination, matches that feel like mods such as Search & Rescue (which is essentially Kill Confirmed crossed with Demolition) and brand new modes that will appeal to the core and no one else – we present Cranked, in which players have 30 seconds to string kills together or their head explodes.

If you’ve ever found the prospect of heading into the online mode intimidating – and let’s face it, who hasn’t – Squads Mode is available as a primer. It’s essentially an expanded version of the Combat Training mode from Call Of Duty: Black Ops, except instead of competing against bots, players get to pit themselves against bots … and other players. There’s also a re-jigged version of Survival called Safeguard, in which players have to survive against waves of foes using random weapons drops.

The customisation options are pretty exhaustive. Rather than limit players by class or perk-banks, players can now arm their soldiers with pretty much whatever they want and their perks are based on a points system. Kill Streak rewards are still the most un-malleable aspect of the load-out equation – and with good reason – and players now have the option of adopting female avatars.

If you fancy playing with mates, then Extinction is perhaps the best idea Infinity Ward has come up with in ages. Imagine a pared-down version of Left 4 Dead played in brief 10-minute bursts, except instead of zombies, you’re fighting alien dogs. It borrows Treyarch’s Zombie-Mode mechanic, in which players buy weapons and equipment with cash they earn through kills, but it’s a far more coordinated affair than its predecessor.

Oh yes – there’s a campaign. And it’s sillier than anything produced in this series up until now. But, crucially, for the most part it’s equally enjoyable.

CoD: Ghosts tells the story of Logan and Hesh, two jarheads who find themselves part of the last stand of the USA against invaders from the South American Federation after the SAF nukes the US from orbit. After a couple of missions – that also constitute the weakest part of the single-player campaign – Logan and Hesh find themselves inducted into the Ghosts, an elite squad of soldiers who may be the USA’s best weapon against the Federation.

Leaving aside the jingoism that’s been a staple in the CoD franchise for ages, the campaign flags for the first few missions. Once Logan and Hesh – and their dog Riley – join the Ghosts, things begin to move into high gear. The narrative also jumps back in time briefly, in order to establish the credentials of a villain who, quite frankly, would be unbelievable otherwise.

I mean … he’s pretty unbelievable anyway. But without those early scenes establishing his motives I suppose he’d be an anomaly within reality.

But who cares about that when you’re running across the top of a train while blasting enemies? When you’re floating through zero-gravity outside a space station engaged in a gun battle? When you’re running through a skyscraper that’s splitting in half?

It’s those moments of pure spectacle, which Infinity Ward does so well, that pull the player right out of their seat and into a high-concept nonsense isolation ward, and that sells CoD: Ghosts’s campaign. There’s a certain sense of familiarity to it all, but there are enough new notes to keep the faithful glued.

And that’s really what it’s all about at this stage. Between console generations, Infinity Ward seems to be in a holding pattern. It’s not sacrificing innovation altogether, but it’s not exactly pushing the boat out. And then there’s the small issue of the discrepancy between the visual gap in the next-generation consoles.

Ever heard the maxim “no news is good news”? In the video game industry, it’s usually the other way around. If a game looks like a solid hit, publishers, developers and,k yes, interested parties like writers on this blog, will sing its praises from the rooftops. If a game is rubbish, you can rely on it being released to little or no fanfare with the review embargo date falling on the day it hits retail racks.

So what were we to make of a staggered embargo for CalloD: Ghosts? If you’ve been tracking the reviews and news cycle about the game you’ll probably have picked up the fact that reviews of the game on the Xbox One haven’t been published yet, while reviews of it on any other platform went live last week. In light of the fact that publishers like to keep a lid on bad news until the last possible minute, what can we surmise about the aforementioned embargo dates?

The fact is, this news was going to get out anyway. Once Infinity Ward producer Mark Rubin tweeted that CoD: Ghosts was 720p native on the Xbox One while the PS4 version ran at 1080p on a PS4, pundits and players started making up their own minds on the spot. Actually, CoD: Ghosts looks a lot better on the PS4 than it does on the Xbox One – at the time of this writing.

That’s not to say a patch can’t fix this – hell, a download allowed the PS3 to move from a 2D to 3D display case – but early adopters need this info. Until yesterday, we couldn’t tell you about it.

But whatever platform you choose to buy it on, Call Of Duty: Ghosts will do exactly what you think it will – and that’s as true if you’re a fan or a hater. I realise there’s supposed to be some sort of objective ruling on this from yours truly, but since I disagree vehemently with the reviewer of the last iteration, the score above is what you have to guide you if you need it. And you shouldn’t, really. You already know where you stand, surely?