You could be forgiven for being a little fatigued by the regularity of Activision’s super-popular shooter series, but this year’s addition is actually worth getting excited about, and for more than just the multiplayer. Its single player campaign takes players places they’ve never been before in a CoD game, and its multiplayer is not just a copy and paste job of last year’s model with a few tweaks. No, this time around the designers have tried really hard to build on the core mechanics of the CoD formula while changing things up enough that it doesn’t feel stale, and for the most part, they have succeeded.
The single player campaign is a gorgeous, fast-paced explosion-laden affair set in an alternate universe in which none of the Modern Warfare or Black Ops games happened. Rather, oil-producing South American states have banded together to form The Federation and declared war on the US by hijacking a space-based weapon and unleashing it against them. Large parts of the US are destroyed by the attack, and even though the country’s military is crippled, it’s able to put together a fighting force of elite soldiers that sets out to take the fight to The Federation.
For the majority of the game, you play as one of two brothers who are brought into the elite Ghosts unit, where you are tasked with undertaking dangerous missions to get closer to and undermine the Federation’s plans while wearing badass masks with skulls on them. When you’re not playing as a Ghost, you’re in space, playing the part of an astronaut on a space station where things don’t always go very well for you.
The story unfolds in eighteen chapters, and takes about six hours to complete. While that sounds a bit short, those six hours are jam-packed with some of the most amazing set-pieces ever seen in a videogame. Each level seems to try to out-do the preceding ones in terms of pure spectacle and exploding eye-candy, with the space battles providing arguably the most original and fun setting. But even that is outdone later by an underwater segment that has you swimming through a gorgeous reef, sneaking, shooting enemy divers and navigating a sunken ship that’s inhabited by man-eating sharks that eat you if you make a wrong move. It’s really exciting stuff.
Ghosts isn’t all about shooting from a first person perspective, though; you’ll occasionally get to drive tanks and helicopters, and at other times you’re manning a minigun and raining death down upon the Federation. While the arcade controls won’t have you feeling like you’re flying an actual helicopter or driving a tank, they will have you grinning from ear to ear as you dominate your virtual enemies with high-tech weaponry while pulling off manoeuvres no pilot or tank driver would ever be able to do in real life.
Other memorable bits of the game include rappelling down a building to infect a server with a virus, shooting enemies with a remotely-controlled sniper rifle and of course scenes with Riley, the Call of Duty Dog, where you use him remotely to take down enemies with his powerful jaws. It’s just a pity the designers kind of forgot about him in the latter part of the game; it would have been cool to use him more frequently than we got to.
As good as Ghosts is, it’s not a perfect experience: often control is taken away from you to give the game a more cinematic flavour, with all-too frequent quick-time events and pulling off important in-game actions by just holding down one button, but even with those gripes, Ghost’ single-player campaign is still a mighty fine experience indeed. It is one pulse-pounding situation after the other from beginning to end, and the best Call of Duty single-player campaign since 2007’s Modern Warfare.
And then there’s the multiplayer. Most gamers will probably want to jump right into public online battles, which work very similarly to how they did in previous CoD games. There are established game modes to enjoy like Kill Confirmed, Team Deathmatch and Free for All, but also new modes like Blitz and Cranked. Cranked has players earning speed boosts for every kill they get but they must get another kill within a few seconds or explode into chunks. Blitz has players earning points for touching an area designated as the enemy’s goal, and if they are smart and are able to hold the goal area as a team, they can farm points. These new modes give gamers a bit tired of the old modes something new to play, and are a lot of fun to play with friends.
In addition to these competitive modes, you can also play one of two new co-operative modes with your mates against artificially-intelligent opponents. The first is Squads where players battle against other AI squads in various game modes, and the second is an objective-based game called Extinction that has you fighting waves of alien enemies in an overrun town as you and your friends try to set off a bomb that will end the invasion. Extinction replaces the Zombies co-op game of previous Call of Duties, and plays similarly to the Left for Dead games. The action is fast, the aliens are tough to kill but the upgrades that you unlock for successful kills go a long way towards evening the odds in your favour.
The big thing about this year’s multiplayer is soldier customisation. Levelling up earns you squad points that can be used to unlock new soldier abilities, weapons and perks (and there are a lot) that let you configure up to eight different soldiers to play as, each with their own loadouts that can be mixed and matched according to your preferences. While the complexity of the customisation system is a little overwhelming at first, a few hours of play is all it takes to get the hang of it.
Overall, this year’s Call of Duty turned out pretty well. Its single player campaign is packed with jaw-dropping moments that will stay with you longer than those of previous games, and it’s not too long. The multiplayer, however, will keep you engaged for another year before the next Call of Duty comes around, and that’s what makes Ghosts well worth picking up.
Call of Duty: Ghosts by Infinity Ward, published by Activision
Available on Xbox 360 (R699), PS3 (R699), PC (R499)
The good: Action-packed single-player campaign, new multiplayer modes, Riley the Call of Duty Dog
The bad: Too many QTEs in single player, intimidatingly complex customisation system, not enough Riley