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David Murphy May 20, 2014

Call of Duty: Ghosts

At A Glance

Star Foxes

Pretty visuals; dynamic multiplayer maps mix up the frag-fests; kitchen sinklike creativity for some of the single-player campaigns brief extras.

Space Dog

Poor plot; not all that stealthy; linear single-player gameplay is a bit easy and dull; multiplayer cruft in Extinction and Squads modes.

Immaterial, indeed

Talk about a disappointing ghost.

We don’t mean the holes-cut-in-a-sheet, Charlie Brown–style Halloween-costume-gone-awry. That actually sounds pretty fun. We’re talking about the weird, ski-mask-wearing group of quote-unquote stealth operatives who personify Infinity Ward’s newest title in the Call of Duty franchise—you know, those guys wearing the spooky logo over their faces who look as if the developers read a bit too much Punisher during crunch time.

No, this isn’t a trailer for Gravity. Yes, you can apparently go Rambo on a person (or an installation) in space.

We’ll give Infinity Ward credit: It’s trying just about everything it can to spice up Call of Duty: Ghosts, the first double-digit entry in the 10-year franchise. But we can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have been a wiser decision for the group to kill the series while it was on top.

Why’s that? We got bored.

First, an explanation. When reviewing games at Maximum PC, we do our best to stick with a title all the way through to the bitter end. Rare is the game where we find ourselves ready to “verdictize” after a shorter timeframe, but Call of Duty: Ghosts is just that special, skull-emblazoned snowflake. Right around mission seven of the game’s 18-mission single-player campaign, we were ready to call it quits.

It’s not that the campaign is poorly constructed, per se; it’s very Call of Duty, for better or worse. You, Logan, warp through time and space (literally, though you play as someone else during your little Gravity-like trip through the heavens) in your somewhat-clandestine attempts to stop a superpower called the Federation (really?) from winning a land war against the good ol’ US of A. You hang with your brother and his dog a lot; you meet up with some of the “ghosts” you’ve oh-so-heard about; and you quickly acquire, lose, and re-acquire the Federation’s main bad guy.

It’s not that the story isn’t exciting on its face; it’s the way it’s delivered—and the gameplay. We find it quite disjointing the way Infinity Ward sometimes treats the plot. For example, you start out at home, 10 years prior to the main storyline, trying to avoid the sweet kiss of death while your town gets blasted by the space-based weapons platform ODIN. You then warp to said platform, 15 minutes earlier, to take up the role of Random Astronaut Guy (or girl) who is attempting to stop the evil Federation from taking control.

The thing is, you already know how this brief spurt of weightless combat ends, which makes the entire exercise seem a bit moot. While your astronaut burns up in the atmosphere, you warp back down into the perspective of Logan once again. You escape death, flash-forward 10 years, and the story churns forward through a Butterfly Effect–like smorgasbord of times and locations. The adventure can, at times, feel a wee bit schizophrenic.

Infinity Ward does sprinkle in some intriguing gameplay elements—tried-and-true as they might be—to spice up Ghosts’ extremely linear action. Sometimes, you get a fun weapon to play with (we do love rockets). Other times, you’re controlling a remote sniper rifle or an A-10 Tank Killer (somewhat fun). You even get a chance to control your freakin’ dog companion, which officially wins this year’s award for “least believable in real life” element of a military-themed shooter.

However, these little moments feel more like the palate-cleansing cracker between a series of banal courses. They’re hardly engaging or challenging—at one point, we watched enemy fighters run out of nowhere to stand, stiff as flagpoles, in nearly the exact spots where we had just remote-shot their peers. Gripping AI there, Infinity Ward.

And if you think anything changes in Ghosts’ pew-pew gunfight parts, you’re mistaken. The game’s linear routing turns most gunfights into an Old Western–style “cover, pop up, and blast to pieces” kind of a fracas. Even playing on the game’s second-highest difficulty setting, Hardened, we only found ourselves dying from the occasional misstep related to running away from grenades. As far as bullets go, there was absolutely nothing that our red-dot weaponry couldn’t handle—our weapon, our patience, and, when we got bored, our dog.

For a game that practically screams “shooter Assassins Creed” on its cover, we feel that it lacks some of the core, stealth mechanics that one might find in a game with the word “Ghosts” right in the title. They exist a little bit, sure, but this isn’t a Far Cry 3 kind of a deal where you spend agonizing minutes plotting your way through an enemy encampment in such a fashion as to cause maximum carnage with minimal chance of alarm-raising. The “stealth” bits of Ghosts are predominantly event-based and, to us, feel overly simple, if not few and far between.

Infinity Ward has almost become too good at the Call of Duty formula, we’d argue; we’d also give just about anything for a little more variety in the actual construction of the individual missions themselves. The setups, situations, and scenery are all lovely and beautifully presented, but it’s hard to feel like you’re doing much more than taking part in a giant shooting gallery most of the time. The exciting add-ons Infinity Ward tosses into Ghosts—brief tank combat, anyone?—can’t carry the game on their own.

Of course, it’s also arguable that most people buy Call of Duty titles nowadays for the multiplayer, not the single-player campaign. This time around, Infinity Ward packs three different variations into the multiplayer version of the game—two too many.

The standard Call of Duty slugfest serves as the game’s multiplayer core, for better or worse. Yes, the maps are still horribly imbalanced in a “spawn and die within seconds” kind of a way, which hampers much of the strategy one might otherwise want to employ when shooting one’s peers. A plethora of different game modes opens up your creative options a bit, but they’re all very shooter-driven—ain’t no base-assaulting in Call of Duty: Ghosts, much as we’d like the multiplayer to pack in a little more creativity (the maps’ dynamic events notwithstanding).

New to the series are tweaks to the game’s “earned experience” in multiplayer, where you now customize your character by spending “squad points” to buy all kinds of new models, guns, perks, and other fun. Creating clans and squaring off against others is similarly simple. The game’s “operations,” or milestones you perform within multiplayer, are not—they first have to be selected in order for you to contribute to them, a fact we learned only after sinking quite a few hours into shooting others.

Though easy, there’s a certain joy that comes from killing simple AI soldiers in Squads mode.

A new Extinction mode in Ghosts feels like a simplistic Left 4 Dead, an addition that could have just as easily been farmed out to a third-party modder (or two) and released as an after-the-fact (free) DLC. This rehashing of Call of Duty’s Zombies mode is about as intriguing as Ghosts’ new Squads mode, a means by which you—and human or AI teammates—can square off against another person’s AI-created squad. It’s an overly complicated setup that feels more like an easily exploitable multiplayer training mode than anything else. We’re confused by its necessity, especially when resources for that—or Extinction—could have been better spent beefing up the game’s primary multiplayer components.

Here’s the deal: If you love everything Call of Duty stands for, this review is meaningless. You’ve already bought Ghosts. If you’ve never played a single game in the franchise, then you’ll get a fine Call of Duty experience with Ghosts, though you might want to check out its predecessor, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, for a more engaging (and inexpensive) single-player campaign.

However, if you’re on the fence, just go ahead and stay there—buy a real dog, instead.

THE VERDICT

Call of Duty: Ghosts

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