It’s Call of Duty season again—complete with mo-cap dogs and fish A.I.
Now that the most relentlessly over-told joke of this current game season is out of the way, it’s time to talk about Call of Duty: Ghosts. Ghosts is fun. It’s over the top, ridiculous, contains an average story and has fantastic multiplayer. What do you want me to say? That the game is uninspired and the same thing as the last one? It is, but it’s fun, which most gamers these days forget is one of the main points of video games. The story varies across the spectrum between awesome and awful, and the multiplayer is top-notch. It’s exactly what you expect from a Call of Duty game. Exactly. If you want intense multiplayer, fun co-op among friends, and a decent campaign to distract those who have no friends, you could do worse than Ghosts.
The game’s single player campaign is barely a meager six hours long, somehow managing to be shorter than Black Ops II’s seven-hour campaign. Where Black Ops II had a plot so over the top that it was relentlessly fun, Ghosts feels like it tries too hard, with scenes players should find emotional leaving them indifferent. Black Ops II felt mostly self-aware in its own absurdity, and while previous Call of Duty games, such as the Modern Warfare trilogy, were more serious, they always felt grounded in reality with the content of the missions. Ghosts sits in the awkward place in the middle of the two, where it has players both fight their way through a toppling skyscraper, avoid sharks and have a gunfight in space and “emotionally connect” with the silent protagonist’s family and pet dog. The story involves a former member of Ghost squad turning on the already crippled United States, but it barely matters in the end. There are certainly shocking moments and a few where I gasped, but there was nothing as memorable as charging horses into battle in the desert, or firing a super-powered sniper rifle through several feet of concrete into a target, or flying a jet around a destroyed metropolis.
As far as notable characters go, Stephen Lang (Avatar and Terra Nova) plays the heroes’ father, and he does a successful enough job, but the game lacked any of the memorable characters of Black Ops II, World at War or Modern Warfare. It would be nice if there were more big-name celebrities like there were in World at War (Kiefer Sutherland and Gary Oldman), but that may be a sign of the times for Call of Duty. In the end, Ghosts’ campaign will probably leave players wanting for either the more serious story from Modern Warfare or the stupidly fun action movie of a story from Black Ops II. Despite all these shortcomings compared to previous games, Ghosts has a decently fun campaign full of engaging missions with ridiculous set-pieces. If you can get past the juxtaposition between the story and what actually happens during the missions, it’s easy to enjoy the single player campaign.
When it comes down to it, however, people don’t play Call of Duty for the single player campaign. As always, multiplayer continues to excel, with minor improvements such as players being able to modify the appearance, outfit and sex for different soldiers. The game controls just as well as you’d expect a Call of Duty game to control, and the maps are varied, though some maps are a bit too open for them to be enjoyable. Either way, Call of Duty multiplayer is just as good as it’s always been.
Women appearing for the first time in multiplayer brings up a massive problem with the game, unfortunately. Throughout the entire campaign—a full six-hour story—there are two women. One is a pilot who shows up in one mission and the other is an astronaut who dies within ten minutes of being seen. It’s disappointing that anybody even needs to point out that the game of grizzled white soldiers should try having more than just grizzled white soldiers for its characters. Still, the acknowledgement that women exist is a plus, even if it’s just in multiplayer.
Multiplayer also features Extinction, a game mode in which players fight off increasingly more difficult waves of aliens invading earth. Players set a drill on alien pods and protect the drill from aliens as they attempt to destroy it. Like the Zombies mode from past Call of Duty titles, Extinction is more enjoyable in a group, which can be either online or in split-screen co-op, but unlike Zombies, Extinction is absurdly difficult to play alone, forcing players to actually make friends so each specialization can be filled. Regardless, Extinction looks to be a worthwhile way to spend an evening with a few friends who want to save the world from an intergalactic threat.
Animations are more intricate than previous games in the series, even the rather recent Black Ops II. The character movements and nuances are believable, though the facial capture is still behind Battlefield 4. Either way, you can make fun of the phrase “mo-cap dogs” all you want, but it’s hard to deny that Riley, the dog companion for some missions, moves like a real dog. When you look at Riley, you see a dog–not a series of polygons. The environmental animations are also impressive, with the grass and foliage moving believably from explosions, helicopter rotors and wind. Even with the improved animations and motion capture, the graphics, particularly textures, are not that impressive compared to other heavy-hitters like Battlefield 4 or even Battlefield 3. For being touted as a next generation Call of Duty, Ghosts only looks slightly better than Black Ops II, which means the game looks three years older than it should look given current technology.
In the end, Call of Duty: Ghosts tries very hard to convince players that the game is above what it actually is. The story is serious and actually interesting, but the levels are full of over-the-top set-pieces and absurdity. The game looks more than a few years old, but is called a next-generation title. Multiplayer shines as it always does and Extinction manages to be a worthwhile distraction from multiplayer. For those who are faithful fans of the series, Ghosts will most likely hold their attention, but newcomers and more skeptical gamers probably won’t be as easily impressed.