Call of Duty: Ghosts, the latest installment in the now-10-year-old franchise, elicited the most polarizing feelings I’ve experienced since Treyarch’s World at War in 2008. I was impressed by several aspects in the newest installment and was severely let down by others. For every positive, Infinity Ward’s Ghosts there seemed to be a negative in both campaign and multiplayer modes.
Call of Duty: Ghosts takes place in an alternate continuity from the Modern Warfare trilogy, which was released every two years from 2007 to 2011. In Ghosts, the Middle East was practically obliterated by nuclear warfare, curtailing the worldwide supply of oil. This turned many nations in South America into the world’s primary source for oil, making them rich. The oil-producing, South American nations merged into The Federation and absorbed the rest of South America in the process, becoming a global superpower. The game begins as San Diego is being firebombed by a USA weapon known as ODIN, right as Elias Walker tells his sons Hesh and Logan (you) the story of the Ghosts, the most elite soldiers in the US military.
Both Hesh, and your character, Logan, run for your lives as San Diego crumbles apart in a manner not unlike Roland Emmerich’s film 2012, except with the added destruction of missiles, before quickly warping you into outer space, showing how the current state of affairs unfolded. Federation astronauts have seized control of the ODIN orbital missile platforms, and you briefly control an astronaut desperately trying to prevent the Federation from destroying the entire United States. While the astronauts succeed in their mission (not without heavy cost), they are unable to prevent much of the Southwestern United States from being devastated.
The game itself proper starts 10 years later, with you and Hesh forming an elite pair of soldiers. The war has been fought to a bloody stalemate, but the Federation is preparing to launch a breakout. As you progress through the game, you get to meet the titular “Ghosts” and have the opportunity to prove you belong in that unit. You eventually discover that your father, Elias, is also a member of the Ghosts (not really a spoiler as the game heavily foreshadows this from the start) and the conflict becomes a personal one between Elias, Hesh, you, and the other Ghosts versus a traitor named Rorke who is working for the Federation.
The plot has the makings of being something truly memorable but doesn’t hold up in execution. Logan, your player character, is yet another silent Call of Duty protagonist, never mind that your avatar stopped being silent in the last Treyarch installment, Black Ops 2. From the get-go this gives you the feeling of regression in storytelling, and indeed a lot has. Unlike Black Ops 2, Ghosts is a significantly more linear game in both gameplay and plot. The ability to get multiple endings, either by accomplishing certain objectives, ensuing or preventing an event from happening, or even successfully completing extra missions are all missing here in Ghosts, making the feeling that you are on rails more prevalent than before.
The game’s campaign tries hard to impress you. One level takes you through a rapidly flooding city. Another is underwater, where you have to contend with sharks as well as enemy soldiers. You leave Logan’s POV to fly a helicopter for roughly half of one mission. Another mission is played in a style best compared to Metal Gear Solid, where you have to sneak through a jungle on your own, surrounded by enemy soldiers. Unfortunately, all of this is window dressing save for the stealth jungle mission. No matter what you’re doing or where you are, whether you’re airborne, underwater, or even in outer space, you’re always pushing forward against waves of enemies, trying to accomplish your objectives one at a time. This has been the modus operandi since the original Modern Warfare, and there is a sense of deja vu as you accomplish your missions and deal with the extremely dramatic plot twists the game hurls your way.
Not even the widely-hyped dog makes that much of a difference. Mild spoiler alert, but you barely use the dog beyond the first couple of missions, until the mission where the dog gets hurt and then you have to carry the dog with you while you’re trying to survive firefight after firefight. It really doesn’t add much to the campaign and it destroys your sense of disbelief as you see the dog (whose name is Riley) somehow evade bursts of machine-gun bullets to maul whatever soldier you order Riley to kill. The dog is just window dressing doesn’t serve to enhance the game as a whole.
Overall, the campaign is very typical. It does feel longer than Modern Warfare 3, which is a good thing. I estimate it took me about seven hours to complete the campaign. However, compared to the narrative richness and the ability to choose your ending in Black Ops 2, the campaign for Ghosts feels pretty stale. Voiceovers by Brandon Routh and Stephen Lang don’t really change that, though they perform their lines quite well, and David Buckley’s dreary dirge of a score is appropriate from a meta sense as well as in-game.
Other than the maps seeming somewhat bigger in comparison to previous games, there really isn’t anything to write home about when it comes to the maps themselves. If you’ve played a first-person shooter, odds are you’ve played a map that Ghosts offers you.
I had more than one instance where I would respawn repeatedly close to an enemy or in the midst of enemy fire, which is immensely frustrating. I also found most weapons outside of assault rifles and sniper rifles close to useless. The increase in map size makes weapons like shotguns and submachine-guns close to useless in most instances, making your choice of class therefore pretty much decided for you if you want any chance of a positive kill/death ratio. A lot of the features introduced in Black Ops 2 are missing, giving the multiplayer a stripped-down feeling. I just did not feel like I could experiment like I could in Black Ops 2.
That being said, I still had fun, including with the new Extinction Mode. This is Infinity Ward’s answer to Treyarch’s Zombie Mode, and Extinction offers the variety and experimentation that is missing in the standard multiplayer and campaign. Facing off against aliens, it is a survival horror type of situation that is explored quite well, and your character classes will influence how you progress through the mode, allowing you to not have the play the mode the same way twice. Which is a good thing, as there’s only one map available for Extinction as of this writing.
While the game on a technical level is still definitely a good play, there is a sense that something is off about it. It’s like eating Nacho Cheese Doritos the last five or six times without trying Cool Ranch or Spicy Sweet Chili. It just feels like you’ve done this before and too many times. Most of what’s changed feels like smoke and mirrors, without anything truly unique or layered like in Black Ops 2, which truly progressed the franchise. Ghosts feels like a shadow of superior CoD entries, and sadly that reflects Infinity Ward itself, as the core of the company has formed Respawn Entertainment and will be releasing Titanfall fairly soon for the Xbox One. I hate to say this but it feels like Treyarch has taken the mantle of “primary Call of Duty developer” away from Infinity Ward, as Treyarch is the company that seems more intent on experimentation and progression as to where the franchise goes from here.
Wherever Call of Duty goes from here, it can’t go in the direction Infinity Ward took Ghosts. Because all Infinity Ward did was ensure that the franchise is running in place, and that doesn’t get anyone anywhere.