[A big thank you to Activision for being so kind to provide us with a copy of the game so we could do this review. Those guys are awesome.]
The problem with yearly iterations of any gaming franchise is, well, that there’s yearly iterations. There’s only so much you can do from year to year to make the game different. Now, I know that Call of Duty rotates developers to try and offset some of that problem, but the simple fact is there are certain expectations of a Call of Duty game, and it’s risky to stray too far from the established formula, just as it’s risky to stick too closely to it. Call of Duty has arguably walked that line better than most franchises, and while Call of Duty: Ghosts does offer the expected tweaks and updates any yearly franchise needs, for better or for worse (very much dependent on one’s personal tastes), it’s still quintessentially Call of Duty.
When it comes to any non-sports franchise that puts out regular sequels, and especially for first person shooters, typically the place where the biggest change can take place is with the campaign story. It’s here that new characters, settings, and most importantly a new story can be added to help set the game aside from others. Of course, with Call of Duty, there’s a certain bombastic feel that’s expected from any story it tells, so even here, there’s that balance between expectations and doing something fresh. Ghosts does something rare for the series in that it takes a bit more of a reserved approach. Oh, there are still big set pieces and huge action moments, but the story overall is fairly coherent and the action set pieces more often serve the story rather than the other way around, as it has been in the last few games. Granted the twists really aren’t all that surprising, and many elements are fairly cliché, but all in all, this campaign probably rates as one of the better ones in the series because it tells a tighter story that doesn’t let big, over-the-top action get out of hand. One of the best elements is the fact that things are changing so often; this isn’t just a shooting gallery. One minute you’re in the jungle, then in space, then under the ocean, then in a big shoot-out, then sneaking around, then watching the city flood, then flying a helicopter. This is easily the most varied Call of Duty campaign in recent memory. In addition, the characters aren’t having some sort of epic, barely survivable crash every time they get into a vehicle. That alone was a nice change of pace.
One of the key moments of the story centers on the fact that everyone has a breaking point. No matter how strong, determined, or tough someone may be, apply enough pressure, and they will inevitably break. That’s not just with torture, or psychological warfare. Sometimes that’s just the way life is. I think just about everyone reaches some sort of breaking point eventually. The question is what do we do when our own strength runs out. What do we do when we have nothing left? Although it may sound odd, but that’s often the very point God has been waiting for us to get to. Why? Because when we have nothing left of ourselves, that’s usually when we’re most open to accepting help from someone else, to rely on their strength and reserves. God is always ready to help, but we often brush that aside until we’re most desperate. I love how Jesus pleads with us, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…” (Matthew 11:28). Whatever your breaking point may be, a loving God is there just beyond it to comfort, help, and restore. Indeed, he was there long before that; it’s just that we often forget to look until we’re ready to break.
Then there’s the multiplayer, the bread and butter of the franchise. So, Ghosts tweaks the perks formula and the whole “Pick Ten” system. There is some nice strategy here, but I still feel it’s a system where the “rich get richer.” If you just aren’t as talented as some other CoD players are, you’ll never really have much of a chance to play with them on equal footing. The squads mode is interesting, where you build up a group of AI bots that you can use to play against another players’ AI bots. Extinction mode replaces zombies with some fun co-op against aliens. So, while there have been some tweaks, this is still the same, but refined and still fun, multiplayer one expects each and every year from Call of Duty. Personally, I think multiplayer peaked with Modern Warfare 2 (loved all the different weapons one could dual wield and the perk system felt a bit more balanced), but the refinements here are quite nice. There are more customization options than ever. Familiarity is something one will always have with a yearly game, or most franchises for that matter, but that familiarity is either strength or a weakness. For Call of Duty, that’s really a matter of opinion, but for me, the familiarity is really more of a weakness. The last few games have all really felt the same, especially in multiplayer. Some people like that, but it leaves me feeling indifferent.
Ghosts tells a decent story with its campaign and delivers exactly what one would expect, and little more, with its multiplayer. The formula is so refined that regardless of the developer, I think there’s reluctance to mess with success, and why should they? It is fun, and for some, the familiarity in new settings is wildly appealing. For some the “it feels like Call of Duty” statement is just what they were looking for. For others, such as myself, the “it feels like Call of Duty” simply means it’s a game that’s passably enjoyable, but not one I’ll be spending a lot of my time with. That has little to do with the game’s quality and mostly to do with a personal preference.
Call of Duty: Ghosts features some harsh language and some grisly torture scenes in the single player campaign. It definitely earns the M rating, so keep that in mind. However, the multiplayer doesn’t have to deal with any of that narrative darkness, and while it’s all action, there’s little blood or gore. As for the pros and cons of being on a virtual killing field, that’s a debate for your own household to decide.