Another year, another Call of Duty.Â With the seemingly ever-lasting rota between Treyarch and Infinity Ward this time landing at the doorstep of the latter, we get to ask the same questions again: what’s new, is it any better and do we really need another one?
The decision to split production of each year’s game between two developers is working out quite nicely at the moment. Last year’s Black Ops 2 was a genuinely enjoyable FPS game, and something quite different to Modern Warfare 3 before it. With this year’s Ghosts release being the latest from Infinity Ward (and probably the last COD game we’ll see on the soon-departing generation of consoles), COD10/MW4/Ghosts has a lot to prove, and with it being the first in the series to stretch its legs across generations of gaming systems there’s huge potential for this to go horribly wrong. Thankfully, as a result of some excellent game mode additions, it’s not as bad as you might have feared.
The single player campaign is everything you’ve come to expect from a COD game – big set pieces, huge firefights and white-knuckle rides in jeeps, helicopters and any other tech your guys can lay their hands on; you’ll ever visit a hugely powerful space-weapon near the start of the game. It’s nothing if not varied when it comes to locations. It’s not the longest campaign you’ll find in a game, but that seems to be a worrying trend among the bigger FPS titles nowadays. Is it such a crime to want a good solo experience? Well, salvation is nearby, and it comes in a form that you might find quite surprising.
New on the scene this year is Squads, a mode which lets you team up with friends or, refreshingly, a group of friendly bots to complete various game modes, some of which aren’t too dissimilar to the standard online options. You can take on other teams of bots (with the option to take on squads created by friends), compete in the likes of Deathmatch and Domination games, as well as carry out survival type games which start you with a crappy weapon and make you survive until some better weapons and perks show up a couple of waves into the game. It’s an option which opens up a whole new way to play, and with your progress allowing you to unlock bits and bobs in the “normal” online mode it’s far from a waste of time either.
The standard survival modes are back too, but not with zombies. No. Zombies are so 2011. Ghosts has aliens. Proper aliens, with areas that you and your co-op friends have to clear out in order to win the round. It’s more or less the same as the old zombie modes, but with aliens, so it’s totally new. See? Developers are ever so clever. The mode – titled Extinction this time round – gives you some decent options for levelling up and upgrading your stuff, and when played with some friends should offer you a really enjoyable way to kill a few evenings before taking to the masses online and inevitably getting your butt kicked by a 12 year old kid who’s just hours away from a detention for not doing his homework.
So, online then. Fans of the series will either be delighted or frustrated that little of the gameplay mechanics have changed. The perks are different, and the way you unlock weapons has changed too, but the game modes themselves are much of a muchness. But is that such a bad thing? Modern Warfare set a very high bar for online FPS gaming, and there are only so many ways to get humiliated online before you start inventing stuff for inventing’s sake. Luckily other things are tweaked a fair bit: you can customise the look of your character online, choose which order to unlock weapons and perks, and upgrade your weapons in the way you want to, not in the order the game suggests. It means that before long you could have the same loadout as someone a few ranks higher than you, essential for anyone joining the party late or who doesn’t have time to play for 23 hours a day. Connections seemed solid while we were playing though, with far less dropped games than we’ve had in previous titles. The maps are well designed too, giving a chance for a range of fighting styles and plenty of opportunity for some pretty meaty choke points.
But as we’re seeing quite often with games at the moment, Ghosts is suffering for being a game trying to do too much with ageing hardware. It’s as if the guys in the studio really wanted it to look as good as the PS4, One and PC versions and were so reluctant to tone it down enough we’re met with some awkward slow-down at times. Not quite to the same scale as Battlefield 4, but it’s noticeable and quite jarring at times. It’s not an awful looking game, and these moments of chugging aren’t going to crop up every 5 seconds, but it goes to show we’re ready for the next wave of consoles, and also shows just how ready developers are.
So Call of Duty: Ghosts isn’t a bad sign-off for a franchise which revolutionised the way many gamers play online. It’s not drastically different, nor does it posses the greatest visual spectacle you’re likely to see, but the additional co-op and solo options do a great job of keeping things alive, and those already addicted to COD’s online modes won’t find much here to turn them off. It’s definitely time for something new though. Hopefully the new consoles will give us exactly that.
Reviewed on PS3