Monday, 18 November 2013

Game Review - Call Of Duty: Ghosts

Sitting down to play COD: Ghosts feels like the Call of Duty series has been with us forever. This feeling is compounded by the fact that Activision have done very little, if anything at all, to move the series forward. With COD: Ghosts one can almost picture a group of talented, but ultimately bored, developers at what’s left of Infinity Ward sat around a boardroom table trying to cook up something new for the masses to swallow.  “Right folks, its COD time again. Where on Earth do we go with it this year?”

It should be obvious to even the most ardent of COD fans that with Ghosts the Call of Duty series has pretty much reached the end of the line in terms of ideas and where to take it. As a package it doesn’t offer anything new.  Sales are down on previous entrants into the series, (although they’re still pretty high); reviews have been lukewarm; and if the discovery of a cut scene being lifted from a previous iteration before being re-skinned and then unceremoniously dumped into this ‘new’ tale of death and destruction is anything to go on then it’s obvious the series either needs a major revamp or to just quietly die.

Knowing the publisher it’ll probably be the latter.

But hang on just a second. You see, while that may very well be the case there’s no escaping the fact that what’s on offer is actually very entertaining.  As you might expect the single player campaign is as ridiculous and as bombastic as ever. If all you're after is to kill a quite afternoon with a slice of throwaway gaming then with it’s constant barrage of huge explosions, debris, carnage, casualties and raging fire fights - all wrapped up in one of the most ridiculous story lines ever to grace an FPS title - Ghosts is where you’ll find such a release. Ghosts is an undemanding thrill ride that is as enjoyable as it is ludicrous and like a modern day Operation Wolf it simply wants you to enjoy it for what it is without the need to be bogged down in some convoluted story that attempts to unearth some deeper meaning of tragedy during war time.

Ghosts as a story is as straight forward as this: “Bad guys have shown up, so follow that path and kill every last one of them until you reach the end”.  Whether by pure accident or by design, Ghosts knows it’s a video game; one that seemingly relishes in that fact with a knowing smile as you move from one explosive set piece to the next.  It knows it isn't doing anything different, it practically flaunts it, but it doesn't care. Ghosts merely exists to fulfil the needs of millions of COD fans and in that respect, above all, it succeeds in spades.

As we draw ever closer to the end of this current generation of game consoles the old COD engine is looking mighty creaky next to more accomplished titles that have come and gone over the last 12 months or so. Animations are twitchy and the visuals, while competent in some areas, are pig ugly in most other instances. Many of the textures are flat and lifeless, the fixed lighting leaves shadows looking blocky and unfinished, and those once thought to be detailed character and gun models are now looking rather rough around the edges.  As the action ramps up you’ll not take much notice of these short comings this much is true, but stand around for any length of time and you’ll find yourself wincing at some of the games glaring ugliness.

Okay, perhaps it’s not quite that bad, but with no new game engine in sight for COD this lack of polish clearly points to a time where Activision are winding things down with the series. Every dog has it’s day the saying goes, and with regards to COD then perhaps it’s finally on its way to join Guitar Hero and whatever other titles Activision have bled dry over the years.

Moving onto multi-player much has unchanged, which to my mind is no bad thing. Being able to jump straight in and partake in the mayhem without having to fanny about with learning too many new gameplay elements is, I guess, what keeps drawing gamers back time and again. Even though I’d avoided the last two Call of Duty games having experienced the multiplayer many times before in earlier versions of the series shifting between Team Deathmatch and Domination in Ghosts was like slipping on a comfortable pair of slippers.  Once I got to grips with the new maps I was running and gunning like a seasoned pro, and it wasn’t long before every death that I endured I was dishing out two kills in return.

Ghosts is the first in the series that allows players to customise their soldier outside of the standard loadout with different skins, camo and so forth, but other than that it’s business as usual as familiar strike packages and perks are at hand and which can be swapped in and out at players discretion.  The only real difference is that points must be garnered in order to purchase perks etc that have been unlocked during combat. The fastest way to garner points is if you manage to succeed in completing the various field orders that appear during any given match.

These field orders range from killing a number of foes with melee attacks or simply killing someone while in a prone position.  A total of 8 points can be earned and then spread out across the various perks as you see fit. You can spread points out thinly for up to 8 total perks, or if you wish to have a more powerful option anything up to 5 points can be spent on a single perk.  Some perks aren’t available until you reach a certain level, however careful consideration on your part means you won’t ever come up against an unbalanced playing field even if the opposing players are of a higher level as perks at these higher levels use up more points meaning they have less perks at their disposal.

There are a few new game modes including ‘Cranked’ which gives the player a 30 second countdown where you have to make a kill before the timer hits zero whereupon you’ll explode. ‘Blitz’ is a version of Capture the Flag and then there’s ‘Extinction’ which is basically similar to Zombie mode, but in place of the undead are wave after wave of aliens. In truth, none of these new game modes hold up very well so you’re better off sticking with the original multi-player modes as in Free For All, Team Deathmatch, Domination and so on.

There’s plenty of room to criticise Infinity Ward for what appears to be lazy game design, but let’s be honest here; if you don’t know what to expect from Call of Duty by now then you really have been living in a cave.

Ghosts is big, dumb and stupid and it knows it – but that doesn’t stop it being a lot of fun and when it boils down to it that is what’s important here.  It’s why I play video games and I at least hope it’s why you do to, which is reason enough to give COD: Ghosts a fair shout.


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