Call Of Duty: Ghosts Review
Lingering within the expansive realms of over nine iterations of Call of Duty titles are a vast universe of cultural references, emotional crescendos, groundbreaking technologies and genre-defining set pieces, which over that time have seen the series germinate, grow and spread wildly into the ubiquitous headline-fiend that it is today. Whilst Grand Theft Auto might make its plays to be the King of Controversy, Call of Duty represents the most widely accepted and enormously embraced shooter to date. If you have a console relevant to these times, your shelves are likely to be lined with the offspring of this franchise, and whether they define your personal gaming interests or not, they are likely to capture something which is broadly accessible and comprehensible to gamers casual or beyond. Of annual relevance in the gaming calendar is the release of Call of Duty, and the latest unwhispered stallion to leave the stables of Infinity Ward has a tendency to kick.
Our campaign sees us duelling with the evil forces of South America, who’ve presumably become rather vexed by their geographical position beneath the swollen megalomania of the US. In a grand moment of interactive cinema, an American satellite is hijacked by a merry band of cosmic interlopers from The Federation, setting in motion a series of bloody, cataclysmic dominoes, reducing the US to a smouldering ruin beneath a hail of death from the stars. It’s only hope lies with the Ghosts, an elite guerrilla squad of highly trained and capable killers, and oddly enough, it’s you who has to take up this mantle of responsibility.
The level design is great, and we get to see a broad stretch of environments, populated with gun-toting bullet magnets to soak up our repressed passive aggression like hate sponges. One thing to note here, however, is how the obviously conscious shift in gameplay style has affected the world the developers have crafted. Rather than representing a vast battlefield, the levels have become corridors, stages with backdrops, pretty surroundings as you look out of the windows on your mine cart, stuck on the rails. The game’s linearity combined with the reliance on near-passivity, with the its addiction to quick-time events, can at times make you feel as if its turning the cherished shooter title into a glorified Temple Run with guns. It’s constant stream of visual and aural stimulation, and its move even further towards the cinematic raises interesting questions about the potential of games as art, however whilst its heart is in it, possibly opening doors for the future, the composition of the story is simply not up to the standard required for total immersion, which disappoints given the game’s oscar-wining Hollywood writing stock in Stephen Gaghan, writer of 2000 film, Traffic.
Whilst slicker and smoother than any mainstream wargame that’s gone before – Ghosts packs a tank of a punch; enough to lay waste to the strongest of stomachs – the game lacks in subtlety. Potentially poignant hinges in the plot are squandered to absurdity as yet another tool of mass destruction dances its destructive dervish arms through swathes of enemies – enemies that are merely anonymous pawns for our protagonists to fire projectiles of various shapes and sizes towards. Obviously this is Call of Duty, and subtlety is hardly likely to be the word that springs to mind, but more delicately balanced pacing would lend the story a weightier tone. The seemingly indestructible Rorke, with his cockroach-tier survival skills is more likely to conjure sighs of misery rather than gasps of surprise as the plot unfolds.
Minimalistic and wonderfully stylised inter-mission cutscenes reassert the context and establish the setting for the next operation, ensuring enthusiasm and understanding concerning the plot, at least until things get a little haywire towards the end.
The visuals, it has to be said, are beautiful. As someone who’d like to be considered a connoisseur, I’d say they are less pushing the boat out than moving an ocean. The next generation of consoles will be providing an evidently and obviously unprecedented level of visual fidelity and quality and all this is made evident in the PlayStation 4’s wonderful rendering of Infinity Ward’s world; Call of Duty: Ghosts is stunning.
Facial animation has taken leaps and bounds and this is vital in such a cinematic title as our connection to the characters is central in our motivations to succeed with the game. Belief that there is a dependence on my performance, with weighty consequences for failure, is what justifies a deeper level of engagement with the cast of players, and if not for any of the others, I had to grit my teeth, grin and bear it – all for Riley, the world’s most dangerous pooch.
The use of dynamic lighting is clearly a step forward. The new breed of console is in possession of greatly augmented technical capabilities than the last, and the better than all Call of Duty titles before it, is magnificently represented here in Ghosts. Beautifully detailed textures and smooth edges dominate the screen and really utilise the new PlayStation’s ability to render the game natively in 1080p.
But graphics have rarely been shown to merit standing ovation to a game alone. As we all know, there is more to a book than its cover, and the question that remains is whether there’s some substance beyond the shiny and the superficial, or whether Ghosts is just a fine-looking husk, a beautiful airhead who’s dead behind the eyes.
Infinity Ward must be praised for attempting to remould the stereotype of mass-appeal shooters. It’s come to a point where their influence on the genre almost defines it, and given that, it’s refreshing to see them attempt to take a slightly different direction by taking the reins of power away from the usual suspects. Granted, the changes seen are hardly drastic, but perhaps it rests with the indie developers to do something truly groundbreaking with the genre, which for the past few years has been festering in its own sweat and bile. Infinity Ward have taken us away from the dreariness of yesteryear and offered up a story, which is inviting, exciting and naturally relevant. Whether it can provide wisdom or insight is a question for one far more learned than I, but I can guarantee that there is entertainment and intrigue aplenty in Ghosts, a beautifully rendered, if gaunt, commentary on a possible future plight of bloated, complacent global superpowers.
Genuinely convincing character deaths do push the storytelling into the realms of the occasionally gripping, and this seems mainly to be the product of a marriage between advancing graphical capabilities in video games and a greater stock being set in the quality of voice acting. These are the small atmospheric features that fall in to place to contribute to Call of Duty’s claim to arthood.
Perhaps too much quick-time fodder is at hand, to a point where it feels as if there are more breaks in the game than the game itself. With these scenes proving so entirely linear, the room for innovative gameplay barely fits a finger’s width, and whilst this has never been the point of Call of Duty, it is reckless for the title to spit in my face every time Riley fits his face around the wrong kind of muzzle.
It’s wonderful that such an array of settings have been drafted in for Ghosts. Land, sea, air, space, aboard trains, planes and automobiles, the glassy flanks of highrise office complexes and the deep jungle. This really gives ample opportunity to the graphics engine to really show off its polish. Ghosts is a fun playthrough, but that is all. This might not be the masterpiece you’ve been waiting for, but the single player ticks the boxes and managed to meet my basic expectations. There is room for improvement, however, is abundant, and I’ve a feeling it may take a few more shots until we get the perfect Call of Duty.