Another year, another Call of Duty. It seems I say this every time a new Call of Duty title is released, but for a series that epitomizes annualization of video games, it's a fitting phrase – not that it should take away from all of the hard work of both Treyarch and Infinity Ward do as they push themselves to release a new installment every year in a rotating cycle.
This year, it's Infinity Ward's turn and with the help of Neversoft and Raven, they've released exactly what you'd expect, which, unfortunately, isn't quite good enough. Call of Duty: Ghosts represents a unique time for the Call of Duty franchise, a time to really show the world that the Xbox One and PS4 will change the gaming landscape. As we transition into a new generation of gaming, expectations are higher than ever before. Call of Duty: Ghosts, while a solid play, does little push the envelope.
Ghosts undoubtedly looks better than previous games in the series, even on current-gen systems, but it's not the jump you'd expect to see from a next-generation game. Animations are smoother and new mechanics make for a more fluid gameplay experience, but ultimately Ghosts follows the same formula we've seen in the past. Again, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's also not the type of stagnation you want heading into the next generation
The campaign leaves you with a feeling of "been there, done that." While the locations change, the formula remains the same. Ghosts, despite sharing a name with one of Modern Warfare's best-known characters, actually takes place in an entirely new Call of Duty universe, one in which the United States has been decimated by a federation of oil-rich South American nations known as the United Federation. It's the ol' "America is under attack and invaded" story, but this time with a different spin. It's refreshing that the enemy is no longer the stereotypical Middle Eastern or Russian terrorists, but it's a plot that relies on the dated storytelling techniques already experienced in past games.
There's certainly no lack of dramatic moments as you play as part of an elite squad of dedicated soldiers dedicated to preserving America, but the real problem is that we've been exposed to these type of moments in the past. Maybe I'm desensitized by now, but the moments in which I'm shooting from the back of a vehicle or partaking in what's supposed to be an intense stealth mission just feel like the norm. There's nothing really special about them because we've done it all before. To its credit, Ghosts does attempt to mix it up a bit with an underwater sequence and playing as a dog, but the genuine feeling of shock as a building crumbles before me is long gone.
While the game's storytelling techniques may prove antiquated, the stellar gameplay never gets old. What's made Call of Duty withstand the test of time isn't necessarily the story it tells, but the enjoyment one gets from its polished gameplay, particularly with multiplayer. True to its name, the same fast-paced fun returns in Call of Duty: Ghosts, but with notable additions and improvements.
At the forefront of multiplayer is the ability to Create a Soldier, which lets you create and customize 10 unique characters, each with up to six loadouts. The "Pick 10" system from Black Ops 2 has undergone a transformation. Now everything is handled under a Perk system that assigns weapons and perks with a point value of 1 through 5. With a natural pool of 8 points, expandable to 12 if you forego certain weapons, Ghosts has very few limitations in terms of creating a loadout that fits your playstyle.
Call of Duty: Ghosts allows for just every style of play, but it's especially impressive that none of the builds I have encountered seem blatantly over-powered. I'm sure, as time progresses, Infinity Ward will be forced to play the balancing act as the CoD community determines what works and what doesn't, but the system is quite refreshing.
Create a Soldier also plays hand-in-hand with another new mode, Squads, which allows you to command your own team of customized characters in a multiplayer scenario. Personally, this mode wasn't for me as I prefer live opponents, but for those who aren't ready to hop into the fray, this provides a nice testing ground for newcomers.
Another new mode, revealed only shortly before launch, is Extinction. This four-player cooperative mode has you fight off monstrous alien creatures through a mini-campaign. Similar to Gears of War's Horde 2.0, you'll stave off increasingly difficult waves of aliens with weapons and defenses. The ultimate goal is to protect a drill that's burrowing into the hives of aliens and eventually destroy them. What comes off as Infinity Ward's answer to Treyarch's Zombies mode is actually a pretty fun mode. Again, this sort of alternative is nice for those who don't prefer the fierce competitive landscape of multiplayer.
That's not to say the competitive side of CoD multiplayer has been completely ignored. Ghosts introduces five new game types in addition to the already returning modes. My personal favorite was Grind, a spin-off of Kill Confirmed in which you must not only collect dog tags from down enemies, but deposit them in one of two "banks" on the map before someone kills you. There are a total of 13 new modes in Call of Duty: Ghosts and while some are simple modifiers, it's still nice to have such a breadth of options at your disposal.
Call of Duty: Ghosts isn't about innovation, but that doesn't make it any less of a fun play. It's not the next-gen leap we were hoping for, but it's another solid installment to the franchise. Call of Duty defined the first-person shooter genre and while Ghosts doesn't take the next step forward, it's at least on par with what we've already played.