Tuesday, 21 January 2014

PC Game Review: Call of Duty: Ghosts

Platform: PC (Steam)
Released: 2013
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: Infinity Ward
Publisher: Activision
Buy on Steam

Despite being a massive Call of Duty fangirl, I honestly didn't feel much hype for this game when it was first announced. Looking at it, I expected it to be another modern warfare clone, which it sort of is but at the same time isn't. I mean, the reason I got into Black Ops II was the futuristic feel of it and I was very concerned Ghosts would not follow that trend. So is Ghosts a worthy new Call of Duty experience or are you better off not giving in to the hype and steering clear of this? Let's find out in my review of Call of Duty Ghosts. Since the game is split into three distinct modes, I'll basically split my review into three parts, each part covering each game mode, to cover as much ground as possible with the game and then cover generic stuff such as the overall graphics and sound quality. So far I have played it quite thoroughly and I believe I have a pretty good impression of it.

The campaign in Ghosts is pretty much what you can expect from a Call of Duty game, however in my opinion it's probably my favourite campaign so far as I surprisingly found the story really well written. Despite the story not having branching paths like BlOps2 did, I think it's a fairly decent story in its own right. It focuses on the Walker family of a father Elias Walker and his two sons, Logan and David "Hesh" Walker as they join the Ghosts, a group of elite soldiers who take on missions the regular army shun away from and their pursuit of an ex-Ghost member named Gabriel Rorke. Keeping the focus on the characters like this means the story is a lot easier to follow and also makes it a lot more relatable than earlier games as the bond between these characters really shines through to you as a player.

In the midst of all this, the space cannon ODIN, which is basically a kinetic bombardment device (this is actual technology being developed today making the game strangely foreshadowing), leaves several US cities in ruins and you have to navigate these ruins with your brother and your dog Riley for a bit of the game. In my opinion Riley is the real star of the game and I actually ended up really caring for him as he felt like a true member of the team, which I am thankful the game was able to convey.

The gameplay is pretty much standard Call of Duty fare. You go from setpiece to setpiece, blast out the opposition with your weapons of choice and that's pretty much it. The new twist is that during some missions you get to control and order Riley to help you out, which adds a bit of coolness and unique quality to the game that I honestly can't say any CoD I've played before this has. The atmosphere and feel of Ghosts is pretty unique and I can definitely say that while it still copies the core Call of Duty style, it feels like its own new sub IP. If Call of Duty is not your cup of tea this game is probably not gonna win you over in any way, but for what it is, it's a solid experience and I really enjoyed the campaign.

The multiplayer experience though is probably the most interesting part of the game as it is the most likely main reason people still buy Call of Duty games. That is, when I could get into it. You see, this is the first time I've ran into any kind of serious bug when it comes to the Call of Duty games. At first, I didn't have any squad points. I dunno why or how this happened, but I couldn't unlock the first soldier. That's right, this bug effectively locked me out of the multiplayer game entirely and I had to use a workaround I found on the net that was essentially me joining a friend in multiplayer and earning enough squad points to unlock my first soldier. Granted the workaround does mess up squad play massively and I can't get the full experience like I should have, but I can at least play the game now which is enough for me. I can still just join a friend if I want the full experience anyway, but still this was a rather aggravating ordeal for me and honestly one of the biggest signs this game was rushed to meet Activision's deadline of having a Call of Duty each year. Such a serious bug should've been caught in testing as it caused a TON of pain for not only me but hundreds of other Call of Duty gamers who had paid the full 60 bucks for the game. Hell if you take into consideration I even upgraded this game to Digital Deluxe edition after buying it, I paid 90 fucking bucks in total! That's a rather high price for a game and, while I do think I get what I am paying for, paying that much for an UNFINISHED product is a huge deal for me and I am sorely reminded of when I paid 90 bucks for the collector's edition of Aliens: Colonial Marines and getting a huge mess of a game, and despite me being a fan of ACM, it was NOT worth 90 bucks. But, that's at least the only really serious bug I've run into when it comes to Ghosts and anything else has been rather minor for me and not even worth mentioning. Overall the game does not feel as polished as earlier titles, especially compared to Black Ops II which was exceptionally enjoyable on PC, but it's still playable.

Anyway, when I actually got into multiplayer I of course was able to fully enjoy the new additions to the multiplayer in Ghosts. It's actually really substantially different from earlier games and there are a ton of changes that I think makes Ghosts not only the best Call of Duty multiplayer experience so far but also the most unique. I think they have really listened to the fans in this case and heard what we all wanted. To start off, the first change you will notice is that you have a squad now. Each soldier is fully customizable in terms of appearance and can have multiple loadouts each. The appearance customization is something I absolutely love as you can finally choose to play as a female, which to me is one of the biggest reasons I got Ghosts as I always wanted that option in Call of Duty. I always felt forced into the role of a faceless man when playing Call of Duty which granted I didn't mind but it would be nice to have the option at least to play as a female like in Blacklight Retribution. You can also get more customization options by completing in-game challenges so there is a lot of incentive to keep playing. You can also use your squad to play what's known as squad matches. These are basically online botmatches where you can earn actual XP and squad points, something you normally wouldn't do in botmatches in earlier CoD's. The bot AI is also surprisingly good in this game and I keep getting impressed by how much they resemble human players, which is very good since you use bots for training purposes and the more human-like they are, the better your training will be.

The second addition you might notice are the aforementioned squad points. You earn these by playing matches and use them to unlock stuff such as additional squad soldiers, and unlike earlier CoD's where you unlocked guns at specific levels, here you can access every gun in the game from the get-go provided you have the squad points to pay for them. I actually really like this system as naturally, if you play a custom game you have access to everything in the game and can try stuff out before playing in online matches and therefore can find out what weapon you prefer and what you wanna invest squad points in. You also use squad points to pay for weapon upgrades and just like the weapons themselves, none are locked to specific levels so if you want an attachment, you can get it if you have enough squad points. This is just a lot more convenient than having to grind a certain number of levels before getting the guns you want, not to mention it makes going prestige more fun as you don't have to re-grind every gun in the game like in earlier CoD's. Cosmetic stuff is locked by challenges however so not everything can be unlocked with squad points.

The third major addition to online matches are field orders. These come in the form of floating briefcase symbols that sometimes drop when you kill an enemy. Picking these up gives you a special objective to do, for instance killing the next enemy from behind or even teabagging him (yes, you can get rewarded for humiliating your enemies in this game XD). Successfully completing a field order grants you a care package. The positive aspect about field orders is that they give incentive to not camp as much and instead be active and run around a bit since if you stay in one place too much, you won't be able to pick up field orders.

The perk system sort of mixes elements from both MW3 and BO2 in that each perk takes up a certain number of slots in your loadout and you can either use several minor perks or few strong ones. Most of the perks come from MW3 but there are some new ones as well. Ghosts also brings back the Assault, Support and Specialist killstreak packages from MW3 which I absolutely love as I always prefer playing Specialist and not overly relying on killstreaks to win a game. Support package also offers more incentive to be a team player and if you wanna know more about how these killstreak packages work, you should check out my MW3 review.

The third game mode is Extinction. If you've played Black Ops Zombies you know what to expect as it is pretty much the same thing. It's a single map (you get more if you buy the DLC packs) where you fight off increasing waves of aliens using weapons you find on the map. You earn money by killing aliens and spend this money however you wish on weapons and traps in the map. It's a fun co-op experience that can give you a short burst of intense action if you've finished the campaign and need a break from competitive multiplayer. I don't particurarily care for Extiniction myself but it is fun to play in short bursts with one or more friends. I strongly recommend getting a party of full 4 players as the mode gets pretty intense after a while. Some of the fun comes from playing as different classes, each with their own perks and playstyles. I have only played weapon specialist so far but might try out the other ones. I guess that's one of the reasons I don't care for the mode as I don't like class-based multiplayer at all usually since it feels a bit restrictive.

Overall the graphics in Call of Duty: Ghosts are pretty gorgeous despite the engine starting to show its age at this point compared to more graphics-intensive games. Everything is really well animated, especially Riley the dog who really does feel very alive in the game, essential to how much of a relationship you build with him. The ruins are full of atmosphere and I especially love the setpieces under water and in space where everything feels like you are actually in space or actually under water. Hell, the devs even went as far as giving the fish a rudimentary AI to keep them from swimming in repetitive patterns which I think is pretty awesome. I also like how the multiplayer maps has architecture that crumbles in front of you and some maps can change the layout entirely during a match, which I always find really cool. There is a very good colour balance too, and while it does get a bit grey and brown in places, it's not to the extent Modern Warfare 1-3 was. I've heard of people experience some glitches though, and unless you set the Image Quality to Extra specifically, the effective resolution will be 720p maximum even if you set the resolution to higher. I would guess this is to make the game run more smoothly but I got it running smoothly by setting the image quality to Extra and just not maxing out the texture or shadow quality.

Sound-wise I love the muffled sounds in space and underwater and the attention to detail when it comes to the ambience and atmosphere. I've heard people compare the gun sounds to N64 quality, though I don't honestly feel they are that bad. They get the job done and sound okay to me and do have a bit of punch to them. Not a fan of the music though. I'm sure Eminem did a fine job with the end credits song, it just isn't my taste at all and I would take Skrillex from Black Ops 2 over it any day. And overall the soundtrack felt very forgetable which for me has been a common problem with Call of Duty so far but it's to be expected I suppose.

Story: 8/10
Despite a bit of a cheesy cliffhanger and some rather fantastical "Michael Bay" moments, the story is surprisingly enjoyable and I found the characters and dialogue really well written for a Call of Duty game. A huge improvement over previous iterations.
Gameplay: 8/10
Aside from a very annoying multiplayer bug, the gameplay is pretty solid. The campaign gives you exactly what you want from a Call of Duty title and the multiplayer adds enough to make the game feel like its own thing and improves on most of my problems with earlier iterations. Overall the multiplayer is a lot of fun, considering all the additions and changes that I frankly believe are for the better. I especially love that the maps in Ghosts feel a lot more open and not as tight and cramped as earlier Call of Duty games. They can feel a bit overwhelming at first but the more I played them, they more they've grown on me. And if you get tired of hackers and other cheaters or just want some training, squad mode gives you the opportunity to play botmatches and still feel like you earn XP from it which I believe you should. The Extinction mode feels a bit too class-based for my taste and not much fun if you only play it alone or with a friend, though it can be fun in bursts. I look forward to seeing new maps being added in DLC's.
Graphics: 8/10
While the engine still is showing a bit of age and the game won't blow your mind, this is a pretty good looking title.
Sound: 6/10
Sound is pretty average, it gets the job done. The voice acting is pretty good and suits the story. Though I don't care much for the boring soundtrack.

Overall Score: 8/10

Don't get me wrong, Call of Duty: Ghosts is a massively fun experience and if you're a CoD fan like me, you owe it to yourself to get it. However, if you're not, this is probably not going to win you over.

- Alyxx

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