In space, no one can hear Eminem scream
I lift the scope to my eye, centre it on the masked man hiding under the burnt-out truck north of my location, and breathe in. I pull the trigger. CRACK! The bullet fires from my rifle, piercing the man’s cranium with a splash of blood and bone. I reload. CLICK! Another man appears from the blasted remains of a nearby strip club. I repeat my earlier actions, resulting in another corpse not ten feet from the first. To the left of my vision, some poorly spelled words appear: “GTFO campper u nooblet!!!11″
I am immediately pulled out of the game and reminded of the toxic attitude of the stereotypical Call of Duty player. I have been playing Infinity Ward’s latest release in the franchise, CoD: Ghosts, and I’m conflicted – I should hate this game. The story is big, loud, and stupid, the multiplayer component is full of racist tweens commenting on my mother and her sexual prowess, and worst of all, this is an annually released game, with the same shooting mechanics, the same explosions, and the same arrogant attitude every year – but I can’t hate it – I am having a blast.
Ghosts opens with a gritty tale told over a highly stylized loading screen, complete with porcelain models of soldiers being blasted into pieces and reassembling themselves. A voice explains the existence of “Ghosts”, highly trained warriors adept at taking on great numbers of enemies despite their small team.
When the game begins proper, the player character, Logan, his father, Elias, and his brother, Hesh, are sitting around a campfire when tremors start. The three make their way up a forest trail and find that their small town has erupted into chaos. Explosions in the distance and burning buildings indicate that the situation is not being caused by earthquakes, and Elias mentions “Odin”, a space station, before running for the house.
The player then takes over as an astronaut facing siege on the aforementioned Odin as “Federation” troops invade, using the station to fire lasers on the United States. The story quickly shifts back to Logan and Hesh escaping their home with their father before fast-forwarding to years later when the two have become soldiers in a destroyed version of America.
The story is absurd. The boys are recruited into the Ghosts and attempt to track down a man responsible for murdering one of their own. With little character development and a contrived tale of vengeance, the plot takes players through a jungle, into outer space, and under the ocean during its six-hour experience and never once betrays its stoic, intense attitude.
Plenty of huge set-pieces keep the campaign fresh and with stand-out moments like infiltrating a base in disguise, blowing up a ship from the shark-infested remains of shipwrecks, and trading shots in zero-G on a space station, the excitement maintains an incredible height. A particularly intense mission revolves around the player escaping a jungle, armed only with a suppressed pistol and knife while being hunted by an army.
Most players will avoid the campaign – which is a shame, as it is a lot of fun – and jump straight into the multiplayer. Call of Duty has excelled in this department since Modern Warfare exploded onto the scene in 2007, and Ghosts is no exception to the supreme online shooter experience.
Some new modes – Cranked and Blitz – have replaced last iteration’s Hardpoint – which is unfortunate – but they manage to evoke the frenzy of more classic games like Unreal Tournament and are indeed great fun.
Cranked gives a massive speed boost to players on killstreaks, with score multipliers for each successive kill. The mode encourages a fast pace as going without a kill for too long results in the player self-destructing. Think PCP-heads blasting eachother frenetically and then exploding when they’re sobered up. It’s intense, it’s fast, and it embodies everything I love about twitch shooters.
Blitz is a new favorite of the modes. Two teams with their own “goal zones” fight to make it through the opposition’s portal, scoring a point with each successful jump into the zone. The mode encourages strategic plays to defend and attack as a team, and feels much like a sport using bodies instead of balls.
The real highlight of Ghosts‘ multiplayer suite is Extinction mode. Designed in the same addictive vein as Treyarch’s Nazi Zombies, this mode throws four players into a decimated city, tasked with taking out alien hives using a drill. The variety of enemy types and upgrades offers a strategic level of offensive play unseen in Nazi Zombies.
Multiplayer progression and leveling is essentially the same as last year’s title. Unlocking guns and attachments is a CoD standard at this point, but Ghosts does change one aspect to customization in its use of characters.
Players can alter the appearances and genders for each member of their squad (Think a World of Warcraft toon roster), complete with individual rank and weapon unlocks for each character. When joining a multiplayer match, players must choose which squad member they would like to play as, with customizable loadouts for each.
Ghosts plays as we’ve come to expect, though with the addition of a slide rather than a jump to prone, which fits especially well in Blitz mode. Aiming and shooting feels excellent, and every gun feels unique. The game boasts Infinity Ward’s trademark polish – it’s an undeniably solid first person shooter.
On a maxed-out PC, Ghosts boasts incredible visuals. Everything from the physics of the straps on some of the guns to the dense foliage of the jungle look sharp. Reloading animations are appropriately quick and smooth, especially in space, where the empty clip floats away.
Lighting is expertly rendered, especially in the brighter levels. Rays of sun creep through broken barricades and reflect off the dust in the air. Particle effects are liberally used in the beautiful explosions and fires throughout the game, and they look beautiful.
Facial animations could use some work, especially when compared to other triple-A titles on PC, but they do the job and the beauty of the environments pulls attention away from this occasional ugliness.
Much like the visuals, the audio work is mostly superb. Different guns sound as they ought to, especially underwater or in outer space, where the atmosphere suppresses the bangs. Of particular note is the jungle level’s audio – mosquitos buzz by your ears and leaves rustle with the wind, immersing the player into the environment.
The music is the typical heroic fanfare of the series’ past, with powerful string sections and distorted guitars. The score feels right at home with the “tough guys shooting stuff” attitude throughout.
Voice work is spotty at the best of times. It is all well-recorded but the melodramatic nature of these titles leads to some often hilarious dialogue, and Ghosts is no exception to this cheesiness. It would do the series well to rethink some of its writing, but as it stands, the campiness does reflect the insanity of the story.
When I think of my favorite action movies – Die Hard, Big Trouble in Little China, Predator, etc – I realize why I love Ghosts. Yes, there are guns, yes, there are explosions, and yes, there is a healthy dose of arrogance splashed throughout, but it remains a CoD title because of these tropes. I can’t help but admire its persistence and its ability to push itself to the next level of intensity with every iteration.
Call of Duty: Ghosts realizes the absurdity of its story. It knows it is entertainment for the sake of entertainment, and it prospers because of this. At the same time, Ghosts manages to crank up the insanity beyond last year’s well-received offering of Black Ops 2 and push the franchise into the next generation of hardware. As much as I would like to bash the inherent sameness present here, I can’t – it works and it works well. While it won’t convert people that dislike the series, both newcomers and fans have a lot to love in Ghosts. As much as it may pain me to encourage an annually released game, I can’t recommend this one enough.