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It’s that time of year again folks. Battle lines are drawn across servers worldwide and combat rages between armchair warriors the world over. November 5th saw Call of Duty Ghosts fall into the laps and disc trays across platforms and continents and this year it was going to be tough for it to stand up. With Battlefield 4 coming out the previous week, GTAV still tightly grasping gamers the world over by the throats and the next generation of console gaming mere weeks away Infinity Ward had to deliver in order to keep the Call of Duty name going. Luckily – in most respects – they did.

It’s true right of the bat that most people who have purchased or will purchase Ghosts are going to play multiplayer and multiplayer only. While it’s as good as is expected and even tweaked to be better, doing this would be a marked disservice to the other offerings available in a well packed shooter.

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Call of Duty stories, which isn’t a PBS special on addicts, have never exactly had Oscar-winning potential, to put it politely, and often they go to some pretty crazy places. Fighting in suburbia during MW2 and the collapse of the Eiffel Tower in MW3 are prime example of this nonsense. Ghosts is no exception there, with destruction on a catastrophic scale caused by a space station launching weapons into the planet pulling everything apart, but it’s all grounded in reality. The opening scenes don’t exist just to make your knees weak at the explosion porn on offer, they serve a more important purpose in this bombastic burlesque performance.

They actually explain what the hell is going on. You take the role primarily of Logan as he fights alongside his brother Hesh and shortly into the game the titular Ghosts, to stop a superpower called the Federation. I’ll avoid any major spoilers here but you do spend a lot of time with his brother Hesh who you’ll meet in the opening sequence as well as your family dog Riley, or as the internet calls him CoD Dog. All of the madness though does have it’s roots down in our world now. The opening weapon used is in development and is theoretically possible. The dog controlling is already sort of possible via remote signals and cameras. Even laser glass cutters exist in some description.

Character development is about as deep as your standard 90’s action flick with Arnie as the poster boy but there’s enough information and feeling to make you genuinely care about the people you run with and not see them simply as cannon fodder to die at a later point in the story. Not to say your comrades are immune as some of them drop like mayflies during the game. The writing is pretty standard with a few flashes of brilliance. Flashes dulled by the apocalyptically awful voice acting used to deliver most of the time. For all the money thrown at Call of Duty titles during development surely a little more could have been spent on the voice casting. It’s a shame because the writing, if taken without the voices, is rather good and should be reflected in what you hear.

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That isn’t to say the entire game sounds dreadful. Far from it in fact. The smack of bullets into concrete and atmospheric winds right down to the tiny barely audible beeps of equipment show how much effort went into sound design. Satisfyingly thumping a 50.cal round across the map into someone’s head carries the necessary booms and whistles of bullet fire. Even the barks of Riley sound as if they were recorded well and not given a dollop of over production to make them sound stupid.

Nipping into cover and charging into combat is a breeze too with a control system we’re all familiar with by now being further refined. Rarely can you be found getting stuck on terrain you don’t expect and getting off the shots you want when you want them is made even easier, this coming from someone who is used to more slow-paced tactical FPS combat. The PC version at the very least – being the one reviewed – is quick to react and never seems sluggish like some previous Call of Duty titles on PC. As you get thrown into other vehicles such as helicopters for a pretty incredible if short attack upon an offshore oil refinery the controls still hold up.

Saying hold up, they’re really good but this reviewer has been a Battlefield Junkie for the past 6 years so it was a slightly jarring experience at first. Unlike in the aforementioned Battlefield playing Call of Duty on PC doesn’t mean running your hands up and down your keyboard randomly flailing at arbitrary buttons to make stuff go boom, its intuitive and smart in positioning. Even controlling Riley the few times you do directly in the campaign isn’t a problem.

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Alright here’s the big one now. While one can’t comment on the XBOne and PS4 difference issues here, having played it maxed-out on PC, Ghosts looks incredible in its own right. It’s not going to directly compete with Battlefield 4 because they are two games with differing visual styles but every texture in Ghosts is crisp and very well made. There are not a great deal of incredible lighting effects on offer but those that do come through are nothing exactly to sniff at. Guns look sharp and have a sheen which brings them out of the screen and into your hands and the character modelling is top notch with each NPC and indeed player character looking very good and believable. Some animations look a little strange at times though but besides this and the odd sign here and there which isn’t in a full high-res because it’s not in the direct sight of the player, all good on this front.

The other big one for Call of Duty is multiplayer and Ghosts brings us a couple of old favourites and a couple of new flavours to spice up multiplayer palettes. Most of the old modes are back although larger ground war games seem to have fallen through a crack in the internet even on PC. Without going too deeply into them the old steadfasts are there in all glory to play. The new stuff is what’s important and Ghosts brings with it a couple of new modes and a totally redesigned character levelling system.

In terms of modes we have Squads, Extinction and two new multiplayer combat modes. The first being Cranked. In Cranked you are playing essentially a Team Deathmatch where for every kill you score you become more powerful and quicker – at a price. The price for this power and speed is after 30 seconds of not getting a kill you blow your ass to high heaven in an explosion. It gets everyone moving, stops people camping as easily and its an absolute hoot!

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Across the gap we have Infiltrator, in which you run to randomly spawning points on the opposing team to try and run into them to score points. After you successfully get a point a new point spawns and you have a 10 second cooldown until it becomes active. This is one of the weaker additions in Ghosts but it’s a nice change and mixes up the gameplay especially in certain maps. Speaking of maps, Ghosts sure has a bevy of them to offer. They’re all in general larger and more populated than their older brothers and sisters as well as coming with a Battlefield inspired destructible terrain system. Each map has a trigger point which allows you to change the environment in some way upon the map. On a few maps it’s quite noticeable. On most though you rarely see it and even when it happens it’s nothing to write home about. A nice bonus we can all agree but nothing compared to the destruction wrought upon buildings in the other FPS franchise.

The largest and most noticeable change in the whole thing is the new character levelling system. You still gain levels through combat obviously, but it is instead spread around a selection of characters. When you create a character you choose a specialisation which locks each character into a series of weapons ranging from the mid range Assault to the close range Close Quarters fighter and the longer ranged Marksman class. After this selection the character is locked in that profession as you might call it. Then each character on top of that has an independent level. For instance when playing the Assault, lets call him Andy, he may get to level 15. Then you switch from Andy to Carrie the Close Quarters combatant.  Carrie runs off and levels up to level 10. Carrie in that time unlocked a number of squad points which are spent on her to get a favoured weapon with attachments or used to unlock extra characters.

Squad points are your new currency. So instead of getting to level 50 to obtain the AK-47, you get 6 squad points from play and then unlock the AK which then allows you to – via squad points – add attachments to each weapon. From a casual and hardcore perspective these are brilliant changes meaning you don’t have to play for 70 hours to get the preferred weapon and means a much more level playing field for all. The playing field has been levelled even further with the close combat SMG weapons being reduced in power to make the warzone a fairer place to play… and kill.

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These separate Squadmates come into their own in Squad mode. Squad mode takes your little platoon of fighters, all individually levelled by you, into the arena against other players and their squads. It adds a PvE element to the normal PvP combat as well as providing a reason to play more than just one character all the time. Personally playing squad mode just felt like playing the campaign. Seeing your levelled squadmates duke it out is a fresh change but overall, it’s nothing amazingly special. Still, it’s something new. Just a shame it’s not something amazing and new.

A last new feature before judgement is passed, Extinction. You all remember the COD Zombie modes? This is Infinity Ward’s take on the idea and in all fairness, it works… mostly. The crux of gameplay is you run around earning points to spend on ammo packs and such while levelling up your character and killing Hives which spawn aliens. The aliens are pretty good looking, move quick enough to be a challenge and die in a satisfying manner. They do lack something though. The spark from Zombies with 3 friends doesn’t transfer over as you’re wandering around killing aliens. It’s much more fun to kill 200 zombies with mates than to kill 20 aliens with mates in the same set up. Their AI is as dumb as soup and they often surround you too quickly to react.

On the whole Call of Duty: Ghosts is an incredible step in the right direction. It looks beautiful in it’s own right, has a deep enough story to link the set pieces and mass death together as well as pulling off a multiplayer funfest that has even managed to pull a self confessed Battlefield fanboy into it’s warm embrace some nights. Though, there’s no spark. For reviewing purposes one has played the game to death and admittedly it has been an enjoyable experience, but after finishing gameplay yesterday there’s been no drive to come back. The hooks that held most of us during the Modern Warfare glory days are now dulled and blunted. There’s nothing wrong with Ghosts not by a long shot as a game. As a sequel in a multi million dollar franchise it stands above most of it’s recent brethren and is a uniform success, it just lacks the heart and soul to really grab you by the nuts and keep you coming back every night to shoot seven shades of brown matter out of people all over the world.

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TL:DR – If you’re a long time COD fan you’re in for a great and well balanced experience. If you’re just looking at Ghosts as a purchase to tide you over, give it a blast but don’t expect it to hold you for the next 5-6 months for Destiny and Titanfall.

Another note as well which worries this commentator. Attitudes to FPS’ have changed in recent months, especially since games such as Far Cry 3 and to a lesser extent Crysis 3 in terms of offering the player freedom to do as they please in their environment and attack scenarios from various angles. Call of Duty: Ghosts’ single player tries to give the player the same options but consistently falls short. With this shift could we soon see an appearance of a more open less scripted single player Call of Duty experience? The universe created by Ghosts gives plenty of openings for it to happen. What do you folks think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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