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Call of Duty: Ghosts

Score: 85%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Infinity Ward
Media: DVD/2
Players: 1 - 2; 2 - 12 (Online)
Genre: Action/ First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Reviewing entries of the Call of Duty franchise on a yearly basis (sometimes more than once, depending on how many entries released every year) is almost along the same lines as reviewing each yearly sports simulation. Here is a series that comes within a hair's length of being purely iterative year after year, yet always does just enough to be able to let the hook sink further into the hard palates of the franchise faithful. And so it is with Call of Duty: Ghosts, the tenth core game in Activision's record-shattering shooter series. It's light on surprises, but most of the surprises are welcome and meaningful.

Most of the developers behind this series know how to work with existing hardware; the framework left behind by Call of Duty 2 has been built upon each year (with the possible exception of 3). Call of Duty: Ghosts might be the best the franchise has ever looked on Xbox 360. The action is as liquid smooth as it's ever been; firefights and set piece moments fire off without any hitches whatsoever; this is a finely-tuned engine that wears its age well, even discounting each annual coat of new paint. I've not been to any of the places showcased in Ghosts, but they sure are pretty, despite many of them being obviously bombed to hell and back. Of course, there are the storytelling-based load screens, which employ a neat smoke and fog aesthetic that perfectly evokes the mood of each mission.

It seems each go around, Activision and the developers are able to secure A-list talent for their biggest yearly release. It's hit incredible highs (Gary Oldman in World at War and excruciating lows (Sam Worthington in Black Ops). The acting in Ghosts is good enough to satisfy me; there's a marked absence of "hoohah"ing and inane hollering, and boy, is it ever a relief. As far as the talent goes, the flavor of the day is Brandon Routh of Superman Returns and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World fame. Thankfully, the Ghosts are all business all the time, and they are quiet whenever they can be. God bless them for it. Sound design is more creative this time around, though, and that mainly has to do with the places you'll be operating in. The music is also competent, albeit not as over-the-top and bombastic as in previous games in the series.


Call of Duty: Ghosts follows the framework laid by the Treyarch-developed Black Ops structure in that it largely follows the exploits of a single man. This year's contestant is Logan Walker, who, along with his brother Hesh and father Elias, finds himself caught off guard on the fateful day when the Federation, a league of South American nations, decides to subjugate North America. Once the prologue is finished, it's abundantly clear that their plan is a success. However, an elite paramilitary force known colloquially as the "Ghosts" is fighting the good fight through well-planned operations. The entire Walker family is made up of Ghosts before too long, and Logan finds himself trotting around the Americas while thinning out the Federation's ranks. But the only thing more dangerous than a Ghost is a Ghost that has been turned...

One of the campaign's biggest surprises (and greatest strengths) is its sense of restraint. Let's be frank about this: as a whole, Call of Duty is many things. It the antithesis of subtle to such a degree that no word in the English language is capable of quantifying it. All the cinematic excess and blatant destruction of Modern Warfare 3 bordered on pornographic. Ghosts is the counterpoint, the remedy. This is a more subdued, more focused Call of Duty than you're used to. And it's all the better for it. Is it believable? Hell no! But it feels more grown up and less, well, self-parodic.

So if you've played a Call of Duty game, you've played Ghosts. Nothing was ever broken in this series, so nothing is fixed. There are a few mechanical tweaks this time around, but by and large, this is the same silky smooth shooting action that it ever was. The different context is enough for most Call of Duty fans, and it gets the job done admirably. However, I can count on one hand the number of people I know who only play Call of Duty for the campaign.

So here we are, six years since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare changed the landscape of the modern multiplayer shooter scene. The progression, the unlocks, the perks, everything is back and as good as it ever was. A handful of new modes beefs the package up to provide a few new hooks for the fans, and some interesting new customization options are available for gamers who want to dig deep and make this new Call of Duty experience their own.

Cranked is a game mode clearly inspired by a certain Jason Statham movie, and it ably emulates the urgency and relentless momentum of that film. Here's the deal: you get a kill. A half-minute timer starts counting down. Once that timer reaches zero, you explode. However, if you continue to kill, you'll keep adding seconds to your lifeline. As a whole, Call of Duty has always emphasized lone wolf tactics over thoughtful, deliberate teamwork, and nowhere is that more apparent in this mode, which is fast, frantic, and sure to produce more than a few laughs in each round.

The demographic that Call of Duty appeals to the most is the hardcore sports fan who spends most of their gaming time with Call of Duty. Blitz is a love letter to that demographic, and it's a scream. I love modes like this, where the limitations force you to look at the game in a completely different light. Blitz is more about mobility and stealth than running and gunning. The objective? Run into enemy territory and make it into a special circle to score while keeping your enemies from doing the same thing. It's a unique twist on Capture The Flag that puts way more emphasis on the approach while cutting out the mad dash for home base.

I'll be the first to admit: the Zombies modes in the Treyarch Call of Duty games were more effective sleep aids than Ambien for me. My eyes always start rolling in the back of my head less than five minutes into each match. Infinity Ward's games tend to lean towards the more bite-sized Spec Ops missions, but not this one. Ghosts introduces Extinction mode. It's like Zombies, but it deals with an alien invasion instead. In my opinion, the aliens are far more fun to fight, though the concepts for these kinds of modes don't generally appeal to me. But it certainly will to others.


Call of Duty: Ghosts is par for the course when it comes to difficulty, as it copy pastes the same presets that the franchise has depended on for years. And why not? All of them work well and flesh out the player's options. Hardened tends to be my difficulty level of choice, as it provides more of a challenge than Regular, yet isn't the frustrating insanity of Veteran.

Online is a completely different story, but in the years that have followed since the original Modern Warfare, the developers at Infinity Ward and Treyarch have found a way to help every soldier make a meaningful contribution to his/her team. And with a healthy supply of interesting perks and package types, the developers succeed.

Game Mechanics:

There are a few fundamental mechanical changes in Call of Duty: Ghosts, some of which might thrill, and others which might frustrate.

German Shepherds are awesome. And Riley is an awesome German Shepherd. This badass canine buddy accompanies the Walker brothers during certain parts of the campaign, and he's an effective (and cute) implement of death. At key moments, you're given the opportunity to "sync up" with the dog, who wears a tactical camera on the side of his head and is capable of following direct orders. In these situations, you'll be given the ability to control Riley as he stealthily makes his way through otherwise unwinnable scenarios by distracting enemies, ripping their throats out, and severely weakening the Federation's ranks. Riley isn't with you during the whole game, though. While the nature of the dog-free missions explain his absence, it's still kind of a bummer.

The ability to slide is welcome in almost every game it's featured in (Resident Evil 6 being a hilarious exception), and while the slide in Ghosts isn't as satisfying as that in Dishonored or Ghost Recon, it's a nice option to cover your ass on the move.

Personally, I've always thought the knife kills used to be way too fast. I'm no expert or anything, but I highly doubt that a fast slash to the arm is enough for an instant kill. Battlefield made that more apparent by forcing the player to go through an animation cycle in which your soldier deftly severs his enemy's aorta or spinal cord. Is it slower? Of course. But it's more realistic. Knife kills in Ghosts are similar, but fast nonetheless.

Call of Duty: Ghosts encourages the player to forge a connection to their online avatars through Create a Soldier and Squads. With these tools, you can customize aspects of a series of soldiers, from functional to purely cosmetic. From there, you take them online, growing them and getting them killed countless times. This system won't appeal to gamers who don't really care about Prestige or micromanaging several units, but only time will tell how well-received it is.

If you haven't been bitten by the bug already, you're probably immune at this point. And if you have, you may have built up a tolerance to it. For those of you expecting Call of Duty: Ghosts to be the shot in the arm the franchise has sorely needed for years, you're going to have to keep waiting. That being said, there is no denying that this is a quality product.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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