Call of Duty Ghosts review: rank and file

Another November is upon us and with it comes a new Call of Duty game. Instead of continuing the highly-successful Modern Warfare series, Activision and Infinity Ward are starting a whole new story with Call of Duty: Ghosts. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Ghosts shows brief flashes of freshness before ultimately settling back into familiar territory. focalbox Ghosts ventures into the near-future and tells the story of two brothers--Logan and Hesh--part of an ultra-elite group of special forces known as the Ghosts. The boys are called to action when the Federation, a rogue nation comprised of a united South America, attacks the United States. The single-player campaign will be largely familiar to anyone that's ever played a Call of Duty title. Comprised of linear paths and scripted setpieces, Ghosts' single-player doesn't do much to break the mold. However, there are glimpses of originality. The Internet was quick to adopt Riley the Dog as a meme, but he ends up being a substantive addition to the franchise. There are sequences in which Logan can activate a satellite feed attached to Riley, giving players a chance to take control of the capable canine. Not only can players take a bite out of the opposition, but Riley also plays the role of scout, creating interesting opportunities for stealth. Unfortunately, these moments are cut far too short. Riley, for example, is only playable in the game's opening minutes, never to be utilized again. Any time the game ventures into novel territory, the game quickly settles right back into franchise staples. Not all of the additions are for the best, either, as the game's few instances of space combat are thematically jarring and somewhat dull. But, at least these moments offer proof that Infinity Ward is grasping to find something new to offer.

Sequences like this underwater combat stage are all-too-short

While the campaign is largely by the numbers, Infinity Ward proves more daring with Ghosts' new Extinction mode, unlocked after the campaign. Inspired by Treyarch's popular zombie modes, Extinction has players team up to fight off aliens. While the mode has players similarly fending off waves of alien Horde-style, the mode slowly forces players to take the offense by destroying their nests. Like Treyarch's co-op modes, teamwork proves essential to surviving. As Extinction sessions move along, players can earn cash and skill points to upgrade their equipped abilities. They can increase their health, power-up their weapons, or beef up their loadout resources. Fending off aliens proves fast-paced and exciting in itself, but there's ample reason to come back, thanks to the leveling system that's normally reserved for traditional multiplayer. Higher levels means unlocking additional player classes, weapons, and loadout abilities, which helps keep the experience fresh. While players can opt to go solo in this mode, it's at its best with three friends. The series' traditional multiplayer also returns with some interesting new twists. The overhauled perk system is perhaps the most notable change, as each perk is now weighted a certain amount of points. A player can load up on numerous low-tier perks or stock on a few high-powered elite perks. Instead of focusing on perks giving outright advantages (like the much-maligned Stopping Power), perks instead focus on an individual's play-style. For example, I had the option to equip Resilience (fall damage resistance), Agility, Marathon, and other similar perks to focus purely on speed. Having five loadout slots suddenly makes more sense with so many options on the table. Players can shape their kill streak packages in a similar fashion. As someone that dies frequently, I loved having the option to select packages that required low kill counts. Of course, high-skilled players can opt for truly punishing weapons, like a Loki satellite at 15 kills. While it's still annoying to get blown to smithereens by an unavoidable explosion, at least this time, I get the added treat of watching the map dynamically change. The first time I saw the abandoned town, Warhawk, go up in flames was pretty neat. Like the campaign, multiplayer takes few chances. Cranked, Search and Rescue, Blitz, and Grind are all variations of tried-and-true formulas. However, while they may not be entirely new, these game modes remain frantic and fun to play, especially with the ability to seamlessly slide under and vault over objects on the run. One mode that did get my attention, however, was Hunted. The mode completely throws out loadouts, kill streaks, and perks and only starts players off with a single pistol. Weapon crates filled with random weapons are dropped in various places, leaving both teams fighting over the heavier artillery. With the key of this mode being pistol proficiency, as well as knowledge of all of the game's weapons, Hunted feels the most like a skill-based game mode with the evenest odds. There are still ten levels of Prestige, as in previous Call of Duty titles, but they're now a little bit easier to reach, thanks to the new Squads feature. Squads allows player to customize a team of AI-controlled teammates that will fight alongside you against humans or AI. Players can not only collect their own XP, but also XP earned by their Squad members, making the leveling up system significantly faster. There is some time investment involved in creating the perfect squad, but it's worth it to have an army of near-doppelgangers to go to war with. Call of Duty: Ghosts is yet another serviceable entry to Activision's long-running franchise. The franchise's staleness increasingly leaves something to be desired, but at its core, Call of Duty is still reliably fun. New additions like Extinction and Squads will likely suffice for series fans, who don't mind the franchise playing it safe. [6]
This review is based on retail Xbox 360 code provided by the publisher. Call of Duty: Ghosts is now available at retail on PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U for $59.99. It is also available for download on PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, and PC. The game is rated M.