Over the years, disgruntled gamers have asserted that the "Call of Duty" video-game series relies on derivative gameplay, ludicrous plotlines and recycled graphics. Although this perception is generally untrue, "Call of Duty: Ghosts" embodies every lazy trope of which the franchise has ever been accused.
While "Call of Duty: Ghosts" is mostly proficient from a technical standpoint, its unimaginative game mechanics, shoddy single-player campaign and bland visuals hold it back. In keeping with series tradition, the multiplayer is much stronger, but it can only go so far toward redeeming the whole package.
Unlike previous games in the series, which have taken place during major conflicts in the 20th century or in the near future, "Ghosts" brings "Call of Duty" into a postapocalyptic United States, where you play as Logan, a member of a resistance movement trying to oust the fascistic Federation from the shattered nation.
If you've picked up a military shooter game in the last decade or so, you already know how to play "Ghosts." In the single-player campaign, you and your artificial-intelligence-controlled allies traverse a linear path across a level, stopping occasionally to exchange fire with nondescript enemies. When you get hit, duck behind cover to regenerate health. Repeat until the game ends.
You can carry two guns at a time, and it's generally advantageous to stick to a rifle and a sidearm. Although there are a plethora of different guns in the games, including pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket launchers, they don't feel drastically different.
One machine gun is more or less like another, and once you decide on your favorite weapons, there's little reason to carry anything else or otherwise experiment. This makes the huge variety of available weapons feel somewhat superfluous.
"Ghosts" actually does add one new gameplay feature: Now and then, you'll take control of Riley, a German shepherd who accompanies Logan.
For the few brief, shining moments that you play as Riley, the game does manage to accomplish everything it sets out to do. You'll occasionally take control of the lovable pooch, who can survey enemies with a collar-mounted camera, sneak through tall grass or take down enemies from behind. While playing as Logan, you can also sic Riley on your foes for stealthy kills.
The Riley sections are short and sweet, and leave you wanting more.
Multiplayer and replayability
Although some "Call of Duty" games have had good stories, most gamers flock to the series for its intense competitive multiplayer. The multiplayer in "Call of Duty: Ghosts" is entertaining, but doesn't do much to distinguish itself from previous entries in the series.
One area where the multiplayer excels is in the variety of game modes it offers. There's the standard Team Deathmatch Mode, in which two teams vie for control of a map. Search and Rescue Mode challenges you to collect dog tags to revive your fallen comrades and prevent enemy respawns. Infected Mode casts downed players as zombies, who then try to infect the surviving combatants.
All told, there are about a dozen game modes, and lots of ways to customize them, but most of these options were available in last year's "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" as well.
The most notable addition is Squads. This multiplayer mode teams you up with a group of AI soldiers and lets you play against the computer or a single human opponent in order to hone your multiplayer skills. The addition of a multiplayer tool specifically for new players is welcome, but it doesn't quite go far enough.
The trouble with "Ghosts" multiplayer is that unless you're a dyed-in-the-wool "Call of Duty" fan, it's hard to know where to start.
You can customize the look of your multiplayer avatar, equip him or her with a plethora of different guns, grenades and support items, level him or her up with Perks (like faster health regeneration or unlimited sprinting), and make a custom logo and motto for your multiplayer emblem, but the game never explains any of this.
It's also worth pointing out that "Ghosts" allows players to use female avatars in multiplayer for the first time in series history. This doesn't change gameplay in any meaningful way, but it's a very welcome step toward inclusivity in one of gaming's foremost franchises.
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It takes a long time to unlock Perks, which — ironically — experienced players need less than do unskilled newcomers. The multiplayer community is not quite the toxic cesspit of foul-mouthed 12-year-olds its reputation suggests, but it's also not very helpful or welcoming.
"Ghosts" has a robust multiplayer mode with a thriving player base, but you've either seen it before, or will be ill-equipped to experience it for the first time.