Call Of Duty: Ghosts: The Kotaku Review

Call of Duty: Ghosts: The Kotaku Review

Three men huddle around a campfire, eager to hear the story of an elite force of highly-feared soldiers. Ghosts, they're called. Two of the men listening — the sons, Logan and Hesh Walker — are sceptical. Surely the tale-spinning father doesn't expect them to believe such an outlandish story?

They're sceptical, but we know the story is true, because games like these always feature an elite force of sorts. You're always in it. So before you hear the story, you already know — really, as soon as you look at the game's box, you know. You'll become a ghost. But you can't think about this supposed 'myth' for very long before the explosions happen. And then the guns. And then the running, the running, the running. Toward the explosions? Away from them? I don't know.

If I sound fatigued and a little bewildered, it's because I am.

OK, this much I can concretely tell you: something goes horribly wrong at the start of the game, setting into motion the majority of events you get to play through. Mass weapons were used, somehow. These weapons wreck your home at the start of the game, much like the rest of North America. Then, um, war. Against...the Federation. Following the disaster at the start of the game, the Federation becomes a superpower. Your job as a member of the ghosts is to fight against the Federation before whatever evil thing they're planning happens. Things escalate from there and you end up having to go to a lot of different places for some reason or another.

Call of Duty: Ghosts: The Kotaku Review

There are finer details here, I'm sure, about these factions, their plans, the locations, the major players. There is exposition about that stuff, often delivered between levels or to contextualise whatever thing you need to do at a given moment. And yet, embarrassingly, in order to write that barebones explanation, I still had to refer to the fact sheet that comes with the game. A game I've spent seven hours in. Maybe it's the sparse delivery that doesn't explain stuff very well. Maybe it's just easy to get lost in the military jargon, in the same way it can be confusing to try to keep up with games dealing with technobabble. Whatever it is...I like to think I'm a reasonably smart girl, but it's amazing how stupid a game like Call of Duty can make one feel for being unable to fully understand what's going on.

But maybe that stuff doesn't matter. We are mostly here to shoot, and next year there will be another reason to shoot some more. Just get in the roller coaster! OK, ok. I'll get in the roller coaster.

If you are new to the franchise, here's what you need to know about how the game works, mechanically. Call of Duty titles are fast-paced games where you go between shooting sections, the occasional vehicle section as well as sections where you sprint forward as everything around you explodes. Traditionally, all these aspects make the games feel thrilling — like you're starring in a Michael Bay film is the common comparison people make. You feel powerful, or at least excited.

Traditionally that's the case. Not here though. It's funny — playing through the initial section of scripted events where you run through your under-attack town, all I could think was, wow. This isn't nearly as well-paced, or as deliberate as say, the start of The Last of Us — where everything seems so tight and considered that you forget the game is just mostly making you walk forward while stuff (like explosions, crashes, deaths) happen around you. So I know the problem isn't with the design itself, but rather execution: despite also heavily relying on scripted events that happen at precise moments, Ghosts doesn't feel exact in what it wants to evoke in the player. Everything happens in a big enough scale that it all ends up feeling overwhelming, even for a high-octane game, and that feeling doesn't feel intentional.

It's often hard to get a grasp on what's happening and when, which means that you stop paying attention to what's going on around you. Why should you? That stuff is distracting you from your actual targets. This, in turn, makes all the locations blur into each other. It's hard to feel grounded in Ghosts.That's ok, really, because all you need to know is that stuff is perpetually falling apart, and that some people need to get shot. And before long, like a platformer taking you from the ice world to the desert world, the scenery changes.

Call of Duty: Ghosts: The Kotaku Review

Maybe you're underwater now. Or in Las Vegas. Or in a baseball field. Heck, five minutes into the game you go from being on Earth to being in space — which is definitely a cool location, but the pacing is so out of whack in the transition there, it doesn't really feel right. Never mind when everyone suddenly starts pulling guns out in space and shooting each other. I wish I didn't care about how ridiculous that is, I wish I could just get into it. Maybe you'll be able to — I mean, abstractly, as a concept, it's cool! I know that. But for me, not only was "shooting....IN SPACE!!" boring post-Gravity, but that thanks to the floatiness, playing through it felt not much different than playing through an underwater level in the same game. If I only talk about the space level specifically, it's because it's the most noteworthy level in the game. Other locations suffer from being locales that previous games have allowed us to explore, or because there's nothing particularly memorable about playing through them. Go here. Flip this switch. Plant this charge. It doesn't feel exciting, especially when a lot of the different actions you take are done via the same context-sensitive buttons. Really, it just feels like, well. More Call of Duty.

Did I mention that the first achievement you get in the game is in space, and it is awarded for pulling the trigger once? You don't even have to aim, the game does it for you. Boom goes the head. Congratulations.

The first time you control Logan Walker as a soldier, you meet Riley the attack dog. Your brother Hesh is playing fetch with Riley. They look happy. This moment is the highest point in the game — the most joyful, the most peaceful. You notice there is a ball at your feet, but you can't pick it up. I tried. Instead I accidentally fired some bullets — I didn't know I was even holding a gun at the time, but I ruined the moment. They both burst forward, running away from me, horrified. I don't blame them.

I am a man of few words. My gun is my only method of communication. I mostly follow my brother in the game, and he tends to speak for me. I take orders. I'm good at that, even if I don't always understand what I'm doing or why I'm doing it.

If you've been keeping up with Ghosts at all, then it's possible you already knew about Riley, it's possible that you are already embroiled in the drama over whether he lives or dies. His importance in the game was predetermined, sure, but that doesn't make it any less significant. Sections where you get to play as Riley are novel — they are mainly sneak sections where Riley scouts an area out, and these provided an occasional slower-paced section that the game honestly needs more of. Plus, when Riley sneaks in the grass, he mushes his ears down. It's really cute.

Call of Duty: Ghosts: The Kotaku Review

Other sections are improved simply by having Riley present: there's one section where he sticks his head out on a moving vehicle, clearly overjoyed. Like dogs like to do when riding in cars, you know? I couldn't help but smile — Riley is the most human part of the game. But I felt kind of sad about his presence, too. Riley is cool, yes — he takes down freakin' helicopters by himself, for crying out loud! But having a dog in a video game is such a dilemma. It's annoying to play through a game while constantly worrying over whether or not it's going to decide to axe one of your favourite parts of the game. I don't feel like I worry so much about this with media that isn't video games.

Because of course the game will go there. There is even a Tough Moral Choice in Ghosts, actually. It goes like this: the game asks you to press X to hold on to a person. So you press X. Then two seconds later it says let go, or else you're going to crash. And you've gotta let go, else it's game over. You gotta let go because at that moment the video game wants you to feel bad for doing something it's forcing you to do, and it's your fault for doing it even though you literally have no choice but to do it. So two seconds later, after you save this man, you then press a button and let go. The clincher: you watch this man sink into the sea and all you can think is, boy. That man sure is ugly. Not that it's his fault, of course — the game just looks kind of dated on the 360.

Part of the problem contributing to how eh the game feels is that it never really challenges you. Playing on normal is rather easy, most of the time the AI just kind of stands there — sometimes literally. There are sections where you burst into a room in slow motion, before the enemies have time to react. Other times the AI clearly just spazzes out on its own accord, making it easy to dispose of those in your way. Sure, some levels seem wide and open, with the occasional verticality added in — lots of places to climb — but there is scarcely reason to move around the map to gain a better position. So you wont.

Call of Duty: Ghosts: The Kotaku Review

Sometimes you'll be 'pinned down,' but if it happens, it's because the game wants it to happen. Those are the moments in which you stop controlling the guys on the ground and instead gain control of a vehicle, such as a tank or aircraft. These are some of the most rewarding parts of the game: you get to pack a punch and get rid of a ton of enemies at a time, and you often have a wide area that you do need to move around in to do it. You get a sense of scale while playing, that this war is bigger than just your small squad of soldiers. These vehicle sections were the only moments in which Ghosts felt thrilling, the only times when I truly felt powerful. This is true even though the normal infantry sections are more varied — you'll go between blowing up oil rigs and rappelling down South American skyscrapers, sure, but it all feels forgettable. I'd rather just be a tank and blow some stuff up, as mindless as that may sound. At least it's enjoyable.

It doesn't all feel middling, of course. One of the stand-out moments would have to be a segment where you have to set up turrets, mines and traps while waves of enemies come at you, horde style. This section felt a tad out of place, sure, but it wasn't overly-bombastic, and it wasn't overstimulating. It was just fun to play, partially because it required you to be tactical — unlike a lot of the game, which I kind of turned my brain off for — and partially because you got to deal with swarms of enemies at once without having to go into a vehicle. Aside from this, there is also a short section where you get to sneak through a band of sharks that sticks out...and, beyond this, I struggle to list any more particularly enjoyable sections.

As someone who has played Call of Duty before, Ghosts mostly felt rather meh. I concede that someone new to the series might have something to like here — it'll all be new, and perhaps it'll be easier to slide into the thrills. But the degree and frequency in which said 'thrills' happen make the game feel overwhelming at worst, and like a blur at best. This would have been slightly forgivable had Ghosts had curious politics that make you think, branching endings, or any of the exciting futuristic or retro weaponry of Black Ops II. But it doesn't, so I don't feel that you'd be missing out on much if you skipped out on the single player altogether.

The good news is that Call of Duty games aren't just the single-player portions. While I have to dedicate a lot more time than my measly five hours before giving a verdict, so far, some of the multiplayer looks promising. It's still that signature Call of Duty play: it's still a twitch shooter. The maps are still small, and the pace is still fast, ensuring you're constantly coming across other players. Playing still feels tense, and this tension is sometimes punctuated by the sudden high of kills. You'll still live or die by your reflexes. The customisation options are still robust (more so than before, actually), and the number of things you can level and earn experience points for is dizzying. You could spend an endless number of hours playing the multiplayer if you wanted, grinding different things, and going for all the unlocks. And now you can play as a woman, too! A cool and much appreciated change.

So far, none of the maps feel particularly memorable, but I also haven't seen very many of the dynamic events (like earthquakes) that happen while you play. Will they match up to Battlefield levolutions though, now that is the question.

I will say that one of the new modes, Cranked, is an absolute blast to play — basically, when you kill someone, a timer starts ticking down. You've got 30 seconds to kill someone else, or you'll explode. When the timer is ticking down, however, you'll be 'cranked' — and this means you get bonuses like faster movement and reload. So killing someone rewards you, yes, but also potentially dooms you if you don't manage to keep it up. You'd think that a faster-paced, high stakes team deathmatch mode would be maddening, but no, Cranked is wonderful. Ridiculous, sure — you imagine that someone must've been on their fifth Red Bull of the day when they came up with the idea for the mode — but wonderful. It's the main mode I want to spend time playing.

Beyond this, Extinction — the mode with aliens in it — also feels promising. The goal is to kill alien hordes while defending something — maybe a drill, or maybe a helicopter, as a couple of examples. Aliens, unlike humans, can jump great heights and climb up all sorts of stuff, on top of being able to spit acid — which immediately makes them more interesting than, say, zombies. That, and aliens look cooler than zombies too — so I definitely like this mode more than zombies on Black Ops.

Anyway, the way it works is, you can pick classes and abilities, and as you go along, you can purchase different weapons and traps, as well as find attachments hidden about. Your loadout will be different depending on what type of role you want to play on the squad, and should you want to get particularly far in the mode, you'll want to coordinate between players. Compared to multiplayer, Extinction feels like a mode where you can go and unwind with your buddies. It also makes you wonder where the series could go should it suddenly decide to go sci-fi. Isn't that the next big trend now? Don't get left behind, Call of Duty... (more on this in our bigger write-up about multiplayer).

We'll update you with more in-depth impressions on both multiplayer and Extinction in the coming weeks, after I rank up a bunch and spend more hours with it, so be on the lookout for that. For now, Ghosts isn't getting a 'Yes' based on the merits of single-player alone.


    bang bang pew pew. shhh....... BANG woof QTE.
    *roll credits*

      Do you just go to every site and post that same immature comment. Don't get me wrong I've grown up with cod since the first and getting tired of the minor changes in the past decade but for the most part they are undeniably entertaining and took the crown from moh and continue to hold it from battlefield's narrative at least battlefield= king of mp. call of duty= king of sp. for now, each to their own.

    So how's the fish AI? I'd love an in-depth review on that please.

      I've seen that comment more times that I thought I would have.

        I know, but it's a deal breaker for me if it's not as good as it was in Mario 64!

      And how does the dog die?

        The dog bites an incoming nuclear missile (sent from the smart fish) and flies it to outer space where it detonates. It seems like the dog would be dead up there in space but you don't actually see it die.

    Very nicely-written review.

      Agreed! When she's not dwelling on the topic of feminism, Patricia writes some pretty good articles.

    I'll grab it just for the cheap multiplayer thrills. I haven't bothered with Campaign modes in CoD for the last few - for the exact reasons stated above.

    Wait a second. You mean to tell me we're NOT fighting russians in this game?

    I went to the midnight launch got home bang 172mb download fell asleep waiting woke up went to download again 400+ minutes to do so wtf checked my Internet that's fine went over every possibility. but in the end I just had to wait. did this happen to anyone else??

      Probably you and the other 500 000 people trying to download the patch.

    I really thought this one MIGHT be a bit better.... I was even considering getting it this time.

      I think I'll be sticking to the Treyarch games, they actually seem to try to do new things. Blops 2 was quite underrated I think due to being a yearly CoD game but I had a ton of fun in the single player, earning those unlocks reminded me a lot of playing Goldeneye back in the day.

        I was the opposite... When I finally got around to getting both MW3 and BLOPS2 after waiting for a price reduction (hahahahahah I kid that shit never drops in price) I found that MW3 was miles ahead in terms of control responsiveness.... BLOPS2 went all Bioshock floaty on me.

        Meanwhile the multiplayer speed seems to be up there with quake now.... wtf is with that?

        I now have no desire for this though or Treyarchs next. Sorry Bobby I'm out and so will most others I suspect on future reviews.

    I bought black ops. That was my first COD experience.

    I'm good now. It was just ok.

      That's a shame. COD 1 / UO were awesome. I also enjoyed MW1. MW2 seemed like more of the same so I dropped out at that point.

      shudve just played MW1 and then bailed after that

        Played COD 3 and loved it. Then played MW1 and friggin loved it (the nuke scene. i mean c'mon!) played world at war and got frustrated as all hell at that game. Made no war in the TV room look like a cake walk. then got blops. played about 2 hours of the campaign and quit. couldn't take it anymore. It's been really depressing to see a good franchise slowly turn in on itself.

      Black ops was my first cod and first Fps since the halo games and first online Fps and since then played mw3 2/3 missions and only 4 hours online the game sucked last cod was black ops 2 but after prestige 6/7 I just went me and imo game play hasn't changed since I might return to the game if dedicated server's are used but till then no thanks

      I'll stick with the bf series and kz

      Last edited 06/11/13 5:37 pm

    Purchased the game via Steam pre-order for the simple fact I could pre-load it and not wait for an hour to install. Also purchased one for my little brother who runs an Nvidia GTX260. What we didn't know was that the game requires Directx11 and won't play AT ALL unless you have a video card that supports this!!!! Now I'm scrambling to get him a new computer (was doing anyway) with a better graphics card so we can play the bloody game together!

    I have played some of the campaign. It's just COD. What annoys me is, I have played enough FPS games that this, like BF4 is just too scripted in where you go what you do. Give me the freedom of the Crysis powersuit anyday.

    I really wish these games embraced the idea of, here's an environment, go tackle it. Not here's a corridor. We're going to put more detail into whats around it, make it a big environment, but really you just play down this corridor.

    MP on PC is a mess. Laggy and unplayable. It's putting me in matches on the other side of the world. I thought BF4's issues were bad, this is way worse. I'll wait until it's patched and dedicated servers are added. As well as a FOV slider and ping/latency display.

      only problem is that bloody Crysis has decided to the follow the low FOV, scrypted quicktime events and rail shooter that COD introduced...absolutely ruined crysis for me

        Yeah, but the suit saved it. Even Crysis 2. You're running all over the environment, up onto things. You wished the environment was bigger because you can use all of it. These they build a bigger environment than they used to have, but they don't use it. You actually can't really use it. What happens is scripted for a corridor and the AI is terrible.

        Some of the environments in Ghosts are pretty cool, but you still corridor shoot through the middle. Early on in BF4 you're in that big outdoor construction site. You get there, fight some guys. Get through that first bit easily. Expecting a lot more. You're in a big environment. Yet it serves no game play value.

        I know Crysis gets shit, but I'll take Crysis 2 or 3 over any of the recent CODS any day of the week. Stuff like running around being stealth in Crysis 3, shits over anything I've experience in Ghosts or BF4 sp. It's fun game play. It's why FC3 got a great response. It was fun to play how you want. COD is literally now just a chore to play.

        COD is, here's some cover. Crouch behind it and shoot bad guys behind cover. Then move up to more cover. Shoot more guys, then move up. Now breach. Now shoot people in slow motion. Scripted event. Now go to cover and shoot people. Move up. Shoot more people, move up.

          always happy to chime in and stick up for crysis.
          it is absolutely better than COD. it has play style options even within a linear world. though i obviously preferred the original

          wait we are talking about SP only right?
          if so then purely by game mechanics the best game is Far Cry and Borderlands Open sandbox FPS with an element of RPG upgrading
          followed by original Crysis which had the suit mechanics plus sandbox fps. But the lack of customisation to the level of Far cry is what makes it second (modifying your guns doesnt count)
          Also i am on the fence regarding the new crysis suit. on one hand its MUCH easier to switch powers, on the other hand maybe too dumbed down for current gen kids and console players. It was nice challenge being forced to choose Maximum armour or maximum speed to get out of situations. Now its just one click "maximum strength"....ROARR!!! I AM THE BULLETPROOF HULK THATS FASTER THAN SPEEDY GONZALEZ DIE FOOLZ

          Then BF over COD simply because you can literally get away with almost never firing a shot in COD (scripted events). but the SP they are both rail shooters

          At least in BF's world, the guns are so much better, the physics is better, the bullet drop and accuracy is better than cod.
          COD just plays like unreal tournament 3 on rails with Modern warfare player skins
          Speaking of weapons. the bullet spray is just wtf in COD. sometimes its just ridiculous no spread. the other times you are point blank but if you spray, the spread is like 120degrees.
          BF3 was slightly better than COD but still pretty bad
          In bf4 THE GAME IS SO MUCH BETTER OMFGTHANKYOUDICE. i have never played such a well balanced game in terms of guns than BF4
          its basically the smooth and speed like Unreal tournament/quake style games coupled with reasonable bullet spread and drop.
          the shots actually land within the vicinity of where you expect it to even if you spray, unlike before where its "nup you didnt fire at the optimum burst rate, so you just shot the wall on the right while you were aiming left"

          This is also all excluding graphics comparisons, whereby Crysis and BF shits all over everything else
          I personally believe Frostbite 3 is better than Cryengine 3. But only because the colours are a bit unrealistic in crysis. very cartoony.
          But for both of them they are missing one element thats been around since like 2006...bloody ragdoll physics. I cant stress enough how much a better game it would be with that. Its like force feedback for your brain and eyes.

          And as i mentioned earlier. FOV. seriously i can bear with Crysis's near rail shooter mechanics if ONLY THEY INCREASED THE GODDAMN FOV. i swear to god consoles ruined fukn everything. dumbed down mechanics. dumb down controls. turned down graphics. AND FOV FOR a 4:3 SD CRT TV
          Seriously the gun and hands take up half the screen in Crysis. Also try playing BF4 SP and try to not go blind

          The other element is lighting. Cod ghosts seems to do ok with shadowy lighting, but BF has always done it very well and cinematically. Crysis doesnt even try. its just night/day/night with lights and tons of reflective surfaces just because

            I would say Cryengine is better than Frostbite 3. I think it's a more complete tool for world building.

            I would say, even go back to the Cryengine in Crysis 1. The way the beachese were made. Compare that to the beaches and oceans in FB3. Superficially FB3 may look better, but Cryengine fully realises it's environments. it does everything well. FB3 is trying to catch up to what Cryengine was doing 6 years ago, and still isn't doing it as well. Also if you've played Crysis 3 SP on very high settings, it is better looking, with more detailed environments, character models and animations.

              i dont disagree with your comments regarding graphics and textures at all
              i remember Crysis 1 is when DX10 first became mainstream and i bought a $2000 laptop just to play it
              and the first thing i did was switch it between dx9 and 10 and the difference in the water was incredible

              with BF4 DICE seems to have some weird obsession with water. Yet it looks so shit

              The only thing about crysis i dont like is the shit FOV

              But my main gripe was regarding gameplay. Rail shooters are crap

                I think water stood out as being badly done in BF3, or at least a missing element. In going to FB3 it was probably on their list of things to ad. 'Make water and oceans/water better.'

                The problem is, once you've played a game with a good engine, when you're in a game with a less fetures, it's so noticeable. It's why people were really annoyed with BF3's lack of destruction. You come from BC2 and you just expect that stuff to be there. Despite the better engine, world building features, how you interact, experience the world. They're gone.

                Like people complaining about the lack of superficial damage to the side of big buildings in BF4 compared to BF3. Better engine, but basic things you have come to expect aren't there. Same with ground deformation.

                It's also why many people are turning off COD. You've experience better looking environments, which you can interact with. COD just seems old fashioned.

                When you've played Crysis, you've been in environments with fully realized oceans, beaches, forests. It totally stands out when it's not as well done.

                FC3 was a really good game. Superficially it could look better than Crysis, but I doubt there was anyone who still had playing Crysis in their memory, who didn't long for all the features of the Cryengine to be in that game. Yes I know it's based off that engine, but not the Crysis onwards versions.

                With FC3 it didn't matter it was lacking, but 100% it would have made the game better.

                I am also over Rail shooters. Some can be fun though. This new COD reminded me of those games where it's just a static image. You're in the foreground in cover. where you pop up and down to shoot at baddies popping in and out of cover.


                  also it irks me to this day that people now just simply accept DLCs, instead of the good old days where people created custom maps in CS.
                  New game mode? Theres addons, mods and custom maps for that

                  think of the potential BF4 would have with custom maps. Just drool thinking about it

                  Custom siege of shanghai restructured in the style of 2fort, with a moat for ships, jets and tall buildings with multi levels for snipers to camp out of like in BF3 metro, surrounded by tons of cover

                  true Levolution

    I'm not a COD hater, far from it... but I can honestly say that I havent enjoyed a story campaign since COD 4. I know thats not what most people play the COD games for these days but... I still want it.

    Last edited 06/11/13 1:57 pm

      Story campaign?
      This is COD we are talking about yes?
      ... Is it a secret mode or something?

        Yeah :( I'm old school, I like a story to go along with my $60. I mean, what ever happened to stories like told in COD 1, Big Red One, Modern Warfare or even World at War... all the newest ones have been horrible. Oh well.

    "you imagine that someone must’ve been on their fifth Red Bull of the day when they came up with the idea for the mode"
    ...or they could have just been watching Crank, but you know, whatever.

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