The story soon flashes forward a few years and we learn that the enemy is not – surprise, surprise! – Middle Eastern or Russian or even Chinese, but rather a South American military alliance known as the Federation, led by one General Almagro. It may be only a cosmetic change, but South Americans are at least an unusual change of pace in a game of this sort. Could it be that developers and possibly the public are getting tired of fighting the same old villains?
In any event, the U.S. is now on the defensive and is down to its last few hopes. Its troops are ragged and the enemies are moving in for the kill. It’s the Battle of Thermopylae all over again. Enter those mysterious Ghosts and, well, we know where things go from here.
The gameplay itself takes players into previously unexplored Call of Duty territory. There are the well-worn gunfights aboard oil rigs and in deep jungles, but there are also a few space battles that amazingly steer clear of cheesy Moonraker territory, plus some absolutely fantastic underwater sequences – sharks included.
One note worth mentioning are the graphics differences in console versions, with Ghosts being released on both current and next-generation systems. The differences are slight but noticeable – if you stop to take a look at the stone walls of a castle in one of the multiplayer maps on the PS4, for example, you can see that each individual brick has its own textures. The same stones on current-gen, meanwhile, are flatter and less detailed.
Put all of these tiny nuances together and the entire environment is much sharper, so much so that it took me a few minutes to adjust. I had to move my seat back from the TV to take in all the detail. Yet, with that said, current-gen gamers won’t exactly be short-changed as Ghosts is still one of the best-looking games on existing consoles.
The story also manages to produce something I’ve never experienced before – a memorable character, albeit it’s not one you’d expect. Riley the dog, sidekick to Hesh and Logan and the subject of many an Internet meme in the months leading up to the game’s launch, is indeed a veritable joy to watch.
While he’s intended to spice up the action – players remotely control him at times as a sort of organic UAV – it’s Riley’s realistic manner, er, dogerisms outside of the action that make him endearing. He pokes his head up out of your APC’s turret as you drive and paws at doors when he wants to get moving, reminding you that despite his own military training, he’s still a happy, fun-loving dog at heart.
That’s why, when Riley inevitably finds himself shot at, I couldn’t help but scream in horrified anger. It’s worth pointing out that I had no reaction at all to the many, many digital humans who were killed or maimed in the game.
Ghosts’ relatively short single-player campaign – about five hours – ends with the expected mega-explosions and subsequent happy ending… or does it? An excellent post-credits twist sets up the inevitable sequel.
But of course, no one buys Call of Duty games for the single-player mode, do they? Well, a lot of people do, but there’s no denying that multiplayer is the franchise’s cash cow.
After spending about 10 hours with multiplayer, I can firmly say that Ghosts is a step up from last year’s Black Ops 2, which I found to be slightly unbalanced and a little cartoonish in everything from graphics to audio. Much of this year’s entry seems more polished and refined.
First up is some further tinkering with perks that builds upon the total-point value system established in previous games. In Ghosts, players have a total of nine slots to fill, with each individual perk costing anywhere from one to five slots. The perks themselves are divided into seven categories: speed, handling, stealth, awareness, resistance, equipment and elite.
If you want to have an incredibly fast character, for example, you can equip three speed perks – say, lightweight, marathon and fast reloading, at a cost of three slots each. You could also conceivably choose nine lesser perks, such as one that marks spots where your teammates have been taken out, which cost only one slot apiece. Either way, I like the tweaks because they provide for endless customization, yet they don’t seem to unbalance the game.