With the Modern Warfare trilogy laid to rest, Call of Duty: Ghosts marks a new chapter for the world’s favourite first-person shooter. It certainly talks a good game - promising further refinements to the series’ winning multiplayer action, including maps with destructible environments, whizzy new game modes and more customisation options for your virtual soldiers. But are these promises mere apparitions?
Let’s cut to the chase. Regardless of the rhetoric, Call of Duty is not about pushing back the frontiers of game design. It’s the Status Quo of games - unadventurous and predictable yet entertaining all the same. So it’s no surprise that Ghosts’ multiplayer relies on the familiar favourites, with the Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Free-for-All and Infected modes all making (welcome) returns.
There is more freedom to personalise soldiers, though, including the long-overdue option to play as a woman. There’s enhanced movement, too, so you can now leap over obstacles like a Parkour master and lean out of cover. These are minor upgrades in the grand scheme of things, but they're welcome all the same.
Alongside the classics, Ghosts has four new competitive multiplayer modes. Hunted has ill-equipped players fighting for control of zones to win better weapons. Search & Rescue is a Search & Destroy remix in which you respawn fallen allies by collecting their dog tags.
Things step up a gear with the Kamikaze action of Cranked, where players explode if they don’t follow up a kill with another within 30 seconds. Blitz is another goodie - a contest to score by entering the enemy team’s zone. It’s like rugby. With guns. And it's pretty awesome.
Squads and Extinction
Beyond the competitive arena are two more new multiplayer modes, the first of which - Squads - is baffling. It lets you create squads of automaton soldiers that you then lead into battle against teams created by other players. There’s some good A.I. on show but we can’t see the point when matches with real people are just a couple of button presses away.
The other mode is Extinction, a co-operative campaign that takes Left 4 Dead, swaps the zombies for alien hordes and then strips out all the personality. It’s serviceable but very forgettable.
Ghosts introduces the concept of ‘dynamic maps’ to the series. These allow players to lay traps, shoot open gates, destroy walls and interact with the environment. But alas, it’s more liberating on paper than in practice. What can and can’t be done is tightly controlled so the novelty quickly fades as you get to know the maps.
On the plus side the maps are larger and less constricted than in previous Call of Dutys - a shift that favours team work over lone mavericks and makes for slightly slower battles. We like it, but more frenetic Call of Duty fans might be disappointed.
Finally, there’s the solo campaign. It’s a tale of orbital death rays, a remote-controlled dog and a Venezuela-led invasion of the USA - an improbable feat for a country currently struggling with a national toilet roll shortage.
It’s very silly but makes up for it with loud bangs, big explosions and outlandish moments ripped out of the 1980s action movie playbook - think space station gun battles and escapes from collapsing skyscrapers. While it re-treads well-worn ground, it rattles along at such a pace that it’s easy to get sucked in, even if none of it will stay with you for longer than a few minutes.
By the skin of its teeth Ghosts is another enjoyable dose of Call of Duty. The new competitive multiplayer modes, the refreshed movement and larger maps are welcome developments but the Squads and Extinction modes fail to impress and, as ever, it’s the tried and tested Team Deathmatch and Kill Confirmed options that really thrill. It’s good enough, but there’s little here to make Ghosts an essential purchase.