(Activision for Xbox 360)
By Mike Delano
With the Modern Warfare series wrapping up nicely by its third installment and the endearingly whacked-out Black Ops series having pushed its kitchen sink approach to the limit in Black Ops II, one would think that this would be the year that Call of Duty went back to basics. And you’d be right, since Call of Duty: Ghosts does strip down the franchise formula a bit, but at times, it feels a little too conservative in its reevaluation of the series’ strengths. Of course, CoD still has some of the best core shooter gameplay around, so Ghosts still largely delivers on the addictive action and polished presentation that make any game in the franchise so satisfying.
The campaign narrative about a devastated, war-torn USA recovering from a South American attack and a group of elite soldiers looking to turn the tide feels overly familiar, but it still delivers on all of the spectacle that the series is famous for. The characters and plot twists don’t stick with you, but the gorgeous level architecture, perfectly executed set pieces, and fast-paced firefights will. The world-class online multiplayer, where the game really shines, has a similarly familiar feeling, but some of the changes from previous installments are head-scratchers. New game types like Cranked (kills give you a performance boost) and Blitz (rush to a marked zone in enemy territory to earn points) offer small, fun tweaks on the deathmatch formula, but the new Squad Points system for unlocking weapons and perks feels unnecessarily complicated. As far as cooperative modes go, the new alien-blasting Extinction mode works fine, but it has neither the incredible variety of Modern Warfare’s Spec Ops missions nor the same addictiveness of Black Ops’ sprawling Zombie mode.
But even during the times when the campaign and multiplayer miss the mark, the classic CoD gameplay saves the day. It’s always smooth, fast, and intuitive, and that strong foundation lies at the heart of any great game. The answer to the question “Is it fun to play?” will always be more important than questions about a game’s ambition or innovation or social commentary, and while Ghosts definitely gets that answer right, it will be interesting to see if the series strives for something more in future entries.