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This series is toast…

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    Call of Duty: Ghosts

    Rating: 2.5 – Playable

    This series is toast…

    Despite all the hatred that the Call of Duty series experiences by online detractors (that are mostly completely in the wrong), the franchise has persevered, smashing sales records with each entry and selling millions upon millions of units. The series has been consistently of high quality ever since the first entry released as a PC exclusive a decade ago. I’ve scored every single game in the series with at least an 8/10 or better, giving Call of Duty 4 the elusive 10/10 and scoring numerous entries in the series with a very high 9/10. Call of Duty: Ghosts is my lowest rated Call of Duty to date, and that is because it is easily the worst entry in the series, and may be a sign that Call of Duty is on its way out.

    Let’s examine the track record of Activision and their big franchises. They have created some of the biggest and most well-received games in the history of gaming. There was the Tony Hawk franchise, which used to be given perfect scores from numerous publications and also sold millions of copies. It completely revolutionized arcade sports games and appealed to people that didn’t even like skateboarding, such as myself. Then there was Guitar Hero, another huge franchise from Activision that became a pop culture phenomenon and made the once niche music/rhythm genre more popular than it ever had been in its history.

    Where are the new Tony Hawk games nowadays? There nowhere to be found, except for a mediocre HD re-release of the older games. What about Guitar Hero? That franchise is basically completely dead at this point. And why is this? It’s because Activision ran each series into the ground, forcing out annual sequels, spinoffs, and basically over-saturated the market with their games. They did too much too soon with the titles, resulting in them running out of steam creatively when we should still be talking about them today. Now it seems the same has happened to Call of Duty.

    Call of Duty was once an extremely innovative franchise. It brought fresh eyes to gaming; it completely revolutionized online multiplayer. But since those days, the series has gone through quite a few troubling developments. Infinity Ward, the studio that created Call of Duty and produced some of the best entries in the series, such as Call of Duty 2, 4, and Modern Warfare 2, have since lost its major players.

    These major players are now working for Activision’s main rival in the gaming landscape, Electronic Arts, and EA has allowed these ex-Infinity Ward guys to make a new studio called Respawn Entertainment that are currently developing Titanfall, easily next-gen’s most talked about title. Now "Infinity Ward" (the studio that developed this game, by the way) are a mere shell of their former self, and Treyarch has started innovating with the franchise and have been trying their damnedest to keep the series relevant.

    Furthermore, Activision has bogged down the development process of Call of Duty games by having multiplayer studios work on the same game. This seems like a good idea on paper, but I feel that the talents of Neversoft (the people that used to make those fantastic Tony Hawk games of yesteryear) and Raven Software (the developers of great dungeon crawlers like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance as well as one of the most underrated shooters of the seventh generation, Singularity) would be better off creating new franchises for Activision.

    That being said, Activision does have Destiny right around the corner, the new franchise from Bungie, the creators of Halo. Activision has invested an absurd amount of money into Destiny, and they are relying on the game to be a major success for them moving forward. It is possible that Activision has every intention of abandoning the Call of Duty franchise for Destiny, just like they did with Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk. The sales will slow down once the innovation completely stops and the quality of the games will also significantly lower as we get game after game after game…oh, and by the way, yet another new Call of Duty has already been announced for release in November 2014. Oh joy.

    Now that I’ve got that rant off my chest, it’s time to get to the actual game itself, which often dips below mediocre. Since Ghosts is split up into four distinct different game modes, I will simply talk about one after another, starting with the campaign.

    The campaign in Ghosts is not the worst campaign they’ve ever put out (that distinction goes to Modern Warfare 3, also developed by "Infinity Ward"), but it’s probably the dumbest. The game is yet another globe-trotting adventure filled with set pieces and extremely linear gameplay. I was happy that there were more open sections than before, and the pacing was a lot better than in some other Call of Duty campaigns. There weren’t as many "follow me" sections, and those that were there didn’t feel too restrictive, instead still encouraging environmental exploration and just using that person you’re supposed to follow as an objective guide of sorts. So that is certainly a few steps in the right direction.

    The campaign in Ghosts is filled with gimmicks that range from pretty smart to absolutely stupid. The water level is easily the most linear, but it has a few good ideas that keep it entertaining. The levels that take place in space are gorgeous, but they are extremely stupid to the point that the logic behind them is just insulting. Call of Duty has never necessarily been super-grounded into realism, but they break the laws of physics in this game. It would be more acceptable if we had a character that was supernatural, which, hell, we might actually have on our hands at this point, but that’s a complaint for another day.

    The story is just as stupid as the space levels. During development, Activision kept bragging about how they hired a writer that wrote an Oscar-winning script once. Well, this guy definitely phoned it in here with this bombastic, ridiculous story. The game stars Lucas and his brother as they fight against the forces invading the United States called the Federation. It shamelessly rips off Red Dawn in both idea and atmosphere, but that’s not even the worst of it.

    Everything about the story is silly. The characters, the events that occur…it’s all extremely hard to swallow and just outright stupid. It also breaks the laws of physics numerous times. It is a story that is not believable and it’s really hard to suspend your disbelief. That being said, those looking for a really corny and absolutely ridiculous plot may actually find themselves entertained by this. If you’re into B-action movies, then Call of Duty: Ghosts has a story that fits that bill.

    Most people don’t buy Call of Duty for the campaign, and that’s fine, but the multiplayer is also fairly underwhelming. I like the new designs for the HUD and it plays exactly like any diehard Call of Duty fan would expect. However, the new game modes are just a waste of time, the lack of fan favorite game modes is disappointing, and none of the maps are all that memorable.

    New game modes that looked pretty interesting before release included modes such as Cranked seemed to shake the Call of Duty multiplayer formula up significantly. Unfortunately, they are all just slightly tweaked versions of modes that we’ve been playing forever. The thing about Cranked is that if you don’t get a kill in 30 seconds after your first kill (and each subsequent kill), then you will blow up. But isn’t this how most people play Call of Duty anyway? The game is all about running around like a chicken with its head cut off and shooting everything that moves. Cranked barely changes that formula, except it throws a few perks in the mix. It’s the same story with the other new game modes, and some just combine some old game modes and try to pretend that it’s a truly new experience.

    And when it comes to modes, I don’t understand why they make decision to cut game types out of each subsequent entry and butcher existing ones. Infected was a blast to play in Modern Warfare 3, but it is terribly executed here. They’ve sapped all the fun out of it by trying to make it feel more balanced, when "balanced" is something that Infected should never feel like. That’s not the point of it at all. Furthermore, the lack of wager matches like Gun Game, Sticks & Stones, and all that jazz just irritates me beyond belief. There’s also no Zombies, but that’s to be expected at this point I guess. There needs to be more consistency. Instead of dropping modes and features from game to game, why not improve and refine them? This is part of the reason why the series seems to be running in place at this point instead of actually moving forward.

    Ever since Call of Duty 4, there have been maps in each Call of Duty game that have stuck with me throughout the years. Even if not all of the maps are hits, there are definitely maps that have mass appeal and have become extremely important to the Call of Duty culture. Sadly, Ghosts doesn’t add any new maps that are really worth a damn.

    The maps all rely on scripted gimmicks to try to make them appealing. This is an attempt to try to include the destructibility of Call of Duty’s chief rival, the Battlefield franchise, without actually going through the trouble of creating an engine capable of such feats. Instead it creates annoying situations and boring, predictable maps.

    Not only that, but the maps are way too big. Again, this seems like an attempt by "Infinity Ward" to make Call of Duty compete with the features of Battlefield 4 (which is a pointless battle because Call of Duty will likely stomp Battlefield into the mud in the sales department every year anyway). But the thing is, the maps are bigger, but the player count is not. Call of Duty has always been its best with small maps anyway, and there isn’t a single map here that is small enough to provide the same memories as, say, Nuketown or something of that nature.

    There are a couple of maps that can be fun. White Out is my personal favorite. It is a snow map set in the wilderness, complete with a frozen pond and a cabin. There is a map set in a small town that, while terrible in multiplayer due to its size, is actually pretty fun in Safeguard mode.

    Safeguard is a horde-like mode that is played in the Squads gametype. Squads is basically Combat Training with more bells and whistles. It combines playing with real players and playing with bots, resulting in an experience that basically feels like playing online anyways, except the AI is a lot dumber than real life players (not all the time, however). It is actually pretty fun and it makes the big maps better than just playing the straight multiplayer.

    Before release, Activision kept talking about the improved AI in this game. I figured we’d see this AI in the next-gen versions (because I sure as hell didn’t see it in the Xbox 360 version), so I waited until being able to play the Xbox One version of the game before passing on my final verdict on the experience. Unfortunately, the AI is dumb as bricks regardless of if you play it on Xbox 360 or Xbox One or PS3 or PS4.

    And finally, there’s Extinction Mode. This is the answer to Zombies from "Infinity Ward". I like the idea of using aliens instead of zombies. The aliens provide a different challenge, but the mode is weak. There’s one map, the challenges tied to this mode are ridiculous (much like the Zombies Easter Eggs), and it is ruined by the fact that Activision has gotten lazy and chose to get rid of one of the most important features for the series, one of the features that has kept me consistently purchasing each new game year after year…

    I am a huge proponent of local multiplayer. All generations up to the seventh gen were filled with fantastic local multiplayer experiences. The seventh gen has resulted in many games completely ignoring local multiplayer, which has resulted in a lot of experiences that could’ve been great only to turn out to be extremely disappointing at the end of the day.

    The best multiplayer games of the seventh generation combine local and online multiplayer. They give the option to experience the game’s multiplayer entirely offline or experience a combination of online and offline by allowing people playing together locally on the same TV to take the game online. Call of Duty: Ghosts still allows for two-player split-screen online, but it has gotten rid of four-players.

    Treyarch made huge advances in split-screen multiplayer by allowing four players to experience Zombies in Black Ops II. This was a big deal, as previously everyone said this would be a near impossible task (obviously a lie by developers simply too lazy to implement the feature in similar modes in their games). I figured that we’d move forward again, especially with the increased horsepower of Xbox One (I can’t figure out exactly what this game is using all that extra power for…), but instead the local player count has been sliced to TWO across all game modes, online or off. This is ridiculous and the biggest problem with Call of Duty: Ghosts by far.

    The added horsepower of Xbox One is completely wasted in Call of Duty: Ghosts. The graphical improvements are so slight that I don’t even notice a difference between playing the game on Xbox One and Xbox 360. The AI is not improved, there is no four-player splitscreen. Don’t buy an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 to play the "next-gen" version of Call of Duty: Ghosts because it is exactly the same experience that you’ll get on the seventh gen version of the game.

    Call of Duty: Ghosts suffers from being a cross-gen game. It’s a game stuck between generations, and therefore I am being a little harsher on it when it comes to reviewing the Xbox One version of it because what’s the point of having it on Xbox One? All this is doing is segmenting the online players by throwing yet ANOTHER platform into the mix of platforms that already include Wii U, PS4, Xbox 360, PC, and more still. Call of Duty: Ghosts is an extreme low point in the series, the anti-thesis to Call of Duty 4, and seems to indicate that, in a couple of years, the Call of Duty series will be going the way of the Dodo…or perhaps, the way of the Guitar Hero?

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