Critical Consensus: Call of Duty is treading water with Ghosts

Even new hardware can't mask the inertia plaguing Activision's annualised shooter

At some point, every franchise reaches a point of decline. It may take two games or ten, five years or fifty, but eventually the public thirsts for something different, something new.

The games press is fully engaged with predicting when these downturns are about to occur, and for Call of Duty most of all. The last two games in the series have been greeted by widespread discussion of whether this will be the moment that Activision's money-printing shooter fails to work its annualised magic on the consumer, and on both occasions it has sold in the sort of quantities that could sustain most publishers for years to come. More to the point, on both occasions the a games received high-scores and near unanimous praise.

"Infinity Ward has crafted a story that reflects the Ghosts themselves: focused, efficient, and committed to the task at hand"


Whatever degree of success Call of Duty: Ghosts achieves, there is a marked difference in the enthusiasm of the reviewers. There are more 6s, fewer 9s, and an abiding sense that Activision's production line is running out of ways to tweak, refine and hone.

Gamespot is among the more enthusiastic parties, awarding an 8 in one of the few reviews to find much worth in its campaign mode. Ghosts' single-player content is the same world-travelling, whizz-bang adventure to which we are accustomed, but Gamespot commends Infinity Ward's decision to, "reign in the excesses of previous Call of Duty campaigns."

"It's a game that avoids falling in love with its own cinematic ambitions, allowing the ruthless combat and well-paced encounters to take centre stage over the plot... In many ways, Infinity Ward has crafted a story that reflects the stoic nature of the Ghosts themselves: focused, efficient, and committed to the task at hand.

"The approach pays off: Ghosts features a terrific collection of shootouts and set pieces, largely unburdened by the sensation that you're merely an extra in someone else's adventure... It all adds up to a campaign that follows the familiar rhythms of the series, but in a more varied and generous way. There's a real willingness to let you stretch your legs and soak up the spectacle, driven by the feeling that - for the most part - you're the one at the center of the action."

Eurogamer begs to differ. "The moment-to-moment thrills are still there," it notes in its 7 out of 10 review, but they have become, "muted by expectation" - an inevitable side-effect of the pressure to deliver half-a-dozen new set-pieces every single year. But Ghosts also represents a step backwards for the series as a whole, reverting to a more linear, controlled approach following Black Ops II's flirtation with branching narrative and customisable loadouts. This is compounded by a, "dimwitted, flag-waving, chest-beating story."

"Ghosts feels like an accountant's sequel, with just enough content to justify a new instalment. It just never goes beyond that"


"There are many things wrong with the scenario, not least of which is that it's yet another shooter that paints the US as a victimised underdog, caught unawares by evil Third World forces, rather than an 800lb gorilla with a nuclear payload. Unlike Black Ops 2, which at least used its drone warfare storyline to question the wisdom of such weaponry in its own comic-book fashion, Ghosts never once suggests that giant city-crushing space spears are a bad idea - at least until those dastardly Hispanic hordes get their hands on them."

However, Eurogamer concedes that, as ever, the true appeal of Call of Duty is found online, and the multiplayer has received its usual care package of new modes, maps and changes - both effective and, on the odd occasion, damaging. Indeed, the most widely praised new features are both multiplayer content: "Cranked," a new competitive mode modelled on the high-concept of the dumb-but-fun Jason Statham films, and "Extinction," a cooperative mode in the spirit of Nazi Zombies.

For Polygon, however, the changes to Ghosts' multiplayer modes feel rote, an obligation shouldered by company seeking to release a new game every single year. Some modes remain, some have changed. Systems have been tweaked for reasons both obvious and oblique, to the benefit of the experience and to its detriment. "Call of Duty: Ghosts is the best evidence in years of a franchise going through the motions," the review states in its opening line, and the 6.5 out of 10 it receives hammers the point home.

"Despite the changes to the multiplayer, Call of Duty: Ghosts too often feels like a me-too product, never breaking entirely new ground. Meanwhile, Infinity Ward has stripped out some much-loved features from Black Ops 2, including League Play, replay recording and player-created emblems. These elements were extremely popular with the Call of Duty and eSports community, and it's hard to see their removal as anything but an overall step in the wrong direction.

"Ghosts feels like an accountant's sequel, with just enough content to justify a new instalment. It just never goes beyond that."

Of course, the fact that Ghosts will be available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One at launch seemed to present Infinity Ward with a convenient shortcut to innovation - or the facade of innovation, at the very least. However, according to Edge - which, like the vast majority of outlets, attended a review event where the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions were 'made available' for comparison with the current generation - the qualitative impact of the new hardware is very difficult to detect.

"Many will be satisfied by the simple existence of a COD game on the day next-gen hardware launches, but this is a missed opportunity nonetheless"


"Where, then, is all that next-gen power going?" Edge asks in its 7 out of 10 review. "As a game released across generations and running on a modified version of an aged engine, Ghosts was never going to be a next-gen showcase, but it's still a letdown to discover the only tangible result of PS4's extra processing power is a few sliders being nudged up. It's a brighter, higher-res version of the same game as ever, and the only sign you're not simply playing a maxed-out PC build of Black Ops II is the abundance of particles. Whether it's dust from a crumbling wall, debris fluttering in the aftermath of an explosion or bubbles from a scuba-diving NPC's air tank, you're never far away from a big cloud of something small.

"Elsewhere, there is only disappointment in how the next-gen consoles' power has, or rather hasn't, been used. After a plane crash, we skulk through the undergrowth and dispatch an enemy search party. This abundant hi-res foliage doesn't react to our presence at all. Things are even worse on Xbox One, where resolution is dialled down in favour of the series' 60fps tradition and the game runs at 720p. While the PS4 version runs at a native 1080p, that precious frame-rate drops briefly before checkpoints, which are at least placed so that the odd stutter never affects gunplay.

"Many will be satisfied by the simple existence of a COD game on the day next-gen hardware launches, but this is a missed opportunity nonetheless. The studio that defined the console FPS in the current generation has declined to do the same here. By the time it gets another chance, it may be too late."

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Latest comments (17)

Mihai Cozma Indie Games Developer 6 years ago
Well, this was kind of expected as the article says, and nobody knew when it was going to come. But I still think people will really enjoy the game as usual, especially for its multi-player part, as it always did.
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 6 years ago
Press is growing tired of the series. Consumers will just continue to love and buy the series.
COD / BF are still the cream of the crop shooters and until something new/fresh comes along (titanfall maybe, destiny maybe)
they will stay that way and keep selling the annual installments.
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital Extremes6 years ago
I'd also like to comment that Infinity Ward doesn't crank this out year on year, Activision very smartly long ago added Treyarch to the mix so each studio got a decent cycle. Personally I think the press has just picked this year to do these reviews, they could have been done for the past three ; apparently CoD is finally over the tipping point. I doubt the punters will agree mind.
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Show all comments (17)
Daniel Smith Quality Assurance Management and Testing 6 years ago

You're right, IW doesn't crank these out, however, it still does feel like it getting stale each year. Thankfully Treyarch picked up their development skills (or maybe IW has started to slack a bit?) so that the games aren't too indistinguishable from each other.

The series has definitely started to chug on it's uphill now, and they're running out of ideas to make it stand out from the previous iteration. I'm hoping that Activision can start using IW's talents for something new, hopefully a completely new IP, and not like a futuristic CoD....

But hey, it sells and makes mugs like us happy.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 6 years ago
I dont think this entry in the franchise is a bad game at all. I think call of duty has peaked as a franchise. I just dont see it going foward in terms of story or graphics aesthetics. However alot can be done with graphics in terms physics and AI. I like what Battlefield did in terms of physics. It really does change the way you play. The map changes according to weather and destructable enviroments. It doesnt matter how much you know the maps, the unpredictable nature of the game design will always challenge you, no matter what weapons you have or how good you are. But I think call of duty has stagnated and unless they find something that can really innovate gameplay and breath life in the franchise, I dont see the series going much further. If anything Id have either infinity ward or Trey arch work on a new IP. They are resourceful and proven game development studios that know how to make a AAA game. TitanFall and Destiny prove that there is still more that can be done with a first person shooter.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 5th November 2013 8:02pm

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Steven Wemyss Senior QA Engineer, Avalanche Studios6 years ago
They're not bad games per se they're just not really evolving much at all, even EA now and then does a complete revamp of FIFA/Madden and brings the engine up to speed which is something they really need to take the time out and do for this. A change of scenery probably wouldn't hurt too much either but then they do sell craploads for a reason, they make something the public ultimately still wants to buy basically.
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Nick Parker Consultant 6 years ago
Any publisher/developer would be ecstatic to achieve the annual sales quantities of a COD even in decline.
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James Ingrams Writer 6 years ago
Have to be safe and have to be boring when costs are now over the $100 million mark to bring AAA games to market. It's why,as I say, the major publishers are on the edge of a precipice.

Gamers are learning of the exciting, original, graphically lacking indie games more and more, and as millions come to the indie market they won't be interested in "same ol' same ol'" of the AAA market.
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Anthony Chan6 years ago
I hear a lot of the (slightly) negative reviews that are aimed towards CoD and I do agree in a sense. However, I don't think we should jump the gun and say CoD is on the decline. CoD (and in essence its "lesser" brother popularity wise BF4) is more than just an FPS - CoD is a foundation in youth and young adult culture. It's a competitive "sport" and in a sense, a way to "realistically" act out on agressive and violent behavior without hurting anybody. In addition, it has much less of a moral/ethical dilemma that GTA faces - mostly because many might feel its ok to "head shot" another player because its "war" - and war demands this of people. Once you put on a uniform and equip a well scaled LMG or sniper rifle, its OK, it is your job - as opposed to running the streets as a thug or hooligan.

This leads to my point. CoD compared to Titan on the merits of originality is not the right comparison. That would imply one is thinking of CoD as simply an FPS. But for many of the people who play CoD, and never play anything else, this is a way to act out on a fantasy that is just out of reach (especially if you are American). You get to fall in love with a gun - guns that are real and in military service. CoD players talk about the guns like they are baseball cards, and they fantasize about the power those guns bestow. They know their firing rate, their reload times, the weight and accuracy, and how the damage at the end of the barrel is supposed to be like. They know how to bring the pain. And they love it.

Titan or Destiny will not come close to unseating CoD or BF4 no matter how stripped out CoD is and no matter how revolutionary the newcomer FPS gameplay is (and this is unfortunate). This is simply because CoD is not an FPS or even a video game but more like an institution similar to FIFA in Europe and Madden in the US - as suggested by Mark Rubin. It is a sport or at least a way to "chest-beat" and compare epeens.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Anthony Chan on 5th November 2013 6:05pm

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 6 years ago
Rule #1 of making and selling Coca Cola: Nobody likes New Coke.

But it is funny to see next gen console owners learning the feeling of being the owners of a high-spec PC. Faced with slightly upgraded graphics, because the install base is just too small to go all out. Activision would have been fools to think there is nearly as much money to be made on next gen than on current gen. So they went with the option that prevents other competitors from making an early audience by being the only next gen shooter.
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Anthony Chan6 years ago
I just wanted to note ... I used to like Battlefield and Modern Warfare (during those iterations of each game). Every iteration after, I disliked. That may be because of my personality (I am not big on do or die competition). Both games really focused on the competitive gameplay (hence the comments Ghost and BF4 are all online gameplay with the single player being the training course).

So I guess I dislike playing with the people who play CoD and BF, as opposed to the actual games themselves.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd6 years ago
To be fair to Call of Duty, these reviews aren't just "picking" this game. The problem this game faces is that it's noticeably worse and less daring than the LAST game, Black Ops 2 by Treyarch. They're picking this game because it's a failure to evolve entry in a franchise that did just a year ago have an entry that showed some clear evolution.
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Spencer Franklin Concept Artist 6 years ago
@Danny Smith
Sorry for the off topic, but Danny here is an old friend and lost contact with him years ago, ... if you read this bud, hit me up at

Ok, resume discussion...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Spencer Franklin on 6th November 2013 12:42am

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Paul Jace Merchandiser 6 years ago
Although this years negative reviews might be warranted it ultimately won't matter. Call of Duty has been more than a game for a number of years now. It's a pop culture phenomenon and judging by all the people I saw at the two Gamestops I visited today for my job I'd say that it's not going to be selling less than 10 million units anytime soon. Even if it doesn't outsell GTAV or last years version(BOII) it's still going to outsell pretty much everything else released this year.

If anything, years from now this years version will probably be looked back on as an off year. As already mentioned, last years Black Ops II was a step forward for the series, both in single player and multiplayer. But you can only do that so many times. Still, this conversation will continue to come up every year(Is this the year COD declines") , while Activision continues to sell numbers that other publishers wish they could achieve.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany6 years ago
The game will eventually start loosing people that gets tired of it. They need to innovate in some way if they want to attract new consumers to the shops to get CoD. Not to mention; I personally got tired of the game with the first Black Ops, but the few occasions in which I was tempted to give it another try I remember something... That community; it just too many insufferable people aboard. Not all of them, of course, but it's hard not to meet one of those brats insulting your intelligence by his mere presence.
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They just need to make a Call of Wolfie or Call of Booty! Instant sales! :)
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Sasha Yelesin Student 6 years ago
I haven't considered myself a fan of Call of Duty for a very long time, even though I still play 4 every once and awhile. The fact that they have splitscreen is great for my brother and I to get a few hours in on each release.

That being said, Ghosts has to be one of the worst games I've ever played. I expected at least a decent generic shooter, but boy is this game bad. I'm glad to see I'm not alone in this consensus.

Good thing I didn't buy it. I feel bad for those who bought it day one and it didn't turn out like previous releases.
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