There is a point very early on in Call of Duty: Ghosts – less than five minutes in – which sums up this port quite nicely. It’s one of the series’ inevitable Giant Setpieces: your character is sat on the ground talking to his father and his brother, and then everything goes tits up. The earth quakes. The ground shakes. The screen shakes.
Thanks to the enforced FOV that makes it feel like you’re viewing the world through binoculars, this continual shaking – combined with the viewbob when running that, in this section, makes it feel as though you’re charging forward on springs – was very, very unpleasant. Considering how early into the game this is, I can only assume it’s Infinity Ward’s special way of sticking up their middle fingers at PC users and saying “Yeah, it’s going to be like this. Tough. Buy a console, losers.”
This is only the first of many really, really annoying things about the PC version.
Let’s not beat around the bush and pretend that you don’t know what Call of Duty: Ghosts is. Even if you’ve never played a Call of Duty game before you know what they are, and Ghosts follows the series’ template to a tee. You are a Soldier Man, and you use large guns to shoot at other Soldier Men while following along behind whichever teammate is designated with an objective marker. Occasionally there is a setpiece which lets you use an even larger gun of some sort; in this game, it might be a tank, or a remote-controlled sniper rifle, or a flying drone.
This time around the villains are the Federation, a group of South American nations that have apparently seized world power following an oil crisis and are currently trying to invade the USA. On the side of Love, Righteousness, and American Power Through Superior Weaponry are absolutely no characters worth caring about. At all.
No, really. Call of Duty games have never been big on deep characterisation and thickly layered plots, but this is possibly the lowest it’s actually sunk. You play as Logan, a faceless, voiceless nothing, which does at least let you get some amusement by pretending he’s Logan from Veronica Mars. Your mobile Follow marker is usually your brother Hesh, a character with so little personality he actually sucks personality out of the surrounding area. Your commanding officer is your father, Elias, who fills the role of Gruff But Loving Guy without ever actually being anything beyond those four words. The only other character whose name I can remember is the villain, Rorke, who is apparently hunting the Ghosts – your Super Secret Soldier Squad – for reasons never adequately explained. I say “apparently hunting the Ghosts” because this plot point is mostly forgotten shortly after it’s introduced.
So yeah, you shoot your way through a lot of levels while the game tries to make you marvel at setpieces. The entire thing feels horribly, horribly phoned in; few of the setpieces are actually impressive, most of the guns feel astonishingly poxy, and there’s a general sense that Infinity Ward were just following a template throughout the entire process. There are some nice bits – the last few levels, in particular, actually give you a few options and manage a couple of genuinely entertaining setpieces – but most of the single-player is an absolute slog. You chase the arse of one of your squadmates while waiting for him to open doors/make invisible walls disappear/kill some guy. Occasionally, the screen will be filled with text saying, for instance, “PRESS E TO PERFORM DROP KILL,” which utterly murders any sense of immersion.
The fact that this comes directly after Black Ops 2 makes it even more depressing. For all its flaws, BlOps 2 actually tried to do some new and interesting stuff. Its spy-fi setting gave rise to a number of unique little toys and setpieces, and its branching storyline and more open areas were a bit of fresh air for a series that has pretty much defined “follow a guy down a corridor and then click the crosshairs on any men that pop up.”
More depressing still is that this has absolutely fucking insane system requirements, yet looks pretty much exactly the same as any previous Call of Duty game. Ignore the talk about how this is a “next-gen” Call of Duty. It’s not. The majority of texture work is so blurry and low-res you’ll think you need glasses, and while the general effects that the environments give off are occasionally impressive, it’s impossible to play without wondering why it looks so average and runs so poorly. The menus freeze, the framerate plummets during play seemingly at random, and none of this is even for spectacular effect.
It gets worse: this doesn’t even control well. Even with mouse acceleration turned off (because I’m not insane) the mouse sensitivity is just weird. This is something I can’t really explain in words; it just feels wrong and never, ever becomes comfortable. When aiming, it sometimes moves further than I expect. At other times, the crosshair seems to crawl across the screen. For a fast-paced anarchic shooter, controls are mandatory.
I haven’t talked specifics about the multiplayer yet, but I should add that most of the above problems – “doesn’t look great”, “performs horribly”, “controls atrociously” – apply there. So let’s talk about that now.
In fairness to it, there is some new stuff here. There’s Extinction, the Totally Not Zombies mode which has you carry to a drill to randomly chosen alien hives and then defend it from assault, while getting pseudo-random bonus objectives, levelling up, buying weapons, and spending money to turn on electric fences and the like. It’s entertaining, though not particularly deep.
There’s Squads, which is a rather neat little system that lets you customise an AI squad and take them into battle against other AI squads. Happily, this actually gives you experience, so you can use this to unlock loadouts and the like before delving into multiplayer proper.
There are a handful of new multiplayer game modes. Cranked, which is totally unlike any Jason Statham movie you could care to mention, gives you a bunch of perks whenever you get a kill, with the downside that you’ll die in 30 seconds… but getting another kill resets the timer, leading to everyone charging around the map like bulls with assault rifles. Grind is Kill Confirmed, only you have to deposit the dog tags in an objective zone to score points. Hunted is an excellent mode where you start with basically nothing, and have to secure drop zones that give you random weapons in order to have a hope of success.
And, inevitably, there are lots of minor tweaks. There’s character customisation now, and you can even play as a woman, so Call of Duty has finally caught up with Russia circa World War I. UAVs have been replaced with SATCOMs that have to be placed around the map, and thus are much easier to destroy unless cleverly hidden. You actually pick a “class” when playing, which gives you a set of starting weapons and perks – although as you can unlock almost everything in any order you like, this really only matters for the first couple of hours. There are a whole load of new maps, which (inevitably) are of entirely mixed quality. Oh! And you can occasionally do things with the maps, like flick switches to open and close garage doors. This is not a major change.
For the most part, then, the multiplayer is the same old, and it’s fairly enjoyable once you turn off text and voice chat so you don’t have to acknowledge the unceasing stream of homophobia and racism. But even this is beset with problems. For me, at least, half of the necessary keys (like “Use Killstreaks”) were unbound by default, although it appears that might just be me. There’s no proper server browser, no way to see your ping, no FOV slider (and Activision made legal threats when somebody fixed this), and – most aggravatingly – the netcode appears to be extremely wonky. How wonky? Well, other than the stuttering and juddering people, I once died to one bullet. This is not an uncommon occurrence, but I decided to watch the killcam… and that showed the person unloading an entire clip at me and missing me repeatedly. I saw none of this in game. I watched more killcams later, and this happened a lot – my experience with the gunfights was not the same as that of the person shooting at me. I’ll accept that some of this might be down to the game making me play with people in different regions, thus causing lag issues, but that’s a reason, not an excuse.
If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll probably have already picked up Call of Duty: Ghosts. If, by some dark magic, you’ve managed not to, I implore you to forget about it unless you really want more of the same only done worse than usual. It’s occasionally entertaining, sure, but the PC port is horrendously optimised and is beset with problems throughout both single-player and multiplayer, and the entire game is very much Call of Duty by the numbers. I’ve generally enjoyed pretty much every Call of Duty since Modern Warfare – regularly defending their linear, rollercoaster nature, and the chaotic multiplayer – but this offers nothing new except a whole swathe of problems, and doesn’t even do the usual stuff all that well.