Every year, a new Call of Duty releases. While all of them are smashing commercial successes, not all of them are liked or fondly remembered. There are a few around the edges that range from okay to terrible in the public eye. While not considered the worst, 2013’s Call of Duty: Ghosts is considered a low point for the series. Recently, however, there has been a bit of a turnaround on the game. So, let’s dive back into what many found a disappointing entry into a wildly successful series.
For my look into this game, I’m going break down this game into its different modes, and explore each one. This blog isn’t meant to agree or disagree with anyone’s opinion of the game. This is simply my opinion of the game, as well as how well or poorly it holds up in certain areas. I will be talking about the game’s ending in the campaign segment, so spoilers I guess, but this game is old enough to safely spoil by this point. Finally, for some context, I am playing this game on PC, I do not own any of the DLC, and I originally played this game on Wii-U right around the time of its release. Without further ado, let’s dive into this game, starting with the campaign.
The past few Call of Duty titles have really put the campaign into the spotlight, with Black Ops 4 lacking one and Modern Warfare (2019) having a lot of controversy. Before all of this, however, a Call of Duty campaign to me was a short side activity to do when not playing multiplayer. I didn’t remember much from my first time playing the game other than its twist ending and its setting, but revisiting it paints a different picture.
Over the course of its short, four hour campaign that I played in one day, I found the story side of things to be original and different compared to other Call of Duty campaigns. This game follows the U.S. stuck in a decade-long war with South America under a federation after they became a superpower because of their rich oil fields. You play as one of two brothers who joins a spec ops group in an attempt to repel the invading forces and stop a former ally-turned-enemy.
The dog is both a character and a tool in this game’s campaign.
In a franchise that leans on the Russians as an enemy force too many times, having an original enemy is refreshing. Its dystopian setting manages to have a political statement without pushing a narrative, which is something the most recent Modern Warfare struggled with. Some of the recent Call of Duty titles have opted for a more sci-fi future setting, but this game’s future is grounded in reality. While its scale is large, this game focuses more on the characters and their struggles than the overall battle between the two superpowers. Some of the characters are forgettable, but one really stands out above the rest: Rorke. Rorke is a turncoat and the main antogonist in the game, and he is in my opinion one of the best villains in the series. He has a loose Apocalypse Now theme to him, and his lust for revenge over duty to any country makes the story more personal, which blends well with the game’s greater focus on characters.
All of this leads to a few standout moments. One I would like to mention is the beginning of the game, which sees you play as a random character defending a giant space laser from being taken over. It’s a surprisingly poignant intro to the game, and I liked its space setting. The main moment I’m hinting at, however, is the game’s surprising twist ending. You end the game washed up on a beach after killing Rorke and destroying the Federation. After the credits roll, however, you find Rorke also on the beach, dragging you away from your brother as both of you helplessly watch the distance grow between each other. The game truly ends with you in a hole in the jungle, presumably going through the same torture Rorke did. It’s a simple yet effective twist ending that to me sets up a sequel without being a cliffhanger, and I would love to see the follow-up to this story that sadly won’t happen. Overall, the story side of this game is daring and original for a series that’s all-too-keen with leaning on the same settings and enemies.
How are you alive?
I’ve talked a lot of story, but what about its gameplay? Ghosts feels like an old Call of Duty campaign but intensified. I think a lot of the issues I had with the campaign’s gameplay are just symptoms of being a Call of Duty campaign, but the gampelay felt suffocatingly linear, scripted, and overall fake. The arenas feel obvious and really tight, with one or two flanks at best, and any arena that is of decent sized gets bottlenecked as soon as you leave it. Throughout all of this, the game is constantly stopping you to interact with some sort of item like a sniper sentry, some aerial combat vehicle, or some other distraction that makes the gameplay choppy. The gameplay also has its fair share of Call of Duty tropes like breaching moments, a helicopter mission, a tank mission, and so on. When there is actual boots-on-the-ground fighting, a lot of it feels really fake. I was half-expecting a foot pedal and plastic gun to come out of my monitor at any point and tell me this was actually Time (Oil) Crisis, because that’s how fake a lot of it felt. Not all of it is bad though. For what it’s worth, the constant scripted sequences add variety, the new (for the series) lean mechanic helped a bit, the cutscenes between missions look cool, and the dog is fun to use. Overall, I would say the campaign for Ghosts is the opposite of Modern Warfare: it nails it in the story department, but is lacking in its gameplay.
The staple for all Call of Duty titles is its multiplayer, but I would say otherwise for this game. Of all the modes in this game, I actually found the multiplayer to be its weakest. Of course, the multiplayer in 2020 is different than in 2013 because of how few players there are now, but there are still some issues I had with it regardless of population.
The biggest issue I had both when I first played the game back in 2013 and now are the maps. Most of the maps are too large and irregularly shaped. None of the issues I had are new to Call of Duty, but they feel intensified here. There is too much downtime because a lot of the map’s size, and the spawns are so all-over-the-place that I felt like I was playing free-for-all but with some players I can’t kill instead of team deathmatch. Plus, some of the maps aren’t compatible with killstreaks, which feels like a uniquely Ghosts issue. For example, every time I tried to use a missile on the skyscraper map Free Fall, I ended up shooting a rocket out into space because it wouldn’t start directly over the map.
Outside of map issues, I had some other issues in regards to leveling and the actual match itself, though some of it is up to opinion. In regards to matches, I found there to be a lot of stuttering, and I couldn’t find a way of muting players mid-match. Half of the matches I played had a guy preaching non-stop, so not being able to do anything about it until the end of the match sucked. As for the leveling, most of it is subjective, but there are a few issues worth noting. Leveling in this game is super slow compared to other titles, and a lot of the items in the game are unlocked with an earned currency instead of unlocked with leveling. I personally prefer leveling up the weapon and leveling up to unlock weapons, but the slow leveling is an issue regardless of opinion.
The maps of this game should have larger lobbies.
While this game’s multiplayer is weak, it isn’t without its merits. Personally, while I’m not a fan of spending a currency on unlocks, I think it gets a fair amount right in regards to its class customization. In this game, you have ten character slots, and each character has their own set of loadout slots. Unlike other Call of Duty games, this one allows you jump into create-a-class from the get-go. One thing this game does that’s interesting is that you choose one-of-five class options for each character, which defines their starting loadout. This doesn’t define the character, only the starting weapons and perks, which I think is an interesting way of giving choice to the player when they start this game. As you play and earn currency, you have a surprisingly large amount of weapons and perks to choose from. The weapons have their usual set of attachments and skins to purchase and unlock, but the perks are a different ballgame. Each perk is assigned a set amount of points, and each loadout can have up-to eight points worth of perks, which I think is a great way to allow flexibility and customization to perk setups. As you play, you also unlock new cosmetic items for your character to wear, though a lot of that stuff is locked behind a paywall. The biggest issue with the loadouts is that each character has their own level, which is especially troublesome considering how slow the leveling is, and characters can’t be changed mid-match, but I think the loadout changes overall are welcoming.
When it comes to actually playing the game, there are a few neat mechanics that I haven’t really seen in the other franchise titles. For starters, I like the game’s time-to-kill, which I think Infinite Warfare and Black Ops 4 struggled with. The killstreaks in this game are neat, with my favorite being a Juggernaut Suit that can run fast and only has a knife. This game has the classic 25 killstreak nuke, but this nuke will actually alter the map, which I think is neat. The most unique mechanic, though, are field orders, which are optional challenges you can pick up from a dead body that gives an objective to complete for a reward. I think having that on-the-fly objective is a fun challenge, and I found the reward to be worth the hassle the few times I tried. Overall, I would say the multiplayer is rather weak, though it did have some neat tricks up its sleeve.
I don’t know if this mode was completely blocked out of my mind or I simply didn’t play it, but there is an extension to the multiplayer called Squads I had no clue about. This mode is similar to the first Black Ops’ Combat Training mode in that you are playing multiplayer modes against bots for the sake of training. I love Combat Training in Black Ops, as for I think it’s the best way to have a Call of Duty multiplayer experience well past the game’s expiration date, so I was really excited about this mode when I first started playing and reading about it.
How Squads works is that it takes your multiplayer characters and puts them into a squad. You assign the characters you want in your squad, and you also assign a map and mode to your squad. You then take your squad and fight against another player’s squad. You play the other’s map and mode choice, and you play against their squad, but you aren’t playing against any actual players. To take it a step further, whatever loadout you assign to each character makes them act accordingly. If you give a sniper loadout to one of your characters, they are going to act like a sniper, and so on. Plus, you level up and get points for unlocks that transfer over to multiplayer. I really like the concept of building a squad based on your multiplayer characters and fighting other squads, and I would love to see this idea in future titles.
Since this bot has a sniper, she is crouching in a corner of the map trying to snipe.
The first mode I played was Safeguard, which is a horde mode similar to Modern Warfare 3’s Survival Mode. You survive against waves of enemies, and you either have the choice of going for 20 waves or an infinite amount of waves. There are a few different ways it handles getting new weapons and scorestreaks, but the mode in this game essentially acts the same as Modern Warfare 3. It’s a pretty fun mode, but I found it to be a bit easy and boring after a certain point, especially considering the maps can be cheesed by simply finding a good camping spot. It’s nothing special, but I’m glad this mode is at least here.
The other three modes are Squad Assault, Squad v Squad, and Wargame. Squad v Squad requires other humans, which isn’t happening with this game, and Wargame is similar enough to Squad Assault, so it’s not really worth talking about. Squad Assault, however, is the main mode of the four, and is where the squad building mechanic is utilized. It pretty much plays as an easier version of multiplayer, but it’s certainly better than nothing. If anything, actually trying to design a squad and watching them act a certain way based on their loadout is more strategy than I ever get out of Call of Duty multiplayer. This mode is so close to being the followup to Combat Training that I’ve always wanted, but it’s missing two things: the ability to unlock skins and the ability to complete weapon challenges. Since this mode is connected to multiplayer, you can’t do challenges or skins, which is such a bummer to me because that is what I love in Call of Duty multiplayer. Squad Assault and Squads as a whole is a mode on the verge of perfection, but its ties to multiplayer weighs it down from being the mode I’ve wanted out of Call of Duty for all of these years.
The only reason anybody talks about this game to this day is because of this mode. My fondest memories of Ghosts, and one of my fondest memories of Call of Duty as a whole is completing the default Extinction level for the first time. So, does this mode hold up? Absolutely. In my opinion, Extinction mode is the best third mode of Call of Duty.
For those who are unaware, Extinction mode is a co-op alien mode where up-to four players go through a level and defend drilling spots from aliens. The map is segmented into three parts, and each segment has three drill spots to defend. After the three are taken out, you defend a helicopter trying to clear the path to the next map segment. If you reach the third segment and clear all of the drilling spots, you launch a nuke, putting you into an escape sequence where you must run all the way back to the beginning of the map and escape while being attacked. Throughout the game, you earn money to spend on weapons and scorestreaks as well as talent points to spend on upgrading your items and character, which resets after each match. As you play, you level up and unlock new classes, starting pistols, and items to bring with you such as ammo boxes, armor boxes, mortars, sentry turrets, and so on.
Each area is filled with drill spots like this one.
I only had access to one map and I only played by myself, but I still had a blast. For me, this mode is the perfect level of difficulty and length. A full match for me was about an hour long, and the escape sequence actually got my heart pumping, which is something I don’t get out of any of Call of Duty’s third modes. The different alien types are fun to fight because of their variety and more sporadic movement. The fact that there is an objective instead of just survive makes it a lot of fun, and each objective has its own challenge to complete for a talent point, which is vital for survival and fun to try. The different classes and loadout options are fun to toy around with, and the various tools in-game like flame traps and even the ability to spawn a chopper gunner helped me a lot considering I was playing lone wolf. Honestly, the only complaint I have with the mode is the inability to get rid of the starting pistol, which wasn’t really much of an issue for me when I played. In an age of constant wave-based zombie modes, Extinction shines above the rest as a tightly structured and exhilarating mode that gives a reason to keep the game installed, and I would love to see this mode pop up again.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is a game worth revisiting. Is the best in the franchise? No, but I also don’t think it’s as bad as people thought it once was. I think its campaign is worth a followup, its Squads mode is on the brink of perfection, and its Extinction mode is the best third mode to-date. I know the chances of a Ghosts 2 are basically zero, but I would at least like to see the ideas of Ghosts in future titles. We may never leave the cave Logan is stuck in, but he should at least be given a second chance.