You’re likely to smile at the over-the-top madness of Call of Duty: Ghosts’ campaign

Another year, and it’s another instalment in the Call of Duty franchise. Ghosts is the latest in the series, with developers Infinity Ward back in the saddle. They’ve got a substantially improved graphics engine to play with — something that seems to have been leveraged to the fullest, allowing them to embrace the madness like never before with the single player campaign, while the multiplayer has possibly seen the largest set of advancements since co-op was introduced as a key component in Call of Duty: World At War. There are a lot of new additions, including game modes, maps, weapons and a character customisation system the likes of which have never been seen before in a Call of Duty title.

Let’s get started with the single player campaign, the first 15 minutes of which will have you on the edge of your seat. The second act is a tedious exercise in corridor shooting, quite poorly complemented by an absurd story which pits an alliance of South American nations (‘The Federation’) against the fighting few from the US of A, who clearly have the advantage in the form of cool facemasks. But just as the plot thickens, Ghosts picks itself up and blows the top off king and country. There are more insane cases of making daring escapes as everything falls apart in 15 minutes of Call of Duty: Ghosts than in the entire series combined; it is also the only shooter in memory that has skirmishes in zero-g as well as underwater. Ghosts’ campaign is a lesson in recovering from the monotony of the ‘FPS grind’ and turning into something great — as the third act builds up to its inevitable conclusion, you will find yourself smiling at the insanity and over-the-top-ness of the set pieces, caring about shallow, poorly developed characters, intrigued by the pathetic excuse for plot development and filled with anticipation as you wage war in Ghosts’ new definition of ‘multiple fronts’. Ghosts understands what you want from a Call of Duty campaign, and it delivers — like never before.

There’s a strong emphasis on co-operative play. New additions include the interesting ‘Extinction’— an objective based survival style mode with an in-mission character progression system. Think Black Ops’ ‘Zombies’ but with aliens, map variety, levelling up and customisability, with a four-player limit. Modern Warfare 3’s ‘Survival’ mode returns in Ghosts’ ‘Squad’ game types as ‘Safeguard’ — you can now choose to play against infinite waves of enemies or restrict the number of waves to 20 or 40 (an endgame option is a neat addition). The idea of ‘Squads’ is pretty cool, giving players the opportunity to hone their skills against AI bots before taking up a real challenge in the game’s multiplayer. But as far as co-op goes, Extinction is the clear standout.

With Battlefield 4 and Ghosts mirroring each other in several aspects this year, it’s no surprise that players will experience déjà vu while playing both games. The campaigns have two identical scenarios (one, a brief flashback during the events of the first act and another featuring an escape from a sinking aircraft carrier), while the idea of destructible maps is present in both multiplayer modes. BF4 does this with the help of its environment/physics engine while Ghosts takes a more scripted approach. They’re both very different, difficult-to-compare games, however, with Ghosts’ online experience being a more twitch-friendly affair than Battlefield’s. Ghosts develops on existing multiplayer tropes while injecting variety in terms of dynamic map elements (including random objectives and rewards). One of the more surprising aspects of Call of Duty: Ghosts for me is its incredible visual fidelity — aspects of which give even Battlefield 4 a run for its money. On PC, it’s an Nvidia-optimised title featuring the now-standard features such as HBAO+, PhysX effects and temporal anti-aliasing. The game’s ‘Michael Bay’ approach to destruction and set pieces are wonderfully complemented by some outrageous visual effects which aren’t organic like Battlefield’s, but get the job done with just as much (if not more) gusto. What’s more, there’s some great new facial animation tech at work behind the scenes and Riley the combat dog has hardware-rendered fur effects. So there you have it: Call of Duty: Ghosts is the best looking Call of Duty yet, with great additions to its multiplayer and a single player experience that is very rewarding. The game is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.