Alongside the likes of Halo and Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty (CoD) is one of the few video game franchises to have reached truly superstar status. The previous title in the series (CoD: Black Ops II) made $1 billion (£630m) within 15 days and more than 1900 years of online play is racked up on the series every single day.
With this legacy to live up to, the launch of Ghosts - the latest in the series and its tenth major title - has been accompanied by all the expected cultural paraphernalia: a midnight launch with fans queuing in the cold, a big-budget trailer with some celebrity star power in tow (Megan Fox), and – of course – some mixed reactions from the critics.
The franchise has faced consistent criticism for simply dialling it in, offering over-hyped tweaks of an already successful formula and simply sitting back as the money flows in. Ghosts – apparently – is no different, offering a single-player campaign full of ridiculous set pieces (you can fight terrorists in space!) and multiplayer modes that offer addictive gameplay best enjoyed among friends.
A review of Ghosts by gaming site Polygon is perhaps as bad as the criticism gets, with a summary that notes that the game “never goes beyond the barest requirements for a sequel”.
The Official Xbox Magazine chimes in with the more positive – but still reserved – summary, adding that the CoD series has always been about “about instant gratification. It's fast food gaming at its most refined, a continual adrenaline rush that never thinks beyond the next kill.”
By most accounts Ghosts is more of the same, which is no bad thing when it comes to its multiplayer offering. There’s even room for some pleasant surprises, with the brand new Extinction mode drawing praise from across the board.
Like Zombies in previous games, Extinction has players face hordes of non-humans (this time the baddies are aliens) but offers a new focus on balanced squad-based gameplay. You use skill points to specialise your character (do you want to deal out damage or help your allies?) and the whole set-up is designed to encourage the sort off-the-cuff strategizing that adds depth to the multiplayer experience.
This generation, or the next?
One problem for Ghosts’ makers is the imminent launch of the next generation consoles – the Xbox One on 22nd November and the PS4 a week later on the 29th – which means that many players will be holding back from purchasing a game for soon-to-be-outdated hardware.
Previews of Ghosts for the new consoles report– as you’d expect – that graphics are noticeably sharper, although there has been a minor scandal with the revelation that Ghosts will play at 1080p resolution on the PS4 but only 720p on the Xbox One.
The game’s creators say that the decision was made to optimize frame rates (more important than resolution when it comes to fast-paced shooters) with the step down to 720p on Microsoft’s console necessary to keep things ticking over a smooth 60fps.
Whether this decision demonstrates once and for all that the PS4 is graphically superior to the Xbox One or whether it’s just the expected stumblings that regularly accompany launch titles is currently being debated in comment threads around the internet.