Call of Duty: Ghosts should have stayed dead, instead of haunting us with a boring, by-the-numbers first person shooter. The only challenge you will face while playing is the urge to take a nap.
The story is a retelling of those awful made-for-TV propaganda films from the 1980's, with a South American antagonist called "The Federation" replacing the evil commie Russian reds. America is under attack, and it's up to you, your brother and your dad (!?) to save it. After a decent opening in outer space, the game devolves into a mindless advertisment for the NRA.
You follow your squadmates from checkpoint to checkpoint, mowing down some of the dumbest enemy soldiers since COBRA blindly shot at the muscle-bound heroes of G.I. Joe. The first half-hour or so is mildly entertaining, bringing back memories of classic shooters like Guerilla War and Ikari Warriors from the NES days.
But this is 2013. We expect more from a cultural phenomenon like Call of Duty than a slow march toward victory for the good old U.S.A. While it runs at an impressive 60 Frames Per Second, the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 are using technology that's seven years old, so developers Infinity Ward and Raven Software have to make devastating sacrifices in other areas to keep up the frame rate. Areas like game play, environmental variety, and strategical options are sacrificed. While the world animates quite impressively, the graphics have a sterile look throughout.
My brief time online with CoD was spent in the most popular mode, Team Death Match. The same boring environments and weapon loadouts plague multiplayer. By the fifth time I heard a pre-pubescent kid chirp to his friend that he "didn't want to f--- up his Kill/Death ratio," I had had enough.
The best part of CoD:Ghosts is Riley the Dog, a viscious and loyal companion who you get to control with an ipad like device at pre-scripted times. He's sneaky, clever, and efficient. He's a much more effective soldier than any of the humans, and he has the best dialogue of anyone. Woof! If the developers had made Riley the main character, giving commands to his mindless companions, this would have been a much better game.
While Battlefield 4 has a control scheme nearly identical to CoD's, the games could not be more different. The story is pretty standard fare for military shooters, with the protagonists taking on various deadly missions to avoid massive world destruction, but the characters and scenarios flow together seemlessly and force you to take part in some terrifying, almost sickening aspects of real war.
Your fellow soldiers struggle with the need to follow orders to the letter vs. the desire to follow their conscious, with both satisfying and disturbing results. While making your way through a massive, sinking sea vessel, you'll come across some sailors trapped below a grate in an area rapidly filling with water. The commanding officer orders the squad to move on, but one of your mates wants no man left behind. Hearing the doomed sailors screaming "NO! TELL MY MOM... TELL MY MOM... OH GOD, I DON'T WANT TO DIE LIKE THIS!" was a harrowing experience.
The game jumps from more typical environments like city ruins to sea battles effortlessly, and always with tension. Battlefield is difficult is the best possible way. Every time you die, you learn from it. Featuring gigantic open environments to fight in, you have multiple options with which to engage the enemy. Finding cover does not mean you're safe; that big concrete slab you're hiding behind will quickly be reduced to rubble by a rocket launcher, forcing you to scramble to another safe spot or engage the enemy head on, which is almost always a recipe for a quick death.
Enemy A.I. isn't the best you've ever seen, but it's leagues ahead of the idiots in CoD. Snipers find good hiding spots and use cover; grunts don't stop charging until one of you is dead; groups of enemies flank you and use all of their resources to try and stop your progress. Every time you make a new checkpoint, you get a feeling of satisfaction.
While the campaign is more fun than a barrel of monkeys, the online component is even better. There's a steep learning curve for newbs, but if you can stand getting shot a bunch of times and watching your enemy bob his genitals up and down over your corpse, you'll eventually be rewarded with an engaging, intense, and delightful combination of strategy and chaos.
The best mode is "Conquest," where two teams race to capture and occupy areas of the map marked with flags. If you want to team up and have one player drive a tank/helicopter/armored truck while two others man the side guns, it's a good strategy. I loved jumping on an ATV and racing through the environments at high speeds, dodging enemy fire then running them over. The amount of options in weapon loadouts and character class selection can be overwhelming at first, but after a few hours you'll be gleefully engaging the enemy with a multitude of strategies.
Some of the graphics look outdated at times, particularly in the large environments with tall buildings in the distance. There was one scenario that, while fun, had me wondering if I was playing a PS2 game with some of the drab scenery. But that's a small price to pay when you're having such a great time.
I recommend Battlefield 4 for anyone who wants a deep and fun military style experience. It delivers scenes that made this 40-year-old cringe at times, so it's NOT FOR KIDS. If you're wondering whether to choose Battlefield 4 or Call of Duty: Ghosts, there's no contest.
- Reviewed by Tom McDaniel