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Call of Duty: Ghosts leaves critics cool

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Call of Duty: Ghosts
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Call of Duty: Ghosts

Is Call of Duty going to the dogs?

Activision has high hopes for Call of Duty: Ghosts, but critics aren't particularly impressed with the latest installment of the industry's largest franchise.

The game, which is still expected to be one of the year's best sellers, offers several new features this year, including Riley, the German Shepherd who has been a breakout star from the moment he was first introduced, squad play, and the ability to play as a female soldier.

Reviewers, though, say those changes, which seemed so dramatic in the months leading up to Ghosts' release, are ultimately just window dressing in a shooter that raises questions as to how much further the series can go creatively.

"Call of Duty: Ghosts demonstrates an unwillingness to change much and presents a real shortage of new ideas," writes Polygon’s Russ Frushtick in a tough 6.5/10 review. "Ghosts is a step backwards from 2012's Black Ops 2 -- and the weakest game in the series since 2009's Modern Warfare 2."

Collectively, Call of Duty: Ghosts has a Metacritic score ranging from 75-78, depending on the platform, a step down for a franchise typically accustomed to scoring in the mid-80s and higher. Most reviews of the game were done on the PlayStation 4 version of the game (which won't be out until that system launches on Nov. 15), and while those who have played it admit the game does look nice on the new console, they note it struggles to distinguish itself.

"Infinity Ward had a chance here to throw down the gauntlet for the next hardware generation, to set the new standard, to show that this hugely popular, much derided behemoth can dance to a different tune," says Eurogamer writer Dan Whitehead. "It's chosen to play a Greatest Hits package instead." He gives it a 7/10.

It's the lack of newness that really gets critics riled up. Take Joystiq, who call the shooter a “by-the-numbers installment.”

“It layers a fresh coat of paint over a tired design document; a document that brings players down a rote campaign path before landing them in a multiplayer mode that abandons many of the creative advancements seen in Black Ops 2,” says reviewer Xav de Matos, who awards it 3.5/5 stars.

That's about par for the course, as notable review sites like Giant Bomb, Destructoid, and Edge Online also ring in with mediocre scores.

Not everyone is so down on the game, though.

IGN's Scott Lowe is one of the rare fans of the game's campaign, though like most gamers, he's most excited about playing online, calling out the "robust" multiplayer in an 8.8/10 review.

"Ghosts preserves much of the look and feel of the traditional Call of Duty multiplayer experience, but introduces sweeping changes that make it more personalized, more diverse, and better balanced," he says, resulting in "one of the best Call of Duty games to date."

While Game Informer takes the game to task for its lack of creativity, it also acknowledges there's a lot of fun to be had with the tried and true gameplay.

"As the first series entry on new consoles and the first of what will assuredly be a new brand, I was disappointed to see it resemble its predecessors even more than the franchise typically does," writes reviewer Dan Ryckert. "Even without its own significant hook or sense of identity, however, Ghosts is still fun thanks to Call of Duty’s polished and reliable backbone that’s been established for years." That’s enough to earn it an 8/10.

And GameSpot’s Shaun McInnis was positively buoyant on Ghosts in a fellow 8/10 review, calling it "a game that's keenly aware of the series' strengths, but doesn't find itself beholden to them. No matter what standard you apply, Call of Duty: Ghosts is a terrific first-person shooter."

Despite such praise, the overall critical malaise is likely to frustrate Activision -- and put a smile on the face of EA's rival Battlefield 4, which itself underperformed with critics. Still, it's unlikely to have a dramatic impact on sales. Call of Duty has always been a franchise that's relatively immune to critical barbs.

Activision acknowledges that pre-orders for this year's installment are lower than Black Ops II -- and it doesn't expect the game to hit the same sales numbers -- but it's a sure bet the latest Call of Duty will see crammed multiplayer servers for the foreseeable future.

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