Ah, Call of Duty. It seems like an entire eon ago that the first game debuted and promptly upstaged Medal of Honor, but it feels like yesterday since the major breakout game in the series – Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – had released. It wasn’t until World at War and then the blockbuster success of Modern Warfare 2 that the industry discovered you could annualize your first person shooters, something sports games have been doing for a while now. But hey, if there’s a demand, why not?
Fast forward several years to the release of Call of Duty: Ghosts. The game has received rather average reviews from critics, some who praise it for its changes in multiplayer and others who pan it for just being more of the same. Going back to the debate of annualization, the series suffers in one key area when released on a yearly basis: visuals. It’s far more cost-effective and time-efficient to reuse the same engine, tacking on the odd visual flourish here and there, rather than working on a new engine from the ground up.
With Call of Duty: Ghosts, Infinity Ward leaned heavily on adding and modifying its key engine. Why? Because Ghosts would be the first cross-generation game in the series, releasing in the same month for the Xbox One and PS4 as for the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U and PC. The PC version would be bumped up significantly to compete with next-gen versions. However, consider how other developers like Ubisoft and DICE who have developed engines for eight generation hardware but their games to be optimized for the Xbox 360 and PS3, scaling up visually when arriving on the PS4 and Xbox One. Can a game like Call of Duty: Ghosts compete on the same level using what is essentially last year’s (and the year before that) technology?
Current-gen analysis: PS3 and Xbox 360
Yes, we know you’d be more interested to know how the PS4 and Xbox One versions fare, especially with the controversy regarding the former’s use of native 1080p resolution and the latter’s 720p resolution. Here’s the thing: Both versions are essentially sharper, smoother and faster than the Xbox 360 and PS3, and provide higher resolution textures. You’ll see the difference when looking at the Xbox 360 and Xbox One versions (even more so then the PS3 and PS4 versions), but is it a substantial step up visually? Not really.
The Xbox 360 version of Ghosts runs at a 1024×600 resolution while the PS3 version has an 860×600 resolution with 2x multisample anti-aliasing (MPAA) on both formats. Both versions run at 60 frames per second, though there is a major drop when a lot of action is happening. The PS3 version, as is usually the case with Call of Duty, comes off as inferior. Along with MSAA problems, there are blurry textures inherent.
In terms of assets and presentation, both versions are a by-the-numbers Call of Duty game. You have the usual set-pieces, with good particle effects and explosions but nothing on the scale of Battlefield 4, especially in terms of destructibility. Character models in single-player are seemingly the same as last year’s Black Ops 2, even if there is a slight improvement in animation and facial expressions.
You can choose different skin tones and genders in multiplayer which wasn’t possible in earlier releases. The problem is that the improvement appears so miniscule and yet so inferior to what we’ve seen before that it’s rendered irrelevant. Sense of scale is downplayed despite some of these seemingly more “epic” environments with slightly better draw distance. There’s just nothing you haven’t seen before, by Call of Duty standards.
Next-gen analysis: PS4, Xbox One and PC
The PS4 and Xbox One versions look almost identical. The native 1080p resolution on the PS4 makes things sharper, smoothing out the details on weapons and character models. However, the quality of textures, effects and animations are the same on the Xbox One and definitely inferior to the PC (especially when you look at the quality of anti-aliasing on display).
Both versions run at 60 frames per second, with the Xbox One running pretty solid while the PS4 suffers from some skipped frames and jitters. Draw distance is a big step above the current-gen version, and effects like volumetric fog, depth of field, lens flares and enhanced particle effects are seen in both versions.
The PS4, unlike the PS3, doesn’t suffer from streaming problems when it comes to textures. However, is either version an enormous step up from the current generation? Not in a way that is noticeable right away. Is it a good thing that current-gen users can expect the same experience without having to upgrade to either the Xbox One or PS4?
Or is it a poor deal for next-gen owners when there aren’t that many differences? Battlefield 4 does 64 person multiplayer on next-gen consoles and PC. The differences in Call of Duty: Ghosts across versions aren’t that extravagant though, even if the PS4 version runs at a higher resolution (1080p vs 900p for Battlefield 4).
That’s not the case with the PC version though. Whichever way we look at it – whether the PS4 and Xbox One featured just enough details to have a solid frame rate or not – the PC version looks good, while achieving much more. DirectX 11.1 is in full force with tessellation, ambient lightning – including light shafts – and horizon-based ambient occlusion which lends a shading effect to everything. The metal components of your gun are cracked and significantly worn out, highlighted by the texture resolution. Little touches such as being able to see your character’s reflection in a scope on your gun add a good amount of immersion to the experience.
Anti-aliasing options include FXAA, SMAA and TXAA, another Nvidia exclusive. Pair that up with a native 1080p resolution with enhanced particle effects, objection motion blur and alpha buffers. In this case, going 60 frames per second is tough with all details turned except if you have some of the latest Nvidia-based graphics cards. It looks good, don’t get us wrong, but again, it’s not competing with Battlefield 4 any time soon.
Aesthetically, Ghosts is grimmer and washed-out in comparison to Battlefield 4. Foliage is detailed across the PC, Xbox One and PS4. Shadow details are excellent, with no shimmering effects, and a rock solid frame rate though the jitters caused by the PS4′s unstable frame rate do tend to disrupt the proceedings at times. But you can only recycle the same elements, over and over again, before it becomes stale, no matter how much more solid or sharp it looks. Compare the differences visually between Black Ops 2 and Ghosts, against Assassin’s Creed III and Black Flag and you’ll get what we mean.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is just more of the same. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s the best looking Call of Duty yet, which isn’t much of an achievement since it falls short compared to other games.
Thankfully, the next gen versions look better than current gen, competing quite well with the PC version which takes advantage of several Nvidia and DirectX 11 exclusive features. It’s just a bit underwhelming that minor differences in resolution, texture quality, anti-aliasing and frame rate instances are what separate the current and next gen versions. Could Infinity Ward have gone for a uniform level of detail across platforms, similar to what Ubisoft Montreal achieved with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag? Time will tell how they take advantage of the power of the Xbox One and PS4 when Call of Duty inevitably become next gen-exclusive, but for now, Ghosts is a somewhat weak start on the console side.