Call of Duty is one of gaming’s biggest franchises and has sold millions upon millions of copies for years. It became annualized and exploded with Call of Duty 4, and has continued to sell well ever since. Sales isn’t everything, though. There have been murmurings and whispers that the self-proclaimed king of first person shooters was starting to take a slide. Not only in sales, but also in quality. As I dove into Call of Duty: Ghosts the dichotomy of fun gameplay versus new innovations and quality was swimming through my head. Was it enough that a game has solid, fun gameplay but not much else? It turns out, at least for Ghosts, that fun gameplay can salvage an otherwise bland title, at least somewhat.

Maybe those words are a bit too harsh. As I readied myself to play the Ghosts campaign I was preparing myself for another Michael Bay-style explosion-heavy thrill ride with a mediocre plot and average characters. The campaign to Ghosts is that, but it also felt a bit more focused than past Infinity Wards games outside of Call of Duty 4. The Modern Warfare series at times got convoluted with characters, story archs, locations, and twists, which lead to myself merely playing through for the act of doing so. Call of Duty: Ghosts still has the basic “World War 3” aspect of the plot, but it does so on a smaller scale with less characters. You play as Logan, the son of an Army officer and brother to a fellow solider (Hesh) who often accompanies you on missions.

The underlying story to Ghosts revolves around the main antagonist, Rorke. Rorke was a former Ghost himself who defected after being left for dead when a mission went haywire years ago. You eventually get inducted into the mysterious Ghosts and lead missions against the Federation, a conglomeration of South American countries who have banded together after the Middle East’s oil supply is destroyed. The Federation continues to move north, and this is causing tension and fighting along the border of the United states that was initially destroyed when The Federation got their hands on ODIN, a giant space laser, and blew up southern cities including San Diego, the protagonist’s family home. The story is a bit better than the typical fare, but disappointed me in the end after seeing Activision tout that esteemed movie writer Stephen Gaghan, who has penned fantastic movies like ‘Syriana,‘ and ‘Traffic‘ wrote the script. It clocks in at around five and a half hours, so you won’t spend too long being disappointed. The story did have it’s moments and the gameplay in the campaign was solid, with some interesting level designs, though, so it’s not all bad news. It’s a fun little romp despite the mindless story. Plus, you get to fight in SPACE!

The main draw of Call of Duty has mostly been the multiplayer mode. This has not changed in Ghosts, and I found the multiplayer being more fun than the previous year’s game Black Ops 2. The gunplay and maps are still very well-done and the reworked unlock system breathes a bit of new life into progression. Treyarch has always seemed to have innovations on their side when they make their even-year Call of Duty games, so it’s no wonder Infinity Ward aped the progression system that utilizes tokens from Black Ops 2. You have to use tokens to unlock weapons, perks, and kill streaks, and then you get a certain number of points to use to equip things on one of your handful of characters. This is the new thing in Ghosts, you have your own squad which is made up of characters you create. You can then use them in squads mode and fight along-side your created characters. Everything about the multiplayer seems solid, I would have just liked to see something new and exciting. Maybe that will be best left for the next game that did not have to be developed for a brand new generation of consoles. Aside from some nitpicks most will love the multiplayer in Ghosts as long as you’re a fan of the series. It’ll feel just like riding a bike. If you’ve never been into Call of Duty then this won’t sway you, however. New maps, weapons, perks, killstreaks, and game modes are all well and good, but Call of Duty is needing something to make it the innovator it was with Modern Warfare.

Ghosts also adds Extinction which is a fun little 4 player co-op mode in which you fight off aliens. It’s a grab for the Zombies fans of Treyarch’s games, but it’s not awful. Worth playing if you have a full party and some time to kill, but it won’t hold the true Zombies fans from playing Black Ops 2 for their fix. Overall Infinity Ward has added some cool modes, but the game just feels a bit thin this year.

Call of Duty: Ghosts is a solid release in the ever-growing line-up of Call of Duty games. The problem is that “solid” only gets you so far, especially with games like Battlefield continuing to sneak up behind you. If the franchise continues at this pace with no relevant renovations it could be easy to see a near-future where Call of Duty is not the king anymore. For now it still sells more than enough to make Activision happy, but something needs to be done before the series starts to decay further, or it may be too late. If you liked the past few Call of Duty games you’ll enjoy Ghosts, but it’s no longer at the head of the class in terms of what a shooter should do. It nails the fast and fluid gameplay but falls short on story and innovation. Call of Duty: Ghosts is no Modern Warfare, and if Activision doesn’t watch out the series may become irrelevant in a few years. But hey, Guitar Hero had the same run right?

(Editors Note: This review and gameplay of Call Of Duty Ghosts was done on the Xbox 360)