Game Engine, Image Quality, And Settings
Call of Duty: Ghosts is built on the IW6 engine, a modified and updated version of the technology used in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Some of the improvements include Pixar's SubD surfaces, which increases the detail of models as you get closer, real-time HDR lighting, Iris Adjust technology (which mimics how eyes react to changing lighting conditions), new animation systems, fluid dynamics, interactive smoke, displacement mapping, and dynamic multiplayer maps.
Like most recent Call of Duty games, it looks quite good, but then breaks down under scrutiny. There are far too many objects and characters that lack shadows, even at the highest detail settings, and especially when you zoom in with a scope. Crysis and Battlefield are both a solid step above what Ghosts offers.
One of my pet peeves on the PC is that Call of Duty: Ghosts does not natively support multi-display gaming. The developers hide behind the excuse that wider fields of view give certain players an unfair advantage. But if that's the case, why not enable technologies like Eyefinity or Surround in single-player mode? Why not allow competitive leagues to opt in or out when it comes to more expansive views? This issue might be more complicated than I'm giving it credit for, but it seems shameful for a high-profile title to lack multi-monitor support in 2013.
From a PC enthusiast's perspective, the Image Quality setting is perhaps most irritating. You're given the choice between Very Low, Low, Normal, High, and Extra. But the problem is that this term is misleading; it doesn't control game effects like shadows. Instead, it manipulates render quality. Every setting except Extra renders at a lower target than the resolution you choose. For example:
On my high-end Core i7, Radeon R9 280X-equipped PC, Call of Duty: Ghosts automatically chooses the High option, which renders to a target lower than my selected output, resulting in terrible blurriness. This may fly as a necessity in the console world, but I'm on a PC for a reason. In my opinion, two things: first, call the setting what it is, a render scale, and second, don't auto-select anything except for Extra on a PC. There's no better way to give away a poor port than a legacy switch needed for suitable performance on a fixed platform.
We tested low, medium, and high-end settings that will work on a wide range of PC graphics hardware. Our low preset implies minimum detail levels across the board except for image quality (set to normal), and textures (set to auto). Our high preset involves image quality set to Extra, depth of field enabled, SSAO set to Low, anisotropic filtering at Normal, distortion enabled, anti-aliasing set to FXAA, textures set to High, and terrain detail and motion blur disabled. Our ultra preset is performed with every setting at the maximum detail option, and anti-aliasing set to SMAA.
Our test system, detailed on the next page, hosts 8 GB of system RAM. On release, Call of Duty: Ghosts required at least 6 GB, but was since patched to operate with less memory.