If you’d have talked to me a month ago, I would’ve passionately defended gaming’s whipping boy Call of Duty. While the series seemed to trip up a bit with Black Ops and Modern Warfare 3, last year’s sequel to the former by Treyarch was a true return to form, both in the incredibly popular multiplayer game mode and the once-popular-now-oft-forgotten single-player campaign. Additionally, a couple of years ago, I would have condemned Treyarch in favour of the all-powerful Infinity Ward, the company behind some of the greatest PC games of all time.
But then came Black Ops 2, and despite the characteristic Call of Duty silliness of the campaign, it made me appreciate that Treyarch can do over the top mayhem as well as Infinity Ward could. And while plenty of video game enthusiasts rightly tend to be disdainful towards contemporary bro-games like CoD, I’ll happily admit to have been a fan right up until a month ago.
Now we have the latest yearly iteration of the franchise, as well as a new sub-series in Call of Duty: Ghosts. From what I gathered thanks to my knowledge of the Modern Warfare sub-series, Ghosts is either based on or inspired by the soldier Ghost who wears a similar mask to that found on the eponymous soldiers. Ghosts introduces a legendary four-man group of stealth-focussed supersoldiers (called the Ghosts) who seem to have the ability to go up against three digits worth of foes, which, despite its silliness, admittedly explains the CoD conundrum that seems to allow a handful of men to blast through an entire army.
The campaign opens with a ridiculous, stereotypical high-octane CoD tale about the Ghosts in the cutscene, before we find that the story is being told by the player-character’s father to the player-character and his older brother. All of a sudden, a tremor shakes the ground beneath their feet and the shit hits the fan. There’s a lot of dust and explosions and, admittedly, exactly what you both expect and want from the opening of a Call of Duty game. Directly following this little sequence is a fantastic scene set in space in which you and another soldier zip around in three dimensions defending an international missile launch satellite from the South Americans. I say fantastic, but in reality this scene demanded a huge amount of suspension of disbelief–I won’t get too far into it, but as Newton’s third law of motion states, every force has an equal and opposite reactive force. If you fire a gun in zero gravity, the recoil would push you back with the equal but opposite amount of force as the bullet (removing energy dispersed in heat I think.) Thus, just one gunshot would send you flying away from your spacecraft (if this is incorrect, please tell me!) Oh, and one more thing, in space even the slightest graze in your spacesuit would cause you to instantly depressurise. All bullets should be insta-kill, both for the player and the enemies. Am I overthinking this? I don’t think so–it was a great sequence regardless, but these little issues totally ruined my immersion in the scenes set in space.
The most disappointing thing I have to say about the campaign is the total lack of capitalisation on the amazing idea of a crew of Ghost supersoldiers. Despite what the game’s subtitle would have you believe, there is not a single scene in the campaign that really makes the most of this idea. There are no stealth sequences that force you to think strategy or guerilla tactics. Instead, it’s just straight up four-guys-demolishing-armies for the most part, interspersed with the-good-army-versus-the-foreigners. There’s an interesting, rather open vehicular battle towards the end, but your tank so viciously overpowers anything thrown at you that on Hardened (the difficulty I played), I didn’t die once.
One of the most heavily marketed aspects of the campaign was the revolutionary fish artificial intelligence. I shot a fish. It didn’t die. I was disappointed. In fact, the underwater sequence as a whole was disappointing, with clumsy gunfights and an incredibly linear battlefield despite the fact that you were IN THE OCEAN. This was most notable in the shark scene, which just seemed a little silly even for Call of Duty. Even more disappointingly, all the interesting new features that Treyarch introduced in Black Ops 2 last year such as that blend of RTS/FPS that I’ve forgotten the name of have just vanished.
Another aspect worth mentioning is the massively publicised (and satirised) inclusion of the dog, a German Shepherd named Riley. Again, despite the potential awesomeness of this feature, Riley only features in a handful of missions and, by the time he is shot and must be carried around in an interminable and totally unbelievable escort mission, the player hasn’t spent enough time with him to develop any sort of emotional connection. In fact, probably the coolest new addition to the campaign is the ability to control Riley, but this only happens in one or two (at most) missions. While it’s fun while it lasts, it simply doesn’t last long enough.
Additionally, while I don’t want to go on about this, I’m impressed that Ghosts finally features a female soldier, and, even better, due to the fact she’s in a spacesuit, she’s not recognisable as female until she speaks. She’s also the player’s commanding officer (is that the correct term?), which is great to see. Unfortunately, she dies within about three minutes of showing up, and the game then descends into the regular sausage-fest that is Call of Duty. This game is set in, what, 202X or something? It’s a start, I guess, but there’s a long way to go.
On the plus side (and an opportunity for a great segue into our next topic,) female characters have finally been added to Ghosts‘ multiplayer segment. They’re not overtly feminised or anything, they’re just regular soldiers, which is really fantastic. It’s a shame, then, that the multiplayer as a whole is incredibly average. Not for lack of effort–Infinity Ward have introduced a whole lot of new gamemodes, such as the interesting but not altogether great Squads mode in which players create a team of custom AI teammates and pit themselves against other players and their teams, and Extinction, which is four-player survival co-op comparable to Treyarch’s classic Zombie mode, except with aliens. New regular MP modes have been added too, such as the explosive mayhem of Cranked, but LAN party staples that were present in Black Ops 2 such as the all-time classic Gun Game and instagib mode One In The Chamber have been inexplicably removed.
Last year, however, Treyarch made an effort to appease the PC market with features that really should be standard, such as an adjustable FOV (field of view) slider. This year’s installment is locked to a ridiculous 65 degrees, which, if I’m being totally honest, gave me headaches and nausea. I’ve never had that sort of reaction from a video game before, so congratulations, I guess. When a fan created a patch to allow players to change their FOV, he/she was sent a cease-and-desist from Activision. And if I’m going to keep picking holes in the PC version, the graphics are genuinely ugly. I’m not being sarcastic when I say that Black Ops 1 and maybe even Modern Warfare 2 looked better.
Call of Duty: Ghosts takes the title of the least innovative entry in a franchise that hasn’t been known for innovation in quite a while. I want you to keep in mind that I went into this game with an open mind and an open heart–I love Call of Duty, and even though it has dipped in recent years I still thoroughly enjoyed every CoD game I’d played, up to this point. Ghosts is an incredibly lacklustre title for such a high-profile series. It’s disappointing on every front, doesn’t reach anywhere near its full potential (does that mean the same thing?), runs abysmally, and is simply not a good game. If I have one major positive, it’s that the very final scene of the single player campaign is incredibly clever, however while I enjoyed the single-player somewhat, it wasn’t enough to make me want to play it again, and whenever I get a Call of Duty multiplayer thirst it will be quenched by Black Ops 2 (or MW2, if I ever find a game without walling players.)
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Call of Duty: Ghosts by Activision.