You've fought this war before.
How do you fix a problem like Call of Duty? After six-years of unprecedented success, it’s still a difficult question to answer. But there is, without a shadow of a doubt, a significant problem.
Today, Call of Duty is a stubborn shell of the wondrous warfare gamers once championed.
Activision has thoroughly enjoyed the spoils of their annualised blockbuster, and deservedly so. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare shaped the future of every FPS that followed, transforming the console shooter into a fully-fledged, hollywood-beating product. They even managed to usurp Halo from the pedestal of online multiplayer popularity.
The explosive, action-packed campaign was bolstered by umpteen memorable moments (I can still remember the ‘All Ghillied Up’ mission like it was yesterday) and the addictive and hotly-contested multiplayer mode, a perfect symphony of skill and competition, would eventually go on to sell the game by itself.
Yes, Call of Duty was a fantastic series.
But not anymore.
Today, Call of Duty is a stubborn shell of the wondrous warfare gamers once championed. Tossed back and forth between Treyarch and Infinity Ward – each developer taking turns to pull the moth-riddled wool over consumers eyes yet again – inevitably, Call of Duty has finally become threadbare. The fact that Ghosts is posing as a launch title for the next-generation of consoles is quite frankly, a disgrace.
Ghost In The Shell
Call of Duty: Ghosts is a prime example of why the series has stagnated. There’s nothing distinctly new to talk about; no innovation, excitement or remotely memorable scenes – we’ve literally done it all before under a different guise.
Any fresh ideas that have been added are haphazardly thrown in, almost cynically kneaded into the Call of Duty dough that has been beaten, rolled out and reshaped more times than I can care to imagine. The addition of a dog, for example, smacks of sheer desperation and adds nothing, literally nothing to the game. If anything, it serves to highlight just how absurd the series has become, especially when Riley – the canine cover model with a taste for human flesh – is the most emotionally engaging character in Ghosts’ pitiful plot.
You play as Logan: a faceless, voiceless soldier who, unsurprisingly, provokes no lasting memory other than representing the on-screen hands that shoot the weapons and which bizarrely disappear when climbing ladders. He can regenerate his health quicker than X-Men’s Wolverine (also called Logan) but he cannot, under any circumstances, open doors unless his squad mates say so.
And that’s your lead character in nutshell. Brilliant.
Logan, of course, is not alone; he’s joined by his brother David “Hesh” Walker and a band of other forgettable military tropes who join together to defeat a crazed mad man who’s set his heart on destroying America with a satellite armed to the hilt with nuclear weapons. No, the plot isn’t half as good as GoldenEye, but at least the Middle East gets a break from playing bad guy for once.
What proceeds after the heart-warming introduction of a father telling two grown men a fairy tale that sounds more like the plot for 300 is a topsy-turvy campaign consisting of space warfare, underwater warfare, aerial warfare and of course, on-foot warfare. Sadly, despite one genuinely interesting mission where you cascade down the side of a skyscraper, Call of Duty: Ghosts follows the same dreary formula as its predecessors. Every level tends to begin with the same hushed whispers, a couple of choreographed takedowns, until everything suddenly goes to pot and spontaneously explodes on demand – one carefully placed pyrotechnic at a time.
The monotonous rhythm of every level is insulting enough, but the familiar grind is harder to bear when you’re pitted against Call of Duty’s vapid, sub-HD visuals and suffocating linearity. There’s no where to go but forwards as you proceed through whack-a-mole shooting galleries filled with hapless enemies and pesky grenade indicators.
Ripping Up The Script
It’s easier than ever to sabotage the once immersive spell that Infinity Ward cast over players in Ghosts. By running past your team mates during missions, you’ll quickly discover the restricted and confined nature that every Call of Duty game imposes: you can’t open doors, take the initiative, be spontaneous or reach certain areas without the help of your AI allies. It made me wonder: for a series which has captivated so many teenagers, it’s remarkable to see so many young, supposedly rebellious spirits happy to sit and take orders as they blindly follow the beat of the developer’s noticeably battered drum.
Online multiplayer is clearly bigger than ever in Ghosts, but it’s simply the same yearly scrap reheated. Only purists will appreciate the superficial changes Infinity Ward has made under the hood, but for everyone else, its the same frenetic, twitch gaming we’ve come to love, albeit with increasing indifference. That being said, it’s still hard to dismiss the game’s multiplayer entirely due to its undeniably addictive nature, and is reason alone that many gamers continue to pick up the game.
One noteworthy addition to Ghosts’ multiplayer is Extinction mode. After Treyarch struck gold with their “zombies” mode, it was only a matter of time before Infinity Ward thought of their own team-survival offshoot. Extinction mode is fairly enjoyable; you and three other team members attempt to progress through the level by holding off a variety of aliens, upgrading weapons, ammo and reviving fallen comrades when necessary, all with the aim of getting the best score and as far as physically possible. It’s a fun enough side-quest, but the slower-paced, panic-inducing zombie mode is still arguably superior.
A review copy of Call of Duty: Ghosts was provided courtesy of Activision. The game was reviewed on Wii U.
It’s impossible to recommend Call of Duty: Ghosts to anyone but the most hardened of fans. Even then, I’d be amazed if they didn’t let out a sigh of resignation at the sorry state of this once exceptional series. The money may be good for Activision, but Call of Duty: Ghosts is a cheap, reconstituted showreel of a game we’ve all played, and paid for, countless times before. Surely now it’s time to give up the ghost, Activision.