It seems like such a long time ago that I was staring in awe at the graphical prowess of Call of Duty 2 on my brand spanking new Xbox 360. In reality, it was only 2005. But look at how far we’ve come. In my mind, Call of Duty 2 is still the best game in the series. Well, the campaign at least. I wonder how many people reading even played CoD2? The series has definitely come along way from its days as a WWII shooter. By the way, what ever happened to all the WWII games? They were once as popular as the ‘near future military shooter’ is now. It’s interesting how things work. Anyway, enough of my rambling, let’s take a look at the latest offering from Infinity Ward: Call of Duty: Ghosts.
To change, or not to change
There’s a good deal of cynicism surrounding the recent Call of Duty titles, despite the fact that they generally score fairly well from the major reviewing sites. And it’s easy to see where this cynicism comes from. Call of Duty, as we all know, is released once a year. The games’ developers alternate between Infinity Ward and Trayarch in order to sustain such a rapid turn-around. This has drawn criticism from many who suggest that Call of Duty is a cash cow, lacking in any creativity or passion, milked to death by Activision. It’s a fair point. It’s hard to shake the feeling when you’re playing Call of Duty that you’ve done it all before. This is most likely a problem that many long running franchises suffer – see Assassin’s Creed, Arkham Origins, Battlefield 4, etc. etc. But it’s far more of an issue in Call of Duty. Why? Well, it’s released every year, the mechanics have remained largely unchanged since the first Modern Warfare, and it’s been running for such a damn long time. That said, the series has had high points – the original Modern Warfare being one, as well as the excellent Black Ops 2.
Those two examples aside, Call of Duty is a series that has not reinvented itself in any meaningful way in a long long time. It’s tried and tested competitive gameplay, despite various tweaks, has remained largely unchanged for years and I don’t think it has been significantly visually upgraded since Call of Duty 3. But is this even a problem? If something plays and sells well, should developers bother changing it? Give them what they want, right? Well, no. I don’t think so. If we’re being really honest, the incremental changes don’t justify one game a year. More maps, weapons, kill-streaks, game-modes and even balancing issues … these are things that justify expansion packs. Not whole games.
So, does Call of Duty: Ghosts buck this trend? I mean, the stage is set. We are on the brink of the next generation. This is a chance for Infinity Ward to really set a marker down … I have to say, I almost had high hopes. I mean, the potential was there was some innovation. Just take a look at the premise of the plot: America is broken as a military force and you play as a sort of elite, hardened soldier survivalist type. Just taking that premise on its own and you think that this Call of Duty might be different. This could be a game of survival – outnumbered and outgunned – trusting on your instincts and resourcefulness to see you through. This could be good.
Let me put you out of your misery. No, Call of Duty: Ghosts does not innovate. Yes, Call of Duty: Ghosts is more of the same. The same game we’ve been playing for the last 8 years. Actually, it’s worse than that. Not only is it pretty much more of the same, but in some ways it’s worse.
Call of Duty by the Numbers
The story plays out much like any recent CoD game. You are an American super soldier kinda guy and you go off to stomp on the evil third world countries who have apparently managed to take out the world’s only military superpower. Despite its promising premise, Call of Duty: Ghosts plays like all the rest. You go into any given situation armed to the teeth and you shoot your way through hundreds of bad guys. Essentially, you go from one scripted sequence to the next. There’s no strategy to speak of. Find a piece of cover, pop your head out, shoot an enemy, and go back into cover. Rinse and repeat until everyone’s dead. Of course, there are things that break up the monotony. You get to fly a helicopter and command a tank, for example. But it’s all so mind numbingly easy. You have your hand held every step of the way and are never allowed the freedom to do what you want. The helicopter, for example, magically pulls up when you get too close to land and the tank handles like a sports car. It’s all so cheap.
Then there’s the dog, Riley, who featured so heavily in the marketing before the game’s release. In real terms, the dog is rarely used. He attacks enemies on your command, or you can control him yourself. But only at certain instances. He’s fairly useful, as his kills do not attract enemy attention, which is odd, because they die very loudly, but this is one of main problems with the campaign – you are given a cool tool to use but you are limited in when you use it. It’s all so scripted and holds your hand so much you don’t really feel you are playing half the time, rather watching someone else play. Add to this bad voice acting, a poorly written script, cliche after cliche, and you get a campaign that is a real chore to play through. There are a couple of highlights – a mission in space and one underwater, but that’s about it. The rest of the campaign is truly CoD by rote – ticking off a check list of things that have to make an appearance.
Let’s move on to multiplayer then, because, similarly to Battlefield, this is quickly becoming CoD‘s main draw. CoD is known for its manic, intense, reflex-based combat where every mistake is punished. Reload at the wrong time? Dead. Stand still for a one second too long? Dead. Sprint round a corner? Dead. It’s extremely addictive and extremely fun. It should be more of the same from Call of Duty: Ghosts then. Well, it’s not. Not really. There are the standard tweaks and changes. Customer characterization has now reached absurd heights. You can play as a woman. There are 15 maps and a couple of new modes. Cranked is kinda fun – if you don’t make a kill in 30 seconds, you explode, which makes for some pretty intense moments. There’s a new Clan Wars feature which allows you to compare your progress with other clans all over the world. Then, of course, there’s the whole dynamic maps thing. Like Battlefield’s Levolution, these are designed to dramatically change the map, midway through a match. Similarly to Battlefield’s Levolution, they’re fun for a while, then the novelty wears off. For the most part, they’re nowhere near as spectacular as Battlefield’s. And they feel, in a way, somehow even more scripted.
The biggest problem, however, I have with Call of Duty: Ghosts‘ multiplayer, is that I never felt compelled to play another round. The maps are probably meticulously crafted to enable fast-paced, twitch gameplay. You never stand still. There is no ‘front line’. You end up getting shot in the back all the time because people spawn all over the place. There’s very little strategy to it. Yes, it’s something that can be mastered, but it’s about physical reflexes, rather than strategic thinking. I don’t know, I’m just not drawn to this type of gameplay any more. Perhaps it’s because I’ve played the excellent Battlefield 3 for so long – in which team work and strategy is vital. Despite, Ghosts‘ almost limitless customization, kill streaks, perks, dynamic maps – it lacks any real depth. It always has done. And for a while, I think, this was OK. But after so long, after we as gamers are offered so much else, Call of Duty has to do more to garner any praise. It’s rested on its laurels for far too long.
– Some set pieces in the campaign are exciting
– High production values
– High levels of character customization
– Still the same twitch gameplay
– Repetitive gameplay in the campaign
– Boring story
– No strategy to multiplayer