Let’s start with the obvious reasons as to why Ghosts disappointed: campaign gameplay that has never evolved, multiplayer that is also unchanged, the same thing done time and time and time and time again…blah blah blah. You’ve heard that all before about every Call of Duty game. Even Modern Warfare was criticised for not being a departure from the formula of every FPS ever, despite its innovative multiplayer (although I wouldn’t call it all that innovative myself; it wasn’t an original idea, just well executed, I suppose).
I think I’m possibly the only person who doesn’t play Call of Duty for the online multiplayer experience. I’ve never really enjoyed it that much, since the point seems to be to kill enemies to get points to unlock new weapons, and after unlocking every gun in the game you have the honour of being classed as ‘Prestige’ and rewarded by getting to do the whole fucking thing all over again…but with a pretty symbol next to your name. I realised after a few weeks of owning the first Modern Warfare that I was hooked on unlocking things rather than enjoying the gameplay, a direct contrast to the Battlefield series of games, in which I actually like the multiplayer experience. The key difference is that in the Battlefield universe, the maps are enormous and unrestrictive, and vehicles can actually be piloted and driven as opposed to simply arriving on the scene and doing all the hard work for you.
I loved the Zombies mode on the Treyarch COD titles, and the Extinction mode (a similar survival experience in which one is pitted against aliens rather than the undead) in ‘Ghosts’ is the best thing about the new game, but I think I’m the only person on this planet who actually plays through the campaign mode. Most times the campaigns are fun due to the story rather than the gameplay, and I’ll endure repetitive enemies and one-time-use gadgets if I can experience a compelling tale with good acting (performances from Kevin McKidd and Michael Rooker stand out), since military thrillers are amongst my favourite mode of story. Ghosts disappointed on this front more than I’d ever dared imagine.
Firstly, I should explain why previous COD campaigns were so good. Modern Warfare 1 made the generic setting of Middle Eastern conflict and post-Soviet espionage seem novel, and I particularly enjoyed the way in which it portrayed British and American soldiers working together, something that happens frequently in real life but rarely within the entertainment industry, since the Americans still prefer to think of us as the bad guys. The sequels expanded nicely on the plot and rounded it off to a nice conclusion, and I found portions of the second game particularly interesting since towards the end of the campaign, the player assumes control of two framed British soldiers who do battle with American enemies. What a massive departure from tradition, and a welcome one at that.
The ‘Black Ops’ story line took a different route, expanding on World at War’s WW2 setting by taking us into the Cold War and then into the future. Black Ops II, the final game in the series, follows a similar plot line to Skyfall, the latest 007 offering; a Hispanic terrorist is always one step ahead of the government and causes chaos on a massive scale before finally being stopped…although in all honesty, I enjoyed the Black Ops story rather more, probably because I’d expected better from the Bond franchise after Casino Royale. Never mind.
‘Ghosts’ is almost a reboot of the series, since it does not feature characters from either COD timeline. Within the first few minutes of dialogue, I felt that this game was a joke.
We’re introduced through an arty cinematic cutscene to the Ghosts, an elite American special forces unit who earned their name after defeating hundreds of enemy soldiers with only a handful of operatives, their victory won by the men smearing themselves in the mud of the ground they fought on, disappearing into the ground and then popping up again to kill their enemies…the dialogue was so cheesy and overdone I couldn’t help but laugh at it. Let me explain why, as a former soldier, the story of ‘Ghosts’ and the Ghosts themselves makes no sense.
I expect a certain amount of believability in games these days, and I think a lot of other people do, too; the release of that Nuke Dukem 3D game recently proved that his era is long over. Now, I know that there are no aliens in real life like there are in Halo, but I will concede that the universe is a big place and there’s probably something out there somewhere, and the Halo franchise is set five hundred years in the future wherein humanity is more able to discover other species and explore various galaxies…and Halo is ultimately a work of science fiction. Call of Duty impressed me with its realism, at least in the story department; it isn’t too much of a stretch to think that Russia will go to war with the USA and NATO one day (as in Modern Warfare’s universe), unlikely though it may seem, nor was the plot of Black Ops too far-fetched. As far as I know, the Soviets did experiment with sleeper agents and hypnotherapy (Black Ops I), and tension between China and the US isn’t too hard to imagine either, to say nothing of a capable terrorist exploiting the very fundamental flaws in US military intelligence/security (Black Ops II). After all, it’s happened enough times already, hasn’t it?
‘Ghosts’ takes us into a world that makes no sense at all. We’re told that the oil in the East has dried up, and now South America is the dominant global power due to its apparent abundance of natural resources…it has also become one nation, namely ‘The Federation’. When the characters at first began honking about ‘The Federation’, at first I thought they meant Russia, but apparently not; they were referring to the new South American superstate. Anyway, The Federation, having control of the world’s natural resources, invades the United States. ‘Why?’ I demanded of my television, though the screen didn’t provide me with many answers.
This is one of the biggest things that makes no sense about the plot. If you were South America and you controlled such an overwhelming amount of oil and gas, why would you need to invade anyone? The truth is that you simply wouldn’t: you’d just set the prices of oil and gas at an unreasonably high rate, like Russia does now, and enjoy the profits. If that was what they’d done in the story, and the US had attacked The Federation in response, I’d understand it, but they could never put that in a game. It would make America look bad, and they probably had enough of that when an Englishman and a Scotsman were killing Yanks in Modern Warfare 2.
On to the Ghosts themselves. They’re an elite special forces unit…so mysterious…so elite…they go behind enemy lines…they fight against numerically superior forces…and they’re utterly pointless. Their job description (which is related to the player again and again over the course of the game) already comes under the remit of a whole host of already-existing US military units, the most obvious ones being Delta Force and DEVGRU (also known as Seal Team 6, though quite what the difference between Seal Team 6 and Seal Teams 1-5 and 7-10 is nobody seems to really know. They all seem to more or less do the same job). I suppose the makers’ get-out clause for that scenario is that apparently much of the southern USA was blown up in an orbital bombardment and hence many of the SEALs/Delta/Rangers/Green Beret/CIA black ops/Marine Force Recon were wiped out, but I find it very hard to believe all the US special forces were destroyed in the strike because a) there’s too many bloody versions of ‘special forces’ in the US military as shown a few sentences ago (its nothing if not unwieldy) b) as far as I know they’re scattered all over the country and c)…I don’t have a c). It’s just a ridiculous idea.
The game was so obviously written by overweight, wannabe, patriotic military fanboys it’s enough to sicken you. Take the opening monologue. ‘They covered themselves in the mud and the dirt around them to make themselves invisible…’ or whatever the hell it says, referring to how the Ghosts were given their name. The truth is it’s called camouflage, and it is hardly a new concept in military circles…and I’ve just watched that video again. Fifteen Americans against hundreds, it says, ‘with one of their number who went to lead the occupants of a hospital away to safety in the night’. Surely if one of them could extract hundreds of hospital patients during the night, they could have all gone? Fourteen against hundreds…it’s just a pathetic homage to the Spartans at Thermopylae it isn’t even subtle, and it sets the tone for the fist-pumping ‘U-S-A! U-S-A!’ feel of the game.
The main characters are two brothers, their father, and some bastard called Rorke who used to be a Ghost but then sided with the Federation after being captured and tortured. Rorke’s face is so plain and unmemorable I actually thought the character model was unfinished (a departure from previous COD villains like Menendez, Shepherd and Zakaev), and it’s impossible to connect with the characters on any level. I initially liked the two brothers at the beginning of the game, who have to run through their hometown when it’s being bombarded, but then the story cut straight to the future with no development at all, wherein the former civilians are now some sort of US special forces soldiers…but not Ghosts…but not regular soldiers either…God alone knows. The bit when they actually become Ghosts made me laugh so hard my wife thought I was having a stroke. The brothers are under the impression their father has been blown up with his office, and are taken into a helicopter by Ghost rescuers. ‘Your father isn’t dead,’ a masked Ghost tells them. ‘He was never there.’ he then removes his mask, and wow! It’s their father! Revealing himself in such a corny and overdone way that not even the most desperate 1980s action movie director would consider it. Add to that the brothers are then made ‘Ghosts’ simply by being given masks and/or face paint, I’m validated in my opinion that there is no point in the Ghosts even existing. What, made into “elite special forces” with no further training or screening at all? You see? No difference between the Ghosts and whichever unit the brothers came from. Ha. Take that Infinity Ward.
I think the lack of motive given for The Federation’s invasion of the USA could actually be considered a form of racism. Is there some kind of unsubtle connection between a horde of hispanics forcefully charging over the American border and the USA’s current immigration problems? Probably. I can almost see an overweight game designer wiping his mouth on a grubby sleeve and saying ‘Who cares why they’re here, man? They don’t pay taxes!’. Who knows? I know I wouldn’t be happy with the game’s story if I was Mexican-American or Puerto Rican.
I know what you’re thinking now; COD isn’t about the campaign. Not in the eyes of you, the gamer, maybe, but if the developers see things the same way, why did they spend so much time on it? Why bother with the actors, the cheesy patriotic story? If they didn’t care, why not just sell it as a multiplayer game only? It seems to be what people really buy it for, anyway (and before you ask, I didn’t buy the game, it was a gift, and no, I’m not ungrateful).
What the story also lacked was that unlike its predecessors, absolutely nothing of the rest of the world was shown. In the Modern Warfare series, we got to play as British and Russian characters as well as the Americans, and at least Black Ops managed to rope in China and Russia, even though it pretended Europe didn’t exist (a popular American opinion these days. I don’t know why they hate us so much now…probably because Europeans don’t like them all that much and they’ve finally realised it. But you have to understand, Yanks, nobody wanted Iraq in 2003, and we’re all pretty bloody tired of you saying you’re “Irish” or “Italian”…not that we dispute your heritage, we just don’t understand why you idolise Europe’s two most useless peoples and despise the British, French, Spanish and Germans…who between them have conquered the planet several times over. Just saying. If you’re looking for badassery, forget the “fighting Irish” and the Italian mafia). Call of Duty: Ghosts managed to make it appear that the rest of the planet didn’t exist; nothing was mentioned of Russia or the Middle East, the two traditional breeding grounds for America’s enemies, but rather more hurtful was the absence of American allies. I find it hard to believe that if America was attacked, the UK, Commonwealth & Empire wouldn’t be there to help them (although they didn’t help us in the Falklands…actually that’s unfair, they gave logistical assistance and apparently donated some of the first Stinger missiles which were used to great affect against Argentine aircraft).
So yeah. That sums up most of my opinions…I’ve never done a game review before, since there’s never really been a need; I like most of the games I own, and I’ve never felt the need to vent in this way. But never mind. Leave your thoughts below…or don’t.