Our Call of Duty: Ghosts Review – a shaggy dog story?

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The dominant narrative seems to be “is Call of Duty tired?”. Heck – when I started playing the game I felt almost like a pariah – and when I was enjoying it, I began to worry that I was enjoying something that I shouldn’t. Is CoD a drug? All of the cool kids on Reddit hate it – so what am I doing wrong? Why am I enjoying it?

Despite the naysayers, Ghosts is still a great game… though if you didn’t like the previous games, don’t expect to like the new one as it’s… exactly the same. But this is no bad thing.

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Campaign

So the premise of Ghosts is approximately equally as ridiculous as the previous games in the series – like Modern Warfare. In Ghosts, there’s a war taking place between the United States and a Latin American Federation, which is made up all of the South American countries. Then there’s the Ghosts – a generic elite squad of soldiers who go behind enemy lines and apparently use stealth… but tend to end up shooting their way out in the most outlandish fashion possible. Think Seal Team Six but with added daddy issues. (I’d explain why but that’d spoil the plot).

You probably don’t need me to point out that the plot is pretty silly: why had neither side launched nuclear weapons? It’s an existential war in effect, so it’s not like the nuclear taboo wouldn’t be broken. I guess the lack of nukes though is why the game isn’t over in five minutes, and it isn’t a depressing survival horror game where you’re slowly dying whilst irradiated.

So far then, so Call of Duty. But the game has already had a shootout through the London Underground and trench warfare on the White House lawn – how can it top that?

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The first mission opens with you fixing a space station – gently floating about in space. Then the Russians (or at least people in cosmonaut attire) dock with the space station and… start shooting everyone aboard. In terms of realism, Gravity it ‘aint.

This does, however, set the tone for the rest of the game – which sees you travel the world blowing up oil rigs, sabotaging missiles and possibly committing war crimes. (Gassing a room of bad guys and shooting them without them putting up a fight isn’t really on, is it?).

But what about the dog? For all of the hype, Riley is only used in a couple of missions – and it manages to turn the amusingly ridiculous into the absurd. I think my favourite Riley moment was when – somehow (I’m sure it was explained with some pseudo-science) – you take control of him – your soldier avatar using some sort of tablet device to see what Riley sees. You can then tell Riley what to do – and who to kill. That’s right – you can stealth kill enemies with a dog. Amusingly – when you do get a successful kill the soldier will radio Riley to say “good boy”.

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All in all though – the campaign is, like the games before it, incredibly polished. Each mission is well built, with exciting fixed events punctuated by the standard gunfighting gameplay. Most of the missions throw in something extra. There’s a mission with a stealth stage where you have to creep through the undergrowth silently taking down enemy soldiers, and another where the action flips between flying a plane and bombing from above and fighting the ground war. The only shame really is that given the campaign is so short, these mechanics are only used once.

Multiplayer

So that’s the six hour campaign… but what of the multiplayer? CoD’s multiplayer functionality is something of a proving ground for hardcore gamers – with the best players racking up hundreds of hours play and presumably hundreds of hours of people with headsets insulting their mothers.

Essentially – if you’ve ever played CoD before then it’ll all be very familiar with you – the settings are all the same (deathmatch, capture bases, free-for-all) etc – with weapons upgrades and perks earned by building experience in matches.

Of course – this upgrade system is still problematic as it means that the good players are the ones getting all of the best weapons and guns… whilst us hopeless players are doomed to getting killed every ten seconds by even more tooled-up opponents.

So no surprises here – apart from the fact that you can now play as a female soldier. A small step for feminism in a game so relentlessly macho you’d be forgiven for thinking all of the characters were insecure about their sexuality.

The Verdict

So how’d it do? Well, the easiest way to decide if you should buy Ghosts is simple: if you liked the earlier games in the series then you’ll like this, as it’s very, very similar.

If you’re not a fan then this isn’t going to convert you.

Intellectually, of course, Call of Duty is the gaming equivalent to the Fast & Furious films – loud, brash with a plot that could have been written by a 5 year old (“the man shoots the other man.. then there’s an explosion… and then a car chase…”) – but sometimes you don’t want a savoury snack.

I mean, what would the alternative have been? Call of Duty: Post-Modern Warfare? Where the main characters would have to take down positivism and patriarchal definitions of gender. I’m not sure the level where you feel dejected after your paper is poorly peer reviewed will be quite as exciting as shooting jeeps chasing after you during a car chase across a frozen lake.

Now how about another historical Call of Duty game? Maybe Call of Duty: Napoleonic Warfare?

James O’Malley
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