Call of Duty: Ghosts singleplayer review: An overly patriotic mess that moves the series backwards

Call of Duty: Ghosts

By on November 5, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Jokes about Call of Duty‘s pro-USA skew have always been fairly flimsy — the game tests a fictional America’s resilience, but the country hasn’t typically been tested alone. In Treyarch’s Black Ops series the game even dared to raise some questions about America’s real-life methods while it traipsed across the world.

The jingoistic, pro-USA propaganda in Call of Duty: Ghosts is no joke.

Ghosts creates monsters out of South America, where all the countries combine to create a “Federation” designed to take over the USA — a plotline seemingly ripped directly from justifications for Operation Wetback. The game never provides justification for this. In its prologue it describes a period of international adjustment where Middle Eastern oil reserves are depleted and the Federation becomes a new superpower, but the motive for South America to attack remains unclear the entire game.

The story begins with your father retelling Frank Miller’s version of the Battle of Thermopylae (with a twist) before you hike back home, where your home town gets blown up. Up in space the Federation has broken “the treaty” (one apparently formed because of South America’s insatiable desire for North America) and taken over the ODIN kinetic weapon platform.

The space missions are actually fairly interesting, even if they do suffer in direct comparison to Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. There’s no conservation of momentum, so the player moves freely through the 3D space seemingly unaided (except when using their jetpacks to ascend or descend) — a fact made odder because your companions always push off nearby environmental elements to move around.

Nevertheless, when the game puts the player in orbit it looks fantastic and feels like something more than just a mindless run-and-gun. This goes double for the fantastic underwater mission — Call of Duty: Ghosts is at its best when the player is suspended in a 3D space, even if you’re not truly free to roam around it.

Elsewhere the game is a mess.

The progress Treyarch made with Black Ops 2 was impressive, if tempered by comparisons with its contemporaries in Dishonored and Far Cry 3. It offered players the chance to actually have an impact on the game world, both through the open-ended Strike Force missions and through in-game choices – choices players might not even know they were making. The Eastern European influence was deeply evident in the game design, and it felt like actual positive growth for a series many felt was stagnating.

Call of Duty: Ghosts is regressive, eliminating any concept of choice in favour of linear stealth sections to pad out the sprint-to-the-end philosophy the COD series is famous for. Hiding in tall grass appears to be the major extent of the game’s stealth elements — this goes for both humans and the moments when you control Riley the dog.

Riley’s existence is almost pointless, by the way. He exists as an emotional anchor, I suppose, because it’s not enough that you spend the entire game hanging out with both your brother and father — you need to care about a dog as well. The game’s start, where your dad tells you his deep military parable, doesn’t feature the dog at all — so Riley’s not some long-standing family pet. Worse, you’re a silent protagonist so the only connection you actually make with him is via wi-fi, when you control his actions using a tablet. Most of the time you instead watch him bond with your brother “Hesh”, and so the relationship between you and the dog doesn’t really exist.

The silent protagonist thing is extremely jarring in Call of Duty: Ghosts. As Logan Walker, it just seems like you might actually be a mute — your father treats you like a mute, always talking at you and not to you — but the game often thrusts you into the boots of other characters who you know can talk. At the very start, in the first space mission, mission control pleads for someone to talk to them only to announce a “Loss of Signal” (an announcement you’re able to hear because they haven’t actually lost the signal… you just won’t talk to them).

While the single-player game is technically sound, it does vary in visual quality. Some levels — like the aforementioned space and underwater missions — look gorgeous and run beautifully. Others look quite ugly — whenever the game ventures into areas with a lot of red, the texture quality seems to degrade and the game looks poor. This isn’t a huge problem, but once again it jars the senses to go from a gorgeous level to something subpar.

Call of Duty: Ghosts’ singleplayer campaign has a litany of problems, most of which stem from the writing itself. It features an actual gun in a Chekhov’s Gun scenario which never appears to have any importance, for crying out loud. At one point you actually return to your childhood home in “No Mans Land” and instead of grabbing family photos your brother grabs his favourite gun from childhood — and then it’s never mentioned again.

It’s such blatantly, obviously bad storytelling it borders on the bizarrely satirical. There is nonsense deep in spoiler territory which nearly convinced me that the game was a clever parody sending up videogames, but instead I was simply convinced that Stephen Gaghan — who earned the sole writing credit for the game — respects neither videogames nor its audience enough to put in a coherent and decent effort.

Still, there is hope. If you told me eight years ago that the team who made Call of Duty 2: Big Red One would one day be the lead designers for the franchise and (seemingly) the only team with some idea of what they’re doing with the series, I’d have laughed in your face. Maybe Call of Duty: Ghosts is Infinity Ward’s Big Red One — a stumbled first attempt at a series they don’t yet understand.

Regardless, if you typically play Call of Duty for the singleplayer experience you would do well to skip this game.

Good:

  • Game nails movement in a truly 3D space, even without proper conservation of momentum.
  • Nobody is actually forcing you to play the singleplayer campaign.
  • If MST3K ever reunited and did videogames, this one is lobbed at the plate for them.

Bad:

  • Why won’t anyone tell me why the South Americans want to invade the USA?
  • The game is so US-focused that even Canada doesn’t get a look in.
  • When [redacted] and your [redacted] how the hell does [redacted]?

games.on.net attended the Call of Duty: Ghosts review event in Los Angeles from October 21 – 24. Travel and accommodation costs were met by Activision.

This review conducted on a PS4 version of the game, as no PC review code was available. We’ll have a PC-specific follow-up article as soon as possible.

Screenshots used in this review provided by Activision.

Call of Duty: Ghosts is available on Steam for $89.99.

14 comments (Leave your own)
Ralph Wiggum

Woo, bargain bin buy for me then, moreso than usual. I only ever played CoD for the singleplayer.

 

“If MST3K ever reunited” – Rifftrax! Not all the same guys, but still good.

Also, for anyone who has played this on older machines, how is the performance? I’ve got a Q6600/GTX260/4GB RAM and I’d be keen to play this for some casual multiplayer but it looks like COD has finally gotten some new visuals, and I’d be worried the game would chug.

 

NerdCubed is going to go nuts over this. :)

 

And just like that they killed a franchise.

 

May I suggest that you link to a site that is cheaper than Steam? Cas was saying he got his from EB Games in physical form for under $70 and I got mine from CJS for $50. Anyone paying $89 and is aware of alternatives is a fool.

 

It’s scary to see that IGN [most likely the biggest games website] gives the game an 8 but praises the single player as exceptional..

That is just worrying..

 

silenceoz:
It’s scary to see that IGN [most likely the biggest games website] gives the game an 8 but praises the single player as exceptional..

That is just worrying..

No one trusts IGN to actually do a good, critical review anymore.

 

Yeah i think if anyone is relying on IGN to give an honest review, they need their head checked… seriously get to a doctor now

 

So…this game’s storyline is basically a reboot of Red Dawn in game form? The only CoD I’ve ever played is the first one, and I quite liked that game’s single player campaign.

And yes, the steam price is beyond ridiculous, but you know people will pay it regardless. Sick of price gouging.

 

Haven’t read this review all the way through yet, but I played 2 hours of the campaign and to me it’s great fun.

The first few levels alone blow the whole BF4 campaign out of the water.

It’s typical COD style Michael Bay film fun, nothing more nothing less. Anyone expecting something different is confused.

What has let me down a bit is the graphics. The HD screenshots looked amazing a few months back, but the actual game with everything turned up maxed doesn’t look the same. The AA is the one I hate too, a “smoothing” effect which makes the game look “console-like” (turned it on or off up to you).

In summary, it won’t win any awards for storytelling or similar, but still fun and if u want a good story, go play an RPG.

EDIT: also it’s 50GB download, so if you are limited, get the DVD. Can’t believe they didn’t optimize/compress the graphics and we have such a huge game.

 

felixinside:

It’s typical COD style Michael Bay film fun, nothing more nothing less. Anyone expecting something different is confused.

This isn’t actually the type of gameplay the CoD franchise was built on, sadly it has become this plus story lines that makes absolutely no sense.

 

flabcab: This isn’t actually the type of gameplay the CoD franchise was built on, sadly it has become this plus story lines that makes absolutely no sense.

Well, I’ve been playing COD since part 1 and it’s always been an action corridor shooter, so I really don’t know what you mean.

To highlight my point:

http://www.gametrailers.com/videos/fsdb1x/call-of-duty–ghosts-evolution-of-call-of-duty#activity_feed_dfa09b16_c4de_46a0_83c8_b05562f07b35

 

Nothing beats the original COD especially just after watching Band of Brothers. That campaign in my eyes is still the best of the series.

 
Some_Bored_Dude

So wait and see what Treyarch come up with next year? See if they can save the series… again…?

 
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