I love video games, but it’s rare for me to play them right when they are first released. Normally it takes me a somewhere from a few months to a few years to get around to playing to a game. I’ve got a considerable backlog of games that I’ve been meaning to play and it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve had the time to start chipping away at the list. With that in mind, I though I’d create a new series of posts called Late to the Party, wherein I discuss the games that came out in the preceding years that I’m finally getting around to experiencing. Today’s entry in the series is on Call of Duty: Ghosts.
The Call of Duty games are known primarily for their multiplayer suite of game modes, however since I don’t care about any of those, this commentary will be limited strictly to the singleplayer campaign and the game aspects found in it. Because the game came out three years ago, I think it’s fine to go ahead and summarize the entire storyline, meaning there will be major spoilers in the following paragraph. You’ve been warned.
In the world of Call of Duty: Ghosts, there was some sort of great Middle Eastern crisis/conflict that more or less wrecked the entire region. The traditional global powers (i.e. America, Europe, etc) were crippled by the destruction of so much of the world’s oil production, and into this power gap stepped a unified South America. The South American nations, referred to as the Federation, and with a flag that looks a lot like the EU one, began gobbling up nearby countries in Central America and the Caribbean and challenged America’s status as the world’s preeminent military power. An uneasy truce was established between America and the Federation, which held until the Federation attacked and took over an American space station that controlled a powerful orbital weapon. The weapon was disabled, but not before the Federation used it to bombard American cities along the southern border. The ground invasion followed, and the main part of Call of Duty: Ghosts picks up ten years later, after America has fought the Federation to a stalemate. You play as Logan Walker, who has spent the preceding years fighting the Federation alongside his brother David and their dog, a German Shepherd named Riley. After a few missions you and your brother joins the Ghosts, a special forces team known for always finishing their missions, no matter how seemingly impossible they may be, and for wearing black masks with distinctive white patterns on them. But all is not well in the world of the Ghosts. Indeed, a man named Rourke has been hunting down and killing them, and much of the game revolves around this treacherous former Ghost who is always one step ahead of you. Over the course of the singleplayer campaign, you and your brother spend most of the time deep in enemy territory in locations across Central and South America, uncovering the Federation’s latest plot to end the war and trying to deal with Rourke. Everything comes to a head as you learn that the Federation has reverse-engineered the American orbital weapon from the beginning of the game, has built its own orbital weapons and put them into space, and is about to use them to break the deadlock and end the war. Thus a desperate assault on the orbital weapons and their ground control center is launched, and sure enough Rourke is there for a final showdown. The campaign ends with the Americans having successfully taken control of the orbital weapons and turned them on the Federation, and Rourke seemingly killed by you after you shoot him in the gut. However, a short while after the credits start rolling, it turns out Rourke is not dead, and he captures you, commending your skill and telling you that you would have been a great Ghost. Unfortunately that will not happen because he’s going to make you destroy the Ghosts with him, and the screen fades to black as he drags you away from your wounded brother.
Time to earn the mask
The narratives presented in the Call of Duty series have varied from game to game, ranging from the more historically based ones set in World War 2, to the conspiracy theory and secret history laded Black Ops storyline, to the sheer absurdity that was Modern Warfare 2. Call of Duty: Ghosts is something of an alternate-history story set in what appears to be the very near future. While stories of America under siege are nothing new, I will concede this is the first time I’ve ever heard of South American countries as the perpetrators of an invasion of the United States, so whoever came up with it gets at least a half point for originality. Ludicrous as its premise may be, I would say that the story that unfolds during the game is one of the better ones to come out of the Call of Duty series. As the singleplayer campaigns in Call of Duty games are relatively short, lasting only about seven hours, and with most of your time spent shooting things or running to the next encounter, there’s only so much story that can actually fit in them, but the story in Ghosts works within those parameters. It’s straightforward, but not shallow, and has enough twists and drama to keep you invested in what’s going on. Strong voice acting for most of the characters also goes a long way in selling the story, though there are a few awkward dialogue moments here and there.
Hunting with Riley
In terms of game mechanics, Call of Duty: Ghosts feels very similar to the other Call of Duty games I’ve played, and that’s not a bad thing. Call of Duty games have some of the best game mechanics to be found in the first-person shooter genre, so there’s no real need to change the core of how the game functions with each new iteration of the series. Movement, aiming, shooting, throwing grenades, and all the other primary mechanics work very well. The only changes or additions are a few ones that apply to specific missions, and none of them gave me any problems. There are three missions, one underwater and two in outer space, where you have to deal with navigating zero gravity environments (ok, so underwater technically is not a zero gravity environment, but it’s close enough that astronauts use it for training), but the game solves this issue by reassigning the two grenade buttons to instead be responsible for ascending and descending. Simple problem, simple solution. The other notable new game mechanic, and my favorite one of the whole game, is your dog, Riley. There are two sections of the game where you directly control Riley, sending him to scout an area and take out a few guards along the way. Playing from Riley’s perspective was an interesting change of pace and had a nice predator vibe to it, as Riley would stalk through the tall grass and the shadows, infiltrating enemy bases and sometimes sneaking up on an unsuspecting guard before lunging at him. In addition to those sections of the game, whenever you’re on a mission and Riley has come along, you can tell him (actually, I just realized that I’ve always assumed Riley was male when it might not have been stated which gender Riley is) to attack a particular enemy, and Riley will courageously run forward and maul them. In a few of the previous Call of Duty games you sometimes get attacked by dogs, so having one at your disposal almost feels like you’ve turned the tables on your enemies. Of course, Riley is a dog, so he doesn’t have a gun, and like humans he is not fond of being shot, so you have to be selective in which targets to send him after. But when he does attack he’s almost like a living bullet, and every time I ordered Riley to run out and attack an enemy, the thought in my head was “go get ’em Riley!” As a final note on game mechanics, I do have to say that Ghosts is probably the easiest Call of Duty game that I can remember. I played the game on normal difficulty, and except for a few points in the game where the difficulty strangely spiked, I hardly ever died or felt particularly threatened by the enemy soldiers I was fighting.
Assaulting the ground array
As the first Call of Duty game to premier on the Xbox One/PS4 generation, it’s no surprise that Ghosts has roughly the same graphical quality as the Call of Duty that immediately preceded it, Black Ops 2. Some of the textures were more detailed and a few visuals here and there looked better, but otherwise you could be fooled into believing that it was a Xbox 360/PS3 game. That’s not to say it’s a bad looking game by any means, and I was pleased to note that, like other Call of Duty games preceding it, Ghosts keeps a steady framerate of 60 frames per second, meaning there’s no slowdown or stuttering of what’s happening on screen, even during the game’s more hectic sections. The audio of Ghosts is top-notch, with gunfire, explosions, men shouting, running engines, and the other sounds of war forming a chaotic symphony during firefights, and footsteps, rustling leaves, whispers, and distant noises either calming nerves or building tension in the game’s quieter moments. In the music department Ghosts serves up the standard mix of orchestral pieces you expect from a game like Call of Duty. The music compliments the game well, and though it’s somewhat formulaic I found myself listening to the game’s soundtrack after I had finished the game just to enjoy hearing some of the tracks again.
Though not the best Call of Duty game, Ghosts is a solid addition to the series, at least in terms of the singleplayer campaign and the game elements related to it. The story may have a silly premise, but it’s not a bad one, and I would be interested to see it continued. Also I want more Riley. Any sequel to Ghosts needs to have Riley in it. Go get ’em Riley.