Played the new Call of Duty yet? Let me save you the trouble. It’s basically the action bits from a bunch of Bond films (not the good ones, mind) casually blended with the one-liners Die Hard rejected for being a ‘bit transparent’, all held together with some obvious plot devices. In other words, it sucks. And it’s the final evidence that the whole Call of Duty series has reached its sell-by date.
In case you’re not up-to-date on the whole Call of Duty thing, here’s the quick version: CoD 1, 2 and 3 were all WWII FPS games that were pretty decent. Call of Duty 4, also known as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, was an epic modern-era shoot-’em-up that was notable for its awesome graphics, non-vomit-inducing storyline, and for including a character named ‘Soap’ who had a thick Scottish accent and punched people in the face a lot.
Tell me this guy isn’t an absolute dude.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was pretty seminal. It combined surprisingly realistic (and fun!) gameplay with hands-down the best multiplayer at the time, in the process redefining modern first-person shooters. But in the six years since, Call of Duty has fallen somewhat by the wayside.
The follow-up to Modern Warfare was World at War, a passable return to the franchise’s original WWII roots. The problems started with Modern Warfare II, the direct follow-up to the insanely profitable Modern Warfare. Only, it wasn’t really a follow-up. Rather, the same characters and gameplay were thrown into a vaguely-reworded script that substituted good writing for over-the-top visuals and basically-unending cutscenes. The multiplayer in particular was impressive for its lack of new features and blatant commercialisation — user-created maps were restricted, forcing gamers down the path of painfully expensive downloadable content. Where reviewers were calling Modern Warfare ”solid gold”, Modern Warfare II got labelled “limited”.
Then, in a desperate bid to keep things a little fresh, Activision came up with Call of Duty: Black Ops. Set in the Cold War — a first for the Call of Duty series — Black Ops was developed by Treyarch, a different studio than the Modern Warfare devs, who hail from Infinity Ward. Although the storyline was better written than the nausea-inducing efforts of MW2, the game was a little buggy, but generally well received.
The final instalment in the Modern Warfare trilogy came next: Modern Warfare 3. If MW2 was a poor effort to capitalise on Modern Warfare‘s success, then Modern Warfare 3 was just taking the piss. Although the technical chops of the game are without doubt, it’s just MW2 with a map pack, leading even the Guardian to label it “the most hated game on the web“.
Black Ops 2, set a little in the future, came and went; but most were waiting for the latest instalment in the Modern Warfare trilogy. Now, obviously, Activision realised by this point that there was no hope of releasing a MW4, as they didn’t want a horde of angry gamers outside their HQ with actual pitchforks. Rather, a new storyline was invented — Ghosts, the game that launched this week to much internet fanfare.
Sadly, Ghosts is ultimately terrible. The single-player feels woefully like Activision paying lip-service to the notion of a single-player campaign — very short, a total rail shooter where all the plots are nicked from blockbuster movies or previous CoD instalments. There’s a bit where the bad guy is plucked from a moving plane, totally lifted from The Dark Knight Rises; a space-station shootout that screams Moonraker; and an oil-rig platform takedown that’s basically a re-jig of Modern Warfare 2. Worse, they’ve completely re-used a cutscene from Modern Warfare 2 as demonstrated in the above video, with the sort of laziness that comes only from extreme complacency.
Even the multiplayer, which is really what everyone buys CoD for, reeks of boredom in Ghosts. Aside from the standard game modes, the only real innovations here are the ‘Infected’ zombie-style gameplay — a shameless Halo copy — and a four-player Extinction game, which is a superb mod of Black Ops‘ zombie mode, but only has one map, limiting the amount of time you can spend playing it before you have to go find more beer.
Ghosts, then, is a depressing summary of where Call of Duty is set to go. Rather than using the opportunity of a new storyline and new consoles to completely re-invent things, Activision has rummaged around in the spare parts bin (and not just their own spare parts bin) to cobble together a game in time for launch. Yes, people will buy and play Ghosts, but not quite as many as the previous Call of Duty titles — and, dare I say, not quite as many as Battlefield 4.
What Activision’s done, then, is demonstrated exactly how you can take an industry-leading cash cow, and flog the poor thing into the ground.