Here we are again, Call of Duty. We can’t keep meeting like this. Every year we find ourselves rendezvousing, doing the same old dance. Looks like this year you brought your dog Riley along. I really wish you wouldn’t bring pets to a warzone. Are you trying to emotionally manipulate me? Because it’s not working. You’re up to your old tricks again, and while it’s fun to play around with you for a while, I can’t go on like this. You’ll never change, will you? I guess that’s telling, since I keep coming back.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is the latest entry in the long-running franchise, doffing the Modern Warfare and Black Ops monikers for its seventh consecutive annual release. It had all the potential in the world to reinvent and revitalize the series, especially with the impending jump to next-gen consoles, but is content instead to wallow in familiar territory rather than valiantly blazing ahead to forge a new path where reinvention is sorely needed.
Where Black Ops offered some options in the form of branching paths, Ghosts is a linear run-and-gun spectacular that feels hackneyed and tired. The narrative is nearly nonsensical, with a force known as the “Federation” goes back on a treaty with the United States and all hell breaks loose, most noticeably in the form of the destruction of the country via satellite weaponry. I was under the impression we had destroyed said satellite weapon at the beginning of the game in a decidedly nonsensical jaunt through space with one of the only women in the game, who just ends up dying anyway – spoiler alert, but you probably already knew that.
It’s a seemingly endless barrage of drawn-out shootouts, with a little sense of immediacy or action, just a slog through different types of brown environments. The only remotely intriguing aspect is the addition of Riley, your canine companion, who’s painfully under-utilized. He’s around and gives you a reason to care if he takes damage, but ultimately feels like an artificial way to elicit emotion from players. Riley only makes a few appearances and is adorable as all get-out, but feels like an afterthought more than anything.
And then we come to the perennial multiplayer offering. The is the reason so many players continue to flock to the franchise even as it lets us down – it’s more of the dame, with a few new modes to take advantage of, like Search and Rescue or Blitz. They’re interesting alternatives, but favorites like Headquarters were lost as a result. The addition of Extinction as replacement for the always-popular Zombies mode is some gritty fun, but it simply doesn’t do enough to set itself apart from the rest of the Call of Duty releases over the years. For a game meant to cross over into next-gen territory, it feels decidedly mired in familiar convention.
Call of Duty: Ghosts excels at what it sets out to do: creating a slick action shooter that’s essentially the same game we purchase and plow through every year, but it’s still the same-old, same-old. I’m beginning to wonder how long I can continue to write the same thoughts, rearranged in a different order. I want to write a lavish love letter next year. We’ll see.