In the grand tradition of games criticism, we all sit in a dusty, midnight circle, chat by the crackling fire, and warm ourselves on the shells of badly reviewed videogame cases. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, and when we wish to blood new members of our particular coven, we send them forth to retrieve the scalp of a major franchise.
Call of Duty Ghosts has become one of these games. It's no longer about how it performs as advertised, or even how we experience it from a purely entertainment stand point. Activision's FPS goliath has become purely ideological and you will either love or hate it depending on which side of the divide you stand upon.
Because Black Operatives 'aint got shit on Ghosts
I could call forth to the wind that I will buck this trend but it is impossible to remain impartial when it comes to Infinity Ward's software. You either sit firmly in the camp that swears down a headset and lines up at midnight to get a copy, or you simply sniff with indifference and mutter something about the death of originality. Admittedly I'd probably put myself in the latter camp.
But in all honesty, with all ideals put to one side, the issue of copy-and-paste ignored for a second, Call of Duty Ghosts is a worthwhile, entertaining, and acceptable entry into the, now, 10+ instalment strong series.
This does however, mark something of a watershed moment for Infinity Ward and the franchise as a whole. While each sequel is doomed to become somewhat derivative of the last, Ghosts actively parodies its own cannon. This isn't a product based on iteration of design, but one instead of trying to "outdo" the last, and there's quite a lot to trump.
Where do you go when you've decimated huge swathes of Russians, detonated large portions of main land USA, committed ill-advised terrorist attacks in airports, and rode a horse into battle whilst holding a bazooka?
You go the hell to space that's where! Ghosts seems like an exercise in the fantastical, and whatever tone the initial Modern Warfare set out to achieve way back when, this newest iteration of combat is a far cry from where we started in 2007, and a distant speck from the original Call of Duty games.
Within the first fifteen minutes of this latest FPS schlock, you find yourself surviving an orbital strike on earth, navigating your way through an apocalyptic earthquake-come-nuclear-attack parkour style, and engaging in a gun fight with hijacking astronauts. And that's the first fifteen minutes. How do you follow that up?
Apparently with a dog. You follow it all up with an Alsatian called Riley that is more stealthy than Solid Snake, and more dangerous than a BFG (that's the gun, not the giant). The lovable canine, subject of much pre-release marketing, is some sort of cyborg, mind-melding, freak pooch, that can be controlled by the whims of a tablet PC. Don't think about it too hard. Seriously. It isn't explained. Stick with the facts. It's essentially an iOS controlled dog. It's cool. Honestly.
After a few moments within the game, it becomes quite pleasingly obvious that Infinity Ward have indeed jumped the shark and basically everything else they can think of. They have gone from over-the-top action fare, to simply parodying action films and their previous work. This isn't entertaining fiction laid across similar lines, but instead something worthy of Leslie Neilsen. Throw in a few 'boner' gags, and OJ Simpson and you'd have Zucker movie.
All of which isn't to say that Ghosts is bad, because it is rather on the fun side, it's just that it is no longer to be taken serious. Like the latest Van Damme film, or basically anything with Christopher Walken in, it's meant to be taken with a certain degree of fun - because it seems that Infinity Ward checked out giggling quite some time ago.
Shoot, shoot, set piece, set piece, blah, blah
The rest of the experience is exactly what you might expect. Satisfying gun fights, spectacular set pieces, and more than a few moments of "did that just happen?". Parody or not, Activision's merry band of studios know how to put together a shooty skirmish, and Ghost's is no different.
Unfortunately however, this doesn't extend to any sort of competency when it comes to porting their goods over to the PC. While Ghosts is everything you have come to expect from CoD, good or bad, it is actually in a pretty horrific state this side of the console and PC divide.
The main offender is general stability. The software creaks and crackles whenever entering open environments, struggles with framerate, and barely looks like a brand new title. Adding insult to injury, Ghosts also comes with a 6GB RAM restriction, an entry requirement that refuses to even launch the game if every stick of microchips isn't present - even though the game itself actually only ever uses 2GB of the aforementioned.
For such a big publisher these oversights are almost comical. For the world's biggest gaming franchise, the fact that the code is this unstable is telling of where we are with the Call of Duty series. Passable is basically the mandate sent from on high, and with a 2 year development cycle, is there room for anything else?
But then we have the headlined event for most: multiplayer. Oddly, Cod has managed to sidle its way into the upper echelons of online deathmatch, without really ever flexing much in the way of clout or smarts. Ghosts, like its predecessors, is still the fairly bland, run-and-gun affair it has always been.
Battles range from close corridor crawls to wide open sniper rifle festivals, with neither really bringing any sort of excitement along with them. Ghosts essentially boils down to who is seen first, and who can squeeze the mouse quickest. While this is standard fare for most death match-em-ups, it makes for a fractured and particular jerky experience. There's just no rhythm to be found in a CoD game.
Sure it looks impressive here, but performance is a lottery system by system
The alarming lack of community is also evident on PC. While friends are catered for in matchmaking, Infinity Ward fail to make use of the PCs ability to take games that one step further. There's nothing in the way of custom maps, a startling missed opportunity within Steam Workshop, and just a real dearth of personality. Ultimately, the multiplayer might be grand in the land of consoles, but alongside Planetside 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Team Fortress 2 etc... Ghosts comes off looking just fairly humdrum.
Enjoyable but highly flawed. Replace South Americans with Russians and it's every other entry in the series. Call of Duty Ghosts won't win over new fans, but neither will it loose the faithful. Parody runs high, but I doubt my words will sway you either way: you know if you're going to buy this piece of software, regardless of any review.
Best Gaming Moment:Witnessing new and inventive ways to kill enemies.