BACK in May, Activision issued a release to its investors promising a “leap forward” for the tenth instalment of Call of Duty, comprising a new engine and an “all new gameplay experience” for the franchise.
Call of Duty: Ghosts - Xbox 360 (reviewed) / Playstation 3 / Wii U / PC; also available on Xbox One / Playstation 4
Score: 7.9 / 10
“Everyone was expecting us to make Modern Warfare 4, which would have been the safe thing to do,” explained Mark Rubin, Infinity Ward’s executive producer.
“But we’re not resting on our laurels.”
Six months later, it is evident that change is an entirely subjective notion. Contrary to its bold pledges, Activision has not performed extensive surgery on its billion dollar baby so much as pumped it full of steroids in the hope that spectacle will be perceived as a valid form of evolution.
‘A monument to unbridled absurdity’
Even in an industry hopelessly in love with the immoderate and the profligate, Call of Duty: Ghosts is without peer, a monument to unbridled absurdity. It is a biochemical experiment masquerading as a video game, waging an orchestrated and relentless sensory assault upon the hypothalamus from first moment to last. If 2007’s Modern Warfare was Activision’s Goldfinger, Ghosts is its Moonraker - thin on concept, yet bulked up with ADHD pageantry.
It is a comparison borne not only from its opening mission in space, but rather the restless hi-octane stomp that constitutes the campaign, a battle fought on land, underwater and atop clattering locomotives. There are missions with subtle and pleasing changes in pace, especially the skyscraper setting of Federation Day, yet they are insufficient in number and drowned out by the cavalcade of action.
The efforts to introduce a new mechanic via Riley the German Shepherd are noble, but fall short, playing like the RC-XD from Black Ops. Nowhere do you encounter the choreographed discretion of missions like Modern Warfare’s All Ghillied Up, which provided an ebb to the flow of the rest of the game. In Ghosts, flow reigns supreme, and despite Infinity Ward’s Zidane-like flair for big set pieces, it can prove overbearing and one-note.
The meat of the game, multiplayer, has been given one subtle and beneficiary tweak, reigning in the power and quantity of air-based killstreaks, meaning the skies above are no longer a hazard to be avoided. Cranked, meanwhile, is a new mode that thwarts the plans of campers, insisting that players must claim a scalp every 30 seconds, otherwise they themselves will perish.
The formula is otherwise recognisably Call of Duty, and depending on your affection for the series that will read as an endorsement or a warning. There are a few other outlandish twists - Treyarch’s zombies mode is replaced by aliens - but the game serves up a calorie-packed portion to those raised on its diet of instant gratification. Taken in isolation, it is a very fine title indeed; viewed as part of the canon, it is a caricature-cum-calibration of what went before.
‘Risks need to be taken’
As we move towards a new generation, it begs the question: should we have expected more? Next year, Titanfall and Destiny will in all likelihood revive a jaded FPS genre in the same way Modern Warfare did six years ago. They will do so not via resolution or graphical pedigree, but ambition and initiative. The onus is on Infinity Ward and growing roster of other developers tasked by Activision with perpetuating Call of Duty’s success to keep up.
If you looked to the bottom of the publisher’s May release, to the footnotes which usually contain staid and irrelevant asides, there was a disclaimer, or rather, a “Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-looking Statements.”
It stated: “Information in this press release that involves Activision Publishing’s expectations, plans, intentions or strategies regarding the future ... are forward-looking statements that are not facts and involve a number of risks and uncertainties.”
To investors, risks and uncertainties are quantifiably negative things. But to developers, they should be challenges that are embraced. After years of steadfastly refusing to do so, Activision may soon have its hand forced.