Wot I Think: Call Of Duty: Ghosts – Single Player

By John Walker on November 6th, 2013 at 5:00 pm.

If you haven’t read my thoughts on the first three hours of Call Of Duty: Ghosts, it’s worth looking through those first. But now the single player campaign is finished, here’s wot I think:

Ghosts are, we’re told, an elite fighting force more elite than all the other elite fighting forces we’ve played as before. Why? Because they JUST ARE, QUESTION-PERSON. Throughout this insultingly gormless rickety rollercoaster ride, you run into rooms shooting everyone, press F to breach something, press F to catch someone, press F to reprogramme the missile computers, and then run out again shooting everyone. Quite how this makes them different from every other elite fighting force that comes before is never made clear. But by jimminy, it’s shouted at you that they are.

Despite peculiar promises of such significant changes in this latest branch of the infinite franchise, it runs exactly the same as they always do. You follow the other men, do as you’re told, watch as they have all the fun for you, and then sit through another gruesomely po-faced cutscene in which men shout at other men about how incredibly serious the situation is right now.

At the end of my first three hours I wondered if it would improve. Yes, it does. Genuinely, it does. Is it ever good? No, it’s never good. It occasionally becomes a less hateful FPS experience, letting you even run to the left or the right should you wish, and sometimes going so far as to let you go in front. But you have to shake yourself to remember that this means it’s managed to reach the basics of what you should hope for in such a game. In context, it feels like you’ve burst into a Wagnerian opera directed by Stanley Kubrick. In reality you’ve stumbled into a pantomime directed by Michael Bay’s right foot. Perspective.

It attempts to make up for its hollow soul by throwing a twisted understanding of “variety” at you, by having you do all the same things you’ve done in every other FPS for the last six or seven miserable years. At various points in certain levels you’re told to press N to do something. It might be directing missiles to targets via a computer. It might be directing missiles to targets via a computer, or it could be directing missiles to targets via a computer. Each time with a different name. It’s SPARROW this time! Isn’t this novel?! You drive tanks, man turrets, and in two excruciatingly silly sequences, float about in space shooting at improbably vast numbers of enemies, who must be arriving via the local Number 34 Space Bus. And none of it contains a single new idea, nor a single new approach to an old idea. It’s hideously trapped in its own ghastly straitjacket, and the sensation that there were attempts to wriggle free this time out makes it only the sadder to see it fail yet again. Playing the game goes a lot like this:

Ignore the blowhards who tell you it’s only four hours long. It’s six to eight hours long, and by God, it feels like triple that. The interminable cutscenes alone probably make up half of it. As the missions drag on, they begin to hint that they may be climactic – even giving themselves titles like End Of The Line – but instead peter out anticlimactically, ensuring that its pathetic sub-Roland Emmerich story gets dragged out even further. There’s not a moment of wit, nor any attempt at it. There’s no emotion, no charm, no intrigue, no mystery. Just shouting. The attempt to have you care about the absolutely pointless dog comes down to forcing you to lug it around for one mission, making it just a cumbersome obstacle rendering the dreary shooting even less fun.

Enemy AI isn’t terrible. It’s still a farcical target practice, as they pop up from behind their cover. But they at least crawl to different places rather than bob on the spot. There’s the usual array of weapons, seemingly on a curve from poppy to bangy, and grenades, as ever, cause a few flecks of dust to be disturbed when they go off. However, targeting seems dodgy to me, piles of headshots having no effect, and enemies often unable to take damage during animations. It certainly feels clumsy.

More clumsy is getting the PC version to run. From the astonishing 37GB HD space it requires, I can only assume this is the next-gen version of the game that we’re getting, since the current consoles are getting the game at around 16GB. And while my PC isn’t state-of-the-art just now, it’s still plenty powerful enough to run everything else on the market at full whack. With COD, it struggled. And finding out why is tortuous, thanks to the utterly ludicrous need for it to reload your current mission to the last checkpoint every time you change a setting.

This means figuring out whether it’s the anti-aliasing, v-sync, etc, that’s causing issues is a painstaking process with 30 second gaps between each change. And that “etc” represents an awful lot of settings. So yes, it’s fantastic that they’ve put out a proper PC version (runs in a borderless window, or smaller window, as well as fullscreen, too), but figuring them out for your system is deeply frustrating. And don’t think they’re kidding with its 6GB of RAM minimum warning either – with 8GB on my machine, I had to switch absolutely everything else off to get it to run properly. And it still wheezed and coughed. In fact, the game pretty regularly would freeze for around 10 seconds at a time – I’ve yet to discover if that’s my issue, or a common one. And also in that camp, the madness of the mouse occasionally going loony. Turning suddenly accelerates, meaning a peek to the left has you facing the opposite direction, which is obviously useless for FPS action, and damned confusing.

Obviously COD games gain their critical success via their multiplayer, and I’ve not looked at that. This is a review of the single-player, which it’s crucial to remember is what most purchasers of the game will ever play. And it’s absolutely awful.

Yes, it’s pretty cool when an entire town floods. But you don’t get to appreciate it. Do so and you’ll drown in it, rather than be able to pick a piece of high ground and enjoy the spectacle. This is COD, so your instructions are to go to the left and under that door, whether you like it or not. And it’s impressive that they so incredibly realised a devastated baseball park in meticulous detail. But try to take it in and you’ll die, either from bullets, or more likely the game just declaring itself over because your moment of looking wasn’t in its script.

As a result of this, despite the extraordinary job of the background designers and level crafters, there’s never, ever a sense of place. An oil rig is a jungle is a mountaintop plaza. It’s corridors, no matter how gorgeous the walls, and you’re to stare forward at the men’s bottoms unless there’s a building falling over. Do as you’re told, or the game throws its toys out of the pram and refuses to carry on.

It’ll make another billion dollars, and they’re already making the next one that will be exactly the same, and the incredible potential will yet again consume its own fetid tail. The circlejerk of life.

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215 Comments »

  1. LionsPhil says:

    Honestly, John, that drill. They gave you one responsibility more sophisticated than “press X” (“hold X and let go within this big timing window”), and you failed. Clearly they expected too much of the player. :(

    More seriously, given you’ve replayed CoD 1 recently, how does it fare if you bumble along like this? Because I seem to remember actually having to do stuff in it, but it was also many years ago.

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      Gap Gen says:

      Well, recharging health is CoD2, so in CoD1 you’d need to hunt for medkits before you died.

  2. Premium User Badge

    psepho says:

    “A Wagnerian opera directed by Stanley Kubrick”.

    Tragically, this is not, was not, and now never will be a thing. I find this state of affairs profoundly sad.

  3. mrmistermeakin says:

    What point are you trying to make? You don’t like it, ok we can see that. What do you want from an FPS? a wonderful story? get off your high horse, or recover from being high. This is an obviously predominately online shooter, and your opinion that most people will only buy for the single player is disingenuous at best, and an outright lie at worst. It’s a generic FPS, yet you are slating it as if it promised you a gold shitting cockerel. It’s prettying its shades of gray, and it lets people go bang bang a lot. This is like comparing Rambo to *insert critically acclaimed, arty movie*. One, they are for two distinctly different groups of people, it’s a waste if time, and frankly stupid.

    TL;DL writer angry at life, decides to take it out on mediocre single player campaign of multiplayer game

    • Shadram says:

      I think more important than story is the desire to actually be able to play the game, and not just do what you’re told, when you’re told to do it. Millions of dollars are spent on a ‘game’ that’s significantly worse than a multitude of other games developed at a fraction of the cost, squandering the potential to actually push the medium forward in any way. It’s worse than ‘mediocre’, it’s awful. That’s what I got from the review, anyway. That, and a few laughs.

      What I didn’t get from John’s prose was any sense that he’s angry at life.

    • P7uen says:

      But he wasn’t WITing “an obviously predominately online shooter” (the clue is in the title).

  4. kevinspell says:

    When it comes to statistics, like in most other cases, I bet you can apply the “normal distribution” to gaming as well. That would mean only ~15% of gaming population will go for the higher standards of entertainment. So is it really that surprising that a game made for the other 85% is so successful? CoD is simply the Justin Bieber of gaming. So let the “stupid” have their fun and just ignore the products aimed at them.

  5. Pippy says:

    I refuse to believe anything can be “sub-Roland Emmerich”.

  6. pmarin says:

    Absolutely the best gaming review I’ve read in a while. The Wagner/Kubrik thing, especially, though as psepho says, “Tragically, this is not, was not, and now never will be a thing.”

    I have to admit I had to Google Roland Emmerich.

  7. realitysconcierge says:

    A funny realization I just made. Sleeping Dogs had a story to tell as well, but it never acted like you were getting in the way of it.

  8. Razr3 says:

    This game is fantastic ! :)

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