While I won't be reviewing "Call of Duty: Ghosts" per se, I did want to offer up some quick thoughts about a game I'll probably spend much of the next year playing. As the studios responsible for these games have moved forward from World War II to the Cold War, modern warfare and now a sci-fi-esque post-Apocalypse, the series risks edging into parody. And while "Ghosts" doesn't quite jump the shark, it's getting close.
To be fair, I should point out two salient points up front. None of this will prevent me from compulsively living in the "Ghosts" multiplayer world for hours at a time. And I'm not clear what else the game makers could have done. After all, how can you possibly up the ante on the "world's going to end if you don't do something about it" plots from previous games? I guess you end the world and then start from there. Which is what Ghosts has done.
Yes, I'm only partway through the single player mission. And I've only spent several hours in just a few different types of multiplayer games. But there is silliness here. Both in single player and multiplayer.
First, the villains: North Viet-Nam? Iran? Pakistan? A resurgent Soviet Union? Nope. It's South America. The great threat to the south. (Here's to Activision having Canada join in for a two-front war against the USA in Ghosts 2: The Quickening. Why not?)
In some ways, the plot is like a modern version of "Moonraker," Ian Fleming's James Bond book, in which weapons of mass destruction are turned against the country that created them. So much of the United States is destroyed from space. And then the game begins. (Don't confuse the movie Moonraker with the book. They're related in name only.)
Even in the short amount of time I've played this game, I've seen ideas cribbed from every possible source, including previous COD games. An opening sequence in space is exactly like the movie "Gravity." (Which is an amazing 3D experience, go see it. Gravity, that is.) There are the requisite sequences in which you ride on vehicles, remotely control bigger weapons, and then do so again and again. There's snow, and jungles, and underwater sequences. Did you like the "Zombie" game types from Treyarch's games? Good: Infinity Ward now offers the all-too-similar "Extinction" mode.
In a bid to be even more inclusive—after all, how you can exceed the billions of dollars previous games made if you don't open up to a wider audience?—Ghosts now includes women characters in both single- and multiplayer. (Sorry, guys, Gears of War got there first.) And there are dogs (previously available only in some games in multiplayer only), for you dog lovers out there. What's next? Killer cats? (Actually, please make that happen, Activision. Cats are so much more deadly and interesting than dogs.)
Good doggy: My dog mauls a South American terrorist in multiplayer
The complexity of multiplayer has reached absurd levels, a natural but distributing trend that started with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare—an astonishing six COD games ago—and has gotten out of control. It is entirely possible that many players will spend more time, both in the game and in the new mobile app, outfitting their in-game identities than they will actually playing the game. And God help you if you've never played one of these games before. It is impossible—literally impossible—that anyone could pick up this game fresh and grok the multiplayer configuration possibilities. It's more complicated than flying a plane, I bet.
And of course, Activision understands it has a captive audience. The Call of Duty Elite subscription has evolved into a Ghosts Season Pass, because it's not enough to spend $60 for the game, we need to spend other $60 to keep getting drip-fed with new multiplayer levels over the next year too. Call of Duty fans are the gaming industry's version of Apple customers: Compliant and all-too-eager to pull out the credit cards.
OK, so this sounds like a lot of complaining. Truth be told, I almost relish the silliness. Ghost may be more of the same, and amped up to 11 (OK, amped up to more like 17), but the solid base its starting with means that Ghosts is, above all else, never dull. No, you'll never wander around aimlessly, in any of the game types. Stuff is always happening, usually with explosions. This is COD, but more. A lot more. And then some more on top of that.
Too, the graphics are actually pretty amazing, though I wonder whether I'm mixing up high-quality with false sharpness. To understand what I mean, use the Sharpen filter on a photo in a photo-editing app. The resulting change looks clearer, usually. But it's also ... weird. That's what Ghosts looks like, on the 360 at least.
Another year, another COD. It's inescapable. You know, like taxes, or death. But fun. And, yes, silly.