I’m not going to talk about the dog.
Well, I mean, obviously I am going to talk about the dog. I’m sort of doing it now. But what I mean is that I’m not going to fixate on talking about the dog. Because yes, there’s a dog, and yes, you get to control it thanks to an in-game system that actually tries to explain how you can be playing as a human and then suddenly you’re in remote control of your family pet.
And sometimes it’s played for laughs, and other times it’s used to grasp that low-hanging emotional fruit – because everybody loves dogs. Thing is, the dog’s really not that huge a part of the gameplay, no matter what the marketing guys tell you.
No, what I’m more interested in is how all videogames are drawing together, trapped within the event horizon of the ultimate videogame, a beige paste formed in large part from the Tom Clancy, Star Wars and GTA labels.
CoD: Ghosts takes the crazy-mad set piece nonsense of every Bond movie ever, and chucks in the OMG-worthy giant scenery destruction mayhem of Battlefield 4. The sheer variety of multiplayer modes and definable multiplay classes and loadouts is heading down the obsessive road of Paradox’s Wars of the Roses, and the alien-fragging co-op modes build on the proud tradition set out by games such as Left 4 Dead and Payday.
But yeah. Ghost Recon. I mean, there’s an obvious right there in the title, of course, and the feeling that you’re not quite sure if it’s supposed to be a single-player-focused shooter or mainly MP. But the dog (which I’m not going to talk about) has the same kind of ‘guest star’ status (or gimmick status, depending on how mean you’re feeling) as the War Hound. The main thing has to be the name, though. It’s… well, it’s a little close, you know? It’s not even like they’re separated by much in the way of concept and design. Our heroes venture out from the relative safety of their base into the wilderness, and encounter an elite group of soldiers called the Ghosts. You sort of want one of the heroes to say “Oh yeah, I know you guys, from those Tom Clancy games, right?”, to which they’d have to say “No, we’re totally different. We’re a secret black-ops unit who focus on stealth and camouflage to defend American interests worldwide, and they’re…well…”
Gameplay-wise, you can’t shake the feeling that Infinity Ward just wanted to chuck everything into the pot. However, the ingredients shelf is the same one used by every modern shooter in recent history. So if you’ve seen it in another shooter, there’s bound to be a moment in Ghosts that does it again. It’s all done in a pretty enough way with competent voice acting, all glued together with plenty of wild gunfights that very much look like you’d expect from a game in late 2013, at the gateway between two console generations. There’s an episode set in space, another beneath the sea, and plenty of collapsing buildings and a soupcon of vehicle combat.
Actually, it all works very well once you get over the fact that the developers have just nicked everyone else’s ideas (or even rehashed their own). The stealth mechanic works much better than it has done in previous games and heavy weapons feel suitably meaty. Co-op missions can be played solo if you’ve a hankering for a little more offline action once you beat the campaign, too. In fact, there’s very little to really complain about. Infinity Ward are pretty good at this stuff.
There was a little worry that the campaign mode was going to feel too short, but it certainly took me longer than the touted four hours to beat, and I enjoyed returning to the OTT action movie vibe you always get with CoD games. The story – which revolves around a federation of South American nations who rise up and challenge the USA’s world dominance in an explosion-happy way – is surprisingly strong, with a decent focus not just on masses of gunfire and hairy men talking about their Lima Zulus, but on family and friendship. Which, admittedly, is something many other games have delivered too, but it’s done well.
So this time we wont crave constant innovation when our annual COD has all the stuff in it to make it pretty darn fun. But if you can't help but peal back the layers in search of it then you will find two new multiplayer modes in Ghosts. These are called Squads and Extinction. Extinction is a kind alien invasion cleansing scenario with some Left 4 Dead style trimmings but instead of zombies we are taking down Aliens.
CoD is often regarded as the worlds go to FPS. Because of that it will continue to walk the same ground that made it the biggest selling FPS, until everyone stops buying it. And that’s really the message here. Yes, it’s this year’s CoD. No, there’s not really anything here that you’ve not seen in other CoD games, let alone anything really innovative.
But there is plenty of it, and it is delivered to a high standard and it is fun to play. And this should really be the yardstick, right? If you think it should be changing and improving in new ways then you know what to do, but for now you will get more of that CoD formula that the world craves so much. Activision have a billion dollars on day one that says they know what they are doing.