It’s not often that I get to dissect and tear apart a game in the Revisiting series. I’d like to take this opportunity to do so with Activision’s abysmal 2013 entry into the Call of Duty series, Ghosts. While the hype train seems to be in full motion for Call of Duty’s inevitable return to World War II (which begs the question, did Battlefield 1 drive them into a creative corner?), there’s a special place in my heart reserved for Ghosts, mainly in a very negative light amidst glimpses of what could’ve potentially been an incredible game by concept. So let’s dive into the barking mess that is Call of Duty: Ghosts.
On the eve of the new console generation, Call of Duty: Ghosts was boasted as the first in the series to really blow people away with its stellar graphics and promises of a different kind of game the likes of which Call of Duty has never seen before. Despite the developers seeming to have more interest in how the dog physics worked, I was very much on board for the overall stylistic choices and new focus on more stealthier gameplay as opposed to the quite unsubtle, massive action set pieces of the Modern Warfare series. On paper, the concept and ideas floating around the game impressed me. You assumed the role of an operative in the Ghosts; highly covert, stealth soldiers whose jobs were to remain anonymous and off the grid in their dangerous missions, thus painting a kind of supernatural aura over them. And for the first five minutes into the campaign, the game briefly touches on that. Briefly.
What followed was a spectacle of big action set pieces that even dwarfed the Modern Warfare series by comparison. In the initial missions of the campaign, players bounced between the protagonist, Logan, and an astronaut in space who witnesses the collapse of an entire space station as it plummets to Earth and causes major destruction like some feverish wet dream by Roland Emmerich. At first, I was cautiously optimistic about it as I viewed the first signs of carnage as a way to get players emotionally invested and on board for the events to come, but alas, Ghosts seemed to have forgotten the memo about what kind of game it wanted to be. You assumed the role of Logan from here on, and together with your brother, Hesh, and your trusty sidekick canine, Riley, you entered the world of the Ghosts and got a taste of how anonymous soldiers in the shadows operated… for about fifteen minutes before they began leveling entire buildings and landmarks in the most bombastic ways imaginable.
This isn’t to say the game didn’t have standout moments and missions. In fact, my favorite mission in the entire game and series, titled “Federation Day”, is a spectacular mix of stealth, nail-biting tension and a grand-scaled action sequence for the cherry on top. I feel like this is what Infinity Ward initially wanted Ghosts to be, unrestrained by the stigmata of the previous games’ signature (and now notorious) over-the-top action and instead, taking this tired trope and injecting it with some new ideas and unique gameplay design. It was incredibly well balanced and a satisfying burst of originality, jaw-dropping graphical display, and the covert aspects of the Ghosts themselves used to full effect.
However, the story took a nosedive somewhere along the line when it attempted to maintain a high point of action-pumping adrenaline for a concept that begged to be best experienced in the stealthy, intentionally slow-building route, all the while introducing a cookie-cutter villain who seemed to be immune to death itself. The gameplay of Ghosts wasn’t particularly terrible and managed to be consistently engaging throughout, but never really stepped outside of its comfort zone to try something drastically new that the series really needed. I wouldn’t call it as completely futuristic as its predecessor, Black Ops II, or the following years’ Advanced Warfare, but Ghosts kept in line with what Modern Warfare excelled at. Infinity Ward played it safe, but it hurt the game in many ways, including a lackluster multiplayer that didn’t warrant revisiting outside of the surprisingly goofy but fun Extinction Mode, and an unforgivably messy campaign with no grasp of its own identity.
Call of Duty: Ghosts was a melting pot of potentially great ideas squandered by a lack of ambition or ingenuity. It’s as if Activision realized the game was stepping out of its boundaries by introducing a more tactical, stealth aspect over its winning formula of over-the-top action and tried to find an equilibrium between the two – typically resulting in the laughable notion of quiet, covert elite soldiers making as much noise as possible to attract attention to themselves. If Infinity Ward wasn’t so concerned with trying to figure out what part of their fanbase to appeal to and instead focused on making something refreshingly new for the series, dare I say we may have not had the string of futuristic titles we’ve all ironically come to love and hate now.