Call of Duty: Ghosts is a pretty good game. The multiplayer is a fresh new take on the Call of Duty formula we know and love. Squads modes give you a chance to level up even when you aren’t at your console. Even the new Extinction mode gives us a new spin on defense and survival game types. But there is one mode in COD: Ghosts that is incredibly problematic and puts a smear on an otherwise near perfect game: the single-player campaign.
There are a few things about the single-player campaign that are good. The set pieces are always nice. Who could argue with explosions that would make Michael Bay blush? The gameplay itself is also decent. After all, the bullet mechanics are just ripped from the multiplayer engine. However, it’s the story that feels so rushed and incomplete that it spoils the whole thing. It feels like Activision and Infinity Ward barely even spent any effort on it. It introduces a million plot points but never delivers on any of them. It basically just throws a bunch of cool buzzwords together and tries to say, “LOOK GUYS! IT’S A STORY!”
Before we go on, here’s your necessary SPOILER WARNING! Seriously, if you don’t want Call of Duty: Ghosts to be spoiled, turn away now.
Is everyone who cares about spoilers gone?
So Call of Duty: Ghosts takes place in a not too distant future where some event has decimated all the world’s oil. Yes, that’s it. The event is never explained. The oil is just gone. Strike one.
As a result of this oil disappearance, all of the world’s most powerful nations are now crippled. To survive, South America bands together to create one nation state called The Federation. Why? No one really knows. It’s left vague how The Federation came to pass, but we can just assume it has something to do with the oil disappearing so let’s move on.
Then The Federation attacks America. Why? No idea! They just do for some reason. Unlike other COD campaigns which are a little ludicrous but at least flesh out a history of tension between two sides in a military conflict, Ghosts just sort of makes all of South America evil for no good reason. Strike two. Not to mention they never address how The Federation manages to push through Mexico, unless Mexico is also part of this randomly evil Hispanic alliance. Sounds a little racist doesn’t it?
So The Federation attacks one of America’s orbiting nuclear missile satellites… OK, stop right there. First of all, if the world’s strongest nations are crippled, why do we have an orbiting nuclear missile launching satellite? Doesn’t the rest of the world have a problem with this? The Federation then reprograms the satellite in like 3 seconds to fire on all of the USA’s heaviest populated areas, turning it into a wasteland. So… why was there no emergency shutdown? Why did you have to literally shoot the satellite to disable it? Also, why did this make it fall into the Earth’s atmosphere for some reason?
That’s strike three and then some but Call of Duty: Ghosts gleefully continues until we have a no-hitter on our hands. So the only people who can protect post-apocalyptic USA are the “Ghosts,” a super-secret military team that everyone seems to know about for some reason. No really, the only people who don’t know about the Ghosts are the main character and his brother. Military officials, opposing forces, and your family dog know about the team’s existence.
Ghosts came from a team of sixty men who were slaughtered in the line of duty. The remaining fifteen that survived are now super soldiers for some reason. Once again, that’s not really explained. The main character’s father is the leader of the Ghosts and loves to tell “ghost stories” to his kids who don’t believe him… even though it’s painfully obvious that he has tons of intel that he shouldn’t have.
The main antagonist of the game is Rorke, a former ghost who is now working for the Federation. They build up some sort of deep secret, saying that Rorke was tortured mind, body, and soul by the Federation after he was left behind on an away mission. However, we never see the payoff here. We never figure out what the Federation did to Rorke, who was supposed to be the best of the best of the Ghosts, who are all supposed to be nearly impervious to torture. He just turns evil for some reason, and for a broken man who turned to the enemy he really always seems to have it together. He's kind of cheerful and seems completely in control of his faculties. So that's a little weird.
Oh, and that time that Rorke was left behind? That was because you had to let him fall into flood waters to save your team. Except you can’t make that choice. You do get to play the mission where it happens, but if you hold on to him and try to save him you just get a Game Over. So the game is punishing you for something it forced on you in the first place.
Rorke wants to kill all the Ghosts to get revenge, but… there aren’t exactly many left. Your dad is one and you meet up with like, four more who are quickly killed. If you remember, there were only 15 ghosts left and Rorke was one of them. After Rorke goes on his killing spree, which isn’t all that long, there’s like maybe two or three ghosts left, four if you include your dog Riley.
There’s one Ghost that Rorke doesn’t want to kill and that’s you: the main character. But we never really know why. You never talk during the game because you are a stereotypical silent Call of Duty protagonist. For some reason, Rorke is obsessed with capturing you and deprogramming you instead of killing you, even when he could just as easily capture your brother, your dad, or any of the other ghosts. In fact, it’s many times easier to capture one of these other characters, but Rorke goes out of his way to keep you, and you alone, alive. His crush on you seriously teeters on the creepy side.
So you fight against the Federation on a bunch of fronts on land, sea, and air… though once again I have no idea how America has all of this aerial and naval superiority after it was “crippled” by the loss of oil. Heck, it doesn’t even look post-apocalyptic by the end of the game when everyone is holding on to awesome military gadgets. You also sneak behind enemy lines several times and meet nearly no resistance. You rappel down one of The Federations tallest buildings and systematically murder everyone inside. You sneak into an enemy base to try and find answers as to why Rorke betrayed you and find nothing but more space missiles. You scuba dive under federation subs, impersonate Federation officers, and lay waste to many Federation camps. Frankly, The Federation has a border control problem.
Then you attack The Federation's space missiles, shoot Rorke, crawl up onto a beach, and the game ends. That’s it! You never work toward a grander plot. You never triumph in any meaningful way. You never find out why The Federation is attacking, why Rorke betrayed you, why the Ghosts were kept “secret,” how The Federation even managed to get into space to attack your space missiles, or most importantly, WHAT THE HECK THE REST OF THE WORLD WAS DOING DURING ALL OF THIS! Did China or Russia or the entirety of Europe have nothing to say? Did their government officials all just laugh when someone reported that South America founded an uber nation that attacked an as of yet unknown American nuclear missile satellite and reduced America to post-apocalyptic rubble? Shouldn’t this start World War III or something?
The biggest problem is that it feels like no effort was actually put into the single-player plotline at all. Activision literally has one of the biggest and most accessible platforms for story telling that exists in the modern age. They shocked us when they made us live through a nuclear explosion. They horrified us and caused controversy when they made us take part in an act of terrorism against innocents in an airport. They provided some of the most powerful moments in modern gaming, period. The fact that they tried to pawn off this “kill all the Hispanics” mess of unrelated set pieces tied together with a poorly thought out plotline about an inexplicable betrayal and an equally inexplicable squad of super soldiers is not just bad, it’s insulting. It feels like Activision wanted good old American Xenophobia to carry the campaign and it didn’t.
Honestly, the best part about Call of Duty’s single-player mode is your dog, Riley, who is badass enough to take down helicopters and insta kill enemy troops. Heck, you even get to ninja stalk through tall grass as Riley at one point. Now that's a powerful Pokemon! Of course, even this is wonky as you take control of your dog through his back mounted camera but… screw it. Ultra lethal German Sheppards with titanium teeth are awesome. If you are going to play the single-player campaign for any reason, do it for Riley and nothing else.
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