With a PS4 I can start renting current games again, so I decided to take a look at the last few Call of Duty campaigns which I’d missed, starting with Ghosts. All I’d heard was that some people had panned it, but they’d also panned Modern Warfare 3 from the same team, which I actually liked a lot. It’s sort of an ongoing disagreement I seem to have with a lot of fans and critics of the franchise.
Basically, I think the games from Infinity Ward after Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare get a lot of undue criticism. I get why Black Ops became so popular, but there are things about the Infinity Ward games I feel a lot of people ignore, and Ghosts is no exception.
A lot of what I hear about COD games seems to center around a lot of superficial elements. Treyarch, the Black Ops series team, goes out of its way to pack its games with the features people ask for like bots, splintscreen online, or dedicated servers on PC. Zombies also became a huge hit with the Treyarch games. On the flipside Infinity Ward disappointed a lot of people by sticking to its own decisions, starting with removing dedicated servers from Modern Warfare 2 on PC and continuing by not evoking Treyarch’s moves. What I mainly want to talk about though are the campaigns and moment-to-moment level design of the COD games, because I feel like that gets ignored.
I went over this way back in 2012, but I think all the Infinity Ward games do a great job with their level design, filling their campaigns with variety and interesting events and situations which change the gameplay in subtle but unexpected ways. COD and the games that try to imitate it have this reputation of being shooters that push you in a straight line where you just pop in and out of cover, but if you really look at them the levels in Infinity Ward games give players a fair amount of options given how scripted they are, and change constantly.
I think every level in Ghosts tries to do something original in its design which enhanced not only the combat but in some ways also the storytelling. I don’t mean the overarching stories — I think the main stories in all the COD games are ridiculous, but IW’s games still have captivating courses of events happening while you’re in the action. The one that’s sticking with me right now is the flashback mission where some bad guy you’re after floods the city you’re in and you have to escape through buildings and fight enemies with the water slowly rising. It was a surprising moment, and ducking under the water to hide from enemies was a cool thing you could do. A lot of cool little things like that are what I enjoyed about Ghsots. The last level in particular does a great job of upping the ante in a way that combines a lot of its gameplay systems — something not a lot of recent action games can do. Did I mention this game has what I think might be the first full-on tank battle in the series since the World War II games?
The reason I don’t personally put Ghosts as high as the older COD games is because it also continues the franchise’s shift towards the aforementioned more ridiculous and less interactive storytelling. It has more cut scenes, and more slow-walking sections with talking heads I don’t care about. I lamented this turn way back around the time of Black Ops and MW3 because they stopped doing games about ordinary soldiers just trying to survive a war bigger than themselves. I think that made the WWII games feel more grounded, and the US Marine campaigns in the first two MW games felt similar. The Marine missions in MW2 are the zenith of COD storytelling if you ask me. Hearing some explanation about an invasion of the US isn’t as interesting as actually fighting through DC suburbs while watching it happen around you.
While I don’t find the Ghosts campaign as replayable as the MW games, I don’t think it deserved a lot of the criticism I saw it get. Thinking about this also has me more interested in Titanfall 2’s singleplayer campaign since some of the same designers behind COD4 and MW2 working on it.
- Good piece on Dragon Age Inquisition: http://www.giantbomb.com/articles/guest-column-on-monsters-role-playing-and-blacknes/1100-5479/
- Someone took over 400 screenshots of Abzû in 8K resolution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/xanvast/albums/72157669224218254
- BBC article on the Super Soaker inventor: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-37062579
- I had no idea Space Engine recently got upgraded to version 0.9.8: http://en.spaceengine.org/load/core/spaceengine0980/2-1-0-32