I’ve been playing a bit of the most recent Call Of Duty Game, Call Of Duty: Ghosts. It’s not great, but it’s a series that could be great again. Here’s how I’d do it.
This was originally going to be a review, because Activision Blizzard sent me a review copy for the Xbox One version of the game, but there were problems there. For a start, if you’re keen on Call Of Duty: Ghosts, you’ve probably read a review already.
Also, I hadn’t had the chance to play the 360/PS3 versions, so comparison across console generations was on the tough side. It also falls into that category of launch games that I covered in last week’s sports games roundup; decent but not exactly something you’d purely buy a new console for.
But if you must… you shoot things. There’s an elite force, sharks, a whole heaping load of American Hoo-AH! ™ patriotism, nukes in space and a dog that you play as every once in a while. Every time that I did, I was reminded of the little known PS2 game “Dog’s Life”.
Like that, but with more rabid killings. Quite a few more, in fact.
In any case, while Ghosts is a decent technical spectacle, I’m left very cold by it.
I think I know why, and it’s not to do with the fluffy killer pooch. It’s the fact that it’s wandered very far from its roots when it comes to the single player mode.
Multiplayer is different; that’s a matter of you against other real human beings, where the character and the settings are made by you, whether you’re a silent sniper or an annoying squeaky 12 year old who finds teabagging to be the height of comedy.
I used to be extraordinarily passionate about the Call Of Duty franchise, because it was a franchise I could connect to not only at an action level — and COD: Ghosts has plenty of ridiculous action — but also because it told a story that was believable and didn’t shy away from one of the harshest realities of war.
That’s the bit that Ghosts — and many of the most recent COD games — misses in my estimation. Back when COD games were set in realistic historical arenas, there was a sense of setting, and a mood, based on the idea not that going to war was some grand adventure, but that it was a necessarily horrible thing.
I can still recall the first time I got shellshocked in the original COD; it was disorienting; it messed with the rules, but it also made me keenly aware that the game was not-so-subtly pointing out that I was in real danger, and that this was a thing that had happened to real people.
The modern games, while they’re technically years ahead of the historical COD titles, don’t really do that. Instead you’re stuck in a macho fantasy paradise of what a pre-teen might think conflict would be like.
In every way possible, that’s less gripping at a narrative level, no matter how many flashy particle effects you might throw out there.
This gets me thinking. I know from reading around that I’m not the only one to think that the COD franchise is looking a bit tired these days. So why not take a leaf out of Hollywood’s book, and do a series reboot?
It’s been part of Hollywood forever, and it’s been both highly successful and highly profitable. COD is a massive franchise, but it’s one that feels like it’s being run on automatic at the moment. Reintroducing a setting with historical tones, realistic settings and reminders of the actually grim nature of war would give it plenty of the necessary emotional weight to make the single player campaign gripping again, while leaving multiplayer open to the technical advances that have been made during that time.
It may be tempting to think that WW2 (or Vietnam, or even Korea — has there ever been a Korean War game?) is an “overdone” category in gaming, but that doesn’t mean that a reinterpretation can’t be successful. I still think — and I’ve thought for some time — that you could do interesting things with a World War One era FPS, although obviously within short level constraints. There’s a lot of actual history that could be used to both entertain and provide some commentary on the horrors of war. Without that balance, it’s all just empty macho posturing, and while that works for the length of your typical action film, when you’re playing a game for 5-10 hours, it wears very thin indeed.
In the ten years since the first Call Of Duty Game, we’ve had three Spider-Man films, including a reboot, and two Superman films, each their own attempt at a reboot. They made oodles of cash for their studios despite not being “original” stories in any real way.
Why can’t Call Of Duty go down the same path?