This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Call of Duty: Ghosts.
There was a recurring Monty Python sketch where a group of middle-aged women would announce that they were going to reenact some famous historical event, but every single event was represented by a hilarious speeded-up handbag fight in a muddy field. I find myself reminded of it with the Call of Duty series; every time I think it's gonna do something else for once, it blows a whistle and everything descends into squeals and handbag-slapping.
Case in point, CoD: Ghosts. Not only is it not a game about the vengeful spirits hanging around English chip shops, but it's also not the game it purports to be in its own intro sequence. The Ghosts, as the name might imply, are ostensibly a legendary stealth unit that specializes in taking down larger forces through sneaky guerrilla tactics. So obviously, one of the first things you do in the game is ram-raid an enemy base in a burning truck and start gunning down every living thing from the dandelions on upwards. Yeah, that's some good ghostin' there, lads! Truly, thou art akin to the flicker of a candlelight shadow as you waddle around an open field being shot at from nineteen different directions.
The other thing I gathered ahead of time was that the plot would be about a weakened U.S. fighting a superior foe, which would make a nice change from the usual case wherein the heroes jump all over vastly inferior foes for floating the idea that maybe the U.S. could stop eating all the pancakes for five minutes. So here's the sitch: the U.S. has been invaded by all of South America. OK, gonna have to stop you there, Call of Duty: Ghosts; I get that all of your plots are birthed from the fantasies crossing the mind of a paranoid, xenophobic fuckwit as he has violent grunting sex with a pile of damp moss, but at least you used to stick to foreigners who potentially are enemies of the U.S., and South America has better things to do with its time than sit around shaking its fist at your freedoms all day, at least as long as association football exists!
Anyway, they attack America by hijacking America's orbital missile weapon. OK, gonna stop you there again, Ghosts! Firstly, so much for the enemy being "superior" if they can't make their own superweapons and gotta pinch 'em like safari park baboons nicking the windscreen wipers. And secondly, orbital fucking missile weapon!? This invasion is sounding more justifiable by the second! 'Cause not only is the U.S. outsourcing their weapons development to fucking Megatron, but they also appear to have exterminated every single member of their population who isn't a burly white dude.
Just for fun I kept a running tally of all the characters in the story campaign who aren't burly white dudes and you are under no obligation to shoot. The final total was three: a female astronaut right at the start who immediately dies, a helicopter that spoke with a woman's voice, and a black member of the Ghosts unit who immediately dies. And, frankly, when that happens, the main characters displayed less emotion than when their dog got shot. "Dammit, the black guy died!", they seemed to say, "Now we can't claim to have tons of black friends while arguing on the internet!"
You are one of two burly white brothers whose burly white dad has been secretly testing them over the years to make them worthy of joining the Ghosts, it never having occurred to him that they might prefer to become pastry chefs or something. The main baddie turns out to be a burly white friend of the burly white dad who was captured by the enemy and turned to their side. Damn South Americans! It's not enough for them to steal our orbital doomsday satellites, they have to start harnessing the power of our burly white dudes as well!
Also, there's a dog. A German Shepherd, the burliest and whitest of all the dogs, who was a bit of unique selling point in the lead-up: he'll run out and savage South Americans at your command because he's been fed on an exclusive diet of neck-shaped burritos. And there are missions where you play as the dog, and finally get to do some fucking ghosting as you sneak around the long grass internally debating the choices at the throat buffet. I was gonna bring up Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, but that might be too cosmopolitan a reference for this game.
All of which would have had more of an impact if the dog got to be in more than two levels before the game goes "Right, hope you got your money's worth!" and sends him to the time-out kennel forever. Not that I was expecting him to tag along for the scuba diving bit, fucking amazing as that would've been, but the fact is his role in the game is just another momentary gameplay gimmick. It would've been nice if he'd had some kind of personality besides being just another piece of military hardware for the armchair generals to masturbate over. Although, the same could be said of the human characters!
Speaking of hardware, there are the standard apocalyptic coffee break sequences, where you pull out a remote from the arse dimension and rain predator drone death down on an enemy unable to in any way defend themselves or fight back. And d'you know what? I don't see how I'm supposed to have any grasp of the relative enemy threat when we may or may not be packing armfuls of superweapons we forgot to mention. Like after the enemy base ram-raid, I'm told to pick off the stragglers with the robot sniper. Hold on a second, when did we set up a fucking robot sniper? What did we bring it here in? How did we set it up without the enemy noticing; did we disguise it as a badger-watching station?
Incidentally, the Ghosts are well-fucking-equipped for a guerrilla unit. "Oh, no, America has been attacked and is weakened and there's no defenses except an inexhaustible supply of tank battalions and an army of killer robots. And we would've had a doomsday satellite if the rest of the world hadn't gotten all weird about it!" Which they were entirely right to be because when the player wrestles control of the satellite back at the end, they immediately use it to wipe hundreds of thinking, feeling blips off the map as casually as one were to use a windscreen wiper on a rainy day!
Yet again, it seems like they cut out every moment in the story that could've built context but didn't have any explosions in it. And if they hadn't added voiced plot-dumps to the loading screens, the experience would've been as coherent as scrambled porn intercut with the fantasies of Tea Party members. And "fantasy" really is the word; the vehicles all handle like turbo-boosted magic carpets, lest anything requiring actual skill get in the way of your unpleasant paranoid battle-glory daydream, so divorced from reality it might as well be taking place in fucking Narnia!
So however you might have expected a game called Ghosts to differ from the modern shooter routine of meaningless violence and empty spectacle, you were wrong, ya idiot! But somehow it's only getting worse! Black Ops II actually came across as at least slightly self-aware, and Modern Warfare (One) went so far as being profound, such as in that bit where you die slowly and horribly in a nuclear blast. If that happened in CoD: Ghosts, you'd probably just fart all the radiation out in one big heroic guff, pull the broken glass out of your eyeballs and then use it to shiv the Ayatollah.
- Race traitor: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Of course the only thing that can stop a bad guy with an orbital doomsday satellite is a good guy with an orbital doomsday satellite
- Even I know firing machine guns in a space station isn't going to end well
Jam: The Audiobook
- "I woke up one morning to find that the entire city had been covered in a three-foot layer of man-eating jam."
- "Last night we were nothing; a freelance musician and an unemployed. But you know what we are now?"
- "...Both unemployed?"
- "Unlike you people, I have no illusion as to my usefulness in an actual apocalypse. The most I can hope for is to die in a pose that confuses future archaeologists."
- "How can you be a secret government agent when you're so bad at lying!?"
- "I'm not a secret government agent." said X, lying badly.
- "You think you're so great, don't you? Sitting around in your tall building, with your offices and your... windows. Well! ...You're not!"
Jaaaaaam... The Audiobooooook...