First off, for as long as I’ve been playing them I’ve consistently enjoyed the Call of Duty games.
I bought Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare because word on the street was it was going to be, like, a whole “thing.”
I bought Call of Duty: World at War years after its release because it was $10 at Target.
I bought Modern Warfare 2 because, hell yeah, Modern Warfare bro.
I bought Call of Duty: Black Ops because I was in college and when you’re in college that’s what you do.
I bought Modern Warfare 3 because I’m a trilogy kind of guy.
When Black Ops II came out near the end of 2012, complete with cryptic “the future is black” tagline, I had very little intention of buying it. The night before its release I told a friend I’d only get it if IGN gave it a 9 or above, convinced it there was no way it would rank above an 8.5.
It got a 9, Trent Reznor did the soundtrack and I was out of college and going on three months without a job. And you know what? That game was great.
But I still had reservations when Call of Duty: Ghosts came out a few months ago. None of the old excuses were there, and I’m very busy running a wildly successful cultural phenomenon of a blog.
But I got a GameStop gift card for Christmas. So here we are.
In Ghosts your boss is named your dad. Not a Bill Cosby dad, mind you. Just your regular dad. Your one squad mate is your brother Hesh and your other squad mate is your robot-backpack wielding dog Riley. Who takes down a helicopter. What? Don’t worry about it.
Maybe it’s because of their massive monetary success, or because I want to find any reason playing Call of Duty doesn’t make me a bro, or because as I get older my time is more valuable to me and I find the things I spend it on have to justify themselves to me for more competently.
Whatever the reason, I’ve placed the Call of Duty games under an increasingly stringent microscope with each entry.
A few missions in to the campaign of Ghosts you find yourself repelling down a skyscraper en route to intercept a business associate of this guy your dad dropped in a river. Classic dad. As you descend step by step down massive windows it’s explained to you that the people inside the building can’t see you because of the light pollution inside the building or because your ghosts or whatever.
Cool. Understood. Stealth required.
Not a minute later I’m peering through one such window at a guy on a computer screen with his back to me. My squad mate tells me to take him out, so I blow his brains out all over what is presumably a doomed game of solitaire.
Wait – what?
Soon after that two dudes appear on a balcony below me, looking out at the fireworks lighting up the night sky.
“Take ’em out.”
So, with the push of a button, a swoop down from on high and stab him to death.
There was a time when these orders made sense to me – after all, I got no idea what the hell I’m doing. Who gave me a loaded gun? They now feel like the creeping fingers of military propaganda, training me in yearly installments to blindly do as my elders tell me.
I mention these thoughts to me commanding officer, who promptly orders me to “take him out.”
“You’re not my dad!” I tell him. He corrects me.
Ghosts is aptly titled. After all the entire campaign is haunted by the franchise’s predecessors. Where once big, jaw-dropping set pieces and quick time events sent your heart racing, they’re now expected. Where once the members of your squad were a selection of world-weary badasses they’re now archetypes. Even Riley.
More than anything else, Call of Duty: Ghosts is familiar.
And that’s why I’ll probably end up finding a reason to play the next one.
Call of Duty is football. Call of Duty is a cold beer. Call of Duty is the Sunday funny papers. It’s a formula with variables that offer just enough wiggle room for a change in number and title. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can depend on an old dog. You know what you’re getting with an old dog.
I’m never going to compare a Call of Duty game to The Last of Us or Bioshock. I’m never going to cite it in an argument for video games as art or literature. But when a dog with a robot-backpack takes down a helicopter while I gun down nameless, faceless bad guys in the ruins of an abandoned sports arena I’m going to have a chuckle. I might even pump my fist.
1. Is Call of Duty a bad franchise, or simply a repetitive one?
2. Do you play Call of Duty for the story or the multiplayer?
3. Are you a bro?
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