I've said a lot of great things about the most recent Call of Duty title, all of which were oriented around the multiplayer tweaks and additional co-op modes. But Ghosts does have a single player mode that I've somewhat neglected to speak of, and if you've played it (intentionally or otherwise) you may already know where I'm going with this week's rant. Getting straight to the point, Riley aside, Call of Duty Ghosts' single player campaign is so frustratingly bad you actually suffer all five stages of the KÃ¼bler-Ross Model of confronting grief. Spoilers ahead.
So the core of the story goes something like this: Voiceless main character Logan and hotheaded brother Hesh have a father in the military who opens the game by telling a story of soldiers who face impossible odds. Outnumbered, out gunned, and slowly worn down by the opposition these brave men gave everything they had to defend an innocent hospital, and when all seemed lost they hid amongst the bodies of their fallen comrades in preparation for one final brutal ambush. So furious was their assault, so filled with determination and reckoning that when the dust had settled only a single survivor was left wandering blindly in the desert. Thus the tale of soldiers so remarkable that their skills could only be described as supernatural was born. The Ghosts.
Your controller is in hand and this loading screen tale has you immensely pumped. This sounds like everything the CoD franchise has embraced for years now, amplified tenfold. A group of killers honed in a trial by fire. Intimate gunplay against impossible odds. Amazing right? The game couldn't possibly go wrong from here. Then a satellite drops rods of condensed metal from the sky and the breakneck speed of the campaign whisks you away from one massive action set piece to another. A voice inside your head suggests that perhaps it'll all come full circle. Denial has set in.
Players are told of the evil Federation, a coalition of South American nations that swallows up Mexico and plows its way hungrily toward the United States. What you're not told is what's really become of the rest of the world during this global economic power vacuum crisis, and how exactly America is exempt from something that has literally crippled every other nation on the planet. You want to know more, but the game never tells you. Instead it's pretty sure you'd rather avoid sharks underwater, or remote control a dog, or pilot a helicopter. Every level provides plenty of action but no answers. The less sense it makes the harder it is not to be at least a little angry with the plot thus far.
Then you start to wonder, perhaps these Rorke files will explain more. Maybe if I just play a bit further the answers will come. Could it be that I've just missed something from these loading screen backdrops? It's hard not to try and assume better of the game, but these grasps at logic are all but turned away. Instead you're left with many of the following questions by the end of the game, asked in no particular order:
-How did the Federation find out about Odin?
-If Odin was public knowledge why didn't anyone else on earth object to the USA having an atmospheric superweapon?
-What the hell is the technology that lets me remote control a dog?
-Where are our European allies while we're embroiled in a deep trench-warfare struggle against a nation that's entirely fine will killing innocent civilians from space?
-If Rorke knew the Ghosts would attack on Federation Day, why did he blow up an entire building to kill three men? Why not just a single floor?
-If the Federation has superior air support how is it the Ghosts are able to be flown just about anywhere in the world via helicopter?
-Why is the "˜no mans land' between the USA and Federation filled with nothing but Federation forces, more or less unharassed the entire time they are excavating piece of Odin?
-Why didn't the USA go to recover Odin?
-If the Ghosts are a special ops team that's kept secret from the rest of the military, why does everyone know who they are but Logan and Hesh?
-How did no one notice twenty-three satellites being set up in low orbit, in addition to a massive space station?
The main villain, Rorke, is made to seem like an unstable lunatic who has been twisted and perverted to the Federation's vile needs; but ultimately he's the only character who seems to have any clear motivation up until the very end. Outside of failing to execute the heroes when he has the chance (which is admittedly stupid) most of his decisions range from rational to emotionally compromised, and you almost wonder who green lit any of his plans and why he has so much control within the Federation war machine.
To make matters worse not a single question in Ghosts in answered as even the very ending of the game sits on a cliffhanger. Rorke steals your brother and drags him away, likely to (somehow) become a tortured anti-Ghost as well. His obsession with destroying the Ghosts, now a three man and one dog squad, is on par with almost cartoon villain levels of dedication and that's when Ghosts' storytelling secret is blown wide open.
Men in masks, a dog that discovers critical details in a diabolical plot, an enemy that was once a normal individual, the tendency to split into smaller operational groups, Hesh's single-minded determination to unravel the mystery of Rorke; Call of Duty Ghosts is actually an extended adult episode of Scooby Doo, only without any kind of resolution at the end.
At no point in time will I ever suggest that the single player didn't have some redeeming or admittedly fun moments. There's a lot of cool stuff happening, and when the game decides to immerse you in the action it's easy to turn your brain off and just go along for the ride. But where Ghosts stumbles is in trying to handle both an over-the-top action film experience, coupled with a thrilling story. Development, intrigue and resolution are all required to give the audience some form of satisfaction; and with all the missing from start to finish it's easy to see where things went wrong.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is not finding out what happened to Riley at the end of the game. Did he recover fully from the bullet wound? Will he ever hunt with his pack again? Are Keegan and Merrick feeding him Blue Buffalo or did they settle for Purina? More hard hitting questions that Ghosts will leave unanswered, perhaps until the inevitable sequel. Hopefully a few years time is enough for Infinity Ward to actually have someone make sense of this ridiculous mess of a plot. Or at the very least clear up whether or not or not Merrick is supposed to represent Daphne or Thelma.