A jaw dropping ode to testosterone and explosions

Jon Mercer
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Call of Duty: Ghosts
PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, PC, WiiU

In what is usually the first serious gust of our annual Hurricane Retail, a new entry in Activision’s platinum-plated cash cow “Call of Duty” franchise has arrived on store shelves for every major console (including the ones not even released until later this month) and PC.

A screenshot from “Call of Duty: Ghosts.” — Submitted image

In recent years, this has resulted in much puffing of cheeks from me, accompanied by furrowing of my brow and very distinct harrumphs.

This is a series I have fallen increasingly out of love with since 2007. I was crazed for “CoD4: Modern Warfare,” enthusiastic for followups “World at War” and “Modern Warfare 2,” and subsequently less enthralled with each passing year (outside of a two week infatuation with “CoD: Black Ops” a month or so before my son was born in 2010). So why is it that at the very birth of a new console generation, when all evidence points to “Call of Duty: Ghosts” finally being the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the bridge too far, the point that fans started to turn their backs; why is it now that I find myself enthralled once again with “Call of Duty”?

It’s certainly not because of any radical gameplay revision or evolution. No, sir … this is the same “Call of Duty” that millions of gamers have been answering for 10 years. The game play has always been fun; I’ve just found it to be very vanilla since “Modern Warfare 2.”

However, developer Infinity Ward has added a couple of new wrinkles to their obvious gameplan that make the overall experience much more enjoyable for gamers who aren’t just watching a kill count rise in multiplayer (not that there is anything wrong with that).

Forgoing the usual grim, beefy, stupidly serious narrative that has been played out to the point of parody, the story in “Ghosts” is simply a tale of survival and revenge.

The thick wall of military lingo and pseudo Tom Clancy babble that players could easily choke on has been downplayed, giving “Ghosts” a feel much more like a late 1980’s or early 1990’s action movie. The best descriptor I can give it is robbed from one of my closest friends — it is as if Michael Bay had directed American James Bond.

Missions are chock full of massive set pieces and scripted events to keep gamers on their toes. The eponymous Ghosts are either the world’s worst, unluckiest, or most gnarly Special Forces team ever. In the span of a few hours, buildings will collapse, cities will be flooded, oil rigs will explode and trained attack dogs will terrorize unsuspecting enemy soldiers.

It’s a jaw dropping ode to testosterone and explosions that spans down the sides of skyscrapers, to deep underwater; from the ruins of Los Angeles, to the final frontier.

Well, Jon. That’s great, you nerd, but how does it play?

In comparison to the disappointing and clumsy asset dump that the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of EA’s “Battlefield 4” were; staggeringly smooth. It’s very smooth and arcade-y in its movement; and the weapon load-out is very empowering, moving from assault rifles and pistols to more science fiction flavoured fare when the mission calls for it, letting players have quite a bit of fun in the process. “Ghosts” features easily the most immodest enjoyment I’ve pulled from a “CoD” single player campaign since the first “Modern Warfare.”

Even if it features a completely silent protagonist (I despise silent protagonists when the rest of characters talk this much.)

Now, with that out of the way — it would be irresponsible to review any “Call of Duty” title without touching on the juggernaut beast that is its multiplayer suite.

It’s a hard dog to judge, because I am not as intimate with “Call of Duty” as many of my friends, and every year, Infinity Ward and Treyarch are known to add features and take features away to just shake things up.

The 14 new maps are pretty sweet (“Free Fall,” especially, is a blast), and new modes like “Search and Rescue” and “Cranked” are interesting twists on the industry standard for run and gun. I, myself, wasn’t the biggest fan of “Cranked,” which adds a death clock that resets every time players score a point — but that could just be indicative to my lack of skills that pay to CoD bills. Extinction is an awesome take on previous “Zombie” modes, stirring in extraterrestrial threats.

I realize that little of what I’ve written will colour one’s intentions regarding “Call of Duty: Ghosts” — as a series, the game’s performance is strongest in its first week of release, up to and including Christmas holidays. But there have been a multitude of doomsayers and reviews citing franchise fatigue.

To me, “Ghosts” is the freshest that “Call of Duty” has smelled in a few years, and should scare up a good time in the house of any shooter fan.

Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, PC, WiiU (PS3 and 360 versions reviewed)

Developer: Infinity Ward

Publisher: Activision

Release Date: Nov. 5, 2013

Rated: M for Mature.

Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué via thejonmercer@gmail.com.

Organizations: Special Forces

Geographic location: Michael Bay, Los Angeles

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