Sooner or later, a lot of good things come to an end. Enjoyable periods in life, friendships, and our favorite TV shows either abruptly halt or gradually fade away into history and our memory banks of nostalgia. The same applies to video games in a more-than-average way. Franchises and series that thousands upon thousands of fans love have died out or remained in a cryogenic, sleep-like state for years. Spyro The Dragon and Crash Bandicoot – crazy, fun 3D platformers with memorable worlds and characters – got stuck in the dreaded mess of being handed around by mediocre developers until their original creative vision and charm was lost (and no, I personally don’t consider “Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure” a true revitalization of the Spyro games I loved as a kid). Mother 4, Half-Life 3, Beyond Good and Evil 2, and Star Wars: Battlefront 3 are only a couple of other games that gamers desperately want to experience, but will probably never be able to due to difficult developmental cycles and/or reality’s sting.
Anyway, I digress. What I’m trying to get at is that Call of Duty will eventually die out like anything else. Sure, it’ll take a long time, but it will very likely be due to oversaturation and “fun factor” stagnation. The yearly releases of this franchise with the formula largely remaining the same will eventually grow old to consumers. I have a friend that believed he wouldn’t get tired of Call of Duty only about a year ago, but he’s shocked to find himself feeling this way about it now. I talked about this growing problem in my first blog post, so you can check it out for my full opinion on this matter. My main point in it is this: Treyarch and Infinity Ward need to strike that difficult chord between innovation and familiarity. Make Call of Duty something that’s recognizable each year, but implement some big changes once in a while. How about a different approach to the style of gameplay (in terms of going from heavy action to an emphasis on stealth) while keeping the mechanics the same? How about branching out to a different genre like Third Person Shooter? At least Treyarch has attempted to do this to a noticeable degree and succeeded in some ways with their takes on Call of Duty. Black Ops 2 contains their most obvious experiments: Real-Time Strategy elements in the gameplay of some campaign missions, multiple story pathways with moral consequences, and a revamped Create-a-Class system for the multiplayer. However, these still aren’t and haven’t been enough to get me to come back to Call of Duty multiple times throughout any given week like I used to do. What needs to be done?
“What, this flare? Oh, I just wanted to show you how photogenic I am.”
With the recent unveiling of Call of Duty: Ghosts, I think it’s the perfect time to address what the next installment in this gargantuan franchise could do to stand out as a truly unique and innovative title in comparison to its predecessors. I have a few things I’d love to see in the campaign (part 1), multiplayer, and a third mode different to or expanding upon Spec Ops and/or Survival Mode (part 2). Without further ado, let’s unmask my thoughts…
1. Diverse Missions Primarily Driven by Stealth Tactics, Equipment, and Settings
Some of my all-time favorite missions from the Call of Duty campaigns are the ones involving stealth. “All Ghillied Up” from Call of Duty 4 and “Cliffhanger” from Modern Warfare 2 are packed with tense scenarios to keep out of the sight of enemies while having to also surgically take them down. However, these sorts of missions make up a small percentage of all the campaigns because Call of Duty is primarily known for explosive, unbelievable shootouts. But what if Ghosts switched gears by having a majority of stealth missions with some epic shootouts here and there? This would surely make for a change of pace that offers up a myriad of new possibilities for Ghosts’ campaign. For starters, new mechanics could be added to the solid FPS gameplay that give more control to the player, such as being able to control where the player wants his teammates positioned, commanding who to kill, and which equipment to use in a given situation. This would be something similar to what Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and Brothers in Arms have done and I believe it would bode very well with Ghosts (as exemplified in the RTS gameplay in Black Ops 2).
The equipment possible for a stealth-themed Call of Duty is absolutely awesome in concept. I don’t know where to begin with the possibilities! The CornerShot would be an awesome gun to see in the Call of Duty arsenal, as well as plenty of new attachments for other stealthy weaponry. Camouflage for soldiers is a given, and something like “Octocamo” and “FaceCamo” from Metal Gear Solid 4 could open up for plenty of new opportunities for missions. What if there were moments that required precise timing to blend into the environment? The amount of nerve-wracking situations that could result from this alone could craft the campaign into an exciting, edge-on-your-seat experience that doesn’t require explosions and close-shaves from utter destruction.
This would be insanely cool in Ghosts…yes, its non-existent technology, but who cares?
Last, but not least, Ghosts could have the most breathtaking environments out of any of the Call of Duty games. I can see it now: watching a sunrise on red mountaintops and desert valleys; crouching down in a midnight storm through a thick jungle; sneaking through an old, seemingly abandoned factory of cold, rusted steel; wandering through an underground network of caves with waterfalls, stalactites, and perilous drops. These are simply a few suggestions; Infinity Ward has the chance to use time of day, unexpected locations, and massive scope to blow away gamers in the visual sense. When everything is blowing up and there’s no time to slow down, nothing can be appreciated to its fullest extent. That can change for Ghosts if it takes a stealthy approach, especially since it will have a new engine.
2. A Grounded Story with Relatable Objectives, Twists and Turns, and Depth
Most of the stories of Call of Duty have the simplistic, typical plots you would expect from a military shooter: bad guys have powerful nuclear weapon, so good guys must stop them. However, this would be an unfair description of Treyarch’s games. The Black Ops series has the most developed story in the franchise, which has great characters like Sergeant Reznov and Alex Mason, unexpected plot twists, and a surprisingly compelling narrative. I want Infinity Ward to learn from Treyarch’s work and make it better.
“The numbers, Mason…what do they mean?” This was an intriguing mystery in Black Ops.
Each story needs an introduction, and Ghosts will be no exception. It’s a “new chapter” for the franchise according to an executive producer at Infinity Ward, so I will be expecting a breakdown on what’s been going on, what needs to happen, why these things are happening, and who’s who. Many games like Call of Duty make the mistake of briefly describing what’s going on followed by immediately jumping into the middle of the action without a cohesive goal or reason to care about what’s going on. Everything we do is backed up by beliefs, values, and motives. For example, the end of Modern Warfare 3 is one of the most potent levels in the whole trilogy. Captain Price is on a personal vendetta that’s absolutely relatable, and it explodes into an adrenaline-pumping mission that isn’t just exciting due to the action, but because of the objective itself. Therefore, reasons for combat should be understandable, clear, and effectively introduced throughout the entire story of a video game that requires this, and I believe Call of Duty is one such game. Once this is out of the way, the story should be bolstered with a logical pace; let the player have freedom of choice for the combat and/or story outcomes (Black Ops 2 was a large step in the right direction); create goals for the characters and outcomes for their decisions that are worth caring about, and throw in a couple of unbelievable, emotional plot twists that make sense. The list goes on, and I’m no storywriter, but I know a good story when I see one. If Ghosts can do this – and I know it’s possible – then we’ll be in for one of the most shocking surprises later this year.
3. Relatable Characters with Backstories, Unique Personalities, and Humanity
One of the biggest challenges facing any video game developer is trying to build a connection between players and a character(s). Examples I can personally conjure up that succeed in this regard are The Walking Dead (by Telltale Games), Final Fantasy X, Kingdom Hearts, and Journey. How do these games manage to do this? Common threads I see woven together in this area include believable, relatable backstories. Characters that have a history instantly become more interesting to anyone. They can be surprising, horrifying, ordinary, or mysterious as long as they’re meaningful because they can bring out the curiosity and emotion of gamers. Likewise, personalities are a key strength to strong characters. What would be the opposite of this when it comes to Ghosts? That would be serious, battle-hardened soldiers that shut up, follow orders, and crack some quip or corny phrase every now and then. Uh, how about no? Look at military films and TV shows like Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan, and Band of Brothers. They show that soldiers have diverse personalities, strengths, weaknesses, differing views, and most importantly, humanity. This is true for soldiers in reality, and there’s no reason that this can’t be emulated to some effect in a game. You need only look to The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls, which are posed to have some of the strongest characters in any game yet (the recent Bioshock: Infinite is another example too). No one should have to search for and try hard to care about someone. It comes naturally to all of us in life, and fiction has the uncanny ability to connect us with the imaginary in all sorts of ways. Although we’re talking about Call of Duty, the potential is there for Ghosts to accomplish this.
Will Ghosts’ cast of characters be stereotypical or compelling? Time will tell.
4. An Electrified, Gritty Soundtrack with Tensity and Spine-Chilling Beauty
Hans Zimmer may have been the helm of the Modern Warfare 2 soundtrack, but I’ll never forget Harry Gregson-William and Stephen Barton’s score for Call of Duty 4. Or more specifically, the main menu theme he composed for it. It has this sense of quiet severity brought out by eerie, heavy strings and odd echoing sounds. This is how I would imagine the majority of Ghosts’ soundtrack. The bombastic orchestral songs from most of the Call of Duty games are great, but they shouldn’t be the prominent type of music in Ghosts. Soundtracks like the ones for the Metal Gear Solid series invoke the vibe I’m looking for. After all, being stealthy is a scary, risky, and nerve-wracking thing to perform, so the music of the game should define it to enhance the immersion of Ghosts.
5. Significant Improvement to the Engine, AI, and Realism
It’s been quite a while since Call of Duty has changed its game engine. In fact, the Call of Duty 4 engine has been used for over 5 years for each game with small adjustments and improvements. This streak is finally ending with a supposedly new game engine coming to Ghosts. This will hopefully be accompanied with significantly updated graphics that improve important things like textures, lighting, and physics. Another area people have always wanted to see improved is the Artificial Intelligence. Instead of enemies normally hiding behind cover and sticking their heads out in ridiculous ways, there should be more strategies for them to execute. They should have some unpredictable movements, truly try to defend themselves instead of running out into the open, and react with one another in creative ways. All of these things in consideration contribute to enhancing the realism of Call of Duty, which could be applied to every area of Ghosts. I know that people laugh at the idea of an FPS (let alone Call of Duty) being realistic, but at least games like Battlefield 3 and Medal of Honor: Warfighter have accomplished this goal to certain extents. The former excels in visual, equipment, and vehicle realism, whereas the latter attempts to show the emotional and personal effects that war has on soldiers and their families.
But will they act “real?” Will the game at least try to be “real” to some extent?
I concede that this is some major wishful thinking, but the “realism” I’m hoping for isn’t impossible. Developers will never be able to replicate reality (or not for a very long time, at least), but that doesn’t mean they can’t imitate it in the best way that games are capable of doing.
6. Campaign Co-op and DLC Missions
Not a lot of developers attempt to add DLC to campaign experiences that would benefit from it. However, Dead Space 3 and Bioshock: Infinite are two recent examples of games that are going against the curve. Call of Duty has always had the potential to do this as well, but simply never has. If Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops had DLC missions that centered on their prominent characters (like Ghost and Reznov, respectively), I would have been all over them. The reasons why are that they could have expanded on the Call of Duty stories or even offered alternate timelines in addition to new vehicles, weapons, and locations to use. And I’m not just talking about a 30-minute/one hour-long mission every couple of months, but one mission every month in the form of episodic releases like The Walking Dead. The exciting anticipation that would come with this kind of release strategy for campaign DLC in Ghosts could be something ingenious.
Multiplayer DLC may offer new maps to play online, but campaign DLC would be a new and fresh addition to Call of Duty that many people would be more than willing to try out. And not only this, but it could entice players that only play the multiplayer to dive into the campaign, especially if it could be played cooperatively like World at War’s campaign. It may not have been a popular feature in that game, but with DLC and a squad of main characters (as indicated by the reveal trailer), Ghosts would make for the ultimate return of co-op (maybe even up to four players) for the campaign…and why not?
The potential is there for the campaign in Ghosts, but will Infinity Ward seize this opportunity?
I will try to return with my suggestions for the multiplayer and third mode (Part 2) in a week or two. I didn’t expect to rant for so long on the campaign, so I hope this doesn’t come across as being spread out too thin. Other than that, what are you hoping to see in Call of Duty: Ghosts? If you were in charge of the franchise and could do anything with it, how would you alter it? Do you currently like Call of Duty, enjoyed it in the past, or were never fond of it? Shout out in the comments below, and please ask any questions you may have about my points (it was hard to get them right!). Thanks for reading!
This article was originally published as a user blog post on Game Informer.