As we've been told so many times, death and taxes are two surefire inevitabilities. And in the world of games, there appears to be a third: If it's November, then you can count on a new Call of Duty to hit store shelves. And you can expect millions of gamers to quickly snap it up and start in on a fresh round of shooting.
So here we have the latest Call of Duty, called Ghosts, a fluid first-person military shooter that packs in all the elaborate set pieces, fierce shootouts and tense stealth missions that many have come to expect from this franchise. But if you're expecting to once again be battling rogue Russian or Middle Eastern terrorists—the sort that have made up bad-guy forces in recent games—Ghosts quickly kicks that notion right out of your helmeted head, proffering a new storyline in the CoD universe, with a whole new set of baddies, too.
Death From Above (And the South)
It's the not-too-distant future, a time when all the energy-rich nations of the Middle East have used up most of their resources. As an economic power shift lurches to the forefront of the world's attention, a consortium of South American nations called the Federation starts flexing its economic and military muscle. The first order of business? Take down the high-and-mighty U.S. of A.
Not only do secret forces start advancing on North America, but the Federation decides to really get things rolling by hijacking a U.S. orbital weapon called ODIN (Orbital Defense Initiative) and literally vaporizing some 30 U.S. cities with our own advanced weaponry. What's left are clusters of terrified citizens, a ravaged landscape and a ragtag remnant of the national military force. The story centers around two twentysomething brothers, Logan and Hesh, who rally to the cause thanks to their father's military connection. They're sent off on insurgent missions to protect the surviving, crater-pocked locales from advancing Federation forces. And eventually they work their way into the elite Ghosts squad.
The blistering firefights and calculated campaigns that make up the game's 18 missions cover a broad and cinematically impressive range of action. The pace is fast and fluid as we jump back and forth between a brief outer space battle between American and Federation astronauts, to running through a rain of terrestrial bombs, to rappelling down the side of a Caracas skyscraper, to piloting an assault helicopter, to scuba diving through coral reefs in a special deep-sea mission.
18 "Cool" Ways to Kill
What that amounts to for the gun-wielding gamer is a mixture of beat-the-invaders, sneak-through-the-urban-jungle, run-and-gun heroism and a whole lot of high-def knife-to-the-chest, spatter-the-scenery-with-gore realism.
Along with tossed grenade and guided missile explosions from a distance, there are brain-splashing deaths delivered through the sights of a sniper rifle or throat slashes up so close you can almost smell your enemy's virtual sweat. There are stealthy objectives where players take on the role of Riley, Hesh's faithful German Shepherd, as he charges up to rip out a foe's throat with his teeth.
During one mission, Hesh and Logan are even forced to watch the bloody torture and execution of their father at the hands of the Federation's chief evildoer. And in another scene players lie prone on the digital floor, face-to-face with a man who is being smothered and brutally stabbed with a combat knife to the chest and neck. In short, close-quarters death can be slow and full of graphic suffering in Ghosts—not to mention spattered with f- and s-words in the dialogue.
Of course, none of the above is necessarily unexpected when it comes to an M-rated shooter of this stripe. In each of the past CoD games we've pointed out the same kind of graphic violence. But there's something about the "cool" factor of video game killing that's always worth taking a moment (or three) to think about before skipping off to join in on the next war.
Games like this allow you to shrug off the lethality of real-world wounds while perpetually eviscerating your foes in spectacular, adrenaline-inducing ways—aided and abetted by nifty new next-next-gen consoles (the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4). It's sensationalized military blow-'em-away that seriously downplays the deadly consequences.