Getting this out of the way from the outset: I haven’t played Call Of Duty: Ghosts. There’s no review that’s going to go live on Digitally Downloaded once the embargo lifts, and I’ve got no inclination to buy the game.
I’ve played previous Call Of Duty games, of course, and they consistently disappoint me. Not because they’re poorly-made games. They’re quite clearly made well, or they wouldn’t sell in the kinds of numbers they do.
Rather, my objection to Call Of Duty is on the basis of what it tells us about the development of the games industry. For the past week or so my Twitter feed and social aggregate sites like N4G have been filled with stories about whether the game looks better on one platform than the other, screenshot comparisons, and so on and so forth. The analysis of the game’s technical merits, right down to fish and dogs, can actually be impressively detailed. And that’s the problem.
In my spare time I’m also a big fan of films, and I read a lot of the film press. Over there, when a big film is being released, people don’t talk about the tools that made the film happen. Critics might mention in passing whether the film has nice production values, but then the conversation quickly switches to the themes, the merit of the film as a creative work or even art, and in doing so those critics are contributing to a rich medium in which the deepest of philisophical conversations can be had within the most popular of films. Think of the rich narrative and philosophy of the first Matrix film. As influential as the bullet time visual gimmick was, most of the critics themselves were analysing about the film’s deeper themes.
In film criticism there are no paragraphs on what camera was used to shoot the film, and certainly no “wars” between different camera types (though there’s elements of that in the publications aimed at filmmakers rather than audiences).
The reason that film critics don’t concern themselves with the technical construction of a film is because it’s irrelevant. When you go to a work of architectural genius, you don’t study what concrete was used as the base. And so it is with the creative arts; what’s important is the impact of the work, its themes, its message and the cultural value it holds, because that’s what separates a great work from an average or inferior work. Assuming that the technology backing the work isn’t broken to the point where it distracts the audience from the work, then it’s no longer important in terms of the broader experience.
This is why indie developers have been able to provide us with such memorable experiences. Lacking the ability to create something as blockbuster as a Call Of Duty title, they are still able to create deeply emotional and impactful games because the basic reality is that once an engine is refined to the point where it’s functional, it’s the creativity and vision that becomes important.
Again with the disclaimer that I haven’t played Ghosts, my experience with the other games in the franchise is that this is a series that terminally lacks for any creative vision. So focused is it on nailing the kickback of each individual gun, of providing action to a level that would make Michael Bay blush, and perfectly balancing the multiplayer that Call Of Duty games lack any creative depth. The games are consistently more a case of a bad 80’s action movie than a peer to Apocalypse Now.
This is fine, in the sense that as an eSport or mindless skill tester Call Of Duty does its job, but on the other hand Call Of Duty, as the most valuable franchise in an emerging art form, has a responsibility to further the industry’s development. And it can’t do that as long as the overwhelming bulk of the media coverage and chatter about the game is focused on its technical merits and not its creative weaknesses.
– Matt S
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld