In the opening narration to the final mission of Call of Duty: Ghosts, David Walker says the following of his father: "Dad taught us many things, but one lesson always stood out. Good men are defined by the choices they make." That line feels like a slap in the face from a game that forgets the step forward that Black Ops 2 dared to take and just focuses on a painfully linear experience entirely devoid of choice. It doesn't even try to use that linearity to its advantage, like the first two Modern Warfare games did (at times). Above all, Call of Duty: Ghosts feels lazy.
It's not lazy on the artistic side. A lot of care obviously went into the creation of all the environments that the average player will probably just blow right past. It must be frustrating to be a level designer meticulously recreating the seats and stands of a San Diego stadium only for it all to go unnoticed in the blur of a pair of ironsights. Only when control of the camera is wrenched from you does the game really want you to pay attention to something (usually an explosion).
The laziness is more apparent when looking at the story of Call of Duty: Ghosts. It resorts to quite a few short cuts when it comes to the dramatics, with the literal army-as-family dynamic front and centre. You're not just taking orders from a commanding officer, you're being sent into the fray by your father. The guy you relentlessly have to follow around isn't just a fellow soldier, he's your brother. This is family, of course you're supposed to care about these people! The problem is that these emotional attachments are only ever played at face value with the hope that that'll be enough. Does Elias struggle with the prospect of putting his two only sons in harm's way? Does David worry about doing his father proud and following in his footsteps? Don't know, don't care.
Then there's Riley the dog. If ever there's a cheap dramatic trick, it's putting a gun to an animal's head. Riley is essentially running around with a giant bullseye on his back, waiting to be killed when the story needs a really emotional turn. Infinity Ward have stated that Riley's unexpected popularity prompted them to revisit his fate and keep him alive, so now he only gets injured. Please take note of his yowling as you carry him to safety. Once that purpose is served, Riley is all but forgotten. He's aboard the U.S.S. Liberator when it is sunk by the Federation, but does he make it out okay? Don't know, don't care.
I once wrote about the tension between the gruff sérieux of a Call of Duty story and the arcade antics of its gameplay design. Call of Duty: Ghosts is an even more egregious example of that tension. This live-action trailer unintentionally illustrates my point wonderfully. Really, the kind of storyline that would suit the typical Call of Duty game is something akin to Team America.