Call of Duty: Ghosts’ Ending Sets Up Potential Game-Changer Sequel
WARNING: This editorial contains explicit spoilers for the plot and ending of Call of Duty: Ghosts. There are also some for the original BioShock, so if you’ve made it these past six years without playing it or finding out its twist, then go away.
In 2007, BioShock made us face a thing we had internalized in our lifetimes of playing video games: that we are merely pawns, and that our actions are usually dictated by others.
It was a concept I know I took for granted, but the reveal that the phrase “Would you kindly” was compelling our character’s actions, even as we were forced to work toward the objectives that Irrational Games gave us in the structure of the game, was a pretty strange moment.
The pretense that the people we controlled had some sort of in-universe free will even as we operated them without any such literal illusions was shattered in an instant, and ever since, it’s been difficult to swallow the paint-by-numbers approach taken by most linear narrative games.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 took us further in this journey of self-discovery five years later, by introducing a plot that branched not because of direct player choice, but rather through the ability to fail, to be misled — or to avoid either. Its Call of Duty successor, this year’s Ghosts, stayed with a more traditional linear approach to its narrative, in which events are predetermined. But what occurs at the end of that game could lead to a new level of self-aware gamer dissonance if Infinity Ward and Activision choose to take this new subfranchise to its natural next step.
In Ghosts, you play as Logan, a typical first-person silent protagonist. That Logan never speaks is to the detriment of the campaign in its own context, considering the other main characters are Logan’s brother, Hesh, and his father, Elias. The campaign concerns a scenario in which a South American confederation manages to cripple the defensive infrastructure of the United States and mount an invasion, and that war lasts for longer than the decade over which the game takes place.
In that time, an American military unit, known as the Ghosts, carries out what are apparently crucial missions in the ongoing fight, and one of their own, Rorke, was captured early on and turned by the enemy. During the bulk of the game, he leads an anti-Ghosts force and serves as the primary antagonist.
The vague tale goes that Rorke was tortured with techniques cultivated by native tribes in the southern continent, using poisons found in the rain forest. He was broken by this torture to the extent that he became fully convinced that his former allies were the enemy. He became ideologically opposed to those who had once been his greatest friends.
At the conclusion of Ghosts’ plot, Logan and Hesh are lying on a beach in South America watching U.S. forces rout their foes from afar. Hesh has been shot through the gut, and so when Rorke appears mid-credits to interrupt this moment of respite to drag Logan away, Hesh can do nothing but scream.
And when, as he pulls Logan into the jungle, Rorke claims he is going to turn Logan against his brother and friends, I believe him.
So how could Ghosts 2 take this cliffhanger ending and turn it into one of great meta-narratives in modern gaming? Quite simply, by having Rorke put Logan through the same torture and indoctrination Rorke himself experienced, and having it work. And, then, putting players in the role of Logan as he fights against Hesh and co.
It’s one thing to force or allow you to play as a bad guy — think Star Wars: The Old Republic, in which you can fight for the Sith — or to have what was previously a protagonist group become villains themselves — as in Killzone: Shadow Fall and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. It’s another thing entirely to take a playable good guy and make him (you) fight against the good guys, without any player choice or moral grayness entering the equation.
Imagine this: In Ghosts 2, you are Logan, turned forcibly and now convinced that your old friends and home country are the bad guys. In traditional Call of Duty fashion, missions are perfectly linear and there’s no element of choice, but all that you do is to the detriment of the USA, its people and your brother, who you see in that game the same way you saw Rorke in Ghosts or Gen. Shepherd in MW2. The game presents the Ghosts as antagonists with absolute conviction, and in order to progress through the campaign, you must work against them alongside Rorke, knowing full-well as the player all that is really going on.
That possibility feels like the perfect follow-up to “would you kindly” — knowing perfectly well that you are serving the interests of the antagonist, that you are the antagonist, even, but not having any alternative actions. I don’t believe Infinity Ward will go there, but I can’t think of any other direction that would be effective from here. Taking over as Hesh or some other Ghost in a fight against Logan would not be a particularly effective tactic, since Logan has neither a face nor a voice, and as such, if he were to become an actual character, it wouldn’t mean anything. But if you were able to continue to be Logan after he’s turned, it could make for some truly brilliant player dissonance that could offer far more talking points than forcing you to be baptized in order to enter Columbia.
But in addition to being a ballsy move, such a thing could do much to revive Call of Duty’s reputation. Ghosts was the worst-reviewed Call of Duty of the dying generation, and that is not a meaningless distinction. Black Ops 2 was a good shake-up for the series, but it needs to be shaken a lot more if Activision hopes it can maintain its dominance in the marketplace.
Messing with players in a truly meaningful way in Ghosts 2 — so that they’ll actually have something to talk about after finishing the game, instead of just forgetting it ever happened — would be a good start.