Another year, another Call of Duty. At this point, can anyone really claim to be surprised when Activision unveils a new addition to modern gaming's most lucrative franchise? All that being said, something about Call of Duty: Ghosts tempts even the series' toughest critics and most jaded fans, daring us to rejoin the Call of Duty hype train. And you know what? I can't recall the last time I looked forward to a Call of Duty game as much as I do now.
Last week, we joined many other industry writers, journalist, bloggers, and all-around personalities in Santa Monica for Activision's pre-E3 show, and guess what the publisher focused on? Okay, yes, Skylanders Swap Force was a big hit too, but I'm referring to Call of Duty: Ghosts, obviously. The upcoming shooter tags Modern Warfare studio Infinity Ward back in, right after Treyarch's latest hit Black Ops 2, but the new Call of Duty won't be another Modern Warfare -- it won't even be in the same world. Continuity, that is.
New Story, New Cast
Modern Warfare started out with this really great story that was actually being told rather effectively. By Modern Warfare 3, however, things had gotten a bit rough. Infinity Ward isn't about to let past missteps get in the way of Ghosts, however, and just to prove that story still matters in the Call of Duty universe, the team brought in Stephen Gaghan to pen a proper story. If you're not aware, that's the fellow behind the 2000 film, Traffic, for which Gaghan won an Academy Award.
Infinity didn't go too much into the story, and that's understandable. We did learn the whole premise of the game, at least, and where the "Ghosts" in its name comes from. In the not-so-far future, the United States ('MURICA) has crumbled under a yet-unrevealed enemy, and our military forces are left decimated. Unable to stand idle and do nothing, a few surviving members from various special forces branches take it upon themselves to form their own unique squad of vigilante freedom fighters, and they strike back as vengeful ghosts of the people. Well, something along those lines.
Point is, these guys have a very particular set of skills; skills they've acquired over a very long career. Skills that make them a nightmare for people like our enemies.
A new cast of characters will be introduced -- the ghosts, if you will -- though we didn't get to meet any yet. Not unless you count the currently-nameless dog. Yeah, Infinity threw in a dog that works alongside you as your greatest ally and best buddy. Finally, a f*ck you to all those damn enemy hounds trying to rip out the back of your knees.
Either way, the developers are hoping to actually put together a more robust cast, with characters that the audience will hopefully develop an emotional attachment to. You know, like Ghost... sob.
The New Engine
Call of Duty: Ghosts will feature a new world and run on a new engine, and that new-ness is something Infinity Ward really wants to get across. This transition into the next generation provides the perfect opportunity for that rebirth. The gameplay will no doubt be as familiar as the Call of Duty name, but a new coat of paint can go a long way. Kind of like remodeling the old house you grew up in.
Incidentally, the Ghosts preview was really our first in-depth look at a next-gen quality title. Infinity spent the majority of their presentation actually going over the game's graphical improvements and the new tech that made it all possible.
"Gameplay drives tech," remarked IW executive producer Mark Rubin. Indeed, every visual improvement only deepens the gameplay experience.
He also pointed out that much of their new talent came from Hollywood, allowing the studio to take advantage of technological advancement already in use by the CG movie industry. The Sub-D tech, which Rubin spoke endlessly about, raises the particle cap for a higher polycount, resulting in much smoother objects.
Hilariously, the Call of Duty: Ghosts tech demo was actually reminiscent of Bethesda's Skyrim video from a couple E3's ago, in the way the devs showed off the game's environments. Look at the water. Look at the salmon in the water. Examine the salmon meat in your inventory.
While Infinity Ward didn't have any highly detailed fish meat to show off, the demo did offer an impressive look at Ghosts' beautiful world. That did, of course, involve a lot of running water. A segment that was shown took us through a jungle, where we were able to see all the details that went toward making the in-game setting feel more realistic. When stepping through a waterfall, the game actually captured the mist effect in the air, created by the water colliding together.
More impressive were the textures, which adopted a more three-dimensional feel. In most games we see now, surfaces tend to be flat with only the appearance of texture. Rubin referred to this as "implied geometry." By comparison, Ghosts' new engine actually creates dimension within these textures, so the rock wall actually protrudes differently. The rocks exist, no longer just wallpaper plastered over a... wall.
The actual gameplay sequence, a snippet taken from a longer demo meant to debut at today's Xbox reveal, offered a better look at the new engine in action. In a rather Call of Duty-esque segment, we see the player character and an ally stealthing their way through tropical waters in order to reach and take out an enemy vessel. During this time, we're able to compare exactly how Ghosts stacks up to its predecessors, and boy, what a difference it is.
The underwater environment also provided a means of showcasing some of the AI, as in the way smoke billows and how fish swim and react to you. We don't normally give these kinds of things much thought while we're playing through an incredibly tense or action-driven game, but knowing the work that goes into these details really allows us to better appreciate the product.
While the preview focused more on tech rather than gameplay, Mark Rubin did take care to point out a few ways Infinity has advanced on that front, though not in any exceptional detail. Greater mobility will come into play thanks to the new engine, allowing players to pull off some quick reflex-based moves, like wall-jumps, sliding, and wall-leans.
Despite all the focus on single-player, multiplayer remains a staple, and as always, the newest Call of Duty will see improvements. Customizable player characters were mentioned, but not shown, and new obstacles will force players to think a little more in gunfights. What kind of obstacles? Traps, for one thing, plus other elements not necessarily created by players. Floods, earthquakes, and such natural phenomena add more depth (in theory) of play. The keyword here is "revamp."
If you're curious to see more, then you'll want to check out our Xbox One reveal liveblog and discussion.
As for a date, Call of Duty: Ghosts has already been confirmed for November 5, at least for PC and current-gen consoles. With both the PlaySation 4 and Xbox One set for launch later this year, I suspect Ghosts will be quick to follow.
Follow Lydia on Twitter @RabidChinaGirl or check out her news, reviews and features every day here on Neoseeker.