Call of Duty is still the biggest name in first-person shooting. Part of it is due to the epic scale of the iconic single-player campaigns. To this day, no one does set piece-heavy, chaotic shooting action quite like Activision-Blizzard's main FPS crews, and Call of Duty: Ghosts steps up the tradition a few big notches, as the developers demonstrated to us at E3 2013.
The demo began with the developers showing off the engine's ability to increase and decrease key graphical effects. At the twist of a metaphorical knob, running water turned from canned animation sprays to a detailed flow, and droplets bounced off rocks with detailed flows. Another knob, and the pebble texture revealed tesselation and displacement mapping technology that gave individual rocks a "pop" that ranged from subtle to post-realistic. They also revealed Call of Duty: Ghosts would be one of the first game to use SubD curve generation techniques in real time, along with an evolution of the classic technique of increasing the polygon count on closer objects. This allows for disturbingly realistic cuts and scrapes on the arm of the player avatar as it came into view to start the demo.
The story of Ghosts takes place in a new continuity to go along with the new engine. Ten years ago, a series of incidents and disasters devastated the United States, leaving it as a shell of its former power. In the near-future, two brothers join a military group called the Ghosts to help bring back some of the country's former glory.
The most joked-about but also most intriguing new gameplay element of Ghosts would be the now-iconic "Ghost Dog," Riley, who is based on real techniques used by canine support for Navy SEALS. You actively control him at certain points of play, viewing him from a camera behind his back, issuing commands using an earpiece clipped to his ear and a throat-mounted motor. Riley is better than you at sneaking, taking down enemies, being a top-notch spotter, or barking at the right moment to make opponents turn around, leaving them wide-open to more traditional weaponry. While Riley's segments occasionally seemed tacked-on, the fictional conceits felt right.
Riley only follows the Ghosts in the first level, "No Man's Land," which takes place in the forested-over remnants of parts of San Diego, California. As you run through and take out enemies, the game stops to show a church falling apart and dropping into the sinkhole in the middle of the city. A few different stealth-heavy segments later, and this portion of the demo ends with the words, "Mask On."
Then came "Federation Day," which is set in Venezuela and starts with a slow, careful forced entry into a massive business tower. Timing the launch of a zip line so it's masked by fireworks, you rappel down and shoot guards through windows to prevent them from triggering alarms. The stealth returns, with the team finding a server building, slipping back to the zip lines, and then performing an Assassin's Creed-style air assassination to mix things up. Part of the level was skipped through, leading to the end, where the building is tipping over amid explosions, and things fade to black just as the player jumps through a window.
Finally, "Into the Deep" starts underwater and deals with realistic hazards, tools and methods, including underwater-specific guns to fight off sharks and swimming low to avoid drawing attention from enemy sonar. The last hazard is avoided in the most basic way to any shooter fan: taking cover until you can fire a torpedo at the ship. You get knocked out by the ensuing wreckage, but fortunately, one of your teammates revives you and helps you get back to the surface.
The single-player portion may not merit the attention of most Call of Duty fans, but as the series has developed around set piece-heavy action gameplay, it's become one of the best in the single-player action field and serves as a solid four-hour invitation to join the multiplayer fun. The E3 2013 demo remains proof that Infinity Ward's sharp focus on action-film gameplay persists to the next generation, with a graphics engine that's capable of keeping up with the latest serial escalation.
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