With the single-player campaign in Ghosts, Infinity Ward is taking a different approach to story. Players will again control American soldiers, but this time they find themselves in the near future, 10 years after the United States has suffered catastrophic defeat at the hands of a new, South American super power.
The outsiders are attacking the United States and it’s up to the player to protect what’s left. As such, you’re the underdog, rather than the domineering ass-kicker that’s found in just about any FPS game starring American troops.
Stephen Gaghan, the Oscar-winning writer of Traffic, has been brought in to write the script, which focuses on two brothers – and their dog Riley – as they try to cope with their new reality. For the first time, the developers are trying to create characters that pack emotional heft by giving them an origin story, which is designed to make players feel for them, Palacios says.
“That underdog feel changes the situation you’re in, [making the tone of the series] new and fresh,” Miller says.
That said, the story is still rigidly linear. There will be situations where players will have choices in how they proceed, but the story will have only one ultimate outcome, something the developers consider a hallmark of the series.
“We want to focus on the cinematic experience. That’s our mantra,” Palacios says.
Riley, the dog, is a key addition to the gameplay in Ghosts. In the demo I was shown, one of the brothers takes control of the German Shepherd, who then scouts out an outpost near the ruins of San Diego. Riley can distract or attract guards by barking, but his handler can also control him through a collar microphone and a vibrating vest worn by the dog, both of which convey orders. The pooch can also attack and take down enemies, jump through windows and even breach doors.
The gameplay looks neat, even if it’s a little ridiculous – Riley could easily be like the robot drones from other Call of Duty games; just a different name and more fur. But much of what he does is actually based in reality, I’m told. The developers consulted with real military canine units and came away equally surprised with their capabilities and intelligence.
“Seeing the dogs in [motion capture] and how athletic they are was pretty amazing,” says Miller.
Ghosts also packs in a bunch of new technology, from a purpose-built game engine that drives the whole experience to a slate of new visual and audio effects. The game – under development since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was released in November, 2011 – was designed on high-end PCs, which is giving developers a good degree of leeway in scaling down for two concurrent generations of consoles. It’s being released for the upcoming Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles, but also for existing Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii U machines.
The new consoles are allowing for some amazing graphical improvements, if the demos I’ve seeing are any indication. The new engine is able to dramatically boost and divide the number of polygons on screen as you get closer to them, meaning that backgrounds are rendering much more realistically as they come into fuller view.
One technical demonstration showed some rocks on a riverbed, as rendered in next-generation graphics versus current generation. In the latter, they appeared flat – entirely passable at a glance – but in the former they were fully realized; round and glistening with moisture.
“Oh that actually is a pile of rocks, it doesn’t just look like a pile of rocks,” Miller says.
The eye candy does have to be scaled down for existing consoles, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Palacios adds. “It still looks better than Black Ops 2 or Modern Warfare 3 ever did.”
On next-generation consoles the extra horsepower will also be noticeable in the audio. Gunfire, for one, will sound different depending on the environment in which its happening, adding to the immersion. You’ll be able to hear if someone is firing from inside a metal ship container, for example, which will certainly introduce new elements to multiplayer.