“Call of Duty: Ghosts,” the latest iteration of the first-person-shooter franchise, is due out in the winter but was shown at Tuesday’s Xbox One launch event. Surprisingly, it wasn’t new weapons and exotic, war-torn locales that dominated the grand unveiling of the sure-to-be blockbuster game.
It was a dog. Mark Rubin, executive producer for Infinity Ward (the developer of “Call of Duty: Ghosts”), says the dog will key into how players strategize throughout the game.
A promo video shown Tuesday noted that the dog is “someone you care about, a squad member, who does everything from sniffing out explosives to protecting the team.” “Ghosts” is due Nov. 5 for the Xbox 360, PC and PS3. No release date has been set for the Xbox One and other next-gen consoles.
The dog is just one of many advances in “Ghosts,” the first “Call of Duty” game heading to next-gen systems. “Ghosts” restarts the franchise with new teams and what publisher Activision promised would be an emotional script from “Traffic” and “Syriana” writer Stephen Gaghan.
“What the guys at Infinity Ward wanted to do this time was tell a much more crafted story around your squad, and the tensions that exist within the world of ‘Ghost’,” Rubin said last week at an Activision press event in Santa Monica. “Gaghan came in and entrenched himself with the team.”
Don’t expect any patriotic cheerleading in this “Call of Duty,” or at least not nearly as much. The story begins after an “event” that Rubin says “put the idea of America as a superpower to rest.” It supposedly allowed Gaghan to write a more personal story, touching on relationships with the dog, as well as other squad members, one of whom will be the protagonist’s brother.
“That’s all new for ‘Call of Duty,’” Rubin said. “It’s typically been jingoistic, ‘Yeah! Way to go!’ Now you’re the underdog. If you’re pinned down you can’t call in an air strike to get you out of situations. You have to be a little more ingenious. You have to be more stealthy in how you approach situations.”
It wasn’t, Rubin said, designed necessarily to bring in new players to the “Call of Duty” universe so much as revamp the franchise for next-gen consoles. But unlike 2012′s “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” penned by “The Dark Knight Rises” co-writer David S. Goyer, “Ghosts” deals less with real-life situations and characters. The “Black Ops” sequel even made overtures to current events and the debate surrounding unmanned drones, as well as housing digital interpretations of the likes of David Petraeus and Oliver North.
“‘Call of Duty’ gets criticized for certain things,” Rubin said. ” A lot of people go, ‘It’s a jingoistic game.’ I think this is the first time we’ve turned the tables on that. When you play the game, you’re immersed in this situation where you cannot call in a huge armada to support you. It creates a sense of, ‘Oh, I’m a little vulnerable here. Those guys have better stuff than I do.’ It’s not outwardly told to you, but you get the sense from playing.”
Scenes shown last week in Santa Monica focused on a tense underwater sequence, in which guns were used to stealthily shoot at enemies. Players were forced to swim and sneak around expansive coral reefs, and fish in “Ghosts” move with the current and will get out of the way of any soldier. A few blasts and one disaster later had players scrambling to swim to safety while ship parts came careening into the water. No actual hands-on time with the game was offered.
Microsoft and Infinity Ward were largely showcasing graphical capabilities that allow for more rounded weapons, more bones in a person’s facial structure and “dynamic maps,” in which the multiplayer worlds can be forever destroyed by earthquakes and floods. Rubin said compared to “Black Ops II,” the new “Ghosts” will boast three times the number of polygons on a character’s face alone, “which will allow more emotion and a better connection with the player.”
Rubin was asked if more photo-realism and emotion meant more care, responsibility and time must be spent in a crafting a story. “We are making an entertainment project first and foremost,” he said. “We know we’re making a maturer game, and we expect that when people look at our game and play our game they will play a fictional game experience. But that doesn’t change the way we approach our creativity or how our developers approach it.”
The graphics of the Xbox One will also allow you to see the scratches on the dog’s nose and the tattoo in the dog’s ear. But there was one nagging question at the end of the presentation.
The dog doesn’t die, does he? Rubin was silent. Then he said, “PETA would probably be mad,” referring to how the digital dog is portrayed in the game, “but we don’t know yet.”
He did calm some fears when he said this: “I don’t think we’re going to be compared to ‘Old Yeller.’”
– Todd Martens
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