First Impressions of Call of Duty: Ghosts

Last week, while attending this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California, we had the opportunity to sit down with Activision and experience some of the gameplay for the upcoming Call of Duty: Ghosts.  Our powwow featured three different levels that showed distinctly different aspects of gameplay including the use of the Special Force Service Dog, Riley, and underwater assault rifle, and a level available only to the press which featured both vertical and horizontal combat.

Call of Duty Ghosts

The new engine that runs Call of Duty: Ghosts, according to the gurus at Activision, creates a huge leap in graphical fidelity, and it most certainly shows.  Our first foray with the game in a level called “No Man’s Land” sported advanced tessellation with vegetation, making it more realistic as it moves with the wind or is otherwise disturbed.  Advanced tessellation displacement mapping allowed ground textures more realistic modeling so as to not look flattened or two-dimensional.  Individual stones along the shoreline each took up their own spaces in the three dimensional environment instead of looking like they were painted on a 2D façade.  The use of SubD further enhanced the experience of high-resolution textures by adding polygons to maintain its form and smoothness as you closed in, preventing the objects from looking jagged as you got closer to them.

Enhanced graphical capabilities also included the use of cuts, scrapes and natural imperfections on skin textures, and lighting effects that simulated one’s visual adjustment from light to shadow and vice versa.

Call of Duty GhostsWhile we marveled at the graphical beauty before us, our demonstrator took us through the “No Man’s Land” scenario, where a squad of special forces members were sent into a city overtaken by semi-tropical forests, but was otherwise occupied by an unidentified enemy.  This demonstration featured Riley, your Special Forces Service Dog – a varied and long-storied role that canines have served for the military for many decades that includes support, reconnaissance, and even combat.  In this scenario, we were shown how, through the use of a tablet-type device, your serviceman could monitor what Riley sees via a camera mounted on the canine’s back or issue orders to it including moving left, right,  forward, or barking.

As the soldiers moved through the bush, they encounter three enemies on patrol.  They use Riley to take down one of the three guards while two of the squad members take down the remaining enemies with their silenced assault rifles.  From here, they made their way through a ruined mansion on the hillside where you could admire the advancements they made in the use of particle effects.

Leaving the mansion, the squad comes across a massive sinkhole and a vista of devastated buildings grown over with vegetation indicating at least a few years of abandonment.  In the foreground, swaying on a flagpole are the tattered remains of a flag of the state of California.

Call of Duty GhostsMaking your way across a crevasse, you encounter more enemies on patrol.  Your squad leader orders you to sync up with Riley and take control of his with your tablet.  Using the dog, you sneak up behind the closest enemy and take him down.  Then, to grab the attention of the next, you order Riley to bark.  As the soldier comes around the corner to investigate, your partner snipes him down.  Acting as the solders’ eyes and ears you navigate Riley through the village, marking targets to be eliminated along the way.  Once they make it to the objective, the squad members cover the door while you send Riley crashing through the window.  Enemy soldiers, in a panic, pour out of the front of the building allowing you and your team to easily take them by surprise.

Our second demo was of a level called “Federation Day”, which was only available to members of the press.  This was a nighttime op during a citywide celebration that provided perfect cover to be able to move across the city undetected.  You and your squad make your way across the rooftops to a set of grapple guns placed previously for you.  You fire the grapple guns across the street, hooking into the buildings on the other side and proceed to zip line over.  The view pans across the cityscape, and a brief sense of vertigo overcame me from the ultra-high definition graphics and butter-smooth framerate.  Once across, you and your team detach the cables on the other side of the chasm and swing to the side of the target building.  As you repel down the side, you take out a number of enemies through the office windows before you can be discovered.

Once you arrive at the target floor, you and your team make your way into the building to a server room.  You patch in and begin uploading a program to be armed.  As the progress bar fills, you hear voices and get a scan on your HUD of a number of targets making their way to your position.  You finish the upload in just enough time to make your way out of sight to a darkened alcove.  Several soldiers pass by your position, but the last one stops just in front of you.  As he turns towards you, your partner in the alcove on the other side of the hall reaches out and slits the enemy’s throat.

Call of Duty Ghosts

You and your team make your way out of the server room and back down the side of the building once again, arming the program you uploaded and subsequently killing the power to the building.  Repelling down the side, you take out soldiers on the balconies in your path.  The screen goes black with the words “In the interest of time…”

As the camera comes back into view, you and your squad mates are running for your lives through a burning and heavily damaged office building.  The ground shakes as the structure begins to buckle.  It topples sideways, sending the team sprawling on the floor, sliding quickly to the windows.  As the debris comes down around you, the screen fades again to black.

Call of Duty GhostsOur final demonstration was an underwater scene titled “Into the Deep”.  As you and your partner make your way through artificial reefs and caves created by buildings that have fallen into the sea, it’s hard not to take in the surrounding flora and fauna.  Three-dimensional fish take the place of 2D deep sea creatures you typically encounter in a shooter, and tessellation effects on vegetation are highly noticeable as kelp moves with the tides.  The level of detail and color is simply stunning.

As you make your way through the schools of fish, sunken cargo containers, and strands of seaweed and kelp, two patrol boats on the surface come into view, dropping two patrols into the water.  Using your underwater machine rifle, you quickly dispatch the group from behind cover.  Making your way through a ship wreck, you come across another patrol in a mini-sub where the screen again goes to black, with “In the interest of time…”

The screen comes into view as you move through a series of cargo containers, using them as cover to avoid the powerful sonar blasts rocking the oceanic surface from a massive ship above.  You make your way to a sunken lighthouse and toss out a remote-controlled torpedo.  Your view shifts to your tablet which you use to control the torpedo and strike the keel of the offending vessel.  Secondary explosions rock the hull, collapsing the tower around you.  Your arm gets caught in the wreckage and your oxygen line has come free from your mask.  As you lie there, pinned to the structure and drowning, your partner swims up just in time to free you.  Now you’re swimming for your life to avoid the debris as it rains down on you from the vessel above, taking out enemy patrols as they move to intercept you just before the screen goes black for the final time.

Our experience with Call of Duty: Ghosts lasted a good 30 minutes or so, and what we saw gave us some serious warm fuzzies about the direction of this new series.  Combat still has many familiar aspects to it, with just enough new to keep the game feeling good and fresh.  The addition of the Service Dog to your squad might, at first glance, seem cheesy and gimmicky, but the scenario that we saw the animal used in made good sense in the setting.  There’s a lot of promise to be had in Ghosts, as it looks to stand out among the best of the launch titles coming this holiday for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.  We’re very much looking forward to getting our hands on it for a full review at launch to really take this one apart!

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June 17, 2013 - 12:30 pm