A few weeks ago at E3 I was treated to a special showing of the latest game in a series I’m sure you’ve all heard of.  I was seated in a theatre with developers from Treyarch as they showed me and a few other journalists just what the latest Call of Duty is all about.  Call of Duty: Ghosts, as they explained, takes place in a world where a devastating event has crippled the US. The actual story begins a decade afterwards and follows the trail of two brothers, both of whom are special agent operatives.

We were shown one tech demo and 3 demos of actual missions that will be in the game.  The missions we were shown were not full missions; they were merely pieces of full missions that were picked to show off the game.

Tech Demo

They started with the technical demonstration, and the developer stressed that this is a brand new, next-gen engine and proceeded to show us the new features.  They began by showing us what they call displacement maps, which allow levels to show increased geometric detail.  Specifically, they showed how displacement can change the terrain from a flat plane to something with more detail, such as rocks that actually protrude from the ground.  They then showed us another technology that allows for blocky surfaces to become smoother.  The engine can subdivide polygons in real time as you get closer, allowing, for example, a blocky cliff face to become smoother and more realistic once you’re close enough to notice such details.  This also works in other areas, such as on the scope of a gun, which is said to be rounder. It’s worth noting that this is one area that didn’t look any different to me.  The polygons of the scope were still clearly visible.

The cliffs are an example of dynamic subdivision.

The cliffs are an example of dynamic subdivision.

Our demonstrator from Treyarch finished off this segment by showing us the higher res hand textures used in Ghosts, a detail that was immediately obvious (and appreciated considering how often hands are seen) and small demonstration of how the character’s eyes adjust realistically to different lighting scenarios, such as when from moving from a cave to the bright light outside.

 In summary, the tech demo didn’t represent a huge leap forward.  Ghosts looks very similar to other Call of Duty games.  The new engine is more focused on the details and fine tuning the experience.  Oh, and everything continues to run at a solid 60 frames per second, as per CoD tradition.

After the tech demo, we moved onto some gameplay demos, beginning with a mission called No Man’s Land.

No Man’s Land

No Man’s Land starts off with the two brothers (and their dog) moving through heavily forested terrain, sneaking through the brush and taking out enemy soldiers along the way.  This then leads to the brothers coming across a ruined town.  After moving closer and taking in the sights, an earthquake hits and buildings begin to shift and collapse before our eyes.  After this passes, the player control switches to the dog while exploring the ruins of the town and killing more enemies along the way.  The dog (named Riley) has two methods of attack.  The first is a more direct assault, where he dashes toward an enemy and leaps onto him before taking him down, while the second is much more silent and involves silently sneaking up on enemies before jumping onto them and tearing out their throats.  Yes, it’s actually quite brutal.

After exploring a bit and killing a handful of enemy soldiers, the demo switched back to controlling the brothers, where we saw them slip on masks (just like the ones on the cover) before fading to black and leading to the next demonstration.

Federation Day

This mission, we were told, was a closed door exclusive and not shown to the public.  Federation Day takes place atop skyscrapers, and opens with the brotherly team firing cables from one skyscraper to another in order to move across.  Once on the new buildings, the brothers deploy ropes so that they can rappel down the side of the building. At this point the game goes vertical and the player is tasked with taking out the occasional enemy by shooting through the glass that covers the skyscraper until eventually breaking through the window a few floors down.  Once inside, the mission takes on some stealth tones as we sneak through the building to get to the central power room, where you proceed to hack it with an in-game smartphone.

It was at this point that I noticed that the other brother (as in, the one you’re not playing as) always gives directions and directs you through the level, much like squadmates or commanders have done in previous CoDs.  This becomes most apparent when he gives you directions on every move you make with the smartphone, culminating in an order to stop the hacking and hide as soldiers on patrol walk by and threaten to stumble upon the operation.

Rapelling down the building in Federation Day.

Rapelling down the building in Federation Day.

The game then moved on to sneaking back to the window and rappelling down the side once again, this time ending with a legitimately cool section where you drop from your rope to knife the poor soul who’s been told to stand guard on the balcony.  At this point the demo cuts forward and we see ourselves running through the building as it burns and collapses around us.  Eventually the entire structure begins to tip and you’re forced to shoot enemies as you slide uncontrollably down the collapsing building.

Then we move onto the next demo.

Into the Deep

Takes place underwater (obviously).  I was actually surprised at the visuals in this section.  I’m not sure if it was the displacement mapping or some other effect, but everything looked very natural and highly detailed, and in traditional CoD fashion runs at a fluid 60FPS.  This underwater section also seemed a lot brighter than underwater missions the series has had in the past, which helped us take in the details.

This mission starts with both brothers in full scuba gear swimming as a fleet of ships sail by overhead.  Things start off quiet until your presence is noticed and soldiers dive down to stop you.  The Activision rep pointed out that guns are less effective underwater, and demonstrated this by showing that underwater enemies take 2 or 3 bullets to kill rather than the single bullet it takes on the surface.  After these enemies are dispatched we swam through the wreckage of an old wooden ship in order to avoid the small submarine that came looking for us.

A screenshot from the opening of Into the Deep.

A screenshot from the opening of Into the Deep.

At this point the demo jumped ahead a bit, and we found ourselves swimming through old, sunken shipping crates as depth charges exploded all around us.  In all scenes the brother was present and kept giving orders.  We swam to the surface and climbed into a lighthouse, where we parked in front of a computer and remote controlled a torpedo to take out a ship.  Then shots hit the lighthouse and it crumbles with you inside it, sliding deep into the water as you black out.  When you wake up you find your brother handing you an airtube and unburying you from the rubble that has you pinned, then together you swim as you avoid the sinking debris from the destroyed ship.  The demo ends as more scuba divers enter the scene and open fire.

Call of Duty: Ghosts is an evolution of the Call of Duty formula that’s been so popular since CoD4.  Ghosts is releasing on November 5 for all platforms.  Check out some more screenshots below.