A dog. A big, tongue-lolling lug of a beast with dog feelings and adorable, kicky-leg dog dreams is the most exciting thing to happen to the world's biggest shooter franchise in years. We live in strange times. But let's face it: the poor pooch probably won't be around for long, will he? I mean, these types of situations have a way of ending tragically for all creatures with more than two legs - at least, if other action games/movies are any indication. How's Infinity Ward feeling about Call of Duty: Ghosts, though? Will they stick with the cliche? As part of a wide-ranging (read: dog) interview on a variety of topics (read: the dog), I asked the question (involving the dog) on everybody's mind.
“You know what's funny about that is, we were all watching the Xbox One reveal event in our theater," began Infinity Ward's Tina Palacios. "And after we got the reaction in real-time – we didn't expect any of this at all, by the way – the studio became divided. Half of them said, 'OK, the dog absolutely has to die.' And then the other half – I'm on this half – said, 'Whoa, no way! People love him.' It's a constant debate, but we do have an answer.”
It's interesting, in its own way, to see that Infinity Ward's development process apparently leaves wiggle room for either a) major decisions to be made that late in the process or b) sweeping changes a major character's previously established arc. Then again, Palacios also mentioned that Riley levels beyond the one that was demoed during E3 are still far from finished, so I suppose that anything's possible.
For now, though, he seems like a fairly capable companion. A level called "No Man's Land" had him creeping through underbrush with the two "main" characters and - while under the player's direct control - barking to lure enemies out into the open so as to pounce like a fox on a trampoline. Eventually (and regrettably), the demo driver exited out of the doggy control camera and maneuvered his shooty men to the outer wall of an overgrown, apocalypse-ravaged courtyard he'd infiltrated via Riley. Then he gave a signal, and the virtual mongrel leaped into a nearby window and tackled two enemies through a towering wooden door in slow motion. Splinters showered the scene like snowflakes. It was so dumb. Magically dumb. Pristinely dumb. Call of Duty dumb.
But apparently some of the canine control stuff is sort of rooted in reality. Palacios explained:
“We actually had a couple Navy SEALS come in with their dogs that served in combat in Iraq. When we met them, they did have the same type of gear on, and they had cameras on their backs. Their trainer has a camera on their arm, so when they throw a dog into a building or into a room or over a wall, they can see what's going on. If they're far away, they can also give them instructions with a collar that vibrates on each side.”
"For these particular dogs, they have hardcore training from when they're puppies. When you think of police dogs, they're trained to latch onto an arm and not let go. These [military] dogs are trained to attack, let go, and attack in a different direction. They go through a lot more."
There is, um, less precedent for Riley's slow-mo Incredible Hulk routine. Still though, modern day Call of Duty's single-player finally has some semblance of consistent "squad" (read: still the dog) control and tactical positioning. I'm sure it's all perfectly lined up such that there's only one solution to every encounter and even someone regularly stumped by chains of dominos could figure it out, but still. There might actually be something here. Something that pushes Ghosts ever-so-slightly outside the realm of pure spectacle. But, you know, not much.
I'm not willing to hold my breath just yet, but like I said earlier: there's sorta a whiff of intrigue here. At least, until Riley shows up in every sequel from now until the end of time, which - knowing Activision - is entirely (and perhaps even exceedingly) possible. For now, though, he's all at once bizarrely out-of-place and oddly fitting, given Call of Duty's never-ending devotion to implausible theatrics. Do you think Riley will stick around? Do you want him to? Do you even care?