For anyone who fondly remembers Dead to Rights, seeing a dog pop as a companion and teammate in Call of Duty: Ghosts may have brought up some good memories. While I’m sure there were dozens of good technical reasons, I’m sure Jack Slate’s canine sidekick Shadow wasn’t the center of the gameplay for one simple reason: diving through the air, shooting bad guys, and running for your life was way more fun and interesting than playing the video game equivalent of Air Bud.
During my time watching the Call of Duty: Ghosts hands-off presentation, I was impressed by the effort made by Infinity Ward to make the world feel more real, more vivid: the details in the gun (including darts, marks and scrapes) as well as the details in the hands (dirt, cuts, and also scrapes) were shown off with a great attention to the little things that make this digital world feel more real. I was even further impressed by the attention to detail put into Riley the dog to make him an an authentic Navy Seals combat dog.
But then I watched the demo.
We were shown a stage where the protagonists of Ghosts – two brothers that eventually join a band of soldiers with the same name – were exploring a devastated United States full of disaster and ruin. As a fan of dystopian futures and post-apocalyptic worlds, that interested me. Stalking enemies and taking them down stealthily: that interested me. Using Riley as a glorified G.I. Nintendog did not interest me at all.
We were shown several things: Riley sneaking up on unsuspecting guards to do a bite-takedown; Riley sneaking up on ranged guards and being positioned so that the brothers could use a sniper-gun mounted on his harness to quietly eliminate an enemy; Riley stealthily surveying the area so that the brothers can gain recon details. All the time I watched this, I wondered: why do I need Riley for this? I’ve been doing these kind of things for years in every stealth shooter known to man in the last two decades of gaming, so why do I need a dog to do it now?
Worse is some of the inconsistencies with Riley’s abillities. Any critically acclaimed stealth or shooter title usually has A.I. that will go absolutely berserk if they catch a hair of your character. There was a moment when Riley walked up to an enemy, plainly visible from more than twenty feet away, and just ran up to him. In seconds the man was down, with barely a reaction from the enemy until Riley’s teeth were taking him to the ground. And before you say it, yes, this was shown in a recently released game trailer as Riley sneaking up from behind, and then chasing another enemy from behind and tackling him as he tried to get away. But what we saw during my presentation specifically had Riley just come up on a guard standing aware and looking straight at Riley, and he just took the attack as it came. It could be argued that the enemy was caught off-guard, and realistically was stunned by a dog in a military harness running up to him like a ninja. He didn’t seem to be armed or dressed like a soldier, either, so perhaps some leeway could be given. But it felt… easy. Too easy.
My suspicion that Riley was given god-like powers was when Riley jumped into the window of a house like a thrown-grenade, and after a few seconds of behind-the-curtain action, four heavily armed and well-protected soldiers came crashing through the door as if knocked backwards by a train, even though Riley was only riding one soldier to his death. Since when did Riley become the Arkham series’ Batman?
It should be noted that what we saw is not the final product, so of course Ghosts could be fine-tuned a little more by the time the game releases on November 5th, 2013, to PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, and available on the PS4 and Xbox One at a later date. But with the recent news that even Infinity Ward’s staff is divided on the fate of Riley, it’s also possible he won’t be as essential to the game as the game comes along.