Mike Snider,USA TODAY
An entirely new story awaits in Call of Duty: Ghosts, but the result is another round of satisfying modern warfare.
Development studio Infinity Ward, which originally created the Call of Duty series a decade ago, has set aside the Modern Warfare storyline after three games and initiated a new narrative, penned with the help of Oscar-winning screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (Traffic).
After admirably connecting multiple story lines in Traffic and best picture nominee Syriana, Gaghan has earned some geopolitical capital. In Ghosts, he gets to blow off some steam in a fantastical tale that treads turf more familiar to that of the Bond films and the work of the late Tom Clancy.
The Federation, a new superpower formed by South American energy-producing countries, gains control of a U.S. satellite-based defensive missile system and turns it on the continent. The resulting apocalyptic wave of devastation and subsequent military attacks leaves a resistance on the verge of defeat.
Players join a team of stealthy special-operations soldiers known as "ghosts" in an attempt to save the day. An ensuing pressure-packed story takes players underwater, into space and into new emotional territory for the popular first-person fighting franchise.
At the heart of the story is father Elias Walker, who commands the remaining U.S. forces, including sons Hesh and Logan. We see the destruction of their San Diego home as it is hit by the satellite's captured payloads.
Fast forward 10 years later, and Cmdr. Walker must send his sons into enemy territory to gather intelligence about plans to crush U.S. resistance. Also part of your team is Riley, a military-trained German shepherd.
As Logan, you can command Riley to sneak ahead to check out situations and attack enemies. It's surprisingly satisfying to safely command Riley and reunite the trio.
The Walker brothers and their compatriots embark on a dizzying series of missions that took this player about eight hours to complete on normal difficulty. Heartstrings are pulled as family ties are tested and a revenge-seeking non-familial brother in arms emerges.
For the first time, Call of Duty transports players into an extended underwater battle that brings an entirely new dimension to the shooting gallery aspect. The degree of difficulty is ramped up in dispatching underwater enemies, and there's other predators around, too (think Jaws).
Another timely twist - in light of the box office success of Gravity - is a space mission at the game's outset and a full-fledged Moonraker melee on steroids later in the game. Space combat requires as much finesse as does underwater warfare.
As expected, players will have their passport stamped during the globe-trotting itinerary. After traversing the stark wasteland between San Diego and L.A., there are missions in the lush South American jungle and frigid Antarctica.
Ghosts may not surpass Call of Duty stories of the past, but it acquits itself admirably with a cliffhanger ending that suggests there's more story to tell.
And for many, that story mode that you play on your own is just the beginning (in fact, some players skip it entirely). The game's multiplayer mode, which many will play for months and months to come, has a battery of improvements.
And a new cooperative Extinction game, in which teams of four players fight off waves of aliens, is Infinity Ward's answer to the Call of Duty: Zombies game that's been part of the Call of Duty: Black Ops games from Treyarch, another Activision studio.
There's also a new Call of Duty mobile app through which you can monitor an overarching metagame. All in all, Ghosts carries on the Call of Duty tradition of delivering plenty of mayhem for your money.
Developer: Infinity Ward
Platform(s): Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii U, Windows PCs
Rating: M for Mature
Release Date: Nov. 5
Score: 3.5 stars (out of 4)