'Call of Duty' has new dog but old tricks.

AuthorPearson, Ryan

Byline: Ryan Pearson

''Call of Duty'' adds a new dog but trots out mostly old tricks in the latest installment of the first-person shooter franchise.

Much was made of players' new canine companion, Riley, in the run-up to ''Call of Duty: Ghosts'' (Activision, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii U, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, $59.99). He's less integral to the single-player campaign than expected, though still more memorable than the blandly heroic Walker family meant to be at the heart of the story. While the campaign feels like a step back, there are enough new multiplayer modes and tweaks to keep loyal ''CoD'' fans happy during the transition to next-generation consoles.

The single-player story begins with an attack from an orbiting missile launcher on the family's suburban San Diego neighborhood, then jumps forward a decade as brothers Logan and Hesh fight back under the command of their dad, Elias, against an invading force called the Federation. Neither the family dynamic nor key antagonist Rorke are fully fleshed out in the script by ''Syriana'' writer Stephen Gaghan. Though by the end, you'll dodge fighter jets sliding off a sinking aircraft carrier, shoot guns underwater (KER-PLUNK!) and blow up stuff in space (louder than you'd think!), the framework bolting such set pieces together is flimsy.

You can criticize this franchise for repetitive gameplay, but there was passion behind the original ''Modern Warfare'' entries, with truly shocking character deaths and that memorable airport terror attack. Last year's ''Black Ops II'' added a branching story line and subtly questioned the value of America's past military interventions. While playing ''Ghosts,'' I was reminded of the merciless skewering ''CoD'' took in ''Grand Theft Auto V.'' A bloody military game within the game called ''Righteous Slaughter 7'' was rated PG for ''pretty much the same as last game'' and featured the tip, ''If someone speaks with an accent -- blow their head off.'' (Many of the enemies in ''Ghosts'' speak Spanish.)

It took me about five hours to finish the campaign on normal difficulty, but that's not where ''CoD'' players spend most of their time. The multiplayer and cooperative modes are more varied, with some interesting crossover...

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