‘Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’. The game that, if it fails, may bring the franchise to its knees; leaving Treyarch to pick it back up again, if it would even be possible to do so. This was Activision’s last stand (pun intended) for its blockbuster first-person shooter series. So, did they kill it and revive themselves and Call of Duty? Short answer: oh, hell yes.
In a way similar to all of the Call of Duty games’ main menus, I’m going to break up this review into three sections: campaign, multiplayer, and Exo-Survival (in that order), just so it’s easier for me to write and you to read. Also, if you only really care about a particular section of the game, feel free to find it. Anyway, onto the review…
When I first heard that Sledgehammer Games had spent two years developing the story and finalising it, I was extremely optimistic about what they might bring to the table to energise the tiring series. Whilst ‘Black Ops 2’ had a very good story with branching paths, it was a gem stuck between two rather boring and recycled pebbles (MW3, Ghosts… I’m looking at you).
The introduction of a huge and relevant Hollywood name in Kevin Spacey automatically peaked my interest, but I was wary. That alone wasn’t going to secure my preorder… Spacey’s name isn’t that big. The introduction of exo-suits and their appropriate abilities? That’s a different story. These suits have turned the copy-and-paste series on its head by adding tons of new features and skills that you need to learn to stand a realistic chance in the multiplayer arena (and the campaign, provided you have the difficulty set high enough). In this sense, it is reasonable to think of this game’s campaign as a way of preparing and training yourself for the multiplayer. However, thanks to a great story, set-pieces and characters (made better with good development and even better motion-capture and vocal work), the story is definitely worth your time; regardless of any intentions you may or may not have to play the multiplayer side of the game.
The story is set in 2054 and follows Mitchell, who is mo-capped and voiced by the extremely talented Troy Baker (past works include: Joel in ‘The Last of Us’, Delsin Rowe in ‘inFamous: Second Son’, and Talion in ‘Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor’), as he goes from being a US Marine (*insert obligatory “Ooh-rah!” here*) to a soldier in a PMC (Private Military Corporation) called Atlas. Atlas is run by Kevin Spacey’s character, Jonathan Irons, who wields an extreme amount of power as the world’s only “super-power for hire”. As a PMC, Irons doesn’t answer to any government or head of state, only to himself. This is something the game feels it needs to remind you of too much for its own good. Also, obvious exposition dialogue can be found early in the game’s story. For example, in the opening cinematic of the game, Mitchell and his friend, Will, are prepping for an excursion into Seoul in South Korea. During the cinematic, Mitchell and Will talk to each other and discuss their reasons for signing up to US Marines. Given that they are best friends, you would’ve thought that they would already know their reasons for signing up. In the second mission, too, there’s a scene after the first section of the level in which Irons is talking to you about Atlas, what it is capable of and what it has achieved thus far. With the dialogue earlier in the level leading you to assume that Mitchell has been there a while, it doesn’t make sense that Irons would only be giving you this introduction now as opposed to when you first joined.
Negatives aside, Advanced Warfare heralds the best campaign in the series, equal with ‘Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’ and Black Ops 2, thanks to innovative new features, astounding graphics and sound, and a huge variety of missions and locations. These new features come with the introduction of exo-suits which allow you jump higher, run faster and take more damage. In the words of Kanye West, they make you harder, better, faster, stronger. So, how do these abilities translate into the game? For a start, they add verticality to Call of Duty. Remember when you had to break the game to reach a rooftop? Not anymore, a simple double-tap of X will get you there. This means that you, and your enemies, can be not only in front of you, but also above you, which adds whole new layers of tension and pace to each multiplayer match.
However, a lot of the opportunities the game presents you with to utilise your exo abilities, such as exo-jump, feel scripted rather than spontaneous. Because of this, the game feels surprisingly linear, which isn’t helped by the fact that the game offers you no choice over when you want certain exo abilities. Instead, you simply begin missions with pre-set exo abilities. The same could be applied to the multiplayer, although the feeling of linearity there has more to do with the small maps. This is extremely unfortunate as the exo-suits held the promise of a much more open Call of Duty game.
In terms of the graphics, let me put it this way: Advanced Warfare’s cutscenes set a new bar in graphics across all games and platforms. I’m serious. The characters are full of expression and look absolutely real with detailed faces including pores, wrinkles, sweat and other fine textures. Granted, all cutscenes are pre-rendered, but it’s still something I would have never expected from a Call of Duty game. In regards to in-game graphics, they are very good, but I have to say that Ghosts’ lighting and facial models looked superior in places. In regards to sound, considering a large portion of the guns don’t actually exist, each one sounds great and bassy. Also, the sound created when you move and use your exo-abilities is very realistic and does a great job of immersing you in the experience. The movement is also impressive, as each manoeuvre you make feels smooth and fluid, which is helped no end by the constant 60fps refresh rate.
As you’d expect, Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer is extremely fast-paced and tense, especially in game modes like Free-for-all and Infected. This keeps you constantly watching not only behind and in front of you but, for the first time in the series, every rooftop for enemies. Despite this, many people still feel the need to camp in corners and go prone on rooftops for minutes on end, waiting for someone to fall prey to their trap. However, thanks to a slightly increased kill-time, the person to shoot first doesn’t necessarily win, which means that falling foul to a camper doesn’t mean you’re practically dead as you have a chance to escape, provided your reflexes are fast. The kill-time in this game, in my opinion, is just right. It takes at least five or six shots from an assault rifle to take down a target, which is realistic. Furthermore, exo abilities give you a chance to quickly escape your death with side-strafing, exo-jump and exo-boost being the most useful for a situation like that.
In regards to maps, as I mentioned earlier, they all feel a little small. However, the verticality gifted to the player by the various exo-suit types (light, assault and specialist) have been taken into account by the map designers. In terms of game modes, the usual return in Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, amongst others. Sledgehammer have also brought back some old favourites (War from Treyarch’s ‘World at War’, now called Hardpoint), as well as creating new ones. For example, Uplink is a more technological and strategic version of CTF. It involves two teams who are both fighting over possession of a satellite. The aim is to throw this satellite into the other team’s goal. The twist is that whoever carries the satellite loses the use of any of their weapons, meaning that if the person carrying the satellite comes across an enemy they can throw the satellite at that enemy. This will mean they suddenly lose the use of their weapons, making them temporarily vulnerable, allowing you to shoot them before picking up the satellite and moving forward. Another newbie can be found in Momentum.
With one or two hints towards the possibility, many (me included) believed that Advanced Warfare’s third, last-to-be-revealed mode would be Treyarch’s famous game-seller, ‘Zombies’. However, it was soon revealed, unfortunately, that these hints were instead referring to a Zombies easter egg in the actual third mode: ‘Exo-Survival’. Exo-Survival, in similar fashion to ‘Modern Warfare 3’s ‘Survival’ mode, pits you and optional randomers or friends (either online and/or offline) against waves of enemies that gradually increase in number, variety and difficulty with each round played.
Whilst this mode made for a pleasant escape from the usual CoD fare, I feel that if this mode had been removed completely it wouldn’t have detracted from the overall experience of Advanced Warfare.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has achieved its difficult goal by reinvigorating the series using new abilities and adding a twist to the Call of Duty formula. With that being said, if you were one of the many haters of CoD, don’t expect this game to change your mind.