Eleven years, eleven games, the Call of Duty franchise shows no sign of slowing down, in fact it’s picking up the pace considerably for the latest iteration. The start of a new story arc, Sledgehammer’s first go as lead developer, the first purpose built for the latest generation of consoles and starring Hollywood royalty, this is Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
Developer: Sledgehammer Games (PC, PS4 and Xbox One), High Moon Studios (PS3 and Xbox 360),Raven Software (Multiplayer)
Publisher: Activision, Square Enix (Japan)
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also Available On: PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: Out Now
Like 2013’s Call Of Duty: Ghosts, this years release is the beginning of a brand new timeline and we’re heading into the not too distant future.
Set in 2054, you play Jack Mitchell, a US Marine who loses both his left arm and his best friend during a skirmish in Seoul against the North Koreans. Following the battle and his good friends funeral, Mitchell is recruited by the Atlas Corporation, essentially a private army, run by Kevin Spacey’s character Jonathan Irons.
Equipped with advanced weaponry, armor and a new prosthetic arm, Mitchell, his teammate Gideon and their Atlas strike team must stop a technophobic terrorist organisation known as KVA led by a man calling himself “Hades”.
Following a successful attack resulting in a nuclear reactor meltdown in Seattle, KVA launch multiple similar attacks worldwide resulting in the destruction of numerous cities and governments leaving Atlas as the dominant military organisation on the planet.
From this point on the action really kicks in but in order to maintain a spoiler free review this is as far into the story we shall go.
Call Of Duty games have always had very good story concepts, great ideas, whether based on historical wars or envisioning World War III but for a long time now they’ve come up short of their ambition and Advanced Warfare is no exception but only just. On multiple occasions throughout the story we get glimpses of the first true moments of single player campaign greatness since Modern Warfare and yet it never quite gets there, it’s just out of reach.
The story, though painfully predictable, is still interesting, it’s not your bulk standard FPS war shooter. Advance Warfare steps away from the standard Call Of Duty template that seems forever grounded on the premise that you’re simply here to kill an evil invading enemy, usually made up of one of America’s political rivals with a third world army thrown in for good measure. This story feels much more global, more sophisticated in it’s views on the real-world’s current political landscape and how the US fits into that.
Sadly though this is let down considerably by the dialog.
Whilst Kevin Spacey should be applauded for his performance and the motion-capture team should be awarded for theirs (Though between them we do get something of a Bond villain at times), the majority of the script isn’t blockbuster triple A material. The dialog for the most part is dull, sometimes borderline gibberish and often just not worthy of the player’s attention. The story opener in Seoul is a perfect example, it sees two Marines, good friends who have fought together day and night for months and yet their only decent conversation sounds like two strangers making small talk in an elevator, in fact there’s not one believable relationship throughout the entire game.
Don’t let this put you off though because it’s Sledgehammer’s developers and designers that have done most of the talking here. The campaign opener for example ticks every box for a Call Of Duty campaign intro. The environment is stunning, the action is explosive, we are presented with the perfect scenario to learn the new controls, play with the new weaponry and try out the new exo-suits in a reasonably low-risk combat situation, it’s spot on.
In fact over the course of the single player campaign we are treated to amazingly detailed vistas, varied environments and plenty of toys, some specific to each mission, to play with. Along the way, the tedium of mission upon mission of ground combat is broken up by some visually impressive cut-scenes, nail biting quick-time actions, the occasional borderline insane vehicle chase and even playing around with some flying drones.
Unfortunately, veterans of the Call Of Duty franchise will recognize the mission templates. There’s the obligatory stealth mission, the handy highly trained Brit at your side (well we are awesome after all), the “all the bad guys are on a bridge” mission and the “I have nothing to do apart from follow this guy” mission. There’s a lot of CoD clichés on offer here, though despite that Advanced Warfare seems to have reinvigorated them, made them interesting again. The stealth mission for example, you really are stealth, you’re invisible and everything, it’s adds that little bit of extra pleasure when you sneak up on a bad-guy and put a knife in his neck. Another mission requiring stealth allows you to use a grapple gun to drag enemies to your location and choke them rather than open combat, it’s definitely one of the campaign highlights.
Speaking of gadgets, there are some wonderful new things to play with in this game. A personal favourite of mine is the smart grenades, basically you throw a grenade up in the air and it will automatically target a nearby enemy, the same goes for grenade launchers, it’s a genius design and can make difficult situations a little easier to get out of.
Though the mission levels do follow the Call Of Duty linear standard they do feel larger and more open than previous games in the series, in several of the missions there is a sense that you do have options should you get stuck continuously dying taking the same route. That said, we’re a long way off from expansive open environments where everything you see is yours to explore, maybe one day though.
The real let down with the single player campaign is that the new gadgets, the new super-human moves made possible via the exo-suits are so rarely needed during the story missions that it can be very easy to forget about many of the advances that Sledgehammer have tried to introduce into the franchise.
This seems a shame, it feels as though the developer somehow wanted to push the boundaries on what could be done with a Call Of Duty campaign but then lost their nerve and went for the conventional flatter environment. Even so this is a vast improvement on it’s predecessors and should give those who enjoy the solo story hope that more effort is going back into the off-line mode after what has come across as something of an afterthought in some of the previous games.
Where the solo campaign fails though, the multiplayer steps in and takes command.
Last year’s Ghosts did not impress many fans of the series for a number of reasons but it was the mutiplayer that really annoyed the masses. Infinity Ward made a mess of everything from new modes to map sizes, many agree that this was a disaster. With Advanced Warfare though, Sledgehammer have not made the same mistakes, they’ve made what can possibly be described as the best multiplayer in the franchise.
Unlike the story campaign, multiplayer successfully leverages the new possibilities for movement and player ability, the environments seem purpose built for Advanced Warfare’s exo-suit. The abilities on offer open up multiple points of entry, multiple lines of sight and far less conventional forms of engagement. Basically if you ignore the new abilities and stick to ground level you’re going to die very very quickly in multiplayer.
To compliment this new gaming mechanic, the map designs are some of the best ever created for the franchise, offering little in the way of hiding places, no cover is completely safe, these maps encourage the players to move, never stay still. This adds a sense of impending doom to the scenarios and helps raise the adrenaline to peak levels, essentially reinvigorated something tried, tested, repeated for a number of years, this feels new somehow.
Along with all the modes we’ve come expected from the series there are a few new additions, most utilizing the games new physicality, Uplink being one of the highlights. It’s basically capture the flag, but the flag is a glowing ball suspended in mid-air and you have the option to throw the “flag” rather than run with it, it’s a safer option but results in a lower score.
There’s a co-op mode, familiar to most experienced Call Of Duty players, it’s a survival mode where waves of enemies attack, sadly no zombies though. This mode is enhanced from previous games though as some waves now include objectives and handicaps making it a much more cooperative experience then just five strangers blowing the combined crap out of everything that comes at them.
Old favourites, that Infinity Ward felt weren’t worthy of Ghosts, are back. Kill Confirmed has returned as well as an updated version of the Black Ops II’s Pick 10 system, now named Pick 13. For those of you unfamiliar with Pick 10, this system allows for a much more personal customization of your character, it allows players to pick and choose weapons, perks and streak bonuses. Essentially it makes your online characters your own. It’s a much more advanced system this time around and allows you to quickly and easily show off your in-game unlocks such as armor mods, new outfits and advanced weaponry.
Even the weapons in Advanced Warfare multiplayer have had an overhaul to reflect the futuristic nature of the story timeline. Even hardened veterans of the series may find themselves a little taken aback the first time they give the directed energy weapons a go, lasers are fun.
If Advanced Warfare has proven one thing it’s that Call Of Duty had become a tired franchise, year upon year releasing a new game from the same template with a few minor changes. While the solo story campaign is far from perfect Sledgehammer have definitely brought back the excitement. They could have made a greater effort in forcing the player to embrace the new abilities on offer but instead gave us a taster and played it safe.
Their take on multiplayer however has been a different story. Where they played it relatively safe with the solo story they’ve gone all out on redefining the tired and expected modes in the online section. With their newly introduced abilities being complimented by well designed maps competitive multiplayer feels fresh, faster, more difficult and yet more fun.
Advanced Warfare should now represent a precursor to the game-changer that the Call Of Duty franchise is in dire need of. This game isn’t that big game-changer but it’s definitely set the ball rolling in the right direction.