With a seemingly natural evolution from the Modern Warfare and Black Ops series into the realms of the near future, the Call of Duty franchise returns with Advanced Warfare. After developing the multiplayer portion of MW3, Sledgehammer Games take the reins of Activision’s juggernaut of a franchise and aim to impress after last year’s disappointing Ghosts.
I’ve been pretty down on the Call of Duty franchise for the past few years. After the Modern Warfare trilogy concluded and Black Ops 2 proved to be nothing more than much of the same, I gave Ghosts a bit of a wide berth. It seemed that others were doing the same, with slightly dwindling sales and reviews that essentially vindicated my thoughts. When the hype train started up for Advanced Warfare, it piqued my interest with the step away from the present-day storylines and a multiplayer twist that could well have been derived from the series’ creators’ latest adventure as Respawn Entertainment, with some new mechanics that could easily slip into Titanfall.
First up is the campaign. With frighteningly accurate depictions of Kevin Spacey and Troy Baker taking centre stage, the game is predominantly set around 50 years in the future. Private Military Corporations do the bidding of countries who don’t have armies powerful enough. Spacey’s character, Jonathan Irons, owns Atlas, a company with the world’s largest standing military. Following a brief opening scene set in an under siege South Korea, you are recruited into Atlas by Irons himself, and your eyes are suddenly opened to the phenomenal advancements in battleground technology that would easily turn a war one way or the other. As is always the way with the CoD franchise, one thing leads to another, things aren’t quite as they seem, and suddenly everything is going south in the most “shooty-bang” way possible.
The best thing about the story in Advanced Warfare is that it’s managed to bring the levels of chaos that we’ve grown to expect from the franchise, but without resorting to the Motorhead “Everything louder than everything else” clichés that we’ve become accustomed to. Whilst it never quite hits the heights of the original Modern Warfare’s “All Ghillied Up” levels of subtlety and nuance, it is simply the best campaign since the series moved away from World War 2. Everything feels fresh, and whilst you can see some of the story beats coming from so far off they might as well be wearing day-glow onesies, it’s full of fantastic moments. In short, it’s the kind of action that Michael Bay wishes he knew how to write.
The gameplay is enhanced, as you’d expect, by the technology that’s available to you. Lethal grenades home in on targets, whilst non lethal ones switch between multiple styles of grenade on the fly. Be it an opportunity to paint all of the targets within a certain range with a threat grenade, or act as an EMP to make drones fall from the sky, it’s another avenue of gameplay possibilities that’s been opened up.
The icing on the cake for the campaign comes in the form of the astounding visuals. There were points during the cutscenes where I was struggling to tell if it was the real Kevin Spacey or the digitised version that Sledgehammer had created, it’s that impressive. Whilst the in-game character models don’t quite live up to those in the cutscenes, the whole package that’s been put together is fantastic, and the focus has clearly been placed on the next-gen versions of the game. Unlike last year’s Ghosts, which just felt like some slightly higher res textures thrown over the top of the PS3 and 360 versions, AW feels like the true next-gen debut of Call of Duty. Performance is true to the typical Call of Duty experience and runs at a near-as-dammit steady 60fps.
For most people though, Call of Duty is all about the multiplayer. And thankfully, it feels as fresh as the single player does. After “more of the same” for the last few years, the high tech stuff that’s in the single player game filters through to the online side with ease. The biggest innovation is the Exo suit, which allows players to double-jump and dash to the back and side to avoid enemy fire. It’s a welcome addition that adds some much-needed changes into the mix. For years, Call of Duty has been a flat playing surface with a few buildings to get into. With the addition of the Exo suits, the game gains new ways to play and explore the maps, as well as a more measured pace to it as you try to hunt out your enemies in as many different areas as possible. The changes that have been made have injected life into the franchise that has been rapidly becoming stale to many players in the recent past, and Sledgehammer have taken the best bits of the series’ evolution from both Infinity Ward and Treyarch to produce something they can truly call their own.
Whilst things like the leveling progression remain similar to previous entries, the “pick 10” method of selecting your loadout returns from Black Ops 2 and allows you to pick 13 items to take into battle with you. With multiple game modes to choose from, there’s something to keep you entertained regardless of your play style, and the “Momentum” game type is a welcome return of Treyarch’s “Ward” modes. I mentioned above that the general multiplayer feel is that of a more measured pace, but that goes out of the window when playing Ground War, as is often the case. A frantic mess of bullets, grenades and respawns, it’s a huge amount of fun, and in spite of the constant deaths, I rarely felt like I was being cheated out of things like I increasingly did over the last few years.
To cap this all off, I’ll address the “Exo Suit feels like Titanfall” thing mentioned at the start of the review. To the untrained eye, this may well be the case. Jumping up and boosting through a window to take down a player shooting from the other side of the room is possible in both of the games, but the key difference is this. Titanfall was designed like that from the ground up. Advanced Warfare has taken the core Call of Duty mechanics and enhanced them with these new fangled suits. They feel totally different, and frankly, who cares if they’ve taken an idea from another game and implemented it? That’s what video games have been doing since day one, and although I doubt it’s been ripped wholesale from Respawn’s new baby, it’s done more for Call of Duty than anything has done over the past 4 or 5 years. Considering how much I was down on the series as a whole, Advanced Warfare has turned me round on it. Maybe not quite to the level I used to, but it’s done enough to get me back on side again.