Sledgehammer Games Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare depicts a seismic power shift in regard to world power through it’s campaign, and perhaps is indicative of a shift in the series itself. What Advanced Warfare does is clean up the mess of the past few entries, and deliver a solid, reliable, and comfortable yet risky notch on the Call of Duty belt. And this belt is only getting bigger.
War, war never changes, but it did
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s biggest departures from the repetition of the last few years is the setting of a believable near future where private military contractor Atlas Corporation holds the world’s largest standing army. Atlas head Jonathon Irons, modeled and voiced incredibly well by the always impressive Kevin Spacey, is a man about power, and for him the end always justifies the means.
The campaign in Advanced Warfare will run about 6-7 hours depending on difficulty or your aptitude with throwing grenades. The campaign provides little replay value as there are intel collectibles, but beyond achievement/trophy collection, no real reason to return. This isn’t to dismiss the campaign as something to skip over, quite the contrary, as the campaign delivers an appropriately Bay-esque experience, rife with explosions, near-death escapes, and some pretty good chase sequences. The story featured in Advanced Warfare is not only serviceable as a main component of the total package, but serves as one of the best campaigns the series has seen to date.
One thing that was overtly apparent from Call of Duty: Ghosts was that the engine needed a massive overhaul. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare looks great on the new generation of consoles. Textures pop, the gun models are detailed as ever, but the real star becomes facial animation and detail. Spacey and our proxy version of Troy Baker look great in cutscenes, more than a few times I had to wonder if it was FMV or not. My only complaint is after playing a game like Destiny which features such prominent skyboxes, looking around the world of Advanced Warfare seems a bit empty or drab. While not a major issue that ripped me out of the experience, taking a minute to look around Santorini was a little disappointing as it just appeared as a drab blue sky with a few sparse clouds.
The campaign experience overall is satisfying, and marks a story that is one of the more memorable in the Call of Duty franchise. The tale follows our hero, Mitchell, as he goes from your typical grunt, to war machine utilizing the Atlas Exo to its fullest capability. Some of the more emotional moments, especially early on in the story don’t really hold much water due to lack of substance or weight behind them. We lose a close friend early, we’re told we are best friends with, but immediately before running in to battle, our characters feel the need to reiterate their reasons for joining the Marines in the first place. It seems oddly out of place, and while exposition isn’t a bad thing, it could have just as easily been gone over in a bit of monologue from the lead character and been left alone.
This isn’t the only misstep that the game takes, if you’ve read a review, or article on the game since release, you’ve no doubt seen the “Press X to pay respects” prompt during a scene at a soldier’s funeral. It’s tacky, unnecessary, and totally derails the emotional nature of the scene. While it really isn’t something Sledgehammer Games should be drug the coals for, the QTE at a funeral gag won’t die easily, and could have been easily avoided by just removing it entirely. It’s a little puzzling that a QA tester or producer didn’t see it and ask themselves “are we really putting that in?”
The single player experience also serves as a great proving ground for the Exo suit. The Exo is a framework that soldiers in Advanced Warfare utilize to become more efficient, perform incredible maneuvers, and overall be more effective on the battlefield. Additions like a double jump, air dash, and sliding dash add maneuverability that change the single player, but truly make the multiplayer experience something special.
We use the Exo throughout the campaign in a variety of capacities but some of the more interesting levels later in the campaign really mix up the gameplay with stealth missions, and go a long way to keep the campaign fresh the whole trip.
Multiplayer – Fresh, yet familiar
The bread and butter for most players, and perhaps the sole reason to pick up a Call of Duty game, is the multiplayer. For those wondering how this year’s entry fares, rest assured, it’s a return to form.
The pick 13 system is back, allowing players to mix and match to their hearts content to make the perfect loadout. 10 Custom Class slots await along with the default classes to try out, and you have access to custom classes immediately instead of having to unlock them at say level 5.
You’ll find leveling a relatively quick process, as I was able to surpass level 10 within just a few matches, and unlocking new gear is a familiar but tweaked experience. Weapons are still unlocked by attaining new levels, while attachments for those weapons are unlocked by use and kills. An interesting loot mechanic makes its way in to the series this time around with supply drops. Supply drops unlock new weapons of differing rarity and may have a new weapon with incredible damage, or handling, as well as Exo customization options. You can customize your operator in a huge variety of ways, changing shirts, boots, Exo types, even down to glasses and helmets are up for your approval here. While these options are only cosmetic, it keeps the loot mongers like myself plugging away, to see just how cool I can make my operator look.
We also find a huge variety of game modes like Team Deathmatch, Domination, and the new Uplink game mode, similar to basketball where you throw a sensor through a goal of sorts and score points. My personal favorite makes its return in Ground War, a combination of TDM, Domination, and Kill Confirmed, and is fun as ever, rotating modes and allowing votes for the next map to keep things fresh.
I did, however, run in to a few issues while playing, or maybe just small issues that were only minor frustrations. More than a few times I noticed what I have to chalk up to netcode issues, wherein I would strafe or dodge behind a corner, only to be thrown to the killcam and told “not good enough”. I also noticed that my weapons seemed to register hits, but didn’t seem to hit as hard as the folks killing me so quickly. I was able to get a luckily very good weapon from a supply drop, but can’t help to wonder if it was the guns or my skill. I can’t rule out either.
Overall I must comment that after Ghosts I was entirely unsure I’d return to a Call of Duty game’s multiplayer element. I can safely say the additions Sledgehammer has thoughtfully and lovingly implemented serve as more than enough reason to return, and I’m glad that I gave it not only a shot, but a fair shake. The supply drops alone are a unique hook, forcing my addictive weakness to go back for ‘just one more game’, five more times. That is a statement I truly thought I would never say again.
Exo Survival – Co-op survival where cooler heads prevail
I’ve always been a fan of the cooperative modes from the get go with Special Ops and Zombies, and Exo Survival is no exception. Exo Survival is just what it sounds like, a wave based multiplayer mode against bots that throw a few wrenches in your plan almost without fail. Drones, AST’s (big mech type enemies), and cloaked enemies all make appearances here, and while just killing them wave after wave would get boring fast, Sledgehammer was intelligent here and made objectives pop up during rounds. You may have to abandon your hidey hole and defend a new objective, or go collect dogtags during a round. While these objectives can be passed or failed, it benefits players to pass as many as possible, resulting in more points and therefore supply drops. Supply drops feature ammo, killstreak rewards, and more tools to make your job easier.
After about 25 rounds the clock resets and enemies get tougher, resulting in some chaotic gameplay that I know I’ll be back to, and have told numerous other friends that aren’t even interested in Call of Duty that the mode makes it worth a look.
Speaking of worth, this mode was initially on my list as a ‘tack on’ since it only seemed to offer 4 maps, upon closer inspection however there are 13 maps, all with their own unique safe spots, variables, and surprises in store. For my personal taste and play style, the Exo Survival mode will certainly be revisited may times to come.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare represents a return to form for the franchise. While the campaign likely won’t win story of the year, we don’t expect it to. A solid campaign that teaches the basics, and tells a competent story are all we ask, and exactly what we got. Multiplayer is of course a big deal, and Sledgehammer proves they are not only up to the task, but in to innovate the space, as the Exo additions, supply drops, and operator customization will keep this Call of Duty on your hard drive for a while.