It’s been seven whole years since we were first introduced to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and its now everlasting legacy on first person shooters. With it came what seems to be a never ending carousel of military shooters that didn’t necessarily bring anything new to the formula. With Call of Duty Ghosts being a less than stellar experience, something drastic needed to be done. Sledgehammer Games, which was born out of much of the Dead Space-making crew Visceral Games, originally took on Modern Warfare 3 right around the time Infinity Ward started to come apart. In 2011, they were told they would be making 2014’s Call of Duty title. Armed with new consoles, it was time to step away from the modern setting and go even further out from present day than the Black Ops series; 50 years out to be exact. Just like World War II, modern warfare is out, and Advanced Warfare is in.
For starters, don’t try to go into this thinking it is something it is not. This is very much a Call of Duty title. Throughout the campaign you are mowing down enemies and following codenamed characters with a “follow” icon over their head. The difference, however, is that is a very, very good Call of Duty title.
The biggest chance is by far the “Exo Suit” that all soldiers are equipped with. Not only does this change how you play the game in many different ways, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. The exo suit is more or less a metal skeleton that allows us as players to do all sorts of really crazy stuff. The most notable is a double jump. Basically by tapping jump twice on your gamepad, you do a quick boost that soars you through the sky. It’s not necessarily a hover, but it allows you to play the game on different planes, something we have not ever seen in this series. In the single player, you can upgrade different parts to the suit. For example, after a mission you could maybe add a little extra protection, or a quicker reload. Since you also possess basically superhuman ability, you can rip doors off of cars and use them as shields, push vehicles by yourself, and my favorite, melee enemies into the next century. Depending on the mission, it gives you stims to heal quicker, a shield, and overdrive, which basically slows down time. The exo suit also allows you to boost in different directions. If you click left, right, or down on the stick, your soldier will boost in that direction. When these new movements are all thrown into a Call of Duty game, it drastically alters your playing style in both campaign and multiplayer, giving it a fresh new feel.
The campaign is absolutely a summer blockbuster that borrows from the growing issue of PMCs, or private military corporations. Mercenaries. The Atlas Corporation, headed by Johnathan Irons (Kevin Spacey) is the world’s biggest PMC. Operating under no government and motivated only by a paycheck, at the start of the game they have already risen to dominance. As the story progresses, they only become an even bigger necessity to mankind, and predictably, there’s more to them than once thought.
Call of Duty Advanced Warfare has without a doubt, one of, if not the best campaign in the series. Missions offer a variety and tell a story that you are actually interested in seeing how it develops, something that has lost me in many of the previous entries. Sledgehammer puts their unique technology they have created for the game to good use in many different ways. Weapons such as the threat grenade (a portable scanner that reveals all enemy locations) and drones that can gun down 30 enemies in under a minute really make you feel unstoppable. Locations are set all around the world, and the missions feel great. One mission, you’ll be attacking a nuclear power plant with hundreds of companions, and soon you’ll be performing an under-the-radar stealth op, which in many ways is the first mission in the series to replicate the intensity of Modern Warfare’s “All Ghillied Up.” Another great comparison is a fantastic piece set in Greece where half is hunting a fugitive and half is controlled by drone, similar to the AC-130 mission of the same title.
The narrative is further helped along by the fact that it spreads out the story quite a bit. Unlike previous games that have nonstop action or intense flashbacks, this title jumps forward ahead in time four years, showing the effects on the world as we know it after a devastating attack. All of the wonderful campaign is topped off by some of the most insane motion capture work I have ever seen, with a wonderful performance by the always-fantastic Kevin Spacey. Every cutscene is further reassurance that we have indeed arrived in a new era of video games. The most obvious comparison is to his ruthless character Frank Underwood from Netflix’s House of Cards. Spacey did not hold back for this and it shows in every single interaction with him. The general consensus is that most people buy these titles just for the multiplayer and don’t even touch the single player. To me, this is the first title that actually makes me believe people will leave round after round of team deathmatch to boot it up, and that is a very good sign for this franchise.
This brings us to the multiplayer. Modern Warfare changed the formula forever with modules such as kill streaks, supply drops, and slick map design. Advanced Warfare is the first game since then to shake up the multiplayer as drastically. The exo suit keeps it fun and fast. It is faster than any Call of Duty title before it. You also need to account for different planes of firing. This is no longer a ground game. You can boost up to higher platforms and attack from above. You can dodge boost left or right and make an enemy miss a sniper shot. Similar to Titanfall earlier this year, it drastically changes your strategy going into a game. The difference here is that maps are catered to humans with metal skeletons on their backs and therefore are smaller, as opposed to large maps intended for massive robots. The trade-off here is that from above, you are obviously exposed, which allows for some really interesting scenarios to go down. Naturally, players are jumping all over the map, making it satisfying to ping somebody out of the air.
Your classes are organized in an old-school approach that makes much more sense. Ghosts brought in a system where you basically had a set amount of points, and you created your classes this way. This is much less confusing and uses the formula of simply picking what you want using numbered slots. There’s a primary slot, a secondary slot, and both can have three attachments. You get grenade, an augment for your exo suit (stim, for example), your “killstreaks”, and a passive. The passive, for example, can be something such as replacing your secondary with a second primary.
I enjoyed this class system much more because the unlocking system isn’t also absurd. Would you like a certain scope for a certain gun? Kill X number of enemies to unlock it. Now you’ve unlocked it. It’s all as simple as that and makes the process much more pleasant. Considering there are tons and tons of awesome weapons and new technology to unlock, it makes it straightforward and not overwhelming. “Killstreaks” are interesting because you can add/drop optional features on each one. For example, my lowest one is a drone that is more or less a manual UAV. It costs 350 points in-game to use. I can choose in the create-a-class menu to add on longer time that it will be active for another 100 points. This means it will cost me 450 to use the drone instead of 350.
This is all further capped off by an absolute insane customization system that allegedly has hundreds of variants. There’s different exo suits to unlock, pants, helmets etc. While it’s all cosmetic, it doesn’t make it any less addicting. Oddly enough, some gear expires. I had an awesome red helmet for a while, but eventually it disappears. These are unlocked from random “supply drops” that you get during the game. It’s not exactly clear what happens to unlock these, but if I had to guess, it’s a randomized similar system to Team Fortress 2’s ridiculous amount of gear. One cool feature is that you can actually destroy your gear for XP. Maybe you don’t feel like you need that badass helmet for a few rounds. Destroy it and level up!
Your standard modes all return with the addition of some interesting things. A new mode, “Momentum,” has you basically unlock territory checkpoints in a set path across the map. It’s pretty similar to the rush mode in Battlefield. Checkpoints are only one at a time and it’s guaranteed that’s where all the shooting will be. If you communicate well, it makes for a pretty accomplished feeling when you capture them all. Uplink also has you picking up a satellite and getting your jetpack dunk on. My only complaint is some of Treyarch’s best modes, such as “One in the Chamber” and “Gun Game” aren’t in this title. In my opinion, those would all be amazingly fun with what the exo suit adds to this game. However, since they’re essentially just playlists, who knows?
There is also an “Exo Survival” mode which places you and teammates in basically a horde mode. Similar to most of those, everything is upgraded between waves and you have to hold out and get to the next round. It’s not nearly as great as the multiplayer, but it throws a lot of interesting and skilled waves at you that make for a nice break from that side of the game. “Zombies” is reserved this time around for season pass holders.
Call of Duty has taken its fair share of punches over the last few years, and rightfully so. Advanced Warfare has brought the series back to a level that makes it creative all over. While previous titles should be questioned, this one should be praised. The campaign is stellar, delivering the best campaign we have seen so far through use of setting, technology, and mind blowing animations and motion capture. As mentioned, it’s definitely a Call of Duty game, and most of those same tropes of previous titles are there. But something about it feels much more mature. Maybe this series has finally “grown up?” Sledgehammer Games has delivered an incredibly solid experience that is that much more impressive for being their first full-fledged title. It’s far from original, but the game is extremely fast paced and super fun across the board. AI is questionable at times, but the missions are epic, things explode, weapons are fun, Kevin Spacey yells at you, and for the first time in a very long time, Call of Duty is good again.
Call of Duty Advanced Warfare was reviewed using an Xbox One digital copy.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Sledgehammer Games has delivered an incredibly solid experience that is that much more impressive for being their first full-fledged title. It’s far from original, but the game is extremely fast paced and super fun across the board. AI is questionable at times, but the missions are epic, things explode, weapons are fun, Kevin Spacey yells at you, and for the first time in a very long time, Call of Duty is good again.