With new developer Sledgehammer Games on board, Activision’s latest revision of the classic Call of Duty FPS is more than just a change of scenery.
Call of Duty has had more than one reinvention over the years. The series started off in World War II, where it quickly made short work of Medal of Honor and cemented its status as one of the premier brands in gaming.
Since then, the franchise has gone from those war-torn countrysides into the modern era for a series of incredibly well-recieved games, then trekked to turbulent times in the mid-last century (and the near-future) with Black Ops before heading to a sort-of post-apocalypse for Ghosts, and currently settling here in the high-tech Advanced Warfare. Through all of them (well, pretty much all of them) a consistent level of quality has carried over that’s kept any game bearing the name Call of Duty at the very top of the shooter heap.
Advanced Warfare ups the ante for the series in several ways, adding to the formula while still managing to feel like a Call of Duty title. Advanced Warfare keeps things somewhat realistic in its new futuristic setting (don’t worry, you won’t mistake this for Halo), but it also adds in tons of sci-fi elements, all of which are based in reality and pretty darn cool.
The campaign starts off with a massive battle on the streets of Korea. It’s here that we’re introduced to main character Mitchell and his squad mates. One of those soldiers (his best bud) also happens to be the son of Atlas boss Jonathan Irons. Atlas is a Private Military Contracting company and is a huge part of the narrative here.
I won’t spoil too much though, because while the story falls into the ‘standard action fare’ category, it’s actually pretty good and is loaded with the big moments that you’d expect from a CoD title. It’s also packed to the rafters with Kevin Spacey, who plays Irons. Spacey does a terrific job as the ruthless and morally ambiguous Atlas chief, and he’s one of the coolest parts of the game’s presentation.
Mitchell on the other hand, is much more generic. Even though he’s got his own set of challenges to overcome, he remains somewhat simple as a character and honestly could have been a lot more interesting. I thought that Advanced Warfare might finally break that Call of Duty streak of ho-hum player characters, but that’s not meant to be apparently. Oh well, at least he’s not a ‘silent protagonist’ (good lord I hate that).
While the story is solid, the gameplay is excellent and never gets dull. Gameplay has been shaken up to a degree in CoD titles before, but never this much and it’s all thanks to the exo-suit. The exoskeletal armor that you wear throughout Advanced Warfare (you’ll actually wear a few different rigs) is a revelation for the standard run and gun scheme of control that the series usually employs.
Not only do you have fun gunplay now, but also cybernetic enhancements like high-jumping, overdrive (which slows time by boosting your senses), and a deployable shield. Not every gimmick will be available on every eco-suit either, so you don’t have the luxury of relying on one enhancement all through the campaign. And you’ll definitely miss some of those boosts as you play through missions that outfit Mitchell differently.
The armor isn’t the only thing that breaks up the usual action though. You’ll also find yourself piloting (and attacking with) drones, driving futuristic tanks and speeder bikes, and even leaping car-to-car on a freeway. If it sounds different for a Call of Duty game, it is. It’s also tons of fun and a breath of fresh air.
Adding to Advanced Warfare, the graphics are terrific in almost every way. A few segments in the campaign actually had me saying ‘wow’ at times and I haven’t had that reaction all that often from a video game (I can count them on one hand). Likewise, the character models are pretty sharp. More than once, I had the thought that the visuals and characters in the game’s cut-scenes looked more like I was watching television than playing a game.
I did notice though, that lip sync’s were off while in-engine. The cut scenes are masterful, but I’m talking about the character models in the actual game. I got completely pulled out of the moment at one point when Gideon (Mitchell’s squad mate) was just opening and closing his mouth like a robot while talking. I couldn’t help but notice also that the eyes on Kevin Spacey’s Irons in particular were almost completely lifeless. It sounds like picking, I know, but it really does take you out of the experience when you notice something like that.
Fortunately the voice work is spot on throughout. I already said Spacey was great, but so is Troy Baker as Mitchell and Gideon Emery as Gideon… oddly enough. The score is excellent as well and enhances the action at all the right moments with a suitably epic tone.
There are also some light… I don’t want to call them RPG elements, so I’ll say ‘character advancement’ mechanics instead. You’ll find yourself getting attribute points that you can spend on your exo-suit at the end of every mission which is hugely different for Call of Duty. These points can go towards things like feeling less recoil from being shot, and taking additional damage before you go down for the count. It’s a small step for the franchise to be sure, but one that fits perfectly and makes me wonder if we can expect it to be expanded upon in future installments.
I should also note here that the whole arsenal in the game is incredibly well thought out. The guns perform well and have cool add-ons (like being able to see through walls), and the grenades… oh the grenades. There are a plethora of them, and each has a very different function. From one that lights up targets in hiding (called a Threat Grenade) to EMP devices that knock pesky drones from the sky, they’re all cool, easy to flip through, and fun to use.
And then there’s the multiplayer.
You probably don’t need me to tell you how addictive and frantic Call of Duty’s multiplayer is, and that’s a good thing since I’m not the biggest fan of online gaming. I’ve never been much for multiplay in any game, but I will say that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare adds a lot to what’s become a kind of cookie-cutter experience.
The exo-suit changes a ton of what you can expect to see from a standard FPS multiplayer match, allowing you to leap around the map, get the drop on other gamers in some pretty unique ways and generally do some badass stuff. You also have a ton and a half of customization options in Advanced Warfare and can outfit and change up your online avatar almost any way you see fit.
There’s also a kind of Horde Mode called Exo Survival. As you might imagine, you’ll take on waves of random enemies here in this co-op event. It’s actually pretty fun and a nice diversion from the meat and potatoes competitive play that most CoD vets will run for immediately.
Sledgehammer’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare offers so much in the way of new gameplay and so many fun futuristic weapons and abilities that it straight-out redefines the series. This is a whole new experience for CoD fans to sink their teeth into and one that just might make a few converts too.
The campaign is solid, the presentation is excellent, and the multiplayer is tons of fun. This is Call of Duty, but a real evolution for the franchise. If you like shooters, don’t miss out on it.