To reinvigorate a long-standing, frequently releasing franchise in such a defined way whilst staying true to its core as Sledgehammer Games has managed with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is nothing short of impressive. The blockbuster shooter may well be one of the biggest releases in each of the past seven years, but it had become predictable and somewhat underwhelming in recent years. Last year’s instalment, Ghosts, was a disappointing release on the new hardware, failing to substantially improve or at all impress in a sea of glistening new shooters. Whilst Ghosts was littered with cliché set pieces, substandard visuals and stale gameplay, each have been rectified in Advanced Warfare.
An increased focus on mobility revolutionises the Call of Duty framework, providing increased verticality and velocity to a previously one-dimensional shooter – hindsight’s a wonderful tool after all. Advanced Warfare’s improvements may no longer be anything new in the genre following Titanfall but it has rendered anything prior in the series sluggish.
Despite new weapons, exotic grenades and compelling overdrive powers, the standard gameplay is relatively unchanged aside from the odd tweak here and there, but it’s the ‘exo suit’ that drastically alters the experience. Enhancing the characters muscle strength, the exoskeleton allows players to jump further, double jump, dash swiftly, smash down from heights onto foes and use a variety of additional extras. Though the benefits don’t sound particularly gripping, they fundamentally alter the gameplay of a series that has been relatively unchanged with regards to mobility for a decade.Moving on from the modern-day setting was appropriate as well. From the M1 Garand to the M-16 to the BAL-27, each jump through time felt necessary and welcome, granting a freshness and avenue for innovation. Advanced Warfare may not be the line in the sand that it’s namesake Modern Warfare was but the evocative similarity in their titles is fitting.
High and mighty
You can traverse environments with previously unparalleled speed, opening up environments to multiple degrees of elevation. The previously funnelled aspect of the narrative has been replaced with design that offers more freedom, whilst multiplayer now sees players boosting around corners, dropping from rooftops and speeding around the map – it’s exhilarating. Whether shooting another player out of the sky or flanking the AI, it’s a new freedom of movement that the franchise has never experienced and one that it was waiting for.
Perhaps the most memorable campaign since Modern Warfare, a thrilling romp through a war-torn world, Advanced Warfare produced some simply stunning moments. There may not have been the branching narrative that the Black Ops series featured, nor the complex character development, but Advanced Warfare portrays an enjoyable fiction that is carried by the performance of the wonderfully captured Kevin Spacey. Drumming the “private military goes bad” beats leave a familiar taste – given the current regularity of the plot device – yet it’s expertly told and results in one of the most interesting stories from the series.
Playing founder of PMC Atlas Corporation, Jonathan Irons, Spacey delivers a tremendous performance with many powerful speeches you’d come to expect. His facial capture is equally brilliant and raises the engagement of the entire campaign – something that can rarely be said about film/TV actors in videogames currently. It’s not just Spacey that looks impressive though. Having been in desperate need for a visual upgrade for years, Advanced Warfare is, at time, simply breath-taking. Whilst it may not quite match the incredible spectacle of last year’s Killzone Shadowfall it’s an ocular feast that never fails to impress.
Set pieces are as cinematic as ever and the mission variety is refreshing and interesting once again. Silence, meanwhile, has never been quite so exhilarating. Stealth missions have been a cornerstone of Call of Duty for years and Advanced Warfare’s gadgets and new traversability make them more intriguing than ever. Multiple paths and choices present the illusion of total freedom rather than joining the dots of previous missions. All-in-all, the campaign is tremendously paced and features some truly stupendous missions without the use of cheap thrills – the opening few scenes are a superb example of how to open a videogame.
The single player mode also now features an upgrade system that lets you earn points by achieving milestones in kills, headshots, grenade kills and laptops collected. You can spend your hard earned points on unlocks to increase your health, recoil, and other such improvements. Whilst it’s a nice little addition to the campaign it doesn’t really promote a change of play style or add replayability, nor do the benefits feel noticeable given that the difficulty increases as you progress.
Never leave a man behind
Multiplayer is for many the main draw of the yearly Call of Duty and with Advanced Warfare implementing the increased mobility from the campaign it’s probably the most drastically different iteration yet. Gunplay is relatively unchanged, but with both you and your foes able to move around with such increased speed makes for a far more vertical and exciting proposition. The increased acceleration can make you reckless however, leaving you exposed under the thumb of gravity; therefore finding that balance may take a little getting used to.
An “exo ability” slot replaces the tactical grenade from the campaign – that would have been vastly overpowered in multiplayer – which provide you with temporary boosts such as increased speed and cloaking. Unfortunately, they seem to act as minor bonuses than anything actually worthwhile.
At it’s core though, Call of Duty has changed little. Practice will inevitably make perfect and memorising the maps and tailoring your perks and loadouts are fundamental to gaining that necessary edge. Upping the ante from Black Ops II, Advanced Warfare presents a “Pick 13” system – limiting you to one primary weapon and one secondary but more flexibility elsewhere. You can’t equip yourself with 13 machine guns for example, but the system is easy to comprehend and combines well with the return of equipment unlocking.
Despite the drastic changes to the movement, Call of Duty’s multiplayer is something that you already know whether you love or hate, and, unless it was the inability to navigate the maps swiftly, Advanced Warfare’s is unlikely to change your mind on that.
All 13 multiplayer maps have been repurposed for the online and local co-op mode “Exo Survival” – where you must survive waves of infantry, drones and Exo soldiers. Interspersed weapon and ability upgrades are your instant rewards and result in an extremely satisfying game mode.
There’s unlikely enough change to pull in those that have no interest in Call of Duty, but if it was any instalment it should be this one. It sounds harsh given the excellent game Sledgehammer has crafted, but that’s just the nature of the beast nowadays. Those that felt the series was feeling a bit stale will likely find enough to be enthralled, as Advanced Warfare manages to effectively add new elements to such a long-standing series without compromising it’s foundations is rather impressive. The best Call of Duty in years; what’s not to love about that.