This isn’t your average, everyday warfare…
Call of Duty Advanced Warfare feels like a return to form for the Call of Duty series. This game has what brought the series acclaim in the first place at it’s core, with enough new ideas to make it stand out as a very solid entry to the franchise. For Sledgehammer’s first full outing, Advanced Warfare is Call of Duty done very right.
After the problematic release of Ghosts last year, it was abundantly clear that if Call of Duty was to succeed, no longer could the developers rest on their laurels and provide ‘new’ games that felt dated and repetitive at launch.
When asked how I felt about Advanced Warfare in the lead up to its release I often used the words ‘cautiously optimistic’, and that optimism was rewarded in the end. While playing Advanced Warfare I really felt like a lot more thought was put into the design of levels and the story itself, something that has left many players wanting in the recent past.
The narrative within the campaigns of the last few titles has not been particularly strong, rehashing well worn territory or just becoming downright cliched. Advanced Warfare boasts a single player experience that quite cleverly manages to mesh the over the top action sequences Call of Duty has become synonymous with whilst introducing a detailed and intriguing premise, exploring Private Military Corporations in the near future.
At the centre of the story we come to know a rag-tag group of private contractors and ex-soldiers, which feel a lot less two-dimensional than protagonists of the past. It was also great to see one of the members, a female ex-spetsnaz operative named Ilona, developed as a central character within the narrative, adding a perspective rarely seen in Call of Duty games to the conflict. All of the characters, despite having the usual flair of ‘action hero’, play off of each other quite well and were one of the main reasons I enjoyed their journey through the morally ambiguous world created here.
The other highlight is in the presentation, masterfully led by Kevin Spacey. Channeling his performance from House of Cards, his portrayal of Jonathan Irons almost stole the show. The cutscenes in Advanced Warfare are some of the most realistic and cinematic scenes I’ve come across in gaming, adding a lot of polish and quality to the storytelling.
While the in game graphics aren’t quite up to the scratch of the cutscenes, the game still looks brighter and slicker than the series’ previous entries. The whole world has an authentic ‘future tech’ look, with a striking blue and beige future Baghdad against the angular greys of Atlas headquarters. On top of the genuine look, the game’s campaign really nails the pacing. Over the fifteen chapters in the story, I rarely found myself getting bored or losing interest. Sledgehammer have spaced out explosive moments and tense gunfights with some genuinely new stealth missions and narrative moments.
Taking its cues from many of the previous games, the campaign maintains it’s share of blockbuster moments. Racing high tech boats through the waterways of future Baghdad, all the while avoiding fire from pursuing helicopters, makes you feel like you’re in a Bond film, and a later mission sees you donning one of the Atlas corporation’s heavy ‘Goliath’ suits, effectively putting you in the shoes of Iron Man’s Mk1 suit; a lumbering death machine that can smash through walls, doors and enemies alike.
All things considered, Sledgehammer have managed to fix and improve upon what has been lacking in the last few installments, with a narrative that rarely falters and manages to avoid being too cliche or cheesy. But what about multiplayer?
One of the core pillars of Call of Duty is it’s multiplayer. This hasn’t changed with Advanced Warfare, delivering a true to form experience and creating a playground through which to showcase the new exoskeleton mechanics. In the campaign you use your exoskeleton in controlled ways to navigate, solve problems and fight as the narrative parameters dictate. Multiplayer is where these mechanics are let loose, allowing you to tailor your exosuit to your playstyle.
The maps and level design in multiplayer really mirror this new focus. Thankfully the maps are mostly medium sized with a few small ones for hectic game modes, much better planned out than Ghosts’ large and empty playing fields. Differing terrain levels and structures allow multiplayer strategies to become more diverse, mixing up the flow of the battle.
Even with these exosuit abilities in mind, the maps play very well as normal Call of Duty battlegrounds. In a game type called ‘classic’ all exoskeleton jumps and dashes are turned off, emulating the traditional experience to really change up the speed and funnel points on the map. It’s really fun to try out both modes, each brings something quite different to the table. The rest of the game modes, new and old, are quite well adapted for the new movement mechanics. One mode called ‘uplink’ borrows aspects of Halo’s fan favourite mode, Griff Ball, and sees two teams shooting and punching it out to score points with the ‘satellite’ ball. These modes are a real welcome addition to the roster of team deathmatch, free for all and capture based modes, feeling less serious than previous entries.
Customisation is another triumph for the game, with a well refined ‘pick 13’ system to build your class loadouts in quite a diverse way. There are less weapons to choose from than in some previous releases, but the introduction of ‘Supply Drops’ more than makes up for this. You get rewarded with supply drops throughout multiplayer, arriving sparingly but never too rarely. Opening these rewards you with new weapon variants, custom gear for your operative and consumable items like double XP or care packages. These make the leveling experience much more rewarding as you’re not just grinding for the same weapon unlocks, you’re getting special variant weapons with different stats to the originals and pretty awesome looking gear for your multiplayer operative. You can also gain gear and supply drops by playing the campaign on different difficulties and upgrading your exo, adding the incentive to replay missions.
The third component of the Advanced Warfare package is ‘Exo Survival’, a co-operative game mode heavily influenced by Modern Warfare 3’s ‘Survival’ mode. You and three other human players tackle wave after wave of enemies. Progressing further unlocks exo upgrades, weapons, abilities, perks and scoretreaks to be purchased from the vendors on the maps, helping your team to defend against the oncoming hordes.
Battles take place on the multiplayer maps, with increasing tiers of difficulty. After completing a set amount of waves on each tier you unlock the next, but it becomes a lot of work and time to unlock the second and third tiers without a good or dedicated team.
In the past the mode has fallen prey to repetition, and this has been combated by objective based rounds which see you disarming bombs and collecting dog tags. This mixes up things for a little while but ultimately doesn’t completely succeed in warding off monotony.
While exo survival can be fun, without a good team and people to chat to it becomes dull pretty fast. It’s a refined version of previous modes and ought to be applauded for it’s variety, but it falls short compared to the other components of the title.
There is a zombie ‘teaser’ at the end of the very last unlocked map, Riot, and I’m very interested in seeing how Sledgehammer’s take on the fan favourite mode turns out in the future DLC offerings.
“In my books Advanced Warfare is a perfect example of Call of Duty done right.”
Advanced Warfare manages to be explosive, intriguing and engaging throughout it’s single player and provides a rewarding multiplayer experience through the introduction of supply drops. It’s a game that feels like a next generation title and stands as one of the strongest entries to the collection since Modern Warfare and Black Ops. Most gamers who enjoy FPS titles should get a great time out of Advanced Warfare, regardless of whether you’re new to the series, a long time fan or even someone turned off of Call of Duty in the recent years.
Advanced Warfare throws players into an engaging, futuristic world with all the hover bikes, mech suits, weapons and loot drops you need to cause more destruction and explosions than a Michael Bay film.