Another year, another Call of Duty title, and it’s about time that we really are getting something new. Hidden by the much smaller marketing budget, with no preview demos at the major expos and a press embargo on reviews until the midnight launch, Call of Duty Advanced Warfare seems to be very much a revamp for the series, linked only by the franchise name. A solid user base growth on the new consoles over the previous year was as good a time as any for a series overhaul.
Even if the internet will have you believe that the franchise is all that is wrong with modern gaming (Ghosts notwithstanding, which was admittedly very poor), the majority of the previous releases have had some real positives. The single player campaigns of CoD4 – and to a point Black Ops – were decent; Modern Warfare 2 had an excellent, frantic multiplayer; BlOps 2 was much-played in our household for the party games such as One in the Chamber and Zombies is just zombies. The problem for Sledgehammer is there are many other games already released and coming out soon, which we have already had hands-on time with and we know them to already be good. So, premature feelings are that time spent on this is playtime taken away from something more worthy.
I personally now see CoD more as a franchised sports game now and not as a military shooter, so the comparison to the other contenders may be looser than ever. Call of Duty Advanced Warfare has taken the biggest leap away from it’s roots yet. But if the changes have been made in the title make it more fun, is that such a bad thing? The CoD bread and butter is online play which we will get to, but the lions share of the development budget has gone into the solo campaign so that is where we will start.
When starting out in the single player element, you can tell the pride that sledgehammer have in their new engine from the complete eradication of the traditional heads up display. Ammo, grenades and battery life are all visible on your primary weapon and no minimap means the rest of the screen real estate can be dedicated completely to the beautiful environments. And they really are beautiful. Continuing with the traditionally loose globetrotting Call of Duty storylines, you are taken all over the world in all conditions and it’s really great to see how packed the maps are. There are some elements of bottlenecking where difficulty temporarily ramps up due to what seems like endless waves of baddies, but overall the game moves quickly from area to area and location to location.
There is definitely not the destructible elements of games such as Battlefield, but it is refreshing to move away from the sparsity seen in some of the other franchises. The previous engine was creaking and when actually comparing the old Call of Duty games to Advanced Warfare without the nostalgia goggles, this is a massive leap forward.
From your introduction, it is unclear who the enemy will be, and it seems it’s “See you later” to the Arabs, “Всего наилучшего” to the Russians and “Bonjour” to North Korea! However, this is only a vacation and soon you are working for the Military For Hire superpower, Atlas and their campaign against what seems like everyone. The usual Call of Duty storyline follows as predictably as the supposed twists. Copy and paste the plot from any previous title or medium budget action film and you have the basis for Call of Duty Advanced Warfare: Character that is presented as good turns out bad, actual bad guy was probably justified in some way, double crosses etc; it doesn’t really matter. After all, the solo campaign won’t get much of a look-in with the multiplayer crowd. Many don’t or won’t recall that the original Modern Warfare disc had an absolutely fantastic campaign, which also happened to contain an extremely playable multiplayer and many like myself bought the title because of this. Modern Warfare 2 capitalised on the success of the multiplayer with one of my favourite all-time online experiences and tacked on a slightly-less-coherent campaign. And I can’t remember what happened in the Modern Warfare 3 story..
Advanced Warfare follows the latter, and although a fun ride is fairly forgettable. There is no equivalent ‘Price’ or ‘Mason’ in the cast, but what we do have is the most overused nickname in the genre, a sidekick mannequin named ‘Joker’. This cookie-cutter approach is wasted potential as the character models and graphics are flipping amazing, let down slightly by matching up with the voice work. The ill-fitting lip synching is strange as otherwise the sound is fantastic. We may still be driving through uncanny valley, but I can see the exit sign coming up quickly. No hyperbole here, they really are that good. With these brilliant character models, The token A-lister in Kevin Spacey is wasted. Originally knowing nothing about gaming in general and with little interest in franchise, Spacey took on the role after seeing the audience of the game and one of those fat CoD paychecks. Oldman and Sutherland did not phone it in at all, but Spacey really isn’t needed here, as what we have is an excellent recreation of an A-lister in a generic army/tyrant frame.
Another ‘A for effort, C for execution’ Call of Duty Advanced Warfare is guilty of is the return of vehicular combat. The short driving sections add nothing to the overall game, reduced to almost quick time events now. Just as any adventure game needs an ice level, and any platformer needs an underwater section, the vehicle elements are just box ticking. This is also the same with many of the gadgets and abilities you are teased with at the start of each level. They are so on-rails that they are almost filling in for cut scenes and giving a pretend user-input for transitions between sections. To their credit although unnecessary, it does keep the player involved with what is happening on screen. However with no sense of real danger they are not as climactic or absorbing as Sledgehammer had intended. Also, the ‘get hurt get to cover’ mechanic is a real relic. You can clear the game on all but the hardest difficulty by finding a nice piece of cover, pop up, shoot an enemy, drop down. Rinse and repeat. All in all though, what I’m really doing here is nitpicking. Ghosts was truly an awful game, so Sledgehammer set out to distance themselves from this by striving to create an action-packed, well-paced campaign, but an overall fun game. Did they achieve this? Overall, yes.
The main character may survive a few too many close calls or walk away unscathed from too many high falls, but once you have removed the suspension of disbelief you can play Call of Duty Advanced Warfare for what it is; a big, noisy blockbuster that has never set out to be anything but a video game. The quota filling stealth and driving sections may be rubbish, but the 1 versus 100 firefights are terrific. All you may be doing is moving your generic character from set piece A to set piece B, but at no point could you say that it was boring.
Now. on to the multiplayer! The amount of fun the player has online will be completely down to the individual. This is not like any previous Call of Duty title, for one thing it seems to be running five or six times quicker than the rest. Combat can now take place both vertically and horizontally, behind shields or cloaking, all while mixing traditional AKs with some sort of laser shotguns. I have previously played all of the Call of Duties on Xbox and although since making the leap to PC I have found the change exceptionally difficult. I do think that Advance Warfare is tougher to be ‘good’ at. I do not seem to be alone in this as from my play time it has been much rarer to see the higher-level killstreaks than I am used to. This may have some grounding in the much more compact maps, the ease that is granted in flanking from jet packs, or the fairly erratic spawn points, but I have not been seeing the usual steamrolling from the one or two best players in the lobby.
The Call of Duty Advanced Warfare experience has been chalk and cheese; once getting into my stride, some rounds have been a great laugh. Conversely, other times it has been infuriatingly cheap. With no dedicated servers, you’re folly to those with poor connections and we still have the problem of imbalance in a large number of matches. Overall I have not found that the benefits outweighing the disadvantages and this will no longer be my go-to FPS game. With the great memories I have of Modern Warfare 2, this is a shame, but I personally feel that the CoD style of multiplayer may have run its course. In the end, we have had a regression back to the Modern Warfare model of a large overhaul in the overall mechanics and a strong campaign, just without the bonus of a best in class multiplayer.