Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review
While the general Call of Duty Advanced Warfare release date is Tuesday November 4 on PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4, the Advanced Warfare Day Zero edition offers 24 hours of early play time starting today.
Call Of Duty, perhaps more than any other game franchise, is constantly being told it needs to change. That’s a common enough complaint for any game that receives as many sequels as it does, but as ever nobody is ever very specific about what that change should be. To its credit though Advanced Warfare does offer up a number of meaningful new ideas. The question then becomes whether they’re the right ideas and whether they’re used in the most effective way…
Before we get into the specifics there is something very different about this year’s Call Of Duty. It’s the first one to benefit from a three year development cycle – an ideal length of time for creating a big budget game, but one not always afforded by publishers. The idea now is that three developers will take it in turns to make a new game each year: Infinity Ward (Ghosts), Treyarch (Black Ops), and new studio Sledgehammer Games. Founded by the lead creatives behind Dead Space, Sledgehammer previously helped out on Modern Warfare 3, but this is their first solo project.
In hindsight it seems a miracle that any of the previous games turned out as well they did, since Call Of Duty has always been three-games-in-one: its famously bombastic single-player campaign, close quarters competitive multiplayer, and tacked-on co-op. Advanced Warfare is just the same, in fact the differences between the single-player and multiplayer are even wider than usual.
This is surprising because both modes are centred around the same futuristic technology: an Elysuim style exoskeleton called the EXO. The entirety of the game is set in the year 2054 and so the battlefield is filled with swarms of drones, walking tanks, and laser beam-like weapons. There are still conventional firearms as well, but it’s not the weapons that make the biggest difference to how you play – but instead the new ways in which you can move around the environment.
Thanks to the EXO suit you can boost jump 20 foot in the air, which immediately increases your tactical options in any situation. In both single and multiplayer the maps are cleverly designed to encourage and reward vertical movement, and there’s rarely only one way to approach a situation. But the EXO is more versatile than simply letting you jump really high; you’re also able to change direction in mid-air and boost forward, almost like a 3D platformer. You can also dodge left, right, and backwards when on the ground, and all with a simple flick of the analogue stick.
The system works extremely well and thanks to the EXO suit alone Advanced Warfare feels genuinely different to previous games, and indeed any other first person shooter. Especially as in multiplayer you also have customisable EXO abilities that you can add to your loadout. These work on a fairly short power gauge, but do everything from speeding you up to giving you a physical shield or a cloaking device.
The basic gunplay is still essentially the same though, and there are only a few weapons that are especially futuristic. A peculiar shield and crossbow could still technically be from the modern day, but there’s also a new category of directed energy weapon. These are interesting because they’re very easy to aim, and require no ammo, but give away your position and do need to cool down.
There are also more grenade options than ever before (we particularly liked the spiky metal ball you can shoot out as a melee attack and have it automatically return to you), and lots of high tech scorestreak rewards (including a much bigger robot suit) and weapon attachments.
Our only real complaint with the multiplayer is that there are so few new play modes. Uplink is a sort of basketball-with-guns concept, but it’s very similar to ideas that have been in circulation since the Unreal Tournament days. Momentum is a mix of capture the flag and tug-of-war, but sometimes matches can be over in minutes and sometimes they drag on for seemingly forever. Although of course you have all the other regulars as well, from Kill Confirmed to the return of Hardpoint, so you’re not short of other more traditional options.
The map design is excellent throughout, and even if the visual themes and designs are unremarkable they’re immensely entertaining to play in. Comeback, for example, is just a nondescript Middle-Eastern town but fighting over the three control points in Domination is endlessly entertaining. Solar is set in some sort of solar power plant, but while the art design is rather non-descript the expertly designed choke points and vertical options are superb.
And although the lack of new play modes is a shame Advanced Warfare does introduce Call Of Duty’s first loot system. It’s handled in a relatively abstract manner, in that you’re just told you’ve picked some up (primarily in multiplayer, but also single-player and co-op) and then have to check after a match to see what you’ve got. But the range of new weapons (organised into three types of rarity), equipment, clothing, and one-use abilities are genuinely useful, and add up to hundreds of collectable items in each category.
Despite a few minor issues the multiplayer is a triumph and easily the most innovative Call Of Duty has been since all the way back to Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The new Survival co-op mode though is rather less notable, and is a very simple wave-based affair similar to Modern Warfare 3. Enemies attack in waves; you and three allies defend against them; and you use credit points to buy new weapons, attachments, and upgrade your EXO. It works fine but compared to the rest of the game it’s surprisingly uninspired, and feels like it was shoved in at the last minute.
As ever with Call Of Duty there are some unlockable secrets that spice things up but perhaps the most damning indictment is that we managed to clock the whole mode after less than an hour of practice. The waves only go as far as 25, after which they just start to repeat on a higher difficultly level. Without really trying that hard our team of not-especially-skilled journos managed to loop it around almost three times, while getting slightly bored towards the end.
All of which brings us to the single-player story campaign. This too is the best that Call Of Duty has been for some considerable time, but by a much narrower margin. And as already hinted, what surprised us the most is how dissimilar it is to the multiplayer in terms of combat. You do still have your EXO at all times, but it’s kitted out with three different abilities at the start of a chapter. You’re not allowed to choose what these are and they often include things not featured in the multiplayer, such as a grappling hook, Spider-Man style magnet gloves, and a bullet time effect.
Strangely the boost jump ability doesn’t come as standard, and so the story campaign often feels much more like a regular Call Of Duty game. This is exacerbated by the fact that despite a lot of perfectly inventive set pieces they’re all still set in the same old generic locations. There’s the Antarctic/Arctic level, which is distinct to the snowy mountain level; the inevitable high tech laboratory level; one set in a skycraper-filled city; one on a deck of US navy ship, and so on.
There’s fewer attempts to copy All Ghilled Up than you might expect (and the one that does it most seems to get bored of the idea surprisingly quickly) but still the majority of levels are you doing exactly what you’re told by an ally spouting out tactical advice. Despite the EXO suit most levels remain ruthlessly linear, which is a shame as the few times you’re given any freedom of moment works extremely well. You only use gear like the grappling hook and Spider-Man gloves when the game tells you you can, and predictably it’s only a matter of minutes before you’re doing your first slow motion door breach (although we don’t remember any minigun-in-a-helicopter sections).
Compared to Treyarch and Infinity Ward’s games it’s also easier to detect the game stealing away interactivity from you. There’s a number of sequences where you’re controlling a vehicle, but you can only really move them within a very narrow area. Set pieces such as the helicopter sequence from Black Ops hid this fact extremely well, but in Advanced Warfare the strings are far more obvious. The section where you’re controlling a drone moving around a building, or using a jetpack to catch up with a cargo plane, feel more like the game is playing you than the other way round.
It may not be fair to complain about Call Of Duty being Call Of Duty, but what’s frustrating is that a lot of good ideas seem to be left unexploited because of this. And not just in terms of the limited use of the EXO and lack of freedom of movement. For example, there’s a creepy stealth section in a rundown building that clearly takes advantage of the team’s experiences with Dead Space, but just as you’re getting into it it’s cut short for nothing but another ordinary gunfight.
The story is also less challenging than we’d hoped, and while it is certainly more politically complex than previous Call Of Duties it’s still just yet another unconvincing excuse for World War III to break out. There’s a number of interestingly provocative speeches from the villain, but his motivations are never properly explored and his plan is pure Roger Moore era James Bond.
And yet these are all more disappointments than actual faults. Advanced Warfare is a certainly an important and positive step forward for Call Of Duty as a franchise, with the only real question being how big that step actually is.
All the components are there to make this a truly ground-breaking game and the failure to do so doesn’t even seem like a mistake, but a purposeful design decision to keep existing fans on board. That’s understandable of course, but it’s frustrating that while this is certainly the best Call Of Duty for several years it’s not quite the milestone it could have been.
In Short: Despite a few pulled punches this is the best Call Of Duty has been in years, and the multiplayer in particular is the most innovative since Modern Warfare began.
Pros: The EXO concept is implemented extremely well and gives the multiplayer a real boost. Loot system and sci-fi weapons are also good. Story mode is well written, with some great set pieces.
Cons: Multiplayer and story campaign are surprisingly dissimilar, with the latter relying too much on franchise convention and not enough on the EXO. Survival mode is pretty basic.