Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Xbox One) Review
Ben Sheene / Nov 3rd, 2014 No Comments
It’s a story that now spans generations of consoles. A new Call of Duty game is released. That new Call of Duty game is held under a suffocating amount of scrutiny. That new Call of Duty game is praised for refining the formula or damned for turning things stale. Players love it, players grudgingly enjoy hours of shooting at each other, millions and millions of dollars are made. As the years have passed — the original Modern Warfare feels like forever ago — a cliche has formed: how about we begin a new Call of Duty review by fondly looking back or treading over that academic-like “stale” argument?
Let’s not split hairs here, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare does not shun the fact that previous entries exist. Players have been taken through World Wars, modern battlefields re-imagined and even zombie-plagued cities, what else could be left? Multiplayer has been tweaked and refined countless times, so how does a developer improve upon the golden standard? Somehow, Sledgehammer Games felt it was up to the task of not playing it safe. And with one small but major addition, Call of Duty has been changed forever. Advanced Warfare is anything but safe and anything but stale.
Call to Action
Games have taken us to the future where mankind has spread its influence across galaxies. We’ve also been taken to futures not so far off and not completely unbelievable. Advanced Warfare takes place in 2054, when soldiers of the future use advanced technology and powerful exoskeletons to fight each other. Players are put into the boots of Jack Mitchell, a former U.S. Marine who is wounded in the introductory mission and then begins working for the Atlas Corporation.
Enter Jonathan Irons, the charismatic and imposing owner of this private military corporation, played by Kevin Spacey. Irons offers Mitchell renewed life as a soldier for hire. In the game, Atlas is portrayed as the company that gets things done. Though Irons and his massive arsenal of high-tech weaponry occupy a moral grey zone, they are able to take action while other governments sit around and twirl their thumbs. The reason for Irons’ disgust towards how the United States and other governments handles wars and diplomacy is made apparent at the game’s onset. He may seem villainous but Spacey’s delivery and some quality writing paint Irons fairly realistically.
His methods and words are extreme, but the results can’t be argued with. As a terrorist organization named the KVA cripple countries across the world, Atlas is there to help rebuild them by providing shelter, food and protection. All the while Mitchell and his fellow Atlas soldiers fight against the enemy while unraveling the truth behind their cause. Past Call of Duty games took players across the world by sandwiching locations and spectacle across a loosely threaded story. Advanced Warfare initially changes things up by having the story beats framed into individual missions.
Changing the Game
Advanced Warfare is similar to many other military shooters in that big action set pieces are an important part of the single-player experience. Massive explosions, thrilling vehicle chases, deadly shooting galleries and breathtaking set pieces are par for the course. Players looking for those epic Call of Duty moments won’t be disappointed as the gadgets of the future come alive. As expected, the campaign looks incredible, especially when the action is dialed up to the maximum.
Critics of the series have come to expect a short campaign driven by pure adrenaline. Even on normal difficulty, the game can last around six or seven hours when blazing through the story. However, Advanced Warfare doesn’t chain itself to the expectations of just being an action movie in a game. Many times throughout the campaign the action takes a backseat as quieter, more story driven moments play out. The game does have an internal checklist where things like “stealth mission” or “night vision goggle section” are crossed off. Even so, if players begin to look at the world crafted around them, it becomes easier to appreciate Sledgehammer’s attention to detail.
Years ago, Half Life managed to elevate the way stories were told in first-person shooters. Events unfolded around Gordon Freeman and it was up to the player to pay attention to them or not. From the clever tutorial mission to the explosive finale, Advanced Warfare fills in the space with non-essential scripted events. Players can watch soldiers test out exoskeleton abilities at the Atlas headquarters or investigate the scenery for hidden intel. Moments like these extend the life of the campaign but don’t always mesh well with the story, mostly because someone is yelling at Mitchell to open a door or head to a certain location. But just try and hop into the elevator with Gideon during training and you’re in for a laugh.
Despite these admirable methods of evolving Call of Duty’s storytelling, there are a few wrenches thrown in. Irons might be an incredible character but a plot development later in the game rips away any sense the man was rational. Where Irons twists into an evil villain cliche, Mitchell can come off a little too brooding when he narrates about war and death. Troy Baker’s star as a voice actor in games has sailed to incredible heights, and he does the best he can with Mitchell’s dialog.
Kevin Spacey’s appearance will probably be remembered as one of the best uses of a Hollywood actor in a game. His performance often sucks the player in whenever he appears and, luckily, he doesn’t feel overused. The game is not stuffed with Irons, and therefore it becomes easier to appreciate his appearances. Apart from some shockingly realistic cutscenes, the in-game moments aren’t always mind blowing. Every once in awhile, the motion capture can make actors appear a bit stiff above the mouth. Texture pop-in during especially busy missions isn’t incredibly distracting but it chips away at the pristine armor. The game is still gorgeous but truly delivers with incredible sound. Players are going to want to turn up the volume to feel the frequent kick of bass and the impact of gunfire.
Exo with Friends
How does a developer transform one of the most recognized first-person multiplayer experiences ever? The answer had to be extremely agonizing to Sledgehammer. As outlandish as an exoskeleton may sound, it truly revolutionizes the core Call of Duty experience. In the campaign, players are given different exo suits equipped with three abilities. Doing this makes the player never feel too powerful and creates fun opportunities to experiment with exo abilities.
Another smart edition to the campaign is how players can upgrade things like reload speed, recoil, and the amount of grenades held. Gaining these “exo points” is as easy as pulling off headshots, earning kills, gathering intel and getting grenade kills. In a longer campaign, this concept could have been taken further. Though it adds variety to the story mode, it’s easy to wish for more implementation.
Movement and mobility have always been an extremely rigid aspect of any multiplayer experience that has a military shooter slant. Going prone, crouching, walking, running and a short hop are usually the only way of getting around unless vehicles are thrown into the mix. Past Call of Duty games often had players trying to climb stairs in an attempt to achieve the best vantage point. Maps could be diverse but not very layered and it could be hard to jump in and out of the action.
It’s difficult to explain how good the exo suit feels in Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer without trying it out. The ability to double jump, dodge from side to side, and hover completely transforms mobility. Destiny and Titanfall are the closest comparisons, yet Advanced Warfare doesn’t take it as far into the realm of science fiction. The best part about this new way to move is that it becomes second nature within moments. Most boost movements are performed through clicking the left stick and the jump button. Navigating maps is a rush of strategy as players must determine if they are going to sail above opponents or dodge to safety on the ground level.
Call of Duty’s multiplayer has never felt like a slow experience, but it often seemed like a rush into the fray, only to last a few seconds before inevitable death. A player’s ability to survive is enhanced, which also makes the game friendlier to newcomers. Over the years, players have become experts in Call of Duty’s multiplayer. The similar mechanics have made the transition from game to game a lot easier. Advanced Warfare’s exo suit levels the playing field as the mechanics morph into a hybrid experience.
Wealth of Modes
Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer plays as an incredibly refined experience and meshes so well with the excitement the exo suit brings. Maps are able to expand and breathe as they aren’t tied to linear movement. Players are certainly going to try to jump to places they can’t and stretch the game to its limits. The game doesn’t always communicate its borders, and it can be frustrating trying to leap over a building or climb to a perch only to be out of bounds. There are very few dull spots on the map playlist because each is full of choke points, sight lines and potential for absolute slaughter.
Many of the modes won’t come as a surprise to any first-person shooter player. Deathmatches and control points work like anyone would want, but there are a couple sublime special modes here. Uplink is like capture the flag and tasks players with grabbing a kind of satellite ball and taking it to a floating upload point. This back-and-forth game of shooter basketball can become intense as players try to fly through the “net” for two points or toss the ball in for one point. Tossing the ball at an opponent will temporarily force them to hold it and strip them of the use of guns for precious seconds. Momentum is an absolute bloodbath as teams struggle to capture a flag point and push the opposition further and further back.
All the while, players are treated to the same kind of customization they have come to expect from Call of Duty. Advanced Warfare uses a variation of the Pick 10 system used in Black Ops 2 called Pick 13. Wildcards, perks, exo abilities, guns and scorestreaks act the same way with a touch more variety. Guns feel as great as they always have, but grenades are given the advanced shot in the arm. Scorestreaks can now be customized to do more things by increasing their score requirement. With exo abilities, players can further tailor their playstyle or completely leave them out if they truly don’t like the new path of the game. However, the combination of exo abilities only enhances the feeling that a customized class can be created. Be an invisible angel of death with exo cloak and exo hover. Capture the flag faster with exo overclock or soak up gunfire with a shield that comes out of your arm. To keep things balanced, each ability has a certain battery charge and must be used wisely as the battery only recharges after death.
Better with Loot
Character customization is greatly appreciated as the appearance of each operator can be changed for a more personal experience. The virtual lobby allows players to check out each other’s loadouts and show off their fancy duds. For some reason, this was the first iteration of Call of Duty that decided a virtual firing range was a necessity during multiplayer downtime. This much needed addition makes a world of difference when it comes to trying out new guns.
And how are many of those new guns acquired? Through the use of supply drops, Advanced Warfare’s version of a loot system. Throughout the course of multiplayer (and even during single player), players will randomly get supply drops. Opening them will give different rewards in three rarities. Supply drops may contain temporary double XP gains, a new gun or a new piece of gear. Dropped guns often feature custom-designed skins that set them apart from other types or even different stats. While most loot gained from supply drops can be cashed in for XP, the items received feel special and worth experimenting with.
In no way does the loot truly put players at an advantage. A dropped gun may have cool attributes, but it is never overpowered in comparison to the rest of the arsenal. If anything, loot only feeds the desire to grind and play further, waiting for that next unlock. Speaking of unlocks, accomplishing different feats in Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer will net unique loot. Pulling off headshots grants a unique mask that will expire unless players keep getting headshots in matches. If you’re good enough, you may unlock the entire set. The game uses reward systems like this to keep players pushing themselves, going for that unlock which proves their skill. Going prestige, completing challenges and simply racking up kills will unlock more and more for players to get their hands on. It’s addictive and adds a nice meta game to the rest of the multiplayer.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare does not attempt to change the deepest core of the Call of Duty experience. Shooting, playing online, ranking up and having fun battling it out with friends remains nearly identical to past games. More than anything, Advance Warfare truly lives up to its title and advances the tried and true Call of Duty formula.
An engaging campaign feels like an action movie, but also takes the time to make players think. The exo survival mode is there for players who want their “horde mode” fix with friends. But its the way the exo suit improves mobility and drastically defies expectations that really allows the game to shine. Sledgehammer Games’ work with Modern Warfare 3 was impressive, but the precedent it has set with Advanced Warfare may just alter the course of this billion dollar franchise. Call of Duty may never be the same and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Note: This review is based off an event held by Activision. A retail copy of the game was also provided by Activision for the purposes of the review.
tags: activision , advanced warfare , call of duty , Call of Duty Advanced Warfare , Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare review , review , Sledgehammer Games , xbox one