November 03, 2014
You already know what you're getting when you buy a Call of Duty game. Explosive set-pieces, loud guns, perhaps a vehicle section or two, a stealthy follow mission and then a great big, balls-out crescendo at the end. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is no different in that regard, but it's the way in which it's delivered this time that makes it a little more interesting than usual. And as Sledgehammer Games' first proper CoD outing, the developer's experience in creating Dead Space as former members of Visceral shines through in the game's rather excellent campaign.
However, for most, Call of Duty is about multiplayer, which is like saying eating and breathing is about staying alive. Multiplayer has always been at the heart of Call of Duty, and it's remained largely untampered with since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Kudos to Sledgehammer then for sticking its neck out a bit and providing something new with the implementation of the Exo suit, which brings a whole lot of verticality and several other abilities to the table. It might sound like simply adding a double jump to CoD, but it goes beyond such a glib summation.
In the game's single-player campaign, the Exo suit is a constantly changing thing featuring a tweaked loadout for each mission. Some missions, you might not even have your boost double jump ability as you don the Assault Exo, while others kit you out with a grapple, unlocking a whole host of traversal options. And gadgets like mag gloves, drones, threat grenades, the deployable Exo shield, sonics that stun enemies and the ability to slow time using Overdrive introduce additional tactical approaches on the battlefield to boot. Advanced Warfare has arguably the most diverse and constantly interesting campaign in a Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare and its sequel that's a joy to play, and tells a genuinely compelling story that's not nearly as incomprehensible as previous efforts.
At the centre of the narrative is you as Private Mitchell (played by the ubiquitous Troy Baker), while Kevin Spacey's turn as morally grey Atlas Corporation CEO Jonathan Irons is also characteristically superb, raising the acting stakes somewhat for a Call of Duty title. Spacey is also surrounded by a strong supporting cast, who manage to imbue their characters with personality, ensuring you'll actually care about what happens to them. Of course, as a Call of Duty game, Advanced Warfare still hurls a huge cacophony of gunfire and things blowing up directly into your eyeballs and earholes, providing the usual big budget popcorn entertainment you'd normally expect. Yet its globetrotting yarn set in the near-future of the 2050s feels more substantial.
For the most part, Advanced Warfare's narrative is largely predictable stuff and the slightly abrupt ending is something of a damp squib, but being able to upgrade your Exo with points you've earned between missions is a neat addition, while the variety of locations you'll visit and objectives you'll encounter ensure fatigue seldom sets in during its 9-10 hour duration. Granted, the campaign covers the usual CoD staples, from the obligatory stealth mission in which you follow the orders of your whispering comrade to the on-rails flight section and the brain-rattling final assault, but it's how the whole thing is presented that makes it all the more involving.
Supply Drops for multiplayer are also unlocked at various intervals during the campaign, granting additional weapons and gear to use when customising your online character and their loadout. This is part and parcel of Advanced Warfare's loot system, which is another significant addition for Call of Duty. Earning loot makes both the campaign and multiplayer all the more rewarding. Even when you're having your ass handed to you online, there's still a chance you might unlock something nice for your character.
Some loot is specifically challenge-based and expires over time, like the seemingly ever-present Bloodshed helmet, which is earned whenever you rack up five headshots during a match. Get 30 headshots during a match and you'll unlock the entire Bloodshed outfit, making you look like a complete badass, but only for a limited period. It's in Supply Drops that you'll find the permanent gear you can keep for your character, and there are over 1000 pieces of apparel alone. Manage to reach Prestige level, and you'll unlock even more loot options. Loot in Advanced Warfare's multiplayer is a massive incentive to keep on playing, as you're constantly gaining new rewards.
It's the Exo that proves to be Advanced Warfare's trump card, however, bringing increased mobility and more options for navigating the game's selection of maps to Call of Duty. Fans have been wanting Call of Duty's multiplayer to receive a bit of a shake-up for some time now, and this is it. More than just a rip from Titanfall, the Exo's attributes bleed into every facet of Advanced Warfare, as you're able to dodge in mid-air, boost forwards, backwards and side-to-side, and even execute a 'death from above' slam into the ground. It's something that makes CoD multiplayer feel like the most dynamic and fast-paced yet, without taking anything away from the formula. And if you're completely resistant to change, you'll find refuge in the classic modes, where Exo abilities are switched off altogether.
For beginners, meanwhile, Sledgehammer has introduced the 'Combat Readiness Program', so you can become acquainted with the game without the humiliation of the killcam or being identified by your tag. You simply shoot one another, and everyone's a winner. Kind of. It's not just a mode for beginners, of course, but also for crap players like myself who need a refresher course in how to point and shoot properly.
When you're ready for the full brunt of Advanced Warfare's multiplayer, you'll be able to customise your very own male or female Operator and create a class by choosing from a maximum of thirteen different weapons, attachments, grenade types, unique Exo abilities, killstreaks and perks.
There's almost a surfeit of options to tinker with, many of which you're able to fiddle with using the game's free companion app. The raft of stalwart modes are joined by potential future eSports favourite Uplink, in which you have to carry a satellite drone (a ball, essentially) to the opposing team's goal while defending your own, and Momentum, a frantic mode that involves capturing and holding flags to build your momentum meter to achieve victory. Up to its eyeballs in modes, most are established CoD mainstays, while others are twists on traditional game types. There's plenty on offer.
As ever, the onus is on fast reflexes and laser-focused concentration, and it's not just the onslaught of rival players that can still catch you out in a multiplayer match, but some maps can occasionally prove hazardous. Take the Greenband map, for example, which has a huge drop into oblivion slap bang in its centre. “Look before you leap,” Sledgehammer's Michael Condrey warns. I quickly found this out the hard way. Several times. Being able to boost around maps brings with it a whole range of factors to take into consideration, like being able to zip out of bounds, or inadvertently plummet to your death if you're not careful. Suffice it to say, Greenband isn't my favourite map. The jungle climes of Instinct or the rooftops of Retreat is more my speed.
Advanced Warfare's multiplayer might not be to everyone's tastes, but with its range of modes, customisation options and Exo abilities, there's never really been a more inviting online prospect in a CoD game. Even when you're losing, it doesn't feel like you're being punished. You might still swear like Malcolm Tucker in the middle of a colourful tirade, but you'll still be having fun.
Exo Survival is the supposed icing on the cake, offering a new 4-player co-op mode that's as hard as titanium nails. Where Zombies and Extinction slowly ramped things up round-by-round or wave-by-wave, Exo Survival takes no prisoners, throwing tough enemies your way from the outset. A disorganised squad can be decimated in seconds, while a team with its shit together can grind its way through dozens of rounds, although you'll find objectives simply loop at a higher difficulty after level 25. Exo Survival can get a little dull after a while, and is easily the weakest component in Advanced Warfare, failing to offer the same level of enjoyment as Zombies or Extinction. Bonus rounds inject a little variety into Exo Survival, but unless you can assemble a good team that communicates properly, you'll find it a singularly miserable experience.
If you're looking to snag the full complement of trophies, you'll discover that practically every one is attached to Advanced Warfare's rather excellent campaign, save for a few that require sinking a fair amount of time into the punishing Exo Survival mode. Mercifully, only a handful of trophies are connected to co-op, while two task you with 'flipping' a map once and then twice. We're not entirely sure what that means, but we're sure that an explanation will pop up online in time. As for the campaign trophies, they're pretty good, encouraging you to head back in for a second playthrough to max out Mitchell's Exo and complete various activities that you could otherwise miss while racing through the many sights on offer. Slow and steady is the way to go.
More than just another Call of Duty game, Advanced Warfare succeeds in shaking things up without upsetting the precious equilibrium of the all-conquering FPS behemoth. That in and of itself is a hell of a thing to pull off, but Sledgehammer has somehow managed to make CoD feel fresh again. A well-paced story, superlative multiplayer and a wealth of options make Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare not only feel like a return to form for the franchise, but one of the best entries in some time.
Both the score and the sound design are right on the money, while the voice performances are uniformly excellent.
Reliably pretty, Advanced Warfare is the best looking Call of Duty yet, with Spacey and co. looking eerily real at times. Even more so if I take my glasses off.
Sledgehammer doesn't rock the boat too much when it comes to the meat and veg of CoD's gameplay template. It's still super fast and responsive, but the Exo gives the series the kick up the arse it's so sorely needed for a while now. It by no means reinvents the wheel, but is nevertheless a positive step in the right direction.
The campaign is only marginally longer than what's gone before, but is great fun while it lasts. I enjoyed it so much that I played it twice. As for multiplayer, it's still formidable stuff, while the co-op Exo Survival mode is demanding and requires a strong team. Sadly, co-op is unlikely to prompt frequent visits. Despite that, Advanced Warfare is a fantastic package overall.
A typical Call of Duty list that focuses squarely on the campaign, with none attached to competitive multiplayer. You will have to invest a bit of time in co-op, but this is still a strong trophy list.
One of the best Call of Duty games in a while, Advanced Warfare is a triumphant effort from Sledgehammer Games, whose storytelling nous and risk-taking in introducing the Exo pays off in spades. It's not the jaw-dropping reinvention that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was back in 2007, but Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the shot in the arm the series needed.