Call of Duty: Advance Warfare hopes that some Hollywood talent, new gadgets and some fundamental gameplay changes are enough to overtake the franchise fatigue that has plagued the Call of Duty franchise the last few years. It’s got a lot to prove and it shows.
The setting of Advanced Warfare shows a believable future where drones, fancy displays and state of the art prosthesis are common place forty-plus years from now. Even the most insane tech, like mute charge that dampens all the sound in an area or magnetic gloves that lets you climb walls, are all grounded in reality.
The ExoSuit, a high-powered military exoskeleton, injects new life to the aging combat mechanics of Call of Duty. For the first time in the series, the term “power fantasy” rings true true with the introductions of “Exo abilities” that allow you to do incredible things like pull out a portable ballistic shield out of your wrist or punch a guy 20 feet into oncoming traffic.
You play as Mitchell, a discharged ex-marine who finds a new purpose with ATLAS, a private military contractor headed up by CEO Jonathon Irons that must track down some super terrorist named Hades who hates all power plants for whatever reason. I won’t get into any spoiler territory but not everything is what it seems with ATLAS. It’s the classic story we’ve seen before about what happens when a PMC’s power goes uncheck or unchallenged for too long.
The campaign is well paced and does a very good job of letting you digest some of the major world changing events that happen during the course of the story. Kevin Spacey performance is pretty fantastic even though he is essentially playing a version of Frank Underwood from House of Cards. He’s got the gravitas that demands all of your attention every time he shows up, making him an incredibly memorable character.
Impressive performances from Forest Whitaker and Troy Baker also deserve a nod since it’s really the talent here that moves along the often predictable story, which just simply runs out of steam towards the end of the game. For the first time in a good long while I actually remember most of the main character’s name in a Call of Duty game, so that’s something.
Mission structure in Advanced Warfare does a pretty job of spacing out the formulaic style of “follow a NPC to a bad guy shooting gallery” by mixing in with some really fun gadget and vehicle moments. The implementation of different ExoSuit abilities in each mission makes you welcome each shooting section you come across. Boosting in the air and slamming down onto people is awfully satisfying. Overdrive will slow down time for precise shooting saved my butt dozens of times.
I also enjoyed the variable grenades feature. Instead of picking up different grenade types, you can cycle through attributes, going from flash to smoke grenade on the fly. There’s of course a good chance you may accidentally choose the wrong grenade type; I often would toss a Smart (homing) grenade when I meant to throw a contact grenade to explode on impact in the heat of combat.
The cloak-heavy stealth missions are tense and the new mobility really opens up the battlefield since you can leap onto and over structures. Once mission, for instance, had me use a grapple hook to freely sneak around a compound at night. These mission have uncharacteristically open areas go well with the on-rails flow of most missions. I would have loved to see the branching mission paths that were in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 to make a return but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for future installments.
Enemy A.I is still pretty terrible, with bad guys often boosting from perfectly good cover to out in the open being sort of hilarious. This really didn’t bother me as much as I thought since zipping around in a super suit and throwing homing grenades at these idiots is fun as hell. Advanced Warfare is a videogame version of an action movie — shooting a high volume of inept bad guys only add to the power fantasy. It seems that even with all the gadgets and higher speed of play it still feels like a franchise game, as it also retains the reflex-heavy twitch shooter aspect.
The game very rarely wants you to sit still, which is more evident in the online portion of the game. The new mobility is the biggest and most important change to come to multiplayer and the maps fully cater to the new found skyward freedom, not to mention that using the side dash to avoid shotgun fire that would have killed you in any other Call of Duty is awesome. A standard team Deathmatch or a game of Uplink (aka basketball with machine guns) will always feel a little different when you throw in jet packs and space lasers. What impresses me the most is that this feels like a sensible progression of where the multiplayer gameplay should be heading.
Custom Killstreaks is another fun change that allows you to edit Killstreaks in ways that suit your playstyle, like having your UAV last longer or show enemies through walls on top of displaying their locations on maps. Of course equipping the different modules will increase the point cost for each Killstreak. So if you wanted to use the deadly Vulcan space laser that normally costs 600, it will now be 800 points if you add the three rotating lasers to it.
I prefer earning points rather than kills for Killstreaks since you can focus on completing objectives in non-deathmatch modes in exchange for some cool stuff. If you die though, points go with you. Some Killstreaks have the Support module that will keep the points after you die but for good rewards like the Goliath Mech Suit, you’ll have to survive. It seems fair and it works for players who just seem to trade deaths and never quite manage a killing spree.
Player customization is massive this time around with the ability to change the look of your future warfighter. You can still put silly emblems and logos on your guns but now you can also equip helmets and other gear. This makes progression feels more rewarding with being able to unlock guns, perks and and cool looking gear. It’s good to see my most common complaint about the online characters looking rather generic finally being addressed. My cool looking Elite helmet that I got from a random supply drop (COD equivalent to a loot chest) makes me still want to play this multiplayer shooter I’m really bad at.
Matchmaking does have its issues, as you’re going to be matched up against players that dwarf your skill. It’s still early, but I’ve noticed a couple of loudouts and later unlocked weapons that seem way too overpowered. I’m still getting killed by people flying around with dual SMGs even though I could have sworn I shot them a few times with my gold AK. The only way to get better is to get your ass handed to you for hours on end, which in that way captures the spirit of Call of Duty.
The Pick 13 system lets you design your loadout any way you want. You have the freedom to pack your loadout with as much stuff as you want as long as it adds up to 13 points, which means you can do things like add three attachments to a gun (although you may to sacrifice a perk or an Exo ability to stay at 13 points).
You’re given five custom classes right off the bat to goof around with different perks, Exo abilities and gear. I found that going with one of the pre-made classes like “Balanced” early on gives you a fighting chance since designing the perfect loudout can be quite overwhelming to newcomers. The best and most welcome change in this feature comes in the form of the virtual firing range that you can access with just a touch of a button. The fact that this feature isn’t in more online shooters with a ton of guns is a crime.
The co-op is a bit a of a let down considering you have to buy the Season Pass in order to play Zombies, and it’s a standard fare wave-based survival that feels more like a tacted-on afterthought. I’d also like to briefly mention the Combat Readiness Program online mode. It’s basically a new player friendly pressure-free mode with no kill cams or scoreboards where you’re matched up against a combination of bots and players. It’s a place where noobs can jump and actually kill things without being being completely discouraged by far better opponents.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare breathes new life back into the franchise with a greatly rewarding progression system and fantastic take on player movement. The fun but painfully predictable story glens some enjoyment courtesy of Kevin Spacey’s ability to be an awesome jerk in any role that he plays.
For fans that have been away from the franchise for a while, Advanced Warfare has enough going for it for you to come back. If you fall under the more hardcore demographic, I’m happy to say there’s plenty of online shooter madness to take care of your itchy trigger finger. This is a title that, while it mostly plays safe, takes small yet important steps towards reclaiming its former glory.
Now I leave you with a brief Spacey-heavy cutscene that really jumps into uncanny valley territory. Enjoy!