Today it’s All Saints’ Day and we are about to venture forth into November, starting the descent into the madness of the winter shopping season that will likely be capped off with purchases of a new console or two, several new games and needlessly stuffing your backlog with another Steam sale. It’s a great time to be a fan of video games as the weather cools (the season’s first dusting of snow occurred for me this morning) and you lock yourself down to your couch, bed or computer chair with a hot cup of cocoa and indulge in hours of our favorite past time. This of course means it’s the time of year when our favorite mega-franchises return for their yearly installment to many fans rejoice or woe.
Tis the season for Call of Duty.
Yes, Call of Duty, Activision’s massive money-making franchise that has now spurred more titles than I can count on my hands. If we went back to 2007, we’d be almost exactly seven years away from the release of one of my all-time favorite games, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. It’s a genre defining game that set a new bar for what we expected in first-person shooters, and in many ways is still the golden standard today.
Its success, in many ways, was also a curse. The franchise’s popularity ballooned from what started in 2003 as an innovative PC shooter to a series wrested in substantial marketing campaigns and shackled to a now formulaic approach. Whether it was the annual release schedule tacked with oodles of DLC which made fans feel squeezed for money for a barely evolving product, the mass-market appeal that brought “casual” gamers into the fold, or the ousting of Jason West and Vince Zampella from Infinity ward, something brought out vocal disdain for the series.
Many individuals have harboured this discontent for several years now, with many individuals in my various friend circles using Call of Duty as butt of several jokes and, in the worst cases, out right shaming people that admit to playing, let alone enjoying, the franchise. After greatly enjoying Modern Warfare, I too must admit that I became vocally displeased with the franchise. My high expectations for Modern Warfare 2 were met with disappointment and frustration that carried over to reluctant purchases of Black Ops and Black Ops 2 to play with far away friends, regretting both purchases and feeling like my lesson was finally learned. While I always pride myself on keeping an open mind to any game, I must admit my dissatisfaction stemming from the atrophy the franchise had experienced caused me to have no intentions of investing my hard-earned money into the series for the foreseeable future.
That was until the trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare dropped.
For all the vitriol that is thrown at the series and my own disillusion with the lack of evolution that previous games have had, I must give credit to Sledgehammer Games for attempting to create something that looks almost nothing like the Call of Duty we’ve come to know. While part of me deep down is wary of being baited into the same old formula of Prestige modes, perks, drop shotting and quick scopes, I have found myself excited for the game to launch for the first time in the past five years. It’s time to give Call of Duty a fair chance again at winning our affection after its past transgressions.
Namely, this starts with the game’s name. If you take Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and renamed it something like Revolution: Advanced Warfare we’d all be much more excited for it. For all the reasons I’ve listed before, many of us are letting the Call of Duty name cloud our judgement and allow our preconceived negative connotations write-off the game as another entry into a continued cycle of churning out the same content.
Sledgehammer Games has been quietly developing Advanced Warfare for the past three years, headed by the talented Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey who birthed the Dead Space franchise at Visceral Games before departing to form Sledgehammer Games under Activision. The studio was working on a third-person spin-off of the series after the success with Dead Space before being roped into the development of Modern Warfare 3 after the messy split with West and Zampella from Infinity Ward. That assistance led to Activision placing the studio as one of the main series developers with Treyarch and Infinity Ward to set the series onto a three year development cycle instead of a two year rotation, with Advanced Warfare being the first to benefit from this decision.
That additional time has seemingly gone to good use, as traditional aspects of the series have been flipped on their head with new mechanics introduced through the futuristic — but grounded in reality — tools that Sledgehammer has designed for us to create chaos. The boost jump that accompanies the new Elysium-inspired exoskeleton armor adds verticality and amps up the games speed from fast to frantic, setting a new tempo that hasn’t been seen in a Call of Duty game before. You’re a super soldier, a killing machine that more closely resembles something like Master Chief than an implausibly badass globe-trotting marine. Ripping off car doors, jumping onto roof tops, going invisible, shooting lasers or tossing a fool dozens of feet are things that are unheard of for the series, following through on the futuristic promise that Black Ops 2 failed to fully realize.
While it closely resembles Titanfall in action without the massive mechs to call down from the sky, it keeps all the fixings that Respawn Entertainment gutted from the process. The ability to unlock guns, skins and ranks has been built upon with complete character customization and loot drops, a basic principle that has compelled thousands of people like me to pour countless hours into games like Borderlands and Diablo. That power to craft something personal is important, it’s something that you can connect with and a natural evolution that the series has just been begging for.
It’s a game that shows it has learned from the industry around it and adapted the best parts of its competition — like levolution from Battlefield 4 and Titanfall’s verticality — with Call of Duty’s tight controls and satisfying gunplay. A complete package delivering a blockbuster set-piece story — featuring notoriously picky actor Kevin Spacey — with a now refreshed competitive game mode and rumored co-operative features like zombies seemingly provides the Call of Duty 4 sequel that I’ve been waiting seven years to play, and why I think it’s time to give it the fair chance at my attention that it deserves.