Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review – The More Things Change…

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Posted November 10, 2014 by Sean Mesler in Video Games

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Developer: Sledgehammer Games

Publisher: Activision

Release Date: November 4th, 2014

Available on: PS4, Xbox One (version reviewed), PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

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After 11 games in the series, it’s hard to view each new Call of Duty game in a vacuum. Developers must try to innovate to keep the series from stagnating while not changing too much to alienate the hardcore fanbase. And after the seemingly universal, if not unanimous, disappointment in Call of Duty: Ghosts, Sledgehammer have a lot of pressure hoisted on their fledgling shoulders to make a game that is both fresh and familiar. The result is Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and for the most part Sledgehammer succeeds, bringing in some interesting new mechanics. But for every new thing brought to the table, it becomes even more obvious how they’re held back by familiar design decisions.

The dichotomy between old and new is never more apparent than in the campaign. For the first time that I can remember, a Call of Duty game has genuine cut-scenes. And let me say, they are impressive. This is by far, and obviously, the best-looking Call of Duty campaign yet. Seeing familiar faces like Troy Baker as the sole playable character, Jack Mitchell, and Kevin Spacey as Jonathan Irons, rendered in the new engine is remarkable and did a lot to immerse me into the narrative. The story itself is fairly rote: Private Military Corp‘s, megalomaniac CEO, allies become enemies because, reasons, and good guys save the day. Sure it’s predictable, but since it’s so well acted, I honestly didn’t mind. It’s a great example of where Sledgehammer want to set the bar for Call of Duty in this current generation in terms of presentation. Beyond the aforementioned graphical improvements, the sound design is top shelf. As mentioned, the voice acting is fantastic, but the ambient sounds of the weapons, machines, and the booms of war all come together to make one the best sounding games in recent memory.

Spacey COD

Playing the campaign, however, brings you right back down to the level that Call of Duty has been at for quite some time. You’ll still be tasked to follow your squad leader, and exploration is discouraged by “This way Mitchell.” If not a similar line of dialogue, the game would tell me that I was leaving the mission area. I never wound up leaving, but the prompts were disappointing to say the least.

This is Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare after all, so what has “advanced,” exactly? Well, beyond the gussied up aesthetic and story presentation, it’s mostly the toys at your disposal to get through each of the 15 campaign missions. And there are actually quite a few. Your lethal and tactical grenades have gotten the biggest upgrades. Both have a dial on them that can be set by readying them and tapping X. Doing so will rotate the function of the respective grenade; Tactical can either be a flashbang, EMP, or my personal favorite, a Threat grenade, which gives away enemy positions within the “blast” radius for a short time. It really helps situational awareness in the more dense enemy sections and was immensely useful. For lethal grenades, you can change it to either Frag, Contact, or the Smart grenade, which is a guided grenade that will hover and seek out the nearest threat. Guns have some upgrades as well, like the Smart grenade launcher and a sight that shows enemy signatures when they pass through for easier targeting. These are just a few of the new gadgets you get to play with.

But the real star of the new toy show is the Exosuit, an exoskeleton like fixture that fits on the arms, back, and legs of the soldier, giving human-enhanced abilities like boost jumping, increased strength, and nifty things like “Overcharge.” Overcharge speeds up the soldier’s reflexes to the point where it seems like time slows down, making it super easy to take down several enemies at once. The Exosuit really changes things up and makes combat a lot more fun.

Which is all the more frustrating that the game confines you to specific enhancements for each mission. What should add more variety to the combat instead handcuffs you to only a few specific abilities. It seems as though the levels were designed first, and the Exosuit abilities were assigned to accommodate. It would have been awesome if every level was designed with multiple paths and Sledgehammer had left the player to their own devices to use the Exosuit how they see fit. There are a few missions in which this does happen, but the ratio of linear path to more open areas is sadly in favor of the former.

Call-of-Duty-Advanced-Warfare-45

That’s not to say the game doesn’t throw new things in your direction from time to time. There are quite a few standouts, including a sniper drone, a hover tank, and even a full-on stealth level in which my Exosuit was fitted with a grappling hook. It’s really good stuff, but using it only sheds more light on the moments in which your abilities are stilted by the rigid level design.

The campaign kind of peaks a few missions early, leaving the last few a bit underwhelming in comparison, and the ending is one of the more disappointing in recent memory. Even without the rest of the series to compare to, ending the game on a QTE is never, ever satisfying. The last bit of dialogue is clunky, and I’m concerned about where the story will go from here, since it’s both final and open ended.

For many people, the real star of the show is multiplayer, and it’s also the most freeing and consistent with the concept of Advanced Warfare. The Exosuit is available from the start with whatever accouterments the player chooses to unlock. This is all aided by the new Pick 13 system, expanding on the Pick 10 system introduced in Black Ops 2. For the uninitiated, instead of being locked to a rigid system of unlocks and slots for perks and attachments, the Pick 13 allows players to mix and match their loadouts to better serve their playstyle. Want to forgo a secondary weapon for more attachments on your primary? Go right ahead. Want two perks in your three perk slot? Go for it. It’s all doable within the 13 slots allowed and, like before, really gives the player a sense that their avatar is unique unto themselves.

The new movement capabilities afforded by the Exosuit serve incredibly well with the design of the maps. Multiple paths are open due to the boost jump, which made me more keenly aware of my surroundings than I have been in more recent Call of Duty games. But this freedom comes with a price. Choke points and map control are a thing of the past with players almost literally able to attack from any direction. This makes gamemodes like Domination, Search and Destroy, and Headquarters much harder to control.

That is not to say everything we know about Call of Duty has changed. There are still plenty of hallways and capture points located inside of buildings, so it never feels overwhelming. But with more directions in which points can be contested, spacial awareness is more necessary than ever, and good communication is needed to succeed.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Riot

The gamemodes are the standard, Call of Duty fare, with Team Deathmatch, Domination, Capture the Flag, Hardpoint (Headquarters), Kill Confirmed, Search and Destroy, and Search and Rescue all returning. The new gamemode, Uplink is a reimagining of Blitz from Ghosts, only this time players carry a satellite that needs to either be thrown through or carried through the scoring zone. Carrying the satellite means you can’t shoot, but you can pass it to other players or straight to an enemy leaving them unarmed and you free to shoot. It’s a fun diversion, but personally, I prefer the objective based gamemodes. And for those turned off by the new mobility, there are classic playlist where Exosuits are disabled and everything is played through ground infantry.

Killstreaks are also a thing of the past and have been replaced with Scorestreaks. Don’t get me wrong, you still get the same types of rewards as you did with Killstreaks, but they’re earned through points rather than just kills. Everything you do adds to your score streak–kills and objectives. This is definitely a good change as I noticed far less things in the air to pay attention to, and it keeps things from getting overwhelming. You can also “buy” enhancements for your Scorestreak rewards, such as making the UAV send out a ping that reveals enemy locations through walls. Using this upgrade means needing more points before it’s awarded, but once you get it, it’s invaluable.

Customization is at all-time high in Advanced Warfare. Beyond the Pick 13, players can cosmetically change their avatar to an almost overwhelming degree. While you won’t be able to truly customize the character’s face–there are preset heads–you can choose a variety of accessories for your character to wear. Helmets, hats, eyewear, Exosuits, pants, vests, there’s enough here to really sink some time into making your character look unique. Again, not game-changing, but after so many games of being stuck with a character based on the type of gun you’re using, it’s nice to see one of the better features from Ghosts return here.

Little additions really add some nice features to the game, like the Firing Range. No longer stuck with a gun you don’t like for the remainder of the match, players can now enter a virtual firing range and try out their new weapon. There is also a Combat Readiness Program for low-level players to jump into that allows them to get a feel for the new features and movement without being thrown into games with more progressed/experienced players. The end-of-match results don’t show your deaths, only your kills, and that helps bolster confidence while providing a moderate amount of fun.

There is also a Co-op mode called Exo Survival (which plays a lot like Survival from Modern Warfare 3) in which players must fend off waves of enemies in a round-based Survival mode. Like Uplink, it’s a nice diversion, but it can get repetitive after a while since nothing really changes from beyond a new objective every once in a while. It’s an OK mode, but it definitely feels like it was tacked on and not nearly as robust as Ghosts’ Extinction mode.

Taken on its own terms, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is a robust, well-rounded package with a ton of value. Muliplayer brings a whole new approach to how objective modes are played and makes the matches much more exhilarating. If you’re only in for the campaign, it can be beaten in one session on lower difficulties, a few more on the harder ones. I only played for about two hours a day on Veteran and blew through it within four days, and again, the limitations of how the player is funneled through the use of the Exosuit is a bit disappointing. But the highs definitely exceed the lows. I only hope that Sledgehammer take the next three years to really try to break away from the standard and give the player more freedom to play the levels how they want to, rather than how Call of Duty, as a formula, steadfastly thinks they should.


About the Author

Sean Mesler

Sean is a semi-retired hardcore kid, semi-grown up and transplanted from his original home of New York to Los Angeles. A lover and critic of movies, music and video games, Sean is always quick with an opinion, a heaping dose of snark, and a healthy dose of pragmatism. PSN & Live Gamertag: N2NOther