Let’s face it, Call of Duty: Ghosts was a massive let down for the franchise. Featuring a less than stellar single player campaign and more of the same old multiplayer, Ghosts was not only met with some lukewarm review scores but the blockbuster franchise also took an uppercut in the chops when it came to the overall sales figures. It was the first time in three years Call of Duty failed to shatter sales records. Fans and critics alike heavily criticized the game for its lack of innovation while strictly pandering to all those ‘Call of Duty Dude Bros’. This is nothing new for the franchise as Call of Duty has this way of bringing out the worst in some of those online keyboard trolls. Regardless, if ever there was a time the franchise needed a swift kick in the ass, it is now.
Breaking the formulaic CoD two year development cycle, Activision has apparently recognized some of the community’s concerns by introducing a new 3-year cycle. First up, under this new regime is Sledgehammer Games, makers of the famed Dead Space game. Like one of my beautifully executed cannonballs off the high diving board, Sledgehammer games have unquestionably made a splash with Advanced Warfare. This isn’t quite the same old Call of Duty experience we have all become accustomed to… well, sort of.
Sure this is still Call of Duty. All the things the CoD faithful love are back including those snap aiming controls, the Hollywood blockbuster single player campaign, its frantic run and gun multiplayer, and it still runs at 60 frames per second. Advanced Warfare is easy to pick up but difficult to master. All in all it looks and feels like Call of Duty. Despite this there are several new wrinkles added to the mix with one of the more significant innovations we have seen from the franchise in recent memory, coming in the form of the exoskeleton suit. It’s a game changer as it fundamentally retools the way the game is played online and even offline to a degree. It amps up an already fast game and makes it hard to put the game down. It is about the most fun I have had with a CoD game in quite some time and there is something to be said about that considering I have played all of them.
While there is no question the exoskeleton suit is a game changer, this isn’t exactly an entirely new innovation. Titanfall and Destiny use similar mechanics but it goes beyond merely a boost jump. The exoskeleton introduces new equipment, gameplay abilities and mechanics. For set periods of time you can activate a cloak, a shield, a health boost, faster movement, etc. You can also do such things as boost slams, grapple, boost dodges and more. It makes for a whole new layer of strategy and really a new Call of Duty. The exoskeleton is also prominently featured in the single player campaign but make no bones about it, the suit shines in the multiplayer arena.
When comparing this Call of Duty campaign to previous CoD single player campaigns, Advanced Warfare is a slight step up. The story is one we have seen in one shape or another over the years and isn’t the most innovative plotline we have seen from the franchise. That said, I still liked how there were no references to previous Call of Duty games and I appreciated the fact I didn’t have to follow a confusing dual branching storyline either.
In many ways Kevin Spacey overshadows a mostly pedestrian story set in the year 2054. You play the role of Jack Mitchell (voiced by Troy Baker), a former U.S. Marine, who lost his left arm during the games opening chapter in Seoul. He also loses his good friend in the battle, who just so happens to be Jonathan Irons’ (played by Kevin Spacey) son in the game. This obviously doesn’t sit well with Irons, so as the founder and CEO of Atlas (the world’s most powerful private military with the most advanced weaponry) he recruits Mitchell and subsequently sets his sights on a terrorist organization who have just initiated the first global terrorist attack. There are a few twists, one being quite significant, along the way but that is the story in a nutshell.
While Advanced Warfare does a poor job developing other main characters in the game, Kevin Spacey delivers a superb, albeit predictable performance. It’s classic Spacey and I never felt like he ‘mailed in’ the performance. He was interesting and really carries Advanced Warfare’s story but are we really playing Call of Duty for its plotline? It is merely a nice backdrop to the real enjoyment in the game and that is proceeding through the game’s 15-chapters in a variety of ways.
The single player experience will take you anywhere from 7 to 9 hours to complete depending on how much time you want to look for intel items or the difficulty mode you play. The length of the single player campaign remains an issue for me as it’s just too damn short. I understand there is only so much space on one disk when you have a beefy multiplayer mode, co-op mode, and a SP campaign but 7-hours is too short and frankly I wanted more. Is two discs in the box really too much to ask from a billion dollar franchise?
Despite the length of the campaign it remains a worthwhile venture and one that manages to contain a boat load of memorable moments. You will spend the bulk of the time pushing though hordes of baddies in typical Call of Duty fashion but Sledgehammer also did a nice job giving us some varied gameplay. You will be doing such things a slinging a silky smooth grapple (this is actually some of the best parts of the game), controlling a Goliath mech, navigating a futuristic speed boat, firing high tech energy guns, cloaking your way past enemies, operating a variety of turrets and using everything the exoskeleton has to offer. The single player game also includes an upgrade system where kills, headshots, grenade kills and gathering intel items allows you to upgrade such things as the recoil on your weapon, the speed you can reload your weapon, your armour, etc. Granted it is a system that is nowhere near as deep as many other shooters but the mere fact Sledgehammer took it upon themselves to include it is a big plus in my mind and something I haven’t seen from the franchise.
While much of the game involves moving from point A to point B and whipping past from one epic set piece to another, there is some variety in terms of how you proceed in some of the levels. One chapter in particular (Sentinel) involves sneaking your way past enemies using cloak and your grapple mechanics. How you proceed in this chapter is entirely up to you. CoD games in the past have been criticized for being too linear. Advanced Warfare introduces a little more freedom than we have typically seen from the franchise. That said, I could have done without the quick time events and the controls in the sequence where you are flying through a canyon felt awful.
While the single player game remains a mostly positive mixed bag, the multiplayer game shines. The only negative would be some maps do not appear as sharp or aesthetically pleasing as they could be. Some of them seemed a little too generic and bland for my liking; however, this doesn’t detract from the fun factor, at all. It’s complete chaotic fun! It’s fast and relentless. It’s Call of Duty on crystal meth!
The pace of the online game caught me off guard. Initially I was getting my ass handed to me as I was adjusting to the speed and pace of the game. Once I became more comfortable with the new exoskeleton mechanics, I was having a blast. Before I knew it I had leveled up my character to a level 30 and could not believe how much time flew by. That signature run and gun combat is back but the new mechanics allows you to reach new heights, and speeds unlike I have seen before.
With approximately 12-multiplayer modes and 14-maps out of the box, Sledgehammer gave Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer game the time and attention it deserves. CoD staples like team death match, kill confirmed and domination return. Capture the Flag also returns, as does Search and Destroy and Hardpoint. Advance Warfare introduces some new modes like Momentum. Think of Momentum as a King of the Hill style game where it is not uncommon to see several players rack up 15 or even 20 kills in a row. Yes, it is pure carnage. There is also a new mode called Uplink where two teams fight for control of a satellite. In Uplink, teams race to capture a drone and deliver it to a team’s uplink. This mode is a blast and feels like a high tech game of basketball inside Call of Duty. If any mode has a chance to stick like Domination or Kill Confirmed has, Uplink has a shot. Now if only slam dunk animations were included every time you score.
There is a glut of new additions to CoD’s online game and I could really double the length of this review going on and on about everything Sledgehammer has brought to the table. Instead I will just focus on a few things I really enjoyed. First, the loot system that comes in the form of “Supply Drops”. This new system rewards players for time spent playing online and for completing in-game challenges. Things like weapon loot, character gear and reinforcements can all be unlocked with supply drops. You will earn loot in the single player campaign that can be carried over into the online game, so how cool is that?
In addition to the slick Supply Drop system, Advanced Warfare is big on customizations. For instance, each weapon features 10-custom options where cosmetics and attributes vary. This translates into nearly 350 custom weapons out of the box. Any way you shake it, 350 weapons is impressive! While the XP system remains intact, the Pick system has gone from 10 to Pick 13. Pick 13 takes everything fans loved about Pick 10 and allows you to select three more items for your create-a-class character, including scorestreaks. It’s a little addition but one that is welcomed considering the plethora of options you have to set up your characters loadout.
Other things like the virtual firing range, where you can test guns out in between multiplayer matches, and the new personalized lobby where you can showcase your character in a virtual lobby all come as welcome additions. In a nutshell, this is just a deeper online Call of Duty experience.
There is a third mode included in the game called “Exo-Survival”. Much like Ghosts Extinction mode, this new mode is Advanced Warfare’s 1-4 player coop experience. Here you fight off waves off enemies as you upgrade your weapons, exo abilities, scorestreaks, perks, and more. I admit I had fun playing the mode but Zombies mode still reigns supreme as CoD’s third mode.
Visually, the game is impressive highlighted by those stunning facial animations in the cut-scenes. They look incredibly life-like and, dare I say it, they are the best facial animations we have seen on a next generation console to date. The same level of detail and fidelity doesn’t transform into the in-game animations but as far as cut-scenes go, Advanced Warfare nailed it. The frame rate was solid too as is the draw distance on many of the games levels.
Advanced Warfare takes you on a journey through Seoul, Nigeria, Seattle, Detroit, Greece, Baghdad, Antarctica, Bulgaria, and San Francisco. The level design in all these locations is brilliant. The colours and lighting effects are sharp. Antarctica simply looks amazing as I was stunned with how good everything looked, especially for a snow level.
Sound wise, Sledgehammer did a nice job with the weapons, sound effects and music. At higher volumes the weapons pack a punch as do some of the explosions in the game. Sure it sounds like more of the same old in many areas but regardless it’s not a game where you will hear any major flaws or anything out of the norm. Even the voice acting is believable, packed with emotion.
The Call of Duty franchise has been trending down ever since Ghosts dropped last year. Sledgehammer and Activision are hoping to turn things around in a big way by featuring a brand new exoskeleton mechanic that fundamentally changes the way you play the game and forking over what is likely a sizable amount of cash to lock up Kevin Spacey. There is no question a big risk was taken with this year’s game. Does this risk pay off? It sure does as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is about the most fun I have had playing a Call of Duty game in several years. Granted it remains very familiar but the leaps are significant and in the end pay off.
***This game was reviewed on the Xbox One and a copy was provided by the publisher***