Slightly Improved warfare…
Call of Duty is an infamous series renowned for its heavy emphasis on action, slick 60fps gunplay, and its revolutionary multiplayer that arguably pioneered the modern online competitive front, but it is also, however, heavily criticized for its archetypal execution and painful unoriginality. Call of Duty’s first, and arguably only, colossal step into the world of gaming was achieved back in 2007 with the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Whether you like it or not, there is no denying the fact that it became the staple of the modern online multiplayer, with the competition either replicating and/or improving on its formula. The sole act of gaining experience points in order to rank up, unlocking new weapons, gear, and perks catered to a fantastic Role-Playing mentality. However, these accomplishments were achieved nearly a decade ago, and currently, Call of Duty is arguably stuck in some form of limbo. Its gameplay, mission structure, level variety, and core online execution have remained fairly stagnant for the past 8 years. With 7 titles released since its initial success, something new or innovative is desperately needed to reinvigorate the Call of Duty formula, since each annual title is more or less the same, and playing the same game for 8 years can be tiresome. Enter Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the most recent entry in the series. Activision and newest COD developer Sledgehammer Games wanted to address the endless criticism on their beloved franchise and decided to add some spice to the aging formula. Advanced Warfare is by far the most innovative Call of Duty in recent memory, and is also one of the most fun entries in the series, but unfortunately, as previously mentioned, there are some significant problems that have plagued the COD series for years and Advanced Warfare is no exception.
Call of Duty campaigns have always been rather tedious in my experience. The characters are extremely one-dimensional, lacking any emotive connection whatsoever, the story either ranges from the extremely simplistic to the downright stupidly far-fetched, and the mission structure is archaic and atrocious. A personal qualm with the COD campaigns are their follow the leader mentality. Primarily, you’re tasked with following a certain character, clearing a room of enemies, and continuing to follow that character until you arrive at your destination. I can’t begin to stress how often this structure is copied and pasted throughout the entirety of a COD campaign. Unfortunately Advanced Warfare is no exception to this rule and continues to follow this questionable trend with flying colours. While trying to innovate the formula, I was hoping that Sledgehammer Games would allow room for more exploration or at least tackle more missions without having to mindlessly follow a poorly design and slow AI character. Luckily however, the level design is a noticeable improvement over previous entries. Gunfights are much larger this time around and there are even levels of depth and verticality in certain scenarios; this added layer of variance is a welcomed change to the COD formula and chips away at its triteness, ever so slightly. The only COD story that I fondly remember and enjoyed was the original Black Ops back in 2010; I personally thought the plot twist and overall execution was well done, appropriately ending on an ambiguous note and leaving nothing but intriguing thoughts. Advanced Warfare’s story is not nearly as good and is extremely straightforward and predictable; it’s a typical Call of Duty story, nothing more, nothing less. I wasn’t expecting much out of it, so it’s not fair of me to say that I was disappointed but I certainly wasn’t satisfied by the end of it. The sci-fi and futuristic approach to the story and gameplay is, however, a fantastic change of pace, and these advancements in technology mean that you’ll be able to utilize state of the art, futuristic weaponry and gear, which I will touch on later. Characters are done fairly poorly in this iteration, which is to be expected of a Call of Duty title. There is such an immense amount of emotional detachment from these characters; whether they live or die, the outcome really doesn’t affect you emotionally and sometimes it’s painstakingly obvious that the developers want you invested in these characters, to create an emotional bond, and they fail miserably in execution. Luckily the saving grace of Advanced Warfare can be described in two words: Kevin Spacey. Unsurprisingly Kevin Spacey steals the show and whips up another fantastic performance as he is witty, menacing, and charming at the same time. Although Spacey’s performance as Johnathan Irons is on point, the role of the character in the overarching story is rather predictable and extremely anti-climactic. Two presentational elements that Advanced Warfare absolutely nails are its fantastic graphics and sound design. Advanced Warfare’s graphical fidelity is extremely impressive, and its CG cutscenes are absolutely staggering. As clichéd as it sounds, it felt as if I was watching a motion picture; partnered with the fantastic voice acting and extraordinarily fluid animations, Advanced Warfare’s cutscenes are amongst the best in the entire industry. The in-game graphics, however, are not necessarily bad, they’re actually quite good, but they really struggle in comparison to the gorgeously rendered cutscenes, so therefore the graphical transition between cutscene and gameplay can be quite jarring. However, you have to respect the fact that Advanced Warfare is the first Call of Duty title since Call of Duty 2 to use a re-written engine that was primarily built from scratch. The voice acting as a whole is surprisingly well done. As I previously mentioned, Spacey is absolutely phenomenal but Troy Baker also does some great work as the starring role, Jack Mitchell. As always, the orchestral score is extremely bombastic, heart-pounding, and riveting. Say whatever you want about the Call of Duty series, but you have to admit that their musical scores are nothing short of sheer bliss to the ears. Advanced Warfare’s musical score is composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, who contributed to and is partly responsible for the beautiful work of the Metal Gear Solid series. In short, Advanced Warfare plays it relatively safe on the presentation front; it’s more of the same Call of Duty that you’ve been accustomed to, catering to a “if aint broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Whether that be a good or bad thing is really a matter of opinion and perspective. For me however, I longed for innovation in the archaic Call of Duty formula, and even though I got just that in Advanced Warfare, it wasn’t in the capacity that I was hoping for.
Whether you like it or not, Call of Duty has always had some of the greatest FPS gameplay, and there is a reason to why it achieved its spot as number one for consecutive years, granted whether it deserves that spot to this day is debatable. The biggest changes applied to the COD formula are heavily apparent in the gameplay of Advanced Warfare. Now everything you remembered and loved about the gameplay of Call of Duty is present; everything from its slick 60 fps goodness, extremely tight and responsive controls, and iconic adrenaline-pumping set pieces, they’re all here and arguably better than ever. However, since this Call of Duty is set in a futuristic setting, that means the weaponry and gear have advanced with the times, upping the ante significantly. There’s no real HUD to be found here, instead all information is displayed via holographic projections from the equipped weapons. The true star of this advanced arsenal of technology is the newly introduced exo-suit. These neat little suits allow players to become the ultimate weapon, a super solider with a believable one-man army ability. They provide the ability of super strength, jetpack jumping and dashing, climbing walls and slinging yourself à la Spiderman style, camouflage and slow-motion gunplay. These abilities are extremely satisfying, in particular the grappling hook allows you shoot yourself across large distances and truly feels like a first person Spiderman experience. The exo abilities are not governed by the player however and are determined by the current mission. On a positive note, this improves the overall pace, as each mission is invigorating as you’ll be using a different gadget, which will allow you to adjust your play style. However, restricting the choice of abilities is extremely disempowering and is unsurprising given Call of Duty’s traditional linear design. Giving the players the ability to choose their tools of advancement would’ve been the innovative leap that the COD formula so desperately needs. It would allow players to tackle situations in the manner of their choice: would you want to activate camo and use your grappling hook to take the down enemies incognito, or activate your slow-mo, go in guns-blazing and use your Exo Stim to give you that sllight advantage? This enablement of player freedom could’ve easily fixed or at the very least improve COD’s linear gameplay design. In Advanced Warfare’s defence, however, I haven’t had this much fun with a COD campaign in a long time. The iconic gunplay is nicely paced thanks to some fantastic vehicle set pieces, which range from some awesome speedway chases on hover bikes to strapping into an Armored Support Transport unit and mowing down enemies left and right. Hell, there’s even a segment where you battle on top of moving cars and drunks on the freeway, having to constantly move in order to stay alive. And not to mention the awesome Hoth like battle in snowy fields towards the end of the game. Yes the main story was disappointing and I was fairly disheartened by the lack of player of freedom, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun playing the campaign of Advanced Warfare.
The real meat and potatoes of any Call of Duty title is its multiplayer and honestly, Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer is just more of the same with a few alterations. The multiplayer is definitely good, COD multiplayer is a guilty pleasure of mine and I wasn’t disappointed with Sledgehammer’s iteration, but I wasn’t blown away either. A lot of the engaging exo abilities and gadgets used in the campaign are unfortunately omitted from the multiplayer, probably due to balancing issues. These abilities were, however, the crux of what made Advanced Warfare stand out amongst its predecessors, so without these abilities, the multiplayer feels a bit too safe and familiar for my liking. The only new additions included are the jetpacks and a select few of the exo abilities. You’ll be able to activate camoflauge, an exo shield, exo stim for a temporary health increase, and use your jet pack to soar into the air, dashing and dodging enemy fire. With the use of jetpacks, Advanced Warfare is probably the most fast and agile COD title to date, adding a slight layer of complexity to the gameplay. Sledgehammer also built upon Black Ops II’s pick 10 system, incorporating a very similar pick 13 system which is exactly what it sounds like: instead of picking 10 pieces of gear, you can pick 13, not really the most revolutionary idea but it works nonetheless. On top of that, normal scorestreaks can be slightly improved with modules for a greater advantage but will be more difficult to achieve. For instance, activating a UAV with threat detection will allow you to not only see enemy positions on your radar but also through the environment itself. Each scorestreak has a good amount of modules to select from so you can customize them to your liking and play style. Players can also earn supply drops which are unlocked in a plethora of ways. Its contents are random and could drop anything from character gear, reinforcements, and/or signature weapons; they act as a great incentive to constantly engage yourself in battle and are another fantastic addition to COD’s current unlock system. These select improvements are primarily the only additions to COD’s multiplayer formula, and even though they aren’t revolutionary by any means, they still slightly revitalize this aging franchise. Call of Duty is still very much a twitch shooter, and heavily relies on your reflexes; not much cooperation is present during matches of select game types such as team deathmatch. Most of the time, people will venture off on their own and handle matters on their own accord; others will, stick to the shadows and pin off opponents with their sniper, more or less a camping mentality, but luckily kill confirmed rectifies that play style since players must to retrieve dog tags from defeated enemies, hindering the camping play style. All of this still remains, so if you’ve never really enjoyed this style of comeptitve multiplayer, then Advanced Warfare won’t win you over because it’s fundamentally a typical Call of Duty game. But if you’re like me, and don’t mind the occasional frustration, and like the traditional style of COD multiplayer, then Advanced Warfare is a great title for you, offering slight innovations to sweeten the deal. One major disappointment, however, is Advanced Warfare’s shameful omission of four player split-screen multiplayer. This had become a staple of the Call of Duty franchise for over half a decade and for some reason it was reduced to a measly two player split-screen option. If there’s one thing that I love more than Call of Duty’s competitive multiplayer, it would be its cooperative counterpart, as coop is just my preferred type of multiplayer in any game. I’ll cut to the chase, Advanced Warfare’s cooperative mode called “Exo Survival” is simply amazing and is, in my opinion, the best part of the entire game. In similar fashion to any survival game type, a group of players are tasked with surviving numerous waves of progressively challenging enemies. Besides the typical survival game design, players will also be tasked with other objectives to better pace the experience. Players could either defuse a set of bombs in a specific amount of time, collect a certain amount of dog tags to advance to the following round, collect precious intel dropped from defeated enemies, or relay a satellite orb to its corresponding uplink, they’re fairly simple but each add a layer of variance and help create a better experience. Exo Survival is frantic, chaotic, challenging, and most importantly, addicting. The class system is fairly generic, but each class plays a significant role in the overall outcome, making each player feel imperative and productive. Upon completing wave after wave of enemies, you’ll gain unlock points, which are used to upgrade your weapons, select weapon attachments, equip new weapons, purchase new grenade types, upgrade scorestreaks, and upgrade your current armor. Not only that, but you’ll also receive supply drops which allow players to pick from a random selection of perks and/or scorestreaks. If you fail to complete the objective of a certain round, you will be punished and/or penalized for a period of time, making your next round all the more difficult. There are also over a dozen maps that can be unlocked through constant progression and your total completion of rounds. With so much content to freely enjoy, and the constant challenge of desperate survival, Exo Survival is a wonderful inclusion to COD’s cooperative repertoire and even stands tall in the midst of Treyarch’s excellent Zombies mode.
If you’ve played all of the Call of Duty’s prior to Advanced Warfare, then you’re either going to be displeased as it doesn’t necessarily up the ante in any significant way, or quite satisfied as the core formula that you’ve grown to love is still the same, with some slight revisions to smoothen the experience. It’s really a matter of perspective, I for one liked Advanced Warfare, but nothing more than that. The story was forgettable at best, the characters were laughably done, the mission structure is still banal and archaic, and certain frustrations that have plagued the COD formula are still present and haven’t been addressed. The exo abilities and other added flare are nice additions, but don’t really bring enough to the table to truly innovate and expand on this aging franchise. Are we at the point of surrender, to the point where Call of Duty will never do anything to vastly change its ways? Yes the multiplayer is fun, and the Exo Survival coop mode is excellent, but neither can be deemed as game changers and are relatively derivative. I, myself, am content with the current direction of the Call of Duty franchise; as long as it continues to remain on top, it will do little to change its core formula. I like the Call of Duty games, but at this point, there is no real reason to annually buy this franchise. Perhaps I’ll skip a few entries and then jump back in for a slight, refreshing experience, but even then I’d be hard pressed to find something that truly captivated me. Advanced Warfare will be known for its fantastic presentation value, superb work done by Kevin Spacey, addictive cooperative mode, and gorgeously rendered cutscenes, but I don’t really see die-hard COD fans nor disbelievers truly remembering this game, let alone it being their favourite COD title. Black Ops III will be released later this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if majority, if not all, of my personal qualms noted here will remain extant. Advanced Warfare is a decent game, at its very best, a good one. It’s fun, but unoriginal and deserves neither the hate nor the praise.