Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Call of Duty: Ghosts hit last year with a tepid reception that in some ways was deserved and in other ways wasn’t. The map lineup was very good, while the gameplay felt a bit long in the tooth. The release of Titanfall in early 2014 only served to add insult to injury there with a super-fast pace that made the game appealing to those who normally weren’t big FPS fans. Activision seems to have heard their cries, because the gameplay pace in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the fastest yet for the series.
Campaign-wise, this is an all-new entry in the series. Jack Mitchell and Will Irons are best friends who fight for their country. Mitchell has a bit less baggage mentally, as Will’s got serious issues with his father. This early throwaway bit means a lot more later. After the extended tutorial mission, Mitchell loses his left arm while Will loses his life. Will’s father Jonathan runs Atlas, a private military firm who can bring Mitchell aboard and provide him with a new arm.
There’s a ton of money behind Atlas and aside from a few kinks, the arm works really well. Mitchell’s got a new lease on life and feels like he has a sense of purpose again. However, cracks start showing fairly early on when you’ve got to save the Nigerian Prime Minister. Instead of focusing purely on the safety of all hostages, Irons is focused on the PM’s and what doors his survival during an attack by the KVA terrorist group will open for the company. He’s a bit heartless here and it shows you that there’s a lot more than meets the eye to the character.
Having Kevin Spacey play the part was a brilliant move, and making the character look exactly like him works too since you can compare the role directly to some of his dramatic ones and it holds up pretty well. Is it the most well-developed character in gaming? No, but it’s easily one of the best villain-ish character in an FPS to date. Like any really good character, there are justifiable reasons for his actions, even if they don’t make complete sense on a surface level. It takes the idea of an FPS campaign from something that feels like a dramatized tutorial and into a compelling narrative that just so happens to teach you how to kick tons of ass online.
Speaking of which, that is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time – like with any FPS. However, you’ll want to at least take breaks from that with the campaign to envelope yourself in the world, as they’ll hopefully be revisiting this universe again in a direct follow-up. The multiplayer interface is largely good, but it is annoying that you can only edit your control setup right before a match. This gives you very little time to just cycle through the options, let alone properly set up your loadout. Similarly, you can only mute people during the game – and failing to do so results in giant text notifications popping up and obscuring the screen.
Fortunately, this isn’t a huge problem and only temporarily prevents you from enjoying the game’s many multiplayer modes. You’ve got deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag in both regular and momentum mode. The latter has you seek out every flag on the field and it’s a bit like a tug of war match where your team needs to capture as many flags as possible and each kill ups your speed. This mode is great to start out with since there’s less relying on an individual person than the other modes, and if you wind up starting off here, you can gain some confidence and move onto other modes.
Free-for-all is your individual deathmatch, and that’s the ultimate test of your own skills. Kill confirmed takes team deathmatch and spins it with the use of dog tags. A kill leaves a dog tag, and if you can save a teammate’s tag or your own, you’ll get XP even if you wind up dying before or after. There’s a lot of positive reinforcement with that and it makes each death sting less.
Uplink blends shooting with a bit of soccer as you need to grab a satellite uplink and then take it to your uplink location. Much like a game, you’ll actually have a halftime here, which got a chuckle out of me. Also, like basketball, each time they take the ball to where it needs to go, they get 2 points. Search and destroy has you seek out a target and destroy it, while search and rescue is a blend of that and the kill confirmed mode – only here, if your tags are captured by a friendly, you’ll respawn. If an enemy grabs them, you’re done for the round. Depending on the side, you’re out to either defend your own bases or destroy the enemy’s.
Advanced Warfare keeps the franchise’s reputation for sharp gameplay alive with a ton of additions. You can now use your exo suits to rocket up with a double jump and make use of a variety of drones. Each leave you open to attack on the field, but can allow you to rack up kills really quickly. The rockets also allow for a safe descent from a massive drop and can allow you to boost over horizontal passages or do a speedy slide ala Mega Man if you’re equipped properly.
You can also use a variety of smart grenades, with one bumper controlling one set and another controlling the other, while Square/360’s X allows you to switch between the types. Some enemies are more vulnerable to a certain type, so if you’re surrounded by drones, hit them with an EMP grenade, and if you’ve got a lot of enemies behind cover, launch a grenade that exposes their position and allows you to shoot through walls at them. The controls never get too complicated, although keeping track of all the grenade types can be a bit tricky. This is something that will get easier to do as it becomes more of a standard, but for now, there’s a small learning curve attached to them.
There’s a lot to Advanced Warfare’s gameplay, and for the most part, things work really well. The faster pace does seem a bit out of place here at times, with navigation sometimes being hampered by small awnings near windows and the like. Unlike Titanfall, where the game’s engine was designed from the ground-up for a lot of fast navigation, they’re either using an older engine (last-gen) and just trying to get as much out of it as possible, or a brand-new engine (next-gen) that focuses more on facial rendering technology than fast movement. What they’ve done is impressive, but doesn’t flow quite as smoothly as Titanfall.
Visually, Advanced Warfare alternates between looking really good and downright ugly on last-gen hardware. While it’s easy to dismiss this as being due to the age of the consoles, other FPSes like Crysis 2 look worlds better than this. Depending on the map, you’ll have decent-looking interiors or some that are just laughably bad. Character models are mostly solid though, with a reasonable amount of detail for their gear and faces. Guns look impressive too, but suffer from some flat textures where there would naturally be some kind of curve.
Next-gen hardware owners are in for a bit more of a treat. Unlike Ghosts, which was simply uprezzed for next-gen consoles, Advanced Warfare’s new engine results in a sharper, more defined, and ultimately smoother Call of Duty experience. The biggest leap forward is easily the facial animations, which are outstanding. Kevin Spacey looks uncannily realistic. While it doesn’t nail everything out of the gate from a visual standpoint, the new engine is a much-needed improvement.
AW’s sound design is top-notch. While the music is a bit too epic all the time, it is enjoyable to listen to. The real joy comes from all the gunfire. Each gun’s rounds are distinct, and you can even hear the difference between various types of semi-automatic weapons. Some have almost a silenced sound, while others bombard your ears with noise. The voice acting throughout the campaign is really good on the whole, and with Troy Baker and Kevin Spacey on-board, that’s to be expected. The performances make you care more about the characters, and that can mean the difference between a game’s story feeling worthwhile or like an afterthought.
If the regular Call of Duty formula has worn thin for you over the past couple of years, I strongly recommend giving Advanced Warfare a shot. The dramatic increase in speed makes it far more fun, and while I don’t think the parts gel as well as Titanfall, there is a lot more do to here. If nothing else, it’s worth a rental just to check out the campaign and see what multiplayer has to offer. Unlike Ghosts, there are more than a few standout maps and I’ve never encountered one I didn’t at least grow to love after a few play sessions. Multi-generation owners may want to pick it up digitally to also get the Xbox One/PS4 versions at no additional cost – while it’s easy to just want to stick with the newer version, if that system goes out of commission for you at any time, you’ll at least have a version to fall back on.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a retail copy of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare for the Xbox One provided by Activision.