POWER CHANGES EVERYTHING
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare refines the long standing, successful Call of Duty formula ever so slightly, but it makes all the difference in the world. AW is the first entry in the series solely produced by Sledgehammer Studios (High Moon Studios developed the Xbox 360 & PS3 versions). Sledgehammer previously assisted with Modern Warfare 3, but takes the reins on its own and shines in the spotlight during its debut. The founders of Sledgehammer introduced the world to Dead Space, but some questioned if their success in survival horror would translate over to gaming’s most successful franchise of the past decade. After playing AW, there’s no longer any question. Infinity Ward and Treyarch were each given two year development cycles in the past, but Activision decided to switch to a three year cycle beginning with this generation. This prevents series fatigue (or at least tries to combat it) and gives each game its own unique feel.
Advance Warfare’s campaign is five hours of sheer excitement. Most Call of Duty campaigns follow a similar outline: a country with a villainous leader rises to power, becomes a global threat, and must be stopped. AW switches gears. It’s the year 2054 and a private corporation named “Atlas” becomes a military power in the world. Led by Jonathan Irons (Kevin Spacey), Atlas contains and builds technology superior to any country’s military. Not only are their weapons superior, but they patent and create products such as the “exo-suit,” a contraption that wraps around a soldier’s back and gives them extreme abilities such as power jumping and super strength.
Irons’s son, Will, fights for the USA along side his best friend, Mitchell. Mitchell (Troy Baker) is the protagonist and the character you control throughout. The story starts out with the USA fighting against North Korea, as North Korea attempts to take over South Korea. Will ends up paying the ultimate price and Mitchell loses his left arm during the mission. At the funeral (a quick time event here as become the butt of many jokes on the internet), Irons offers Mitchell a chance to work for Atlas. Mitchell joins and acquires a robotic left arm, much like that of Darth Vader’s. Atlas, a military squad for hire, becomes bigger and bigger across the globe. More and more nations hire them, and their PR is better than ever. As far as spoiling the story goes, this is as far as I want to journey.
The rest of the campaign is addicting and left me with my jaw dropped many times. Are Call of Duty campaigns generally predictable? Do they contain massive set-pieces taken right out of a Michael Bay film? Are they linear? Yes to all. Regardless, Sledgehammer knocks it out of the park. Spacey’s performance as Irons is phenomenal, and one of the best performances in a video game from a Hollywood actor in recent times (if not ever). Video games’ leading man, Troy Baker, is superb as always. Batman: Arkham Origins, Infamous: Second Son, The Last of Us, and BioShock: Infinite, are just some of the games Baker has been a lead in over the past 13 months. The supporting cast is largely unrecognizable, but great nonetheless. To have such a popular name in Hollywood lead the game is big, to have Spacey take over as he did is amazing. When I initially saw the trailer for the game, I imagined Spacey would not appear on screen nearly as much. I am pleased to say I was wrong. While the campaign didn’t leave many options (like Black Ops 2’s small RPG elements), the many different environments kept everything fresh. The verticallity of the maps brought the fighting to new levels (literally). The last few levels made me want to keep going and keep fighting in order to see the ending. The ending was expected, but lack of an extended cut scene at the end left me hanging. Of course, this leaves the story open for future releases but it made me feel like I didn’t quite get the closure I seeked.
So what’s new this year? The aforementioned Exo-suit is at the top of the list. There are a few variations of the suit that allow you to boost jump, grapple (like Batman in the Arkham series), dodge, and more. It is the single largest change to the series in years and adds such a great twist on the multiplayer that makes it feel diverse. Good luck going back to past iterations of the series after playing AW. Also new to the battlefield are grenade options. On your right hand, you can utilize 3 weaponized grenades with the simple touch of a button. The left hand features your tactical grenades. My favorite new grenade is the “Threat Grenade,” which outlines enemies in red when hiding behind objects and even allows you to shoot through walls. The EMP Grenade disables any drones in the blast radius. The Smart Grenade allows you to throw the grenade up in the air, then will home in on a given enemy, even when hidden. With the grapple hook, you can hide in a bush, target an enemy, and then pull him in. This was a weapon I used more than 20 times in one particular mission that required stealth.
Speaking of which, this Call of Duty offers the option for you to go stealth in some missions. In the past, it was run-and-gun or die. This is a welcome change. Many action games couldn’t even fathom pulling off anything resembling stealth, but Sledgehammer pulls from their Dead Space experience and utilizes this very nicely.
The graphical power of the Xbox One & Playstation 4 are evident here. Call of Duty: Ghosts was clearly an up-res version of the Xbox 360 & PS3 versions. With Advanced Warfare, it is clear that the game was made to harness the superior power of the new systems. Every aspect of the graphics is just plain beautiful. The character models have never looked better, perhaps in any game. When you play, look at the pores on their faces. The environments are equally as impressive. Water has never looked more realistic. Fire looks genuine. In one level, you travel to Antarctica. I took a moment to simply pause and look at the snow – you could see each little particle. After my companion took a step, I saw very specific foot prints.
Of course, the mulitplayer aspect of AW is deep as ever. The diversity of the maps from the single-player carry over to the multiplayer. As mentioned, the verticallity of the maps offers an exciting new feel. Do you remember the first time you played Titanfall? Many critics said that AW was just copying Titanfall, which completely false as AW was in development before Titanfall. However, the similarity between the two games in undeniable. The mech suits feels like mini-versions of the TItan. Some weapons home in on multiple targets in a similar manor. The boost jump (activated by tapping “A” twice) allows you to jump to the next level or through a window. In the past, if someone placed their cross hairs on you, you were usually dead right away. This time, you can dodge or jump and get away, The biggest change to multiplayer is the “Pick 13” system. Influenced by Black Ops 2’s “Pick 10,” you can now interchange up to 13 perks, attachments, secondary weapons, kill streaks, and more. With the addition of the Exo-suit, the Pick 13 provides seamless balance.
The best games, movies, and music in life borrow influence from the previous best in their respective fields. AW is no different. Aspects from the Modern Warfare series and Black Ops 2 (my personal favorite CoD) are evident. Black Ops 2’s futuristic setting goes even further in AW. Many things like the drones, gunships, and some of the basis of the technology is seen. Stealth elements from the Batman Arkham series and the Splinter Cell series are utilized. In one particular level that featured different plateaus, I used my grapple gun to fly to a different spot. I also hid in several places, such as bushes and buildings right above a patrolling target, just before shooting my grapple and hooking someone to their death. There are a few slight moments of genuine tension, a nod to Dead Space.
Everything about Advanced Warfare is spectacular and held to the highest of standards. It improves on past iterations in every way. After last year’s disappointing Ghosts, AW sets the bar high on a new generation of systems and truly delivers that “next-gen” experience I expected last year. It’s popular to hate on Call of Duty in this day and age, but it is unwarranted. No other series holds as high a standard of quality year-in and year-out. No other series has a multiplayer that is as superb. Add on one of the best campaign stories in recent times and you have a game that should be considered among the year’s best. It is currently in my top 3 of 2014 among Infamous: Second Son and Titanfall.
+ Fantastic Campaign – Exciting, action-filled, addicting. Perfectly paced.
+ Outstanding performances by Kevin Spacey & Troy Baker
+ Multiplayer as great as ever
+ New aspects tweak the winning formula to make it better
– Despite very good story, needed a touch of choice and a touch extra in the end to seal off an otherwise amazing story
Josiah LeRoy is Geekiverse’s Senior Editor. He is going to cram as much Call of Duty in as he can while Halo: The Master Chief Collection & Assassin’s Creed: Unity come out.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Launch Trailer
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was reviewed on an Xbox One. It is also available for Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. To keep up on everything Advanced Warfare, stay tuned to Geekiverse on Facebook and Twitter!
Photos used (in order of appearance) from: highsnobiety.com, tacticalgaming.net, movieplot.com, and gottabemobile.com.