Ten seconds. I have ten seconds. The satellite is so close. I slide around a corner, turning to spray a burst of bullets as I do so. An enemy falls and I can see the satellite in front of me. I grab it and take off.
Seven seconds. My team is depending on me. I boost into the air and charge back down, avoiding the swarm of gunfire and lasers filling the air around me.
Five seconds. I can see the uplink. The enemy is there, but so is the goal. I slide forward for an accelerated boost jump into the air.
Three seconds. My hand has reached the uplink. Grenades explode and lasers fly by as I slam the satellite in and land triumphantly. The point is scored, the round is over, and my team? Victorious.
I wasn’t thinking about no-scoping, K/D spread or my killstreak progression, all I was thinking was how to be faster, smarter, and better than everyone else. This isn’t the Call of Duty that I had been accustomed to, filled with spawn campers and hiding behind cover, trading three-round bursts and grenades. This game is vertical, fast and unrelenting.
This is Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
Sledgehammer Games had no small task in producing a new Call of Duty. Ghosts wasn’t exactly the breath of fresh air that most expected, and left most of the community fractured between the various previous entries they felt most accustomed to. A new Call of Duty wouldn’t have to measure up just as a game, but it would have to bring together a community that had grown weary of years of repetition. Advanced Warfare, luckily, is just the kind of game to do that.
A Bright Future
Set in a future where drones and cybernetics rule the battlefield, you take on the role of Mitchell, a new inductee to the US Marines. After losing his arm in Seoul during a North Korean invasion, Mitchell is given a cybernetic arm and Exo-suit by his new employer, Jonathan Irons. Irons is portrayed by Kevin Spacey, and he easily steals the show of the campaign. The many monologues and moments where Spacey is allowed to shine are high points for the game’s story, which is otherwise standard fare. Hunting terrorist cells, a mysterious chemical weapon, twists and betrayals; entertaining, but nothing groundbreaking. The moments where the story shines is in the setting and world itself. A jeep ride around Irons’ PMC training grounds or a slow march through a work camp are beautifully executed, and build a believable setting and context for the events that will transpire once you’re off the rails and into the action.
On the action side of things, the missions in Advanced Warfare are well paced and well executed. You won’t have a sprawling open world, but many missions feel more like playgrounds than corridors. One mission in particular, a stealth infiltration of an antagonist’s stronghold, stands out. You’re given a grapple attachment for your Exo-suit in the mission prior, and now you’re off the leash and told to run free. You can grapple to ledges, ascend rooftops and silently pull in enemies from the bushes for a stealth takedown on your path through the hideout. There are many routes to the end goal, but it is up to the player to decide how to approach, whether to kill guards or bypass them, and how to handle avoiding the unaware civilians nearby.
With all the playgrounds and fun, it’s a little disappointing that Advanced Warfare still falls prey to pitfalls of Call of Duty past. There’s still the requisite “Press X to progress” moments, only some are a little more glaring than others, like the funeral scene at the start of the first Atlas mission. Also, while Spacey is a standout, the rest of the cast fails to match up to his potential; Mitchell is a cookie-cutter brooding protagonist, Elona spends most of her time telling you what to do next, and Gideon is just your merry hunting companion. Many times, it felt like the story could’ve been fleshed out and been a little more impactful if every character was interesting. Instead, I was anxiously awaiting Spacey’s next monologue and the start of the actual mission, not the story in-between.
A New Method of Travel
Exo-suits, the robotic skeletons wore by every soldier in AW’s universe, is one of the biggest additions in series history. In single-player, you are limited to whatever loadout the game gives you, whether it’s a more movement-based suit or a combat-oriented one. In multiplayer, the full arsenal of movement is opened up for use. You’re also allowed to choose certain Exo abilities, like Cloak, Overclock (a short burst of speed), and Ping (a local sonar-esque radar).
The movement itself is reminiscent of games like Unreal Tournament or Tribes. There’s the standard boost jump, which is essentially a double jump to allow for greater height. You can also boost jump in different directions, allowing you to jump forward and then boost sideways or backwards to avoid incoming fire. There’s also a slide, which allows you to slide forward on your knees, and will add extra height and distance to a subsequent boost jump. Finally, you can boost slam the ground to damage and shove back enemies, or just to dip faster than the enemy expects.
The wide range of movement options meant that I was finally looking around and examining the terrain, not for enemies and weapons, but for new routes and vantage points. So many shooters have forced me to feel like I was running in circles, either camping for kills or just sprinting to the next spawn area. Advanced Warfare brings the action into the sky and around the terrain, and it isn’t uncommon to see enemies descending from above or using boost slides to avoid gunfire to land the kill. It’s a faster, more exciting shooter than most on the market right now, and it makes every match more of an exciting shootout and less of a shooting gallery.
The campaign feels more open and fluid thanks to these movement options and playground moments, but the multiplayer benefits even more so. Opening up options for player-created opportunity allows for every match to have clutch moments and tense gameplay. Modes like Uplink, Momentum and Capture the Flag have especially benefited from the movement changes, as players dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge towards the objectives. Slower modes like Search and Destroy don’t benefit as much from the changes, but players of those modes are likely to avoid the Exo-movements anyways, in favor of a much more slow, tactical approach.
With a new sense of verticality and speed, new weapons are needed to combat the faster opposition, and Advanced Warfare has a wealth of new toys for players. Sledgehammer has foregone individual gun quantity in favor of focusing on player strengths, and allowing that to determine individual weapon choice. Guns are now defined by certain characteristics, such as “fastest in class fire rate” or “longest range in class.” It is now much easier for players of certain breeds to recognize and improve their favored guns as well, as attachments and gun cosmetics are once again tied to individual performance with guns. There’s also a firing range, where you can test out a new gun between matches, with no load times or stutters. Just pop in, fire off on a couple of the ranges, and jump back into the lobby, your spot in the next game still intact.
The gun variety may be small, but is significantly bolstered by the addition of Supply Drops. Supply crates are randomly awarded to players, and contain three random items from a pool of in-game boosts, weapons and cosmetics, all sorted by rarity from Enlisted up to Elite. While your normal Bal-27 rifle will have the standard stats for the weapon, you might receive one in a Supply Drop that has increased weapon range or fire rate, at the cost of losing some damage. It might have a red-dot sight already attached, freeing up a slot for your already-cramped loadout. It might be an Elite, with amazing bonuses, and a special change or cosmetic decal. In my time with Advanced Warfare, I saw lasers with special fire animations, dual SMG’s affectionately named “Crime and Punishment,” and an anti-vehicle rocket launcher whose Elite version allowed player lock-on’s.
Supply Drops bring the crazy loot hunt into Call of Duty in a very natural way, and the game also allows you to view other player’s cosmetics and weapons in the lobby, allowing for wonderful “holy crap where did you get that” moments. It’s probably one of my favorite additions to the series. The thrill of opening a crate and hearing “Elite!” when the game gives you a new, shiny golden gun is like opening a gift on Christmas Day.
The only downside is that you will occasionally receive drops for guns you don’t use, or repeat drops; while I wish there was a way to avoid repeat drops, you can still scrap most of your gun and cosmetic drops for XP towards your next rank up. There are some unscrappable cosmetics that will fill up slots in your armory, however, and it would be nice to see some way to not make them take up armory slots, which become increasingly valuable as you gain weapons and cosmetics. It’s a shame to dump a cool cosmetic in your armory because there is a shirt you can’t get rid of holding a slot in your inventory.
The loadouts this time around are much more malleable, thankfully, and the addition of wildcards allow players to specialize in certain strengths, at the cost of available slots. You can take two Exo abilities, or two perks in the Perk One slot, but that means losing your grenades or having fewer scorestreaks. The streaks this time around are much more intuitive, and few feel unfair or imbalanced. You can also trick them out, like adding missiles to your Goliath suit or more time on your UAV, at the cost of increasing the amount of score required for the streak.
With new movement options in mind, maps have received a significant increase in verticality and height compared to previous entries. Since more of the map can be accessible with boost jumping, there are noticeable routes and paths throughout the maps to benefit players who are aware of their surroundings. There’s a nice mix of cover and open area, allowing snipers to perform as effectively as shotgunners and assault-style players.
Some maps are a little rougher than the others, though, especially for certain game modes. While gave me a “skip it or leave” feeling, I was preferential to some more than others, especially for certain game modes like Uplink and Capture the Flag. While some areas, like Terrace, are perfect for these momentum-based firefights, others feel much more suited to Hardpoint or Kill Confirmed. There is also a lack of any small or gimmick maps, like Nuketown and Shipment, but there will likely be some added in DLC in the future.
Overall, multiplayer has been opened up to focus more on the player and how they want to play the game, rather than how well the player adapts to the game. Manipulating loadouts, personalizing your soldier with earned loot like cosmetics and enhanced guns, and allowing freedom in boost movements mean that players can approach this how they want to. Running and gunning feels just as natural as sitting and sniping, and all feel viable and valuable to your team.
A Grim Future with Friends
Co-op also makes a return, as a mode called Exo Survival. A standard wave-based defense, players must survive increasingly difficult rounds while upgrading their stats, earning scorestreak drops and completing varying objectives. Players choose from one of three Exo classes to play as, determining their weapon classes and class ability, and are then dropped in the map to fight for their lives.
The cooperative gameplay is entertaining enough, but falters when compared to previous co-op outings in the series. There is a noticeable lack of terrain manipulation and progression, something that made the Zombies game mode so memorable in the past. The objectives are interesting and keep the players moving, but don’t feel as varied or engaging as Spec Ops missions did. Players can find some progression in the co-op, by moving up through the different tiers of difficulty by reaching certain waves on previous maps, but there is little reason to do so other than unlocking new maps. All the maps for co-op are from multiplayer, and it shows in the layout and balance. Some maps feel perfect for holding out and fighting off hordes of enemies, while others are unnecessarily difficult.
There is the ability to rank up your individual stats, like weapon proficiency and armor, using points earned from finished rounds, and you can use those points to buy weapons, attachments and scorestreak upgrades too. Streaks are earned from performing well in each round, and when the “supply drop” bar is filled many orbital drop packages rain down with plenty of weapons for fending off the oncoming hordes. This repetition just ends up feeling monotonous, however, and waves start to feel like a chore rather than a desperate survival.
The co-op does benefit from having the same fantastic gameplay base as the single-player and multiplayer, and it is certainly far from a lackluster experience. It just suffers from being next to two fantastic game modes, and feels overshadowed by the multiplayer experience. It is worth experiencing, progressing through the tiers and earning all the unlocks. Most players, however, will likely not find the same cult following that previous co-op experiences had. It’s certainly a step-up from the alien invasion mode, but Zombies is still waiting to be dethroned.
A New Dawn on the Horizon
Innovation is what Call of Duty needed, and innovation is what Advanced Warfare has delivered. Call of Duty has always delivered on an entertaining single-player story, but missions have run the gamut from good to forgettable. The mixture of scripted spectacle, playground areas for the player to explore and plenty of Spacey monologues have created a campaign experience worthy of the series and any player’s time. Sadly, the short length and lack of compelling protagonists means you’ll probably be done with this campaign after one run, and the story won’t stick with you as much as the grappling and car chases.
Multiplayer feels new and alive, in a way I had never previously thought possible. I haven’t felt this engaged since the first Black Ops, and will probably invest hours that I haven’t since the first Modern Warfare. Movement feels fluid and fast, the guns and equipment are fun to unlock and earn, and supply drops breathe fresh life into the grind up to prestige.
Co-op isn’t a stellar experience, though, and it’s a shame to see such an entertaining multiplayer mode brought down by the lack of exciting co-op experiences. It doesn’t hurt the game proper all that much, but outside of a few nods to the player in the form of a zombie wave and other gimmicks, co-op will likely just serve a break-up point between hectic multiplayer matches. Fun if you want to burn a few hours, but no lasting appeal.
In a fall season where there are so many AAA releases and anticipated titles, it’s hard to take a risk. Many consumers have gambled on previous Call of Duty entries, and felt burned by empty promises that were never fulfilled. Sledgehammer Games have taken some real chances, looking to arcade shooters instead of modern realism and adding in off-genre ideas like loot drops. What they’ve created is a Call of Duty that isn’t looking behind, trying to simply perfect a formula written years ago. This Call of Duty is looking forward to a bright future, filled with boost jumps, lasers and a whole ton of fun.
Note: The reviewer was invited to and attended a review event for this game, held by Activision at an outside location, as well as provided with review copy.