In a year when so many titles have failed to impress, and few have made much use of the current gen boost in power, it was easy to dismiss yet another Call Of Duty. After all, Ghosts was hardly the best example of the series, and that was handled by the usually impressive Infinity Ward (now lacking key staff, of course). The build up to the game was the usual hype and mirrors, with Activision showcasing an impressively rendered Kevin Spacey and some futuristic action, but many just couldn’t let go of that Call Of Duty cynicism we’ve all come to pull over us like a warm blanket every year. Even Call Of Duty die-hards found Ghosts to be a let down, and the game was the lowest-selling so far. Advanced Warfare has its work cut out, that’s for sure.
Sledgehammer has taken up the challenge, becoming the third developer of the yearly series, and you know what? It’s hit the ball right out of the park with its first attempt. Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare is possibly the best entry in the series since Modern Warfare shunted the series into the limelight. Whilst the game’s main custodian, Infinity Ward, has arguably slipped of late, and Treyarch has always struggled with many critics despite a great effort with Black Ops II, I’m confident that Sledgehammer will be an instant hit with the Call Of Duty faithful and newcomers alike. This is, simply put, a great game, but let me elaborate.
Advanced Warfare takes the series into a far more advanced era that we’ve seen in the franchise before, even more so than Black Ops II. Here we see a world where soldiers routinely adorn themselves with powerful Exo suits that facilitate boost jumping, gliding, heightened responses, super strength, and much more. The most powerful tech of this kind belongs to the Atlas PMC.
Headed by Jonathan Irons (Kevin Spacey), Atlas is the largest, and most powerful militarised force in the world, and provides its services to entire nations, such is its influence. Atlas soldiers have the very best tech and weapons, and you’re its newest recruit.
The setting isn’t what you’d call sci-fi in the, pewpewpew laser sense, but is like Black Ops, a more believable near-future setting. Guns are still guns, for the most part, and the Exo technology actually looks quite plausible. Despite a few instances of craziness, such as the Matrix-style drone swarms, Advanced Warfare largely retains a plausible world, one that you could see becoming quite real in time.
This controlled leap in technology is one of the main reasons why Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare is so good, and manages to deliver a genuinely great entry in the series. The gameplay mechanics introduced here successfully elevate the game, and they don’t get in the way of core gameplay, rather, they enhance it in all the right ways.
Jet set warfare
The major addition to the Call Of Duty formula here is the Exo suit, and the abilities that come with it. Instead of attempting to rewrite the FPS formula, which is a daunting task many developers try, and ultimatley fail, Sledgehammer has instead added in some simple, yet brilliantly integrated tweaks. These are features we’ve seen many times before in other games, but here they’re delivered in a fresh, and well-tailored way. One that fuses well with the staple Call Of Duty formula and buttery gunplay mechanics.
For example, your Exo suit now lets you perform double jumps, allowing a more free-form traversal of environments. This is certainly not a new idea, most recently seen in Destiny, but here works so well, especially in multiplayer, where levels are now much more vertical. This allows for a much more interesting and flexible map design, and makes even long-in-the-tooth game modes feel different. Sure, it’s no Titanfall, but you can navigate maps, and mantle onto high ledges with ease, and this presents more tactical options for online battles. You can also perform quick dodges with the left analog stick, which, once mastered, can give you a major advantage in battle.
There’s more to the Exo suits than jumping, and much of these are presented in the form of perks in multiplayer, and in the solo campaign are equipped in mission loadouts. These abilities include such things as deployable shields, overdrives that grants a slo-mo aiming mode, a cloaking device, and the ability to hover in place. Each presents various uses in both solo and multiplayer, with the latter being the real playground for using these skills.
These skills are useful, and powerful in the right hands, but are never overpowered. The shield, for example could be far too effective in multiplayer, becoming an annoyance, but here it’s not, and with a good aim, or enough force, a shielded player can brought down. If used correctly, though, the shield can be a brilliant aid, especially for clearing choke points and taking Domination flags. And, like all Exo abilities, it has limited battery power, so has to be used sparingly. It’s a fine balance, and this, as well as the other abilities, are handled well, with no loadout being too powerful or unbalanced. The same can be said of the new weapons. These run the range of standard assault rifles and shotguns, to more exotic arms like particle beams, and again, all are well balanced.
A very impressive new addition lies with the grenades. There are a large number of them here, with my personal favourite being the new threat grenade. When thrown, this casts out a scanning net of sorts that reveals the locations of all foes in range, even behind cover. With this, you know exactly where people are, and if they’re behind shallow cover, you can even kill them whilst they’re in their hidey hole. This is great in the campaign, but even works in multiplayer. There are also multifunction grenades that can be switched during combat, giving you a wider range of possibilities.
That’s just a couple of the many new items and tweaks that help reinvigorate the series, and this is the story for pretty much the whole game, and it’s a direction that I have to applaud Sledgehammer for taking. Instead of attempting too much, and to reinvent Call Of Duty, the team has stuck to the core gameplay that the series is built upon, and has merely refined it, and added some simple tweaks. The end result is a core game that plays every bit as good as, if not even better, than the mighty Modern Warfare, whilst possessing enough new tricks to make the game relevant in 2014. Don’t get me wrong, though, this isn’t an overly basic release, it’s just that the changes aren’t as simple as a dropping a dog into the mix. There’s a host of well thought out refinements that all combine to have the most impact, and none of them are simple gimmicks, Riley, I’m looking at you.
Spacey, the final frontier
We were already familiar with the game’s visual polish thanks to the previews and footage of Kevin Spacey’s performance as Irons, but when you get into the game yourself, you can’t help but be impressed on a while new level. Visually, Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare is outstanding, and one of the best looking games of the current generation, and it all runs brilliantly smooth. I reviewed the game on PS4, which runs in full 1080p, but the Xbox One also looks great, even if it’s not full 1080p (no, I’m not going to get bogged down in resolutions). It doesn’t really need to be said, but a powerful PC will make the game looks even more impressive.
What’s more, the actual artistic style of the game is excellent. The world presented here is futuristic, but like the weapon and gadget technology, also believable. The neon-covered streets of future Seoul look good, the Atlas compound is a lush, techno-mecca, and even drab ruins of bombed out cities, which are usually awash with dull greys and browns, are far more interesting. There’s a good deal of environmental interaction and events, even in multiplayer, such as a map where part of it is hit by a tsunami. The attention to detail is superb. There are also little aesthetics that look great, but are also functional in terms of gameplay.
Instead of a traditional ammo counter and status, Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare‘s interface is all in the game world, presented via a high-tech HUD. Ammo and grenade supplies are relayed via holographic projections on your weapon, and everything has a sense of belonging, instead of simply being overlaid on the action.
The presentation carries over to the story, which is actually a very good and interesting campaign this time. It’s clear Sledgehammer has spent a lot of time crafting a good solo experience, rather than simply bolting on a story to tick a box and focusing solely on multiplayer. It features a solid selection of missions with plenty of variety, and the actual story is great, with Spacey making a great central character.
Of course, no matter how good the story is, Call Of Duty is all about the online multiplayer, and in this regard, the game also scores high. In fact, this is undoubtedly the best Call Of Duty multiplayer I’ve played in years, and that’s no exaggeration. It has a huge selection of game modes, custom rules, player customisation, and the whole thing is far more simplified than Ghosts‘ over complicated system. There is a smaller selection of weapons, however, which is a shame, but for the most part, the game does exactly what it needs to do.
Underneath this is the classic, fast-paced Call Of Duty gameplay that focuses on small scale, man-to-man battles. Whilst Battlefield offers larger conflicts with vehicles and massive battlegrounds, Call Of Duty has always excelled at the more arcade-style fighting, with shorter, quick matches, and Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare is no different, with Sledgehammer recognising the strengths of the brand, and focusing on them. The maps are well designed, cater for the new manoeuvrability of players, and there’s a good deal of balance at work. Perks are, for the most part, the same as before, save for a couple of new additions, and the score streaks have been reworked to reflect the new era of war, and are not overpowered. They’re also much more flexible, and as you level up, you can even augment each strike with different attributes, such as auto turrets being able to sling rockets instead of bullets.
Sadly, and I have to admit, very disappointingly, the game does suffer from the ever-present scourge of DLC money-grabbing. The zombie survival mode that’s become a staple of the series is missing, only available to those who spend extra money on the season pass. There’s a ton of content in the game already, sure, but the co-op missions players loved so much in previous release are also gone, replaced with a weak Horde mode knock-off. Given the sterling job Sledgehammer has done with the rest of the game, I fond this to be a little jarring, and I’d expected much more in the way of creativity. It’s not terrible, and with a friend it can be fun, but it’s no covert ops.
Back in action
After Ghosts, the Call Of Duty series needed a shot in the arm, and Sledgehammer has given it just that. Advanced Warfare is a great game that manages to deliver on almost all levels. It’s old and gold in terms of rock solid and no-nonsense gameplay, and new, with its gadgets, abilities, and more intricate, yet intuitive levels. What’s more, it’s enjoyable both in solo and multiplayer (there’s full bot support), so even if you shun online modes in favour of solo play, you’ll get plenty out of this.
I didn’t think I’d ever say this, given the series’ over saturation and lack of originality in recent years, but Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare is one of the best games of the year so far, and potentially the best online shooter around at the moment. Hoo rah!
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