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The Call of Duty franchise has primarily been handled by two developers; Infinity Ward and Treyarch. Starting with Modern Warfare 3, Sledgehammer Games was introduced as co-developer and afterward, they would become a primary developer for the series, and are fully responsible for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. I know the two guys who formed Sledgehammer Games came from Visceral Games and from what I understand, they are responsible for the creation of Dead Space. I didn’t really know what to expect going into this but I was excited to check out the new future setting. Developed by Sledgehammer Games and published by Activision, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was released for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One in November, 2014. For this review, I played the PC version.
Set in the future, U.S. Marine Jackson Mitchell loses his arm during an operation in Korea and after being discharged, he’s offered a position in the Atlas Corporation, a private military company, by the CEO Jonathan Irons. After Atlas fails to prevent a terrorist group known as the KVA from destroying nuclear reactors around the globe, they become the most dominant military force in the world which Mitchell and his team eventually learn was the plan all along. I thought the story was good but predictable. The action makes it entertaining, the performances are great, and most of the major characters were interesting enough to keep me engaged.
Advanced Warfare does feature some notable talent like Troy Baker and the disgraced Kevin Spacey. Even Robert Wisdom, who you may know from The Wire as ‘Bunny’ Colvin has a small role here. But that’s not all. Zombies make a return in the Exo Zombies mode where we get the pleasure of spending time with more Hollywood talent including John Malkovich, Bill Paxton, Rose McGowan, Jon Bernthal, and Bruce Campbell.
Right off the bat, I want to say I think this campaign is lot more enjoyable and entertaining than the Ghosts campaign. It’s your typical Call of Duty experience but with a gimmick – Exosuits or Exoskeletons, whatever they’re called. This allows the characters, including Mitchell, the protagonist, to utilize advanced abilities like dodge boosts, boost jumping, and a cloak among other things. The mission determines what type of Exo abilities you can use and you can earn points throughout the campaign that can be spent on Exo upgrades.
Ultimately, I think the whole Exo thing is a nice change of pace. It’s fun utilizing the new movements and abilities to get around and you can now engage enemies in more ways than ever before. However, I also think it’s a big missed opportunity. Advanced Warfare is still your typical linear guided action-packed Call of Duty experience and that conflicts with all the new options you’re given. You’re restricted to using certain abilities in certain missions and the game’s linear nature guides you through the experience. So when you finally reach an area where you’re free to utilize you’re abilities only to be forced into another story beat or aggressively linear sequence afterward, rinse and repeat, it can actually become frustrating.
Some of the cooler new abilities include being able to boost jump to higher elevations and grappling around, both of which add a new dynamic to encounters. The grapple not only lets you get around quicker but also lets you perform concealed kills. You’ll get to use it in one mission that lets you sneak around an Estate all on your own. Then there’s the cloak which turns you almost invisible and is probably the most underutilized ability in the campaign. You’ll use it heavily in one scripted stealth sequence which means you’re following an NPC around so you cloak when he cloaks, do what he says and does, etc.
The typical linear Call of Duty experience works in the previous games because by keeping you contained, that helps keep the pacing consistent. You’re always on the move, always shooting at something, and it would be impossible to get lost or stuck. The idea is for the action to keep you entertained. The only things that would slow the action down would be story beats and scripted events. Advanced Warfare continues this tradition but I really think they should have opened it up a bit more. You’ll still move down linear paths which typically lead to more open-ended areas which is where the gameplay in this series has always shined and even more so here. It needs more of that. More missions that let you boost jump and grapple around. More segments that let you sneak around on your own with the option to go loud. More missions that let you utilize the cloak. It would have been a lot better if players had the option to use all the abilities all the time. I honestly find it a little baffling that it was designed to be more restrictive. I just don’t understand what they were thinking.
Most of the campaign consists of running and gunning broken up by set pieces and the pacing and action are not as consistent as some of the previous titles like Modern Warfare 2 and 3. It’s obvious the developers of these games are putting a lot of effort into the cinematic style and narratives, especially in the more recent titles and I think that’s usually what slows things down. I was starting to get slightly irritated around the middle of this campaign where I think the action slows down the most. Small skirmishes broken up by story beats or scripted events like a bridge is destroyed and you fall or an enemy throws you around and you have to mash a button or tap one when prompted. Even some of the set pieces are like this.
Advanced Warfare does give you plenty of equipment to use, guns to fire, and as expected, the gunplay feels good. Weapons have good visual feedback and the action can be intense. There’s a lot of cool firefights in this game and you’ll engage more than just standard foot soldiers. You’ll have to deal with drones and guys in ASTs which is basically a mech suit equipped with a minigun and rocket launchers. You’ll actually get to pilot one at a certain point and use it to annihilate foes and it proves to be a shit ton of fun.
Advanced Warfare is another entry that takes you to a good variety of locations and features fun and exciting set pieces. Some of the best firefights occur towards the end of the game like the shootouts in San Francisco and New Baghdad but there’s also some really fun encounters in Greece, Korea, and Bulgaria. These are fun because you get to run around more open-ended environments, trying different routes and positions and utilizing the space around you to eliminate foes and push forward but also because these environments are perfect playgrounds to test out your Exo abilities. When it comes to the set pieces, in addition to piloting an AST, you’ll also get to fly a fighter jet through canyons in Iraq and shoot down enemy aircraft, chase a truck down a highway in Nigeria by jumping from bus to bus and fending off enemies, pilot a dive boat around New Baghdad evading other boats and missiles, and even pilot a hovertank, using it to eliminate enemy ground and air forces.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any matches in any of the multiplayer content including Exo Survival and Exo Zombies. The game does support bots in private matches but, unfortunately, I would get kicked out and be greeted with an error. I was temporarily able to resolve the issue by disabling KillCam but about halfway into matches, I would get kicked out again. I would also be greeted with an error at the end of Survival matches. Exo Survival is similar to the Survival Mode in Modern Warfare 3. It’s a cooperative mode and the real draw here is all the Exo stuff. You start a match by choosing your Exo class, all of which start with different abilities and weapons. The mode can actually be a lot of fun because it puts you in these open maps and pits you against numerous enemies. You can utilize all your Exo abilities and jump and dodge around making for some really hectic action.
The main goal is to survive waves of enemies. A match plays out in rounds and more and more agile and tougher foes will be thrown at you as you progress. Some rounds will require you to complete objectives and you earn points for shooting and killing enemies and can earn support drops to acquire Perks or Scorestreak attacks. The maps also consist of two armories, one to buy and upgrade weapons and another to buy Exoskeleton upgrades including abilities, upgrades to scorestreaks, stat upgrades, and this is where you can change your class. Exo Survival can be played solo and it comes with numerous maps spread across multiple tiers. Most tiers need to be unlocked by completing a certain number of rounds in the prior tiers and Tier 4 includes a map full of zombies, and this is not to be confused with the Exo Zombies mode.
It’s a shame I couldn’t find anybody to play Zombies with because I actually like the mode in this game. It plays similar to prior Zombie modes. You shoot zombies for points or currency that can be spent on weapons, upgrades, ammo, traps, and access to new areas. You can also find and equip Exo Suits. There’s even 3D printers that cycle through different weapons for purchase. It’s fast-paced, gory, and violent and the maps are diverse and huge.
Advanced Warfare is another audiovisual feast. The pre-rendered cut scenes in particular looks absolutely incredible. The texture work, models, lighting and visual effects all look great. The action often looks amazing, even little things like sparks and debris flying through the air as bullets rip through the environments. And the environments are detailed and diverse and showcase some beautiful backdrops and cityscapes. The action is backed by a pretty good soundtrack that fits the future high-tech thing the game has going on and weapons fire and explosions sound good. On the technical side, the game did run smooth but it also crashed on me numerous times.
I really enjoyed Advanced Warfare but I think the campaign could have been better. I like the fact the developers tried something new. The big problem with it is that it gives you so many cool new options but not enough opportunities to really utilize them. You won’t always get to boost jump, cloak, or grapple around among some other cool stuff and the missions that do give you the opportunities to utilize the awesome abilities only make the many segments that don’t let you use them more disappointing. Regardless, the campaign is still good fun and features some excellent firefights and set pieces. And I have to say I’m very on board with this whole futuristic/high-tech direction the franchise seems to be moving in.
I would absolutely recommend Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. I think the campaign is a big step up from that of Ghosts but it’s also held back by its own design. The Exo stuff is what really makes this campaign so much fun but the imposed restrictions often prevent the gameplay from reaching its full potential. Still, the campaign is fun, there’s all kinds of cool new ways to engage enemies, and even Zombies make a return. Definitely check it out.