It is no secret that I lost my love of the Call of Duty franchise a long time ago. It was sometime after Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3. Since then, I have felt the series has a strong lack of story, impressionable mechanics, and a refreshing feel. For a long time now, the series has felt like a constant rehash of the same…everything. Call of Duty has run a gambit to gain a higher stock value and succeeded. In all honesty, we’ve been feeding into a sham for too long. The question started to arise: when is the Call of Duty franchise going to try something new? When was the series going to take a risk? When would this blockbuster in the gaming industry change its face to look like a collagen bloated buffoon? Well, that time has arrived folks. Not for good, but also not for bad. Let’s see why Activision and Sledgehammer Games failed like a back alley cosmetic surgeon.
It sounds like I still dislike the game, which isn’t entirely true. I dislike certain aspects and became fond of a few others. Let’s get right into the story. The year is 2054 and the military has made leaps and bounds in the technology it wields. You play the part of Private Jack Mitchell, a United States Marine Corpsman fighting alongside his best friend in North Korea. The first level gives you a small tutorial introduction on how to use the exo-suit. Whilst playing through the level, players of former Call of Duty games will be nearly 100% comfortable with the majority of controls. By the end of the first chapter, the player has a general run down of basic controls as well as the fortitude to push on after tragedy strikes. Don’t even try to claim any kind of spoilers here, I could write a Call of Duty script in my sleep at this point. The story has the same basic premise as a majority of the franchise. You play character A, who interacts with a team of characters set on a simple mission, until the team discovers that a terrorist is planning to launch biological, nuclear, or who-knows-what tool of mass destruction across the globe.
Granted, this is a war game and these are the fears of a majority of people. Realistically, these things don’t happen on a regular or semi-regular basis. The threat of war is imminent and always bearing down on us due to media inflation; the franchise as a whole has capitalized on this, but it feels severely overplayed. I’m not saying that I want Call of Duty: The New Cold War, it wouldn’t be exciting. On the other hand, it would be a very refreshing, albeit boring, introduction to the series. I enjoyed the story in this game and maybe that’s because the team leader that sounds like he came from the UK. Let it be noted, if I ever end up in public or private military, I will follow a Commanding Officer to hell if he is from the UK.
The upside to the story is that it runs with a tight cohesion. That’s probably been the biggest problem with the franchise for a long time. Call of Duty Black Ops was just a hard story line to follow. Many will disagree with me and say that it was one of the strongest stories, but I felt like I was going through an 8 hour acid trip. Call of Duty got very gimmicky and I was truly afraid that this game was going to fall into the same hole. With Call of Duty Ghosts, the big gimmick was the German Shepard advertised. Unfortunately, you got limited time in using the dog and the gimmick wouldn’t have a practical multi-player use. When the announcement and subsequent video of Kevin Spacey came out, I felt like we might stumble into the same trap. I and many others were so wrong. Kevin Spacey as Jonathan Irons, a powerful private military contractor, was amazing. It really makes sense if you think about it. A Hollywood A-list celebrity would never sign on for voice capture and mo-cap if he didn’t like the script. Kevin Spacey’s performance is phenomenal and lent a lot of power to the dynamics of the campaign. There were a couple of small plot holes here and there, but nothing large enough to detract me from enjoying it.
Call of Duty Advanced Warfare brings forth a few new mechanics to the series, but I don’t know if they hit the mark entirely. With the power of exo-suits comes no responsibility. Each chapter of the game features one of three suits, but you have no choice in what abilities are equipped. The abilities of your exo-suit are determined based on the pre-defined mission parameters. This isn’t really uncommon in first-person shooters, but does take away player choice. Thankfully, you can customize your setup a bit in multi-player, but we’ll talk on this in a bit. The HUD is one of the biggest changes and it is a change I disliked on numerous levels. The typical HUD setup will establish life, shields, ammo, and grenades in the upper and/or bottom corners of the screen. Sledgehammer Games made the call to put all of it on your weapon. While this makes for a cleaner looking screen, it also places all of my HUD information in the lower right side of my screen. During a fire-fight, I found myself too focused on killing enemies to pay attention to the back of the rifle. I understand why a cleaner screen would be desired, but I did not welcome this change. The ability to customize my HUD to one setting or the other would have been more than welcome.
Another new feature in this installment are grenades. You’re saying to yourself, “Of course there are grenades you dolt, it’s Call of Duty.” First, thanks for the sophisticated way of calling me stupid. Second, I know that there are grenades, but these are special grenades. Rather than being limited to just a few flash bangs and frags, you have smart grenades. The first set can be switched between a tracking grenade (home in on enemies) or contact grenades (explode on contact with any surface). The second set is non-lethal EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse), smoke, or threat. The tracking grenades and threat grenades are new in mechanics. Tracking grenades work well most of the time and make for an unfair advantage to your enemies at any given moment. Threat grenades will flash a scan of the area and show you silhouette markers for each enemy, also making it insanely easy. With these devices, single-player campaign wasn’t much of a challenge. Which is nice if you get bored playing through mechanics when you just want to witness the story being told.
Call of Duty Advanced Warfare looks amazing. It stands out with next-gen consoles in a way that few other games have. I still don’t feel like it looks as good as Killzone Shadowfall, but I would put it at a close second. I think part of the reason is the graphics engine used. It felt like they used a tuned up version of the same engine, which confuses me with how much Activision usually pushes development studios for great looking games. With the kind of mo-cap abilities we have at our fingertips, I would have liked to see a little more realism in the details of characters. It was easy to see those looks during cut-scenes, but a large lack of those same designs during game-play. The Call of Duty franchise is on a precipice of becoming an interactive movie experience. They just need the right push in graphics technology to be there. I didn’t run across any bugs or glitches in the game which was a breath of fresh air due to some of the other titles that have released.
I know, multi-player *sigh*. It’s hard for me to put into words what I felt when I played the multi-player aspect of Call of Duty Advanced Warfare. The ability to boost or grapple up ledges was nice, but are quickly brought down by the same kind of close-quarters combat that takes place in all Call of Duty games. It adds some new mechanics to work with, but as a low-level player you’ll struggle really hard. The franchise has never done a great job with match making similarly skilled players. My first session as a level 1 treated me to the hostilities of level 40+ players. They had better exo equipment and better weapons. How is a new player supposed to compete with that? It’s a terrible experience to get your feet wet in. This is not a crucible with which we will rise, like the phoenix, from the fiery ashes of our demise. This results in a lot of frustration and just not wanting to play the multi-player. I’m a sniper by nature, but there was a severe lack of maps that made for great sniping. I feel like the new mechanics will add variety for veterans in the series, but just add more frustration for anyone inexperienced.
Another additional piece of the multi-player experience is exo-survival mode. You and some friends can take on waves of enemies rigged in their own exo-suits. You survive the waves by either killing an allotted number of enemies or by accomplishing different tasks. I found this mode to be the most frustrating out of the multi-player features. The AI isn’t all that intelligent. You and your friends are constantly besieged with bum rush tactics from the AI. Sometimes this works to your advantage when the enemy seemingly loves the idea of running into your bullets, but with enough overwhelming force they will defeat you. It felt like they took the AI concept of zombies, but decided to give them the ability to shoot guns. It’s infinitely frustrating if you don’t have a strong cohesive team and the mode lacks any kind of difficulty modifier you can tweak. To add insult to injury, there is a zombie mode that was developed for the game, but you’ll need to spend extra money to enjoy it.
At the end of the day, Call of Duty Advanced Warfare is a refreshing entry to the lack-luster story telling of prior games. It was engaging and I found myself rooting for the characters the whole way. Kevin Spacey does antagonist so well, that I mainly wanted to see how big of an ass the character could be. Call of Duty Advanced Warfare looks stunning and is an openly welcome entry in the next-gen world. The new mechanics add for a multitude of ways to destroy your enemies in both single and multi-player modes. If you’re a fan of the multi-player, you may enjoy the variation to vaulting up ledges and using futuristic tech. If you’re new to the multi-player, you’ll find a lot of frustration and love it or hate it. Call of Duty Advanced Warfare ultimately got a small face lift that passes inspection, but a real surgeon can see the mistakes. It is a notable game worth picking up for fans.