Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare review: future looks familiar

Activision comes out with a new Call of Duty every year. Now with Sledgehammer Games added to the list of developers for the series, the franchise has three studios working on separate Call of Duty games.

Sledgehammer Games previously helped Infinity Ward with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, but was given the chance to develop its own title. Taking the idea of future military technology and the rise of private military companies (PMC), Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare presents a new story and an updated, but familiar multiplayer on console and PC. Unlike Call of Duty: Ghosts, Advanced Warfare doesn’t use the old, haggard engine, but one optimized for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

An interesting, but by-the-numbers single player plot

While most people will ignore the single player campaign for multiplayer, Sledgehammer Games created a story that’s as compelling in its first act as the the first Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and as disappointing as the finale of Ghosts.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

The story starts in Seoul, South Korea with North Korea invading the capital city. As Mitchell, played brilliantly by Troy Baker, you are introduced to future technology of the United States Marines. Using exoskeletons, soldiers are given superhuman physical abilities. This includes a boost jump, increased strength, and increased perception (played out in a bullet time mechanic).

Weapons are also given an update with recognizable assault rifles, sub-machine guns, and designated marksman rifles. The biggest change is that there’s no visible HUD (heads up display) and all information is shown as holograms on the side of the weapon.

This includes the two types of grenades with different functions like tagging enemies or blasting an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) to disable electronics. Your offensive grenades can switch from Smart grenades that will locate enemies to the standard frag grenade. Each grenade has four different modes. During my campaign, out of the eight possible variations, I used three.

But even with these updates, Advanced Warfare doesn’t stray from the standard “action” movie pacing that the series uses. One thing Activision was proud to proclaim was Kevin Spacey was playing the protagonist/antagonist Jonathan Irons. His performance varied from excellent to boring depending on the cutscene. Spacey puts on a worthy effort, but on many occasions it doesn’t match what’s going on during the game.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

It’s strange that while Advanced Warfare uses Baker as the main character, he plays a silent role throughout a lot of the game. He’s an excellent voice and motion capture actor, but he doesn’t get to shine as much as he should.

The basic plot of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is Marine gets disabled during combat, joins PMC, does missions for PMC, then has to stop PMC. The finer plot details are sometimes surprising, but overall the story isn’t anything spectacular. The secondary character that you work with through most of the game, Gideon, is excellent and helps support the lacking story.

Gameplay is standard for Call of Duty. You play single missions that connect plot points for the story. Between each mission you get to view a cutscene that explains what you’ll be doing next. One problem is that while the story moves through years, it never feels that way. Each mission in the first half of the game feels like a snapshot of time. It’s not until the end of the second act to the end of the game that things start feeling chronological.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare showcases a lot of different environments, most of which are graphically impressive. As the first COD developed for PS4 and Xbox One as primary platforms, there’s a lot of detail. Non-playable characters are rendered well, though there are a lot of generic character models in crowded areas. The environments are more believable and there’s a lot more action happening on screen, but it’s not jaw dropping.

The new abilities and weapons that you use slightly change the first person shooter experience, but it’s not anything that will surprise you. Levels are largely linear though it’s possible to explore a bit more and try different routes in certain areas. The boost jump lets you traverse areas faster, but it’s not that simple. There were a lot of times that borders on levels wouldn’t let me jump to a particular roof.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Later in the game you get a grappling hook that replaces your passive grenades and you use it a lot for about two levels, then it’s kind of forgotten. That’s the same for some of the powerful weapons, that you use a couple times, then run back to your assault rifle.

Quick time events are sparse and are more of an annoyance because if you fail, you’ll have to go to the beginning and try again. That goes the same for the driving missions which are absolutely the worst parts of Advanced Warfare. Since the game can produce a lot more on-screen elements, expect to crash and fail a lot. If these sections were meant to break up the “on foot” gameplay, then it does, but not with much success or fun.

I played through the single player on normal difficulty, but I’ve never gotten more frustrated with the enemy AI. Even though I like the fact that there are more enemies to fight, gameplay starts becoming repetitive when you’re wasting entire magazines into one enemy and they still don’t fall.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Since Advanced Warfare uses the same checkpoint system as older titles and if you don’t activate them, enemies will continuously spawn. Enemies will also use melee attacks using their exoskeletons, which will kill you instantly.

Essentially the same frustrations that are in previous COD games are also present in Advanced Warfare. The future tech that Sledgehammer Games helps the story, but there’s balance issues with the gameplay. It’s a bit uneven, sometimes unforgiving, and a couple times insanely annoying.

I’m one of the people who play Call of Duty games for the single player campaign. I usually find the stories of each game interesting and that’s no different with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. There’s an interesting story, but it’s weakened by the gameplay. As much variety as the developer tried to include, it’s not as strong as it could be without the franchise attached.

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Still the same frustrating multiplayer

When you compare popular FPS multiplayer games, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has always been a twitch, run-and-gun type game. Of course, there are still annoying campers and snipers, but the action of COD has always been running around and killing enemies.

Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer takes the base of existing COD multiplayer and adds the exo abilities, a Pick 13 system, and adds in even more annoyances. The main factor is that there’s never a sense of “team” when playing multiplayer. Unless you’ve joined a clan, don’t expect people to really work together.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

That’s the main weakness for people who aren’t that good at multiplayer. For COD fans, it’s perfect. The slight tweaks with verticality are excellent when fighting in cooperation, but if you’re alone, playing becomes frustrating. If you’re new to COD (which no one should be), there’s a beginner combat school which supplies you with loadouts and lets you play with other casual players. It doesn’t really teach you anything and plays like a elementary school version of what you’ll experience in real matches.

Sledgehammer Games’ Pick 13 system works well enough. You have 13 points that you distribute between your weapons, perks, and wildcards. Depending on the wildcard, you can have two primary weapons or up to six perks as well as different score streaks. Unlike Ghosts’ multiplayer, the progression of Advanced Warfare is more natural. It’s possible to remove everything except a primary weapon, but the option to customize to your play style is still welcome.

The perks are usual for the series, but the exo abilities make things a little interesting. You can unlock different abilities like cloak, health stim, hover, and others. They are limited use and helpfulness of the exo abilities widely varies. The most useful is cloak which gives you optical camouflage for a short amount of time, perfect for Domination maps.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Unlocking weapon attachments isn’t about spending points, but completing challenges. You’re able to equip different types of weapons from assault rifles, submachine guns, sniper rifles, shotguns, and even a laser cannon. There are five custom loadouts by default for you. When I played, I had different loadouts for different types of matches.

The leveling system is simple and based on experience points. As you gain levels, you get supply drops would could contain expiring upgrades like double XP, new weapons, or character customizations. It’s a nice touch because otherwise there’s not much to leveling other than unlocking new weapons.

There are 11 match types which additional ones with different rules like for eSports competitions and hardcore COD players. If you want to play without exo-support, there are classic match types. I played through all the different types of matches, but while the objectives are different they all have the same gameplay. Even Uplink, where you have to score against the opposing team’s goal with a small ball. While you have the ball, you can’t use a weapon, but you’ll probably be gunned down pretty quickly while running.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

The different maps cater to different match types, but Advanced Warfare sometimes uses a map that is easily taken advantage of. In these early days of multiplayer, it’s obvious that there are balance issues, many camping spots, and other problems that need to be addressed. Team deathmatch works on any level, but some level design created lanes that can be exploited by snipers and campers.

I’m not saying that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer is bad, but it’s gotten to the point where novice players will have a lot of trouble. I think Sledgehammer Games did a great job implementing the exo into the multiplayer and streamlining the process of creating a class. The main problem is that multiplayer is so unforgiving that I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who has never played it before.

The experience that you will have in multiplayer can vary a lot. If you can play with friends, that’s the best way to play. If you’re playing alone, stick to match types that promote cooperation. When I started the multiplayer, there was a definite problem with matchmaking when at level one, I joined a party that had a level 40 player. That’s something that Advanced Warfare needs to fix soon because playing against high level players with highly customized weapons gets annoying when you’re trying to get a handle of a map but get killed once and then killed against at a spawn point because someone was camping.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer sets a high standard with customization and the experience system. What’s really holding the series back is the multiplayer gameplay which hasn’t really changed since Modern Warfare. Returning players will be able to jump in quickly, but the series is showing its age and not even future tech can hold the weight.

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Download Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare for Windows

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