Call of Duty is a first person shooter franchise that has been around since 2003, amassing reams of critical acclaim in press form. I have the distinction of having played every entry in the franchise and now that I have a medium to express my opinions, it is finally time to write a review!
Advanced Warfare is the latest entry, and again is a military first person shooter in the vein of previous entries. As Sledghammer Studios’ first foray into Call of Duty game after co-developing Modern Warfare 3 with Raven Software, it is an ambitious start. No doubt, we can call it a huge improvement over Ghosts, which was a disappointment on all fronts. Advanced Warfare stays true to Call of Duty’s proven formula while adding flavor and mechanics into the gameplay that are a breath of fresh air to a franchise that hasn’t really taken any notable risks since the Strike Force Missions of Black Ops 2.
SPOILERS AHEAD (so fair warning)
Advanced Warfare’s campaign takes place in the mid 21st century. You play the part of Mitchell who joins the Marines with his friend Will Irons. When they join in an attack on Seoul, South Korea to drive out the invading North Koreans, Mitchell loses his left arm and Will dies. At Will’s funeral his father, Jonathan Irons (Kevin Spacey), offers Mitchell a new arm and a place in his private military corporation: Atlas. Atlas has the worlds largest standing military and also takes on the job of transforming hopeless corners of the world into safe and advanced metropolises’. During one mission mid-game you get to see a “New Baghdad” that has become a sparkling desert city under Atlas. When an anti-technology group known as the KVA sets off meltdowns at Nuclear Plants around the globe killing thousands of civilians, Atlas not only leads the clean up and humanitarian efforts, but also counter attacks and corners the KVA. This new found trust enables Atlas to take over most major military outposts and infrastructure in the world as well as a seat on the UN Security Council. It seams like Atlas truly is a unifying force for good in the world. It all seems a little too good to be true.
Sure enough, in a predictable classic action movie turnaround, Atlas turns out to have its warts. When Mitchell and his team corners and deals a mortal wound to the KVA leader Hades, Hades reveals that “Irons knows”. It soon transpires (via a recording that your ex-Spetsnaz teammate Ilona aquires) that Jonathan Irons knew all along that the nuclear attacks would happen and let them happen in order for Atlas to grow its influence. After being rescued by his old Marine Sergeant who now heads up a multinational military organization known as Sentinel, Ilona and Mitchell set out to stop Irons from his next plot: attacking the US with a bio-weapon known as “Manticore” that will be harmless to his own soldiers but decimate US forces. After a timely defection to their cause and a prison break, Irons is eventually killed, but it is insinuated the war against Atlas will continue.
The campaign does a good job of mixing stealth based missions with the set piece moments and assault missions that Call of Duty has perfected over the years. The game utilizes the different mission types to introduce different gadgets and armor types for their obvious multiplayer purposes. The game’s signature “Exo Suits” add great flavor and feel genuinely powerful – in terms of familiarizing the player with the new double jump and enhanced verticality, it’s a hit. The campaign, unfortunately, suffers from the Exo Suit powers being moved to the D-pad, which feels more cumbersome than their left-bumper placement in the multiplayer. However, it makes good use of making the suit powers both necessary and fun to use. Using grapple lines, sonic blasters, and stimulants not only feels fun but doesn’t break with the narrative framing by seeming too overpowered.
Advanced Warfare also introduces character leveling into their campaign, with certain objectives that can be accomplished with the aim of earning points to spend on Exo passives. The objectives are simple: headshots, grenade kills, gathering intel, and the like. These rewards cap out after a certain amount on specific objectives, encouraging players to use the full arsenal at their disposal. The passives for the Exo are also basic: increased grenades, increased health, longer battery for Exo abilities, etc; but they do make a tangible difference in general gameplay.
Different missions play around with offering non-linear routes through segments, but it’s limited and only happens in spurts. You can almost feel Sledgehammer holding back at departing from the traditional linear style of the franchise. The highlight of this is when you’re infiltrating Irons’ personal condo; how to reach the two objectives across wide open courtyards is left entirely up to the player. After getting caught trying a bold route through the center of the larger courtyard, I had a heart-pounding moment where, dropping onto a tennis court, I activated an automatic pitching machine with lights and an annoying voice that drew two different guard patrols towards me. Only a timely use of my grappling hook saved me from imminent capture.
Level design has always been a relative strong point of the Call of Duty franchise, and Advanced Warfare doesn’t disappoint. The different levels all feel unique and have little to no backtracking or reusing of environments. Cover is plentiful and the verticality of levels that include the double jump or grapple line reward players who use it by providing obvious tactical advantages. The rendering of the environments is stunning and help fuel an immersion with the action (especially on next-gen consoles!).
Advanced Warfare’s greatest achievement is its use of motion capture technology being, perhaps, the best to-date on the new generation of consoles. The characters speaking animations not only capture lip movements that are actually believable, but even capture small nuances in facial movements: eyerows furrowing and eyes widening. These subtle effects make the dialogue more believable than ever before. This just adds on to full body movement that seems close to being natural, both in and out of combat. Sledgehammer pulled out all the stops in making their characters look great and it really shows.