Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review – Evolving the Franchise (PS4)
It is no secret that over the years, the Call of Duty series has become one of the internet’s favorite titles to insult due to the similar formula that each of its annual releases has followed. Despite the fact that the franchise has been leap-frogging different developers to keep up with its yearly schedule, the recipe between the titles hasn’t changed enough to repair the stigma it has felt since it left behind its World War 2 roots. That is, until now.
Sledgehammer Game’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the next leap forward for the franchise as a whole. Besides getting a new team to design and develop the game, it has been fundamentally re-imagined to give players a completely evolved play style, but without losing what makes Call of Duty, Call of Duty.
The biggest addition has to the be the new exoskeleton suit that allows players to dash in multiple directions while on the ground and in the air. Controlled by simply leaning the left analog in the desired direction, pressing the L3 button will cause a single burst. At first, I thought this concept might completely change the way Advanced Warfare is played, and it does, but it is never enough to break what has become expected from the series. As Sledgehammer Games have walked a fine line to the future of warfare, but not taken the soldiers out the equation by over designing the tech.
Speaking of tech, Advanced Warfare does show off some interesting future gear that really ups its ability to deliver some fantastic action setpieces. This ranges from my favorite item, the Mute Charge, a mine that negates the ability for sound to travel in a specific area for a length of time, to the Mag Grips, which lets you climb walls. Sadly, as interesting as these features are, they are strictly limited to certain events. Each story mission will also give players a different loadout that can give them the ability to slow down time, use a grappling hook or even use a cloaking device, but each one is mission specific. This means that as cool as some of the gadgets might be, most are really only a vehicle to drive the action forward, or tied into what would be most beneficial in a specific mission.
The Cost of Warfare
Whether intentional or not, this does have a benefit to how the game plays out. Instead of becoming reliant on technology or gadgetry to get players through specific situations, Advanced Warfare never seems to lose sight that it is truly about the people on the ground. This allows it to give one of the most personified and well delivered campaigns I have ever seen in a Call of Duty title. How much of this is due to the fantastic voice work by Kevin Spacey, who plays the Private Military Company (PMC) ATLUS’ CEO Jonathan Irons; or Troy Baker, who plays the protagonist Jack Mitchell, it is hard to say. But, I personally think it boils down to Sledgehammer’s focus on storytelling and character development that builds upon the talent to tell its story that makes it so successful.
Set over a period of years starting in 2054, Advanced Warfare is about a world where a PMC can become the home to the world’s strongest military force, and what that means to the governments that were once the world’s leaders. While the story goes down a very expected series of events, the overall premise and subtle questions about the nature of existing national powers and how things can get to this point were quite interesting. Instead of simply laying out the story as we have seen in previous CoD titles, Advanced Warfare divides up missions by having gorgeously pre-rendered cut-scenes tell the story, and use in-game displays to tie it together while pointing the player in the right direction.
While the cutscenes are among the best looking things I have seen this generation, the in-game visuals cannot realistically match up to the bar set by pre-rendered animations. Thankfully the difference between the two isn’t enough to really break the experience, and the quality of the in-game aspects for both the campaign and the multiplayer are still much better than last year’s iteration, especially in terms of lighting.
Face to Face
Given the addition of the exo suit, it would be easy to think that this has also turned Advanced Warfare‘s multiplayer into a completely different experience, but much like the campaign, it has only mixed things up instead of breaking what has become expected from it. Combat still feels very familiar, but many of the aspects that have made the game what it is have just been expanded, while other parts have been toned down. The normal restriction of movement that is expected with humans has become lifted, in that players are now able to utilize vertical space and even expanded lateral momentum to dynamically adjust the pace and even the location of each battle.
Looking beyond the suit, Sledgehammer Games has given players a greater feeling of customization that goes beyond the cosmetic of an emblem and given way to random unlocks and a great number of modifications. Your soldier’s gender, eyewear, helmet, top, vest, pants, knee guards, boots and exo suit can all be changed, as well as unlocking a variety of new gear to expand the possibilities. Gear can be unlocked by simply completing a specific challenge, or by earning a Supply Drop that will give you a handful of the more than 1,000 items that are unlockable. There is also the ability to unlock specific gear that will have a timer attached to it if you accomplish a specific task, such as getting the Headhunter helmet for 30 minutes if you get 10 headshots in a match.
On top of the various types of gear, Advanced Warfare has around 350 unique weapons that are re-skinned and modified versions of existing weapons, that will give players more tangible items to unlock beyond the normal selection. Each weapon has its own set of varying stats that give it a unique style, but are balanced out from the base model to prevent it being completely overpowered. After you have determined your loadout using the Pick 13 system, players will be able to instantly drop into a firing range to test items out instead of having to hop into a battle and be stuck with a poor selection.
Interesting enough, the Scorestreaks have also been modified so that there are 12 base options, but each option can be upgraded with up to 3 modifiers that will increase the cost to earn that streak. An example of this is the remote turret (550 pts) that can only be manually controlled unless you add in a sentry modifier (+200 pts), for it to be AI controlled when not player controlled.
Shoulder to Shoulder
Each Call of Duty title over the last few years has been marked by its inclusion of an alternate mode, whether it be last years Extinction mode or the famed Nazi-Zombie mode. But, this is where I am slightly amiss in how to feel about Advanced Warfare‘s selection. As it uses a standard enemy wave based mode called Exo-Survival that puts up to four players in a semi-infinite loop against an onslaught of waves of soldiers across 13 different maps, that are unlocked across four tiers. Like most wave based game types, survival is dependent on each player’s ability to work together and spend their points on upgrading and unlocking gear.
Old and New Become One
Ultimately, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is one of the best iterations in the franchise, as it has found a way to reinvigorate its gameplay mechanics without deviating away from what has kept the series so strong over the years. Very little of the game feels lacking, as even though the story is standard fare for most military shooters, its presentation takes it quite far. Multiplayer is generally the heart and soul of FPS games like these, and even there Advanced Warfare keeps things fresh and with enough genuine content to keep players playing longer than ever before. Fans of the series will feel just at home with the new gameplay mechanics after a few rounds, and FPS fans who may be tired of the old formula will find about as drastic of a change as possible without the series losing its namesake.
PlayStation LifeStyle was invited by Activision for the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare review event; and a Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.