Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review

For the full written version of the video review, see below:

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Call of Duty is a juggernaut. It’s this colossal entity within video games that regardless of any stigma that it has taped onto it, it wades through just about anything. It feels as if it’s unaware of the reality surrounding it and it also feels as if Sledgehammer Games have tried to fix just about everything wrong with Call of Duty with their newest entry, Advanced Warfare.

Taking place in 2054, the story revolves around Mitchell, a soldier given a second chance by Jonathan Irons, the leader of a giant PMC, Atlas. After joining Atlas, things start to get hairy with terrorists and some likely twists.

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The standout here is obviously the uncanny valley, occupied by one Kevin Spacey. He plays Irons and adds in this whole new level into what’s essentially a very standard affair of PMCs getting too big for their boots.

It’s bizarre to see not only a major actor in a video game, but do so without hamming it up or putting in no effort. While he certainly steals the spotlight, it’s nice to see the character not overused or underused, ala Kiefer Sutherland in Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes. Irons takes on a much more prominent role as the story progresses, but there’s never a moment where it feels like they’re shoving the fact they got Kevin Goddamned Spacey in their video game that’s literally about shooting dudes.

As I’ve said, the story is the typical sort of thing and you can see right through at particular moments, but it’s bombastic in a way that isn’t eye rolling. I never found myself bored or tired of plane crashes, explosions and destruction. I never paused during a story sequence to go to the toilet. It flows real well and only ever falls into a pothole for one very brief moment and swiftly moves on with itself.

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There’s one character, Ilona, who is dealt with perfectly. She’s never flirtatious, no romance or hints at romance ever occur. She’s treat in the exact same way that every other character is. Ilona is done so well, that it’s an absolute shame that she’s the only woman character in the entire game that fights or has a major part in the story.

But you’re not here for story, are you? You’re here to hear how it plays. Well Sledgehammer Games have taken that trademark, fast paced, frantic shooting you’re already acquainted with and slapped on the future.

You’re equipped with an Exo Suit, something that allows you to boost high in the air, pull up a personal shield or zip across areas of great distance with a grappling hook. It changes everything about Call of Duty, adding in this vertical element that wasn’t there before.

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Boosting straight upwards and raining down bullets on your enemies is a fantastic feeling, but also a valid new tactic. The Exo Suit isn’t there to give you the advantage, it’s there to keep you on par with everything else in the game.

Though in the campaign, it feels restricted in a way. Not every ability is given to you for each mission and going from one mission where you were high in the sky to having to be completely grounded is really jarring at times. But with this, comes level design, which is thoroughly put together to match what abilities you have that mission.

There’s no real stand out mission in Advanced Warfare, unlike previous entries, it’s particular sequences that the game takes you through that are the standouts. A high speed boat chase and leaping across traffic to retrieve a hostage are just to name two.

One mission that does stand out isn’t because it’s good, but for being really awkward is a stealth mission that’s actually a stealth mission. You have indicators to how aware people are, hiding in bushes and zipping across rooftops to escape being noticed. It’s just that it’s one of those stealth missions.

The type that the game hasn’t really been set up for, but manages to cobble together something. I’m not saying it’s awkward because it’s a diversion for shooting the many, many men and boggling action, I’m saying it’s awkward because of how it plays.

It’s trial and error at its worst. You’re expected to get it right in one fell swoop and I guess once I had it nailed down, it went smoothly, but getting there was just laborious. I actually finished the mandatory stealth section by just flinging Mitchell into the next objective marker.

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Advanced Warfare is exhilarating, but it doesn’t take or radically change the Call of Duty you know. You’re still going to do that “FOLLOW” pip marker, the guided stealth mission and see those scripted events happen in slow motion. But what Advanced Warfare does is it takes the usual mission tropes and adds that futuristic twist.

One of these twists is a sniping sequence that never actually involves picking up a sniper rifle. You’re given a drone that you’re allowed to circle around the building that does the sniping.

It’s a small change, but it’s welcome entirely. Not seeing the animation or having to aim down a sniper rifle and instead use a radical future toy is kind of the changes that Advanced Warfare offers. It’s incremental from an outside perspective, but from the deepest cores, Sledgehammer is doing exactly what Call of Duty has needed: advancement.

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This continues into the multiplayer and while it’s the same rapid-anger-inducing-action as before, all the new things added into Advanced Warfare help make it feel oddly fresh.

With every player equipped with an Exo Suit, bounding about, turning invisible and firing a plethora of future guns, the multiplayer that was once madness is now even more: it’s chaotic. No where is safe, as all the equipment like Threat Grenades can now highlight you and other players and remaining still for too long will probably result in you dying quicker than it used to.

All the standard modes return, with your Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed and Ground War, but it’s one of the new modes – Uplink – where I found my fun.

Both teams are required to carry a satellite back and forth to their Uplink spot and score. Think of a game of rugby, except you shoot people to stop them getting to the ball. It’s one of the first multiplayer modes in any game, in a long while, to make me feel something in my gut about just missing the goal as someone strikes me down from behind.

The Pick system returns in the form of ‘Pick 13’, giving players options to choose exactly how they want to play. It’s one of those systems designed to give you complete freedom in how you want to play and for the most part, Sledgehammer managed to nail it.

For me, however, it’s the new loot system in place. Getting a supply drop filled with new things to customize the soldier with is something that was missing. You acquire guns in this way, so you’re never exactly stuck with something for that level that is completely useless to you.

A massive downside is the bizarre timers on some items. Helmets and things will just kind of vanish after half an hour, making it blatantly obvious some kind of payment system is coming for exclusive gear. But stuff I acquired in game, should remain in game for my use.

Even though multiplayer is good fun, if you never got into it in the first place, you won’t find anything here that will draw you in. With all the new toys for people to play with, it just makes the competitive side of Call of Duty even harder to get into, as more players who buy in every year for their next chance at levelling, probably didn’t need much time to get adjusted.

If you’re not competitive however, there’s Exo Survival. Replacing Zombies until the downloadable content hits (where it will stand side-by-side with it), you and other players must face waves of enemies to get as far as you can before wiping out. At first it was exciting, being limited to a number of weapons and having a very specific role to play as the class I had chosen. But as time wore on and I realised there wasn’t anything as thrilling or weird happening as in zombies, I found myself quitting out more often than not.

It would have been nice that when I upgrade my weapons, that the weapons actually change or have exclusive variations of those weapons in the mode. Exo Survival is real good fun with people you know, but it meanders about in the middle of how entertaining it is. It ramps up either too slowly or too quickly and everything it offers is just more of the same thing.

What I would have loved to have seen return, would have been Spec Ops from Modern Warfare 2. A string of various missions, real cooperative play. That’s what Exo Survival is missing. You only need teammates to pick yourself back up, as a smart player can probably handle themselves against heavier enemies, even with a lighter class.

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There’s only one question that remains though. Where does Call of Duty go next? Advanced Warfare might have revitalized the series, but if other games in the future don’t include ways to one up the mobility and new skills that I’ve acquired in this game, I doubt I’ll take any interest.

It’s maybe a whole other thing for another time, but it might be time for the teams at Activision to stop seemingly competing with each other over who can do what better and find some common ground. As great as everything is in Advanced Warfare, it’s going to be real weird to leave all these advancements behind in the next game.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the game that has revitalized Call of Duty again. It’s a genuinely exciting game, with this rip roaring campaign under the belt. The futuristic twists it brings might not draw everyone back in or even new players, but for people like me, burnt out on the series, it’s vastly more entertaining with them.

It’s still the same dumb, shoot-the-man game, but Sledgehammer Games have fixed one of the major issues with Call of Duty: it does it with this new sense of energy that’s quite infectious.

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