Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PC
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Genre: First-Person Shooter
ESRB Rating: M – Mature
The Call of Duty franchise needs little introduction; Activision’s first-person shooter franchise has been one of the most popular in gaming for the better part of a decade. Sledgehammer Games, however, is another matter. Formed by Dead Space alums Glenn Schofield and Michael Condrey, Sledgehammer was assigned to help Infinity Ward complete Modern Warfare 3, and then got a chance to make a game all on their own: Advanced Warfare. So how has Sledgehammer done with this impressive opportunity (and a three-year development cycle, a first for a Call of Duty game)? In short, they’ve done pretty well.
Advanced Warfare begins in the year 2054. You play as Jack Mitchell, a Private in the U.S. Military who, along with his best friend Will Irons, has been sent to South Korea to repel an invading North Korean army. During the assault, Will is killed and Mitchell loses an arm. Mitchell then meets Will’s father, Jonathan Irons, at Will’s funeral; Irons offers Mitchell a high-end prosthetic arm and the chance to fight in Irons’ private military company called Atlas.
Those who have played a Call of Duty campaign in the past probably won’t be surprised by what Advanced Warfare’s plot has to offer. The story is about as deep as a typical summer action movie, complete with plenty of military jargon and some predictable plot twists. One thing that bothers me about the storytelling in this game is that your character Mitchell talks during cutscenes, but not during gameplay. This feels jarring, as Mitchell switches between being a definable character off the field with his own personality and interests, and being an empty shell on the field, one who never has a chance to lead but is always following the directions given by the NPCs around him. All that said, the game contains plenty of exciting and well-choreographed set piece moments to keep the player engaged, and Kevin Spacey delivers an excellent performance as Jonathan Irons.
The element of Advanced Warfare’s gameplay that makes the game stand out from previous entries in the Call of Duty franchise is the addition of the Exo suit, a futuristic exoskeleton worn by the game’s combatants. This suit gives the player access to a variety of skills and gadgets, such as a double jump, a jet-powered dodge, and a portable shield. During the campaign the abilities you have will change from mission to mission, while in multiplayer you can customize your Exo abilities to suit your playstyle (though some Exo gadgets are only used during campaign). The extra mobility provided by the Exo adds a layer of verticality that has not been present in other Call of Duty games, and makes a big difference in how you approach the battlefield, as you can quickly hop onto rooftops and other elevated positions that give you an advantage over your enemies.
Advanced Warfare’s campaign missions are, for the most part, very linear, guided experiences; you spend most of the time walking through corridors and clearing small rooms and courtyards. On the one hand, this narrow focus allows Sledgehammer to incorporate a wide variety of intense, exciting events that keeps the player on the edge of his or her seat. On the other hand, it also removes a lot of freedom from the player, and sometimes left me feeling like I was just a pawn on the battlefield, waiting for my companions to give me permission to continue the story. On occasion you get the chance to use some neat futuristic gadgets, like magnetic gloves or a hover bike, but these moments are short and limited to specific moments in the campaign, which feels like a missed opportunity to really open up ways for the player to tackle different challenges. The linear nature of the campaign also mutes the impact of the mobility provided by the Exo. The narrow corridors and other small, enclosed spaces that you are often forced to navigate keep you from using the double jump, thus removing the verticality that makes the game stand out.
While the campaign is hit and miss, competitive multiplayer is where Advanced Warfare shines, particularly as it relates to the Exo suit. The dynamic, fast-paced nature of multiplayer gameplay, along with the open spaces and plentiful rooftops found in the maps, encourages players to use their double jump often and seek out higher vantage points. This verticality provides a freedom to the player that cannot be found in the narrow corridors and shooting galleries that make up much of the campaign. It would have been nice to use some of the game’s more exotic gear in multiplayer, such as the aforementioned gloves and bike, but the abilities that have been put into multiplayer (which include not only the double jump and boost dodge, but also things like cloaking and the portable shield) are implemented quite well.
Advanced Warfare’s competitive multiplayer boasts a robust selection of game modes and customization options. In addition to traditional modes like Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Capture the Flag, Sledgehammer introduces a new mode called Uplink, in which teams compete to deliver a ball-shaped satellite into the opposing team’s goal, similar to Halo 4’s Ricochet mode. The Pick 10 system of loadout customization found in Black Ops II has been updated to a Pick 13 system in Advanced Warfare, allowing you to choose the weapon upgrades, Perks, Exo abilities, and Scorestreaks that fit your playstyle.
Exo Survival is Advanced Warfare’s Cooperative Multiplayer mode, in which players fight off waves of enemy combatants, unlocking new weapons and upgrades along the way. Objective rounds are thrown in from time to time to keep gameplay interesting. It’s a nice change of pace from the other modes, and like the multiplayer it makes better use of the Exo’s strengths than the campaign does.
This new Call of Duty is undeniably a gorgeous one. Impressive lighting and detailed character models help the game come to life. While the environments aim for realism, they mostly avoid the drab browns and greys that saturated previous entries in the franchise, thanks in part to the splashes of color provided by some of the futuristic weaponry in the game. The pre-rendered cutscenes showcase some of the most realistic characters I have seen in a game, and their beauty helps the performances of Kevin Spacy and the other actors really shine.
Sledgehammer has done an admirable job creating a new Call of Duty game. Advanced Warfare is a breath of fresh air for this long-running franchise; the Exo brings a real change to the traditional Call of Duty formula, and while the campaign sometimes undermines this addition, multiplayer is much improved by the new mobility and verticality it provides. Those who have grown weary of Call of Duty in recent years should give this game a shot; I myself had gotten tired of these games, but Advanced Warfare has left me pleasantly surprised, and eager to see what see what Sledgehammer will do in the future.