‘Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’ Review

Platforms: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PCPublisher: Activision Developer: Sledgehammer Games

Genre: First Person Shooter Platform Played: PS4

We all say the same thing every year; that Call of Duty has become stale, that it’s the same thing every year in and out. And while largely true, (Infinity Ward, I’m looking at you) Advanced Warfare feels like the freshest Call of Duty I’ve played since 2010’s Black Ops.

Developer Sledgehammer Games is a relative newcomer to the franchise. Being brought in after Vince Zampella and Jason West left Infinity Ward which left the Modern Warfare 3 development in shambles, this is the studios first game they can call their own. While it definitely feels as if they’ve had to tick boxes as far as structure goes, Advanced Warfare feels like a game from a studio who’s had a lot of creative freedom here.

The most noticeable change with Advanced Warfare is the game’s focus around ability enhancing Exo Suits which, in this game at least, augment a user’s existing abilities such as strength, speed and invisibility. (Ok, they may add some abilities as well.) As someone who’s been playing the franchise every year since 2005 with Call of Duty 2, I was more than welcoming to have a pure science fiction setting with super human abilities. The series has gone off the rails a little bit so it’s nice to see it not take itself mega seriously this time around.

The game comes with a slightly different approach to level design this time around, depending on the type of exo suit you’re wearing. Missions where you have a booster pack which allows you to jump high and boost across short distances have larger maps for you to play around in. Maps that focus on stealth still require you to practically mount your teammate so you can follow them though a passage until the next enemy shows up for you to kill. While the semi open levels mixed with the usual linear variety served the game more than adequately, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering what Sledgehammer could have done if they’d given us open missions with the ability to select our own exo loadout like we could select our own weapons and attachments in Black Ops II. We all can get bored with following a crouched dude with a big yellow “follow” sign sitting on his head like some kind of hat they have to wear. It seems as if that for all of its plus marks with the open levels, there’s a minus that jumps in the way such as the game literally funneling me down a corridor with only one possible exit and at this exit it says “go here.” It could have been something great if Sledgehammer really opened up the game.

What Sledgehammer has nailed with Advanced Warfare is embracing what the series is known for, speed, action and over the top set pieces. With the exo suits, players are now faster thanks to boost abilities, stronger thanks to armour and the suits in general and with the futuristic weaponry of an imagined future, they’re more deadly now than they have ever been in past games. When all guns are blazing and and a certain substance has hit the fan, Advanced Warfare gets really good really fast. There’s nothing quite like leaping into the air with a jet pack only to dash forward and land behind a few enemies, blast them before throwing a grenade which can actually lock onto enemies and zoom straight towards them.

The game also looks absolutely beautiful if you haven’t already noticed. Bar the amazing CG cutscenes which are so good you can almost make out individual pieces of hair, the game has extremely detailed texture work which includes everything from cracks in pavements to the pores on people’s skin.

As you might expect, the campaign with Advanced Warfare is its usual pulp ordeal; bad guy presents threat, good guys deal with threat – explosions ensue. Ok, there might be a little bit more to it than that but I’m not far off. Call of Duty campaigns are frequently criticised for their forgettable campaigns though with Advanced Warfare, you’re unlikely to forget about it anytime soon and that is 100% down to Sledgehammer getting Kevin Spacey to play the game’s antagonist, Jonathan Irons. Irons is as great a character as you’d expect one played by Kevin Spacey to be. The character is the head of the private military corporation Atlas which plays a centre role for all of the characters in Advanced Warfare. Spacey portrays a Frank Underwood-esque character here but that’s probably exactly what makes the role, he’s sharp, charming and devious right from the get-go.

With these new exo suits, Sledgehammer has incorporated them into the game’s two multiplayer modes. The cooperative mode, Exo Survival sees you play against wave after wave of augmented enemies in rounds though the objective of the rounds may differ. One round may have you fighting off soldiers, while the other would have you see how many collectibles your team could get in a time limit. This was the game mode I was really looking forward to out of Advanced Warfare’s two multiplayer options but ultimately it felt hollow and boring. My team would fight, kill enemies, collect dog tags and then one of us would die, get revived and then a few rounds later, all of us would die. As you play, you unlock weapons which allow you to mow down more enemies but as I type how this process felt, you should know it’s exactly what was going through my head at the time as I was playing.

Once again, for another year, the famous (or infamous depending on who you talk to) Call of Duty multiplayer returns. This year, it has the exo suit abilities which truly does make it far different than any COD that has come before it. Before you even think it, I urge you to dash any feelings that this is a Titanfall rip off as doing so will just take away from the enjoyment of playing the game’s multiplayer. In the years before, I would run around a COD map waiting to kill or be killed. It’s always been a familiar experience that has always played on the same level. Players, despite what perks they had and what weapons they used were by and large the same as any other opponent you were about to run into.

With Advanced Warfare, loadouts made a difference to the way I played. With a boost pack I’m able to jump high and out of the way of enemies I hope aren’t as fast witted as I (it’s a pipe dream but let me have it) whereas if I want to play on the ground level annihilating the next poor sod who comes running around a corner I’ll perhaps be inclined to equip a heavy exo with more amour and a bigger, deadlier gun. It allows you to tailor the game to your play style a lot more than previous games have.

What makes this year’s COD offering more inviting is the more thoughtful map design which has been tailored with the exo suits in mind. If there’s a high ledge, you’ll probably be able to get up to it and snipe away. With previous entries, especially 2013’s Ghosts, maps felt more like circuits where players would pick a route through the map and run it until they were killed or killed someone else. With Advanced Warfare, you’re encouraged to use your loadouts to your advantage when navigating the field. If you’re being chased by someone, you now can go up and down instead of just left or right.

Sledgehammer has put more effort into making you work for your points this time around. With past Call of Duty’s as well as games like Battlefield and most multiplayer shooters, you’ll just play the game to progress within the game. Advanced Warfare still lets you do that if you just want to play it simply but now players can modify their killstreaks which means to fill that quota to get said killstreak, you’ll have to work harder to get it. The killstreaks have different modifiers which encourage experimentation which for a franchise that has been very stale, is a welcome addition.

Rather than revolutionising the way Call of Duty’s multiplayer works, Sledgehammer has instead opted to tweak weaker parts of of an already strong multiplayer experience to make into something that is ultimately a great deal better. Say what you will about this franchises PVP option, it’s remained consistently great for those that play it year in, year out.

Advanced Warfare as a whole seems to be a culmination of changes to a series made by a developer who really understands what Call of Duty is. It lacks the cheesy “hoo-ah” story of Ghosts, it tweaks multiplayer just enough to make it interesting by encouraging players to explore other ways of progression and where the game falls short, its other areas are bolstered to keep it afloat.

The problems with the game are mostly problems that exist in the franchise as a whole. Stuff like your character being knocked on his backside enough times that it makes it look like he’s made of paper and the condescending level of handholding through some levels are stuff that Call of Duty has always suffered with.

What sets Advanced Warfare apart from its predecessors is the level of freshness which is quite obviously due to the extended development time Sledgehammer has had this time around. For the first time in years, I found myself going back to campaign levels simply because of how fun they were.

Sure, I was disappointed with the cooperative aspect’s blandness as that part of the game has always appealed to me since I can never be good at the multiplayer. Since I’m rubbish at the multiplayer normally, it was great to actually play the way I wanted to play for once. Instead of sprinting around a corner only to be shot in the face by someone hiding behind a box, I’m able to jump up the side of buildings, land behind and subsequently kill that guy behind the box while at the same time being able to do what I did in past games. The multiplayer keeps it all very similar but adds a new layer which invites a new play style if you want it.

Beyond what I’ve listed above, it really is difficult to find a real complaint about the game.

This is definitely the best Call of Duty in years.

The Good

  • Freshest game in years for the series.
  • Sledgehammer know exactly what they’re doing.
  • Campaign is great.
  • Kevin Spacey.

The Bad

  • Dull cooperative mode.
  • Troubled mix of freedom and linearity in the campaign.
  • Still has some of the old tropes the other games have.

The Score: 9.0