Review: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Advanced Warfare marks the largest departure for Call of Duty since Modern Warfare was introduced in 2007. As the tagline has continually reminded us, “power changes everything” and that’s certainly the case here. Advanced Warfare not only introduces the endearing Kevin Spacey into the mix (who’s Frank Underwood character on House of Cards fits right into the “power” motive), but also adds exoskeletons, exceeding the limits of the human body. Advanced tech being a more notable addition than dogs (which are virtually absent in this game, god rest Riley’s soul), first-time lead developer Sledgehammer Games is attempting to keep Call of Duty relevant into the future by literally bringing it into the future. In a year when EA and Activision themselves have done the same in the multiplayer space with Titanfall and Destiny, respectively, power is indeed changing everything. Now let’s see if Advanced Warfare has enough.

Advanced Warfare takes place in 2054 where North Korea has become a world power and is in the midst of an invasion of Seoul. Jack Mitchell (Troy Baker) joins the marines to help protect the free world. Although fighting heroically to turn the tide of battle, Jack gets caught up an explosion that kills his best friend Will and leaves him severely injured and without one arm. Jack thinks his combat days are over until one day he’s approached by the CEO of Atlas, Jonathan Irons (Kevin Spacey), who offers him a second chance as part of his Private Military Corporation Atlas. Already beginning to rival the United States Military in size, Atlas has recruited the country’s top scientists and developed numerous groundbreaking technologies, the most interesting of which are advanced robotic prosthetics.

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Equipping Jack with a new arm, Irons trains him to be one of the most effective soldiers and sends him on a series of clandestine operations throughout the world. On one mission, however, Jack gets caught up in an explosion at a power plant that is followed by similar attacks across the globe. A terrorist organization known as KVA takes credit for the attacks and sends the world into a frenzy. Irons steps up to protect it and militarizes most of the world, becoming the largest army in the world as a result. Although the world is safe, Jack begins to question the intentions of his employer. A marked improvement over the nonsensical story of Ghosts, its tight plotting and surprisingly strong performances make it a strong runner-up to Black Ops II, even if it’s derivative and not robust enough.

Investigating Atlas and fighting off KVA, the campaign takes players throughout the world, dropping them in exotic places like Antarctica, Lagos, Greece and the interesting New Baghdad which has become a thriving business hub of the middle east rivaling the likes of Dubai in the time since Atlas took power. Like most Call of Duty games, the campaign boils down as a tour of all the different areas featured in multiplayer on a grander scale and various types of combat. Missions equip players with different loadouts like Specialist and Assault, which feature different technologies and exo abilities to better suit the mission at hand. One stealth-driven mission in Thailand, for instance, has players sneaking around a house and using a hook to pull enemies into the shadows. Tanks and fighter jets will also be commandeered, but only for one mission. As there’s a melange of ideas usually only used once, none of them are refined enough to become a central gameplay mechanic, but they all work smooth enough in unison. It might not have its own identity, but Advanced Warfare’s campaign is a highly entertaining six hour buffet of futuristic combat.

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While Advanced Warfare is marginally worth buying for the single play campaign, the focus as always remains on multiplayer, and boy did Sledgehammer bring it this year. The biggest addition in Advanced Warfare is the exo, introducing new gameplay with the ability to boost jump, boost slam, boost dodge, boost slide, boost dash, grapple, cloak and more. Out of all the new abilities, the most notable is boost jump, allowing players to jump higher than was ever possible before. This adds a level of verticality comparable to Halo that has always been lacking in the series. Not only does it make combat more interesting as now players can jump high into the air to dispose of each other, but it also allows maps to be designed with taller structures, making them much more interesting to run through. The rest of the boost movements will predominately be used by advanced players to fine tune their strategies and try to remain as mobile as possible. The only one I didn’t care for was boost dodge, which was difficulty to execute with its combination of buttons and pushing down sticks. It becomes smoother to use after practice, but the fact that it doesn’t feel like a guarantee to work limits its use.

There’s more to the exo than its inherent features, however. Also available are Exo Abilities which allow them to be augmented with multiple gadgets and bonuses including Exo Shield — a quick deploy shield attached to the exo’s arm, Exo Overlock — which increases foot speed, Exo Stim — which regenerates health beyond standard levels, Exo Cloak — which turns players invisible, Exo Hover — allowing for short hovering in place, Exo Ping — showing enemy movement and weapon fire in the Hud and the Exo Trophy System which destroys incoming grenades and rockets for a limited period of time. All of these are incredibly useful in combat and will challenge players with a tough decision on which they find more valuable. In the time we’ve been playing multiplayer, we’ve already seen a handful of players using the shield as their main weapon, so there’s a lot of potential here.

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Rounding out the abilities of the exo are perks, which can do things like suppress the noise of boost, allow reloading while sprinting, drive more energy to the exo battery and more. Perks consume slots and players will again have to choose which they head into battle with carefully to ensure their strategy is best represented.

The much loved Pick 10 system from Black Ops II is back, now improved as the Pick 13 system and allowing players to select with scorestreaks will be included with their class. Besides combining scorestreaks, they can also be customized for a cost, such as customizing a Remote Turret into a rocket Turret Module. Co-Op Scorestreaks also make their debut here, allowing two players to join up a scorestreak. This is a cool bonus both for players at the same skill level to play more cooperatively each other, but also allows for veteran players to team up with their novice friends and give them bonuses they normally wouldn’t get.

Advanced Warfare features a bevy of weapons to head into combat with, some of which are variations of past guns, but many that take on an identity of their own. One of my personal favorites is the KF5 submachine gun, which although a basic weapon, has a smooth firing rate that allows for good accuracy when mobile. The Bal-27 assault is also a standout, increasing firing rate over time. With dozens of guns, players will have their own favorites, but there isn’t one I’ve used that doesn’t feel right. Advanced Warfare even introduces a new Heavy Weapons class that includes directed energy weapons such as the EM1 and EMPm2. Not requiring reloads, but overheating after prolonged activity, these weapons are removed from anything experienced in the series before and add another battlefield dynamic.

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Another new feature are supply drops which are a reward system of more than a thousand piece of loot including character gear, custom weapons and reinforcements in three rarities — Enlisted, Professional and Elite. All of these goodies can be tested in the new Virtual Firing Range, which allows layers to try out new items and loadouts in the lobby before matches begin, decreasing the amount of “test matches” experienced in past games simply to test out gear.

Of course, what good is all the gear without avenues to use it, so it’s a relief that Advanced Warfare comes stacked with modes. Almost all are returning game modes, but the ones selected are strong including Deathmatch, Search and Rescue, Capture the Flag, Hardpoint, Domination and more. New to the series this year are Uplink and Momentum. Similar to the Blitz mode of Ghosts (which itself was similar to football), Uplink sees two teams fighting for control of a satellite drone who then must take it to the opponent’s uplink to score. Momentum is based on the War game mode found all the way back in World at War, which in a virtual game of tug of war sees players attempting to capture five points on the map by whoever has the most kills. This allows for fast-paced combat in an attempt to turn the tides of the battle.

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Besides the many versus modes, a co-op mode is again included this year called Exo-Survival. A glorified horde mode, Exo-Survival sees one to four players teaming up to fight of waves of increasingly difficult enemies including soldiers, dogs and drones. Exo abilities, weapons, scorestreaks, perks and be upgraded throughout the round to be able to face the enemies at hand. Although entertaining, it’s too basic to have much lasting appeal as the concept has been experienced so many times before. It’s too bad Sledgehammer didn’t add a self-contained horde-esque game mode like Infinity Ward did in Ghosts with Extinction, as that felt much more fresh.

To experience the modes, multiple maps are included such as Riot, Biolab, Recovery, Ascent, Greenband, Defender, Comeback and more. Continuing the trend of the more open maps found in Ghosts, practically every map here is expertly-designed, featuring many confined converging paths as well as wide-open spaces for those who prefer to rush right into the grind. The verticality that exos add have allowed the maps to be built up more, which makes for some great vantage points from windows and close quarter combat in stairwells. Defender is likely the standout map, taking place at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge in the midst of a tsunami hitting which dynamically changes the area, but all of the maps work well in practically every available game mode.

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Closing Comments:

The first Call of Duty built for the current console generation, Advanced Warfare is a leap in the right direction for the series. The exoskeleton power doesn’t change “everything,” but it creates a fresh experience. The added verticality simply makes multiplayer more fun, allowing players to fling around the map in ways previously impossible. Game modes are relatively unchanged, but they’re presented with thousands of impressive new customization options, allowing players to tailor the experience to their liking. On the single player side of things, signing up Kevin Spacey was a brilliant move that makes the campaign more cinematic than ever before. Boasting the tightest multiplayer of the series and one of the strongest campaigns, Advanced Warfare proves that Call of Duty is here to stay — and it’s welcome.

4point5outof5Version Reviewed: Xbox One