09 November, 2014

Review - What If Kevin Spacey Had The Keys In Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare

In the very words of the venerable Kevin Spacey, “…this is Advanced Warfare”. And to be fair, it gets pretty advanced, even outside of the widely marketed exo suits, there is a metaphoric ton of awesome near-future technology. If that’s not enough for you, here’s why I think Advanced Warfare is well worth seeing.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare feels both familiar and new which is perhaps all that Call of Duty games aspire to be. They must not lose the tight left-trigger, right-trigger action, yet they must reinvent themselves each year if they want to avoid the sense of stagnation that Call of Duty: Ghost deposited last year. The most flashy and core addition to the formula is the exo suit, allowing feats of superhuman strength and agility, increasing the mobility and tempo of Call of Duty’s combat significantly.

Advanced Warfare stands shoulders above Ghosts, for a start the power of the next generation consoles has actually been leveraged. I’m not going to say this looks as good as EA’s Battlefield, or Killzone: Shadow Fall, but it far exceeds the muddy brown textures of its predecessor, Ghosts. Advanced Warfare looks sharp, detailed, colourful, the art benefits greatly from the near-future setting, both the campaign environments and the multiplayer maps feel very unique. I never felt like this is just another American street level, or another rooftop map, they distinguish themselves well from other levels in the game as well as those seen in other Call of Duty titles. Additionally, I feel the sound design has been noticeably improved, where as previously most guns sounded very similar if not the same, the only real distinguishing features were the type of weapon and rate of fire. In Advanced Warfare guns sound quite different, many have a more weighty sound, similarly, explosions have a heavier bass, adding a sense of detonation rather than just a fiery roar.

Of course Advanced Warfare’s greatest asset in terms of presentation is the campaign cinematics thatare rendered outside of the game engine. Between missions – and loading screens – the story is delivered through these exceptional looking cinematics. The characters really do come to life and enter a territory where it is hard to be sure what you are actually watching; animation or live action. The running jokes about this being Kevin Spacey’s Call of Duty are at least earned, his performance is fantastic throughout. His character is Jonathan Irons, CEO of Atlas Corporation, the world’s largest private military contractor (PMC), in many ways it is his story more than Mitchel’s, your character.

The campaign treads the ever more common, ‘this is what happens when we trust PMCs narrative’, but it walks this path very well. Yes, it is a Call of Duty game so large portions of the experience will be obscured by explosions, and you may perform the odd slow motion breach and clear. But there are also some very sobering moments; times when you’re not fighting but investigating, or undertaking undercover operations, or maybe just looking at the world being shaped around you. Sure there are the a few (very few) corny moments and lines, but ultimately I believe this is some of the best storytelling in the Call of Duty series. Which makes the lack of a branching narrative all the more saddening, because naturally, as Mitchel – you – are a good person, ensuring the campaign wraps up in a very boilerplate manner. Introduced in, and not seen anywhere since Treyarch’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, the branching campaign narrative was the most revolutionary alteration to the Call of Duty campaign structure. It allowed player choice, missions would change dramatically depending on how the last mission was resolved, or even if the side (Strike) missions were undertaken at all. None of that here though, Advanced Warfare does allow some customisation though; effects can be unlocked and added to the exo suit, but these are very minor; reduced flinching, increased grenade capacity, for example.

On the competitive multiplayer front, the front that attracts the most players, Advanced Warfare offers the expected changes; familiar game modes with some new twists, a good selection of maps, and a new spin on how to create a class. It also builds upon the very limited player customisation introduced by Call of Duty: Ghosts, adding considerably more depth, with new armour and clothing delivered through the new Supply Drops. These drops are loot chests awarded for some as yet unapparent reason, unlocking clothing, double XP boosts, and guns, these aren’t totally new weapons, they just have tweaked properties.  Some of the unlocks are inexplicably timed; unlocking double XP ten minutes makes sense, but a helmet for thirty? Most unlocks feed into your Armory indefinitely, but they can be discarded and turned into XP, which will become necessary as the Armory space is limited.

When it comes to custom loadouts, Advanced Warfare takes a page from Black Ops 2’s book, implementing a system known as, “Pick 13”, a natural progression from, “Pick 10”. This is a flexible system, allowing custom classes to be fully tailored to the player by removing the unused items or perks. Want to take three accessories on you Bal-27 (the rifle everyone is using online) and double perks? The system allows for exactly that, I quickly cut down on scorestreaks which I scarcely achieved and almost never found useful, in favour of more perks to enhance survivability. Of course, higher skilled players may do the polar opposite, it is a very versatile system.

Pretty much all of the game modes we’ve come to expect from Call of Duty multiplayer make a return here; various Deathmatch and Domination variants, Search and Destroy, Kill Confirmed and so on. The new game mode, Uplink, is in essence Halo’s Oddball. A small satellite must be carried, or passed, across the map into the other team’s goal. The other new game mode is more traditional, Momentum, this is a tug-of-war of flags that must be captured in order, across the map. Thankfully, Call of Duty: Ghost’s Search and Rescue makes a return, it is effectively Search and Destroy; bomb planting with one life per round , only with the Kill Confirmed dog tags mechanic layered on top. Collect the enemies tags to ensure they are out of the round completely and collect your fallen comrade’s tags to respawn them back into the fight.

The maps these matches take place on are varied in appearance, with a few map-specific events, such as, a huge wave submerging part of a map, or rail-mounted turrets raining death from above. Most importantly, the maps are designed to allow players to take full advantages of the exo suit’s added mobility. There is an increased focus on verticality, so expect to kill and be killed from previously unreachable heights and angles. Of course this works both ways, boosting and jumping clear of engagements is a great way to prolong your life, which you simply couldn’t do before. The maps are of an appropriate size, unlike Ghost’s multiplayer showing, the fire fights come fast and often, in no small part to the exo’s boosted mobility.

The cooperative portion of Advanced Warfare is titled Exo Survival, and it is very much the Spec Ops Survival mode seen in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The team of players take on short, increasingly difficult waves of enemies, picking up weapons, streaks and perks from vending machines across the map. By very nature of the enemy types available in Advanced Warfare, it is eminently more interesting than another Zombies mode (which is included in the Season Pass). It is unfortunate there isn’t any Spec Ops Missions, the Survival is fun but in the Modern Warfare series Missions were far more creative and varied.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is a terrific return to form after the series’ rather lacklustre first showing on the now-current generation of console hardware. It boasts an explosive single player campaign that stays fresh and creatively cinematic throughout, with some of the best writing and performances of the series. The title’s greatest triumph is the exo suit however, its influence permeates all facets of the game’s design, the vastly increased height and agility is a huge leap for the Call of Duty gameplay. Multiplayer modes, competitive and cooperative, are here in force once again, with maps that allow for liberal use of the exo suit, accompanied by surprisingly deep loot and customisation mechanics. Advanced Warfare proves the Call of Duty series still has plenty of steam to run on, and many routes to explore.

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