Popular wisdom would have it that you can’t teach an old COD new tricks; that the formula for six hours of single-player hooah whizzbangery and twitch-based online shootouts was apparently carved into a stone tablet somewhere at Activision years ago, never to be defied.
But Advanced Warfare, the first COD not to have Infinity Ward or Treyarch listed in its developer credits since 2004, doesn’t care about that stone tablet. It’s here to change things. It’s here to give you the Exo Suit.
No facetiousness intended here. COD’s own version of the Crysis Nanosuit really does change your approach to the game, particularly in online modes. Picture the scene: you’re playing Hardpoint, and you need to get to point B, like, yesterday. Double tapping X gives you a boost jump, and once up in the air pressing L3 boosts you further forwards still. It’s the standard traversal technique in Advanced Warfare, but in this situation everyone knows you’re coming.
If someone deploys a turret at B, you’ll become a heavily armed clay pigeon. So do you risk jumping in headlong? Make slower progress along the ground? Or perhaps use the boost jump to circle around and approach B from a different angle? It doesn’t matter, because somebody just dropped down onto you from the heavens and meleed you seven ways from embarrassed while you were trying to decide.
In addition to AW’s host of PvP modes, there’s also the wave-based four-player co-op to contend with. Exo Survival chucks throngs of tough enemies at you, and keeps you moving via mid-round missions. It’s merciless but still deeply compulsive.
You need to make a friend of your new movement options pretty quickly out there in the killing fields. A single boost-strafe can save your life, or get you to the dog tags in time during Kill Confirmed. In the new Uplink multiplayer mode, a twist on traditional CTF in that the flag is a spherical drone dropped at random and the score points are high in the air, a boost jump can also make you feel like Michael Jordan.
Ending a round with a knife throw is pretty special, but ending it by soaring 20 feet in the air into your team’s uplink point while carrying a metallic basketball? That’s new. And isn’t that what we really want from COD multiplayer? New ways to get the same buzz we’ve been getting from it since Modern Warfare 1? Additions as simple as new movement options, maps that have been designed with that verticality in mind, and a weaponised b-ball mode tick that box confidently.
And yet, in between floaty mid-air quick-draws, you recognise the parts of COD’s DNA that really are set in stone. Things such as scope speed, weapon damage, Scorestreak abilities - the foundations of this series’ place within the eSports scene. Exo suits or not, you don’t have to be told you’re playing a COD game here. Yes, it feels different to Ghosts, but it still rewards your muscle memory.
Actually, Advanced Warfare’s distinguishing features aside from the suit aren’t ‘new’, per se, but redesigned and tweaked elements from previous games. Black Ops II’s ‘Pick 10’ custom loadout system returns as ‘Pick 13’, enabling you to set perks, weapons, attachments, grenades and Exo abilities such as a shield, a cloak or health boost (these are easily forgotten about mid-round, and aren’t suited to online’s breakneck pace).
Meanwhile, visual customisation has exploded. There’s a loot metagame delivered via ‘Supply Drops’ (think FIFA’s FUT packs, but time-deployed for free every round or so) that just showers you in ‘elite’ trousers and new gun variants. It’s a friendlier system than the gear-gating of previous CODs, which was at times guilty of saying, "Oh, you played for 50 hours? Here, have this gun. It kills everyone."
Online multiplayer flourishes thanks to Sledgehammer’s willingness to splice the COD double-helix with outside influences such as Team Fortress 2 and, er, a certain mech-based shooter available on a certain other gaming platform. Single-player, on the other hand, doesn’t.
No, instead solo play is where those age-old, ironclad Call Of Duty conventions begin to frustrate. You’re not expecting Joseph Conrad from its story, so the over-arching narrative of a corporation exploiting a global terror threat to gain a stranglehold on military resources is more than strong enough to keep it ticking over.
What’s more, Kevin Spacey. His shark-eyed PMC owner, Irons, adds not just A-lister glitz to the plot, but occasional moments of brilliant dramatic execution. Then you’re presented with a ‘Press X to pay respects’ QTE at a military funeral, and the whole house of cards (high five!) falls down.
There’s a tremendous amount of experience and talent at Sledgehammer Games in single-player storytelling - many lead devs on this game worked on Dead Space - but Advanced Warfare doesn’t demonstrate the ceiling of its abilities. Locations lack atmosphere and feel borrowed from previous series entries, and palate cleansers such as the ice caves of Antarctica are few and far between.
Seemingly every few steps, you’re knocked to the ground by a cutscene, hand in front of your face as your vision blurs in and out and your team-mates on the radio get fuzzier. A franchise tradition that Advanced Warfare will be damned if it breaks.
Weapon feedback hasn’t changed tangibly, which is to say it still feels great, so you’ve always got that motivating force in the campaign. It’s good at changing the pace by introducing lenient stealth bits to soothe your trigger finger after the last big gunfight, but lacks that third dynamic Ghosts used so well: silliness. Advanced Warfare won’t look at the camera, or admit the absurdity of its events.
All these words - all these games - and we’re here again. Great multiplayer, disappointing story. Where Ghosts used the oft-derided COD idioms with a knowing smile, Advanced Warfare uses them with Kevin Spacey’s cold, stern gaze.
A welcome outsider take on a consistent series, increasing the pace still further in online multiplayer to fantastic effect. However, solo play feels a bit safe in comparison.
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