Franchise fatigue be damned. Sometimes a game comes into a series and does things a little bit differently. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare aims to change the formula for the better with a new setting and futuristic tech, and it succeeds with several game-changing features. Call of Duty has long stood on three legs: single player, multiplayer, and co-op. The competitive offering is full of surprises with gameplay mechanics that will make you rethink your online tactics and a progression system that will keep you in for the long run. But where the competitive aspect of the game soars with new ideas, the narrative and co-op features stand perfectly stagnant.
The campaign kicks off with a bang, highlighting the new, cutting edge weaponry and equipment at your disposal, and doing an excellent job of immersing you into the futuristic world of Advanced Warfare. The first mission has you entering battle from an orbital drop pod, blasting away drone swarms, and using your exo suit to perform feats that no other Call of Duty hero could do before, like deploy grappling hooks, hover over pits, and ground smash enemies to death. And that level of intense action is maintained throughout the 6 hour campaign, as we've come to expect from CoD. There are massive explosions and dramatic deaths aplenty, but you just don't care enough about the characters or what's going on for those moments to make a significant impact.
The story starts off strong, but by the end it runs out of gas. The addition of the A-list actor, Kevin Spacey as villain Jonathan Irons, adds a strong presence that is missed in previous CoD villains, plus the amazing graphical detail on all of the character's faces definitely draws plenty of attention. However, as the story plays out, Irons' relationship to the main character Mitchell and the other characters lacks any real connection between them and fails to make their interactions feel as emotionally substantial as they're meant to be. It all just feels thrown together in order to keep the shooting and killing coming. Then it all ends in a cliched 1980's action movie-style finale that begs for a pun-filled sendoff.
From a structure standpoint, Advanced Warfare's campaign primarily sticks to the tried and true method of tag-along-with-this-other-character and follow-instructions-or-you-die. The linear events take you through thrilling moments like jumping from bus to bus on a crowded freeway, assassinating villains using high-tech drones, or racing a boat through a crowded canal. Charging through straightforward set pieces and using the new exo abilities is entertaining to a point, but it's still the same tired formula. That said, AW does bring a few instances of structural evolution to missions, with sections that dare to do non-linearity better than the series ever has before. More like a small sandbox than a linear corridor.
The open segments are great, allowing you to explore and experiment with your high-tech gadgets in the environment. The new freedom also opens up opportunities for you to create memorable moments outside of the scripted set pieces. At one point, I was taking cover from an attacking helicopter and discovered that I could grapple up to it. So I did. Next I was standing in the chopper punching baddies overboard, gunning down the pilots, and jumping out as the aircraft spun out of control and exploded. And the best part was that moment was all me. It wasn't scripted. I wasn't forced into the attacking the helicopter. I was in complete control, and it was totally awesome. The single player definitely brings a few exciting new mechanics and gameplay to the table, despite the underwhelming CoD campaign tropes. But Advanced Warfare still has plenty to offer in its online components.
Sledgehammer's answer to the previous games' Zombies and Extinction modes does just fine, but lacks the creative, four-player charm of its predecessors. As you'd expect, you'll face waves of gun-toting soldiers and upgrade your characters and weapons, fighting to survive for as long as possible with three buddies. But unlike previous CoD co-op, little effort has been made to turn any of this into a unique, tailored experience. It all plays out in the standard multiplayer maps, devoid of any cool, co-op specific items or weapons. The standard for Call of Duty co-op is incredibly high, and with so many fresh ideas coming out of the future setting and player mobility, it's a missed opportunity to find such a low-risk, vanilla co-op offering.
But enough of all of that. Advanced Warfare's competitive multiplayer is where it's at. Everything you'd expect from CoD's online matches is here and then some. The weapons feel weighty, the shooting is precise, and there's plenty to keep you coming back for more. Player customization is huge this time around, allowing you to not only outfit your soldier with dozens of well-balanced weapons, Perks and new Exo abilities, but also swap helmets, fatigues, and boots for a completely unique look. The new loot system creates the most rewarding progression system the series has seen in years, and earning these pieces isn't just a matter of gaining experience, either.
As you're picking up random gear and weapons in the post-game supply drop box, you can find Elite versions of the unlockable weapons, which have specified names and special stats. The intricate skin designs of the Elites--along with the customizable gear--add a ton of personality to your soldier. Also, using a single weapon consistently can earn you a completely different in-game model of that weapon, complete with unique stats and paint job. Everything you do gets you something to personalize your soldier with, and with cooler unlocks, the progression system really sinks its hooks in. There's no escape.
One brand new feature is the ability to add mods to your scorestreaks, which adds a ton of customization to your loadout. You can outfit a UAV to show enemies through walls with every sweep of the radar, add the option to rip a turret off it's stand, and give a Goliath homing rockets all for the cost of a bit more score.
On top of the random loot, temporary gear rewards bring a whole new element to the Prestige grind, allowing you to show off your accomplishments on your character. There's nothing better than displaying the hard-earned Bloodthirsty gear you got from a massive kill streak, or strapping on special sniper goggles you got from a long-range killing spree. Every new element keeps you motivated to jump into another game and earn something else to flaunt. The loot system makes ranking up incredibly rewarding, and I hope it's here to stay.
Most importantly, the exosuit changes everything, affording a major uptick in player mobility. The mechanical enhancement allows you to double-jump high in the air and dash in any direction at any time, completely altering the dynamic of a multiplayer match. The maps play differently than previous CoDs and added modes cater to the newfound aerial freedom. There's the new mode, Uplink--think basketball with guns on a multiplayer map. In it, the freedom of movement makes being the ball carrier an absolute thrill and gives you a fun alternative to blasting everything that moves (at least for a few seconds). Overall, the maps are well-designed, allowing players to take advantage of the high-flying boosts, and giving you plenty of high-rise areas to duck behind for cover or use to pounce on other players.
Now you're playing with power
Boosting isn't the only upgrade you get by wearing a militarized exo suit. In multiplayer you can equip various Exo Abilities to give you a leg up in various situations. Check out your options on the following slides.
The Exo Shield is great for absorbing a barrage of bullets as you're trying to get behind cover to reload.
Need a boost of speed to collect Kill Confirmed tags or score a point in Uplink? Here it is.
Stim is great for giving you extra time under fire. It could mean the difference between capturing a point or winning a head-to-head gunfight.
Sure, you're completely exposed hovering out in the open, but you may just surprise a few enemies up there.
The increased speed forces you to rethink your old strategies. Close quarters weapons are even more dangerous now, as it's much easier to close the gap on an enemy. Firefights last longer as a result of players being able to quickly dodge behind cover. It changes the way you run-and-gun in CoD because, well, you're really flying and gunning now. There was a slight learning curve for me as I adjusted to the newfound speed and flow of the matches, now it's hard to imagine any future CoD not using the same mechanics.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare excels in online multiplayer, with brand new mechanics and a complex, loot-filled progression system that hooks you in. But the surprises stop there. With a by-the-numbers campaign structure and unimaginative co-op mode, the competitive multiplayer mode stands as Advanced Warfare's strongest asset.
This game was reviewed at a review event and was played on Xbox One.