Call of Duty is back… but this ain’t your run-of-the-military shooter
It’s interesting how quickly public perception has changed around the Call of Duty franchise. Call of Duty 2 was an initiation of sorts for console converts, and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a wakeup call to the industry, offering innovative missions, solid shooter mechanics and breathtaking action setpieces, with an equally-great multiplayer offering.
Mention the name COD now and you’ll either get an eye-rolling “not another one of those”, or an enthusiastic “I play that game online – add me!”.
Kevin Spacey as Jonathan Irons
Much of the blame can be attributed to publisher Activision and their two COD studios Infinity Ward and Treyarch. Maximizing profits by finding ways to revitalize its blockbuster online killfest year after year is no easy task, and appealing to what their average gamer wants is a good way to operate. And what is it that “average” COD gamers want? A modern military multiplayer shooter chock full of scorestreaks, killstreaks, perks, weapons, bombs, dogs, choppers and upgrades galore, with little in the way of an innovative single player campaign mode.. Or so I thought.
Enter Sledgehammer Games and their new Call of Duty game Advanced Warfare. And like its star Kevin Spacey, this isn’t one of your Usual Suspects.
How do you shoot the devil in the back? What if you miss?
Activision has milked the “modern military shooter” for years, resulting in a shift in the shooter landscape. Gone is the once-powerful Medal of Honor franchise, and Battlefield is relegated to a distant second in terms of popularity. Like the flood of World War 2 games that preceded it, MW continues to spawn a series of imitators, all spouting never-ending “Hooah’s” along with it’s unending terrorist enemies, while inundating players in military jargon and ‘Muricanisms.
Sledgehammer Games’ Advanced Warfare looks like it wants to do the same thing on the outset, albeit set 50 years in the future. As you strap in as protagonist Jack Mitchell, an American Marine part of an expeditionary force sent into South Korea to expel North Korean forces, everything seems pretty par for the course. However, it takes a smart turn away from tradition early on by introducing the ominous and all-powerful corporation as a major player in the global warfare front.
And to be perfectly blunt, I’m fucking glad I didn’t have to sit through more tired speeches about duty, bravery and valor in the face of terrorism – I’ve got an exosuit motherfucker, and I know how to use it! *ahem*, sorry, I just had to get that out of my system.
And how risky is it that they’ve released a futuristic shooter instead of riding the ongoing modern war wave? It’s a calculated risk for sure, no doubt to go toe-to-toe with Titanfall and its ilk, but like COD 4, we’re finally seeing something fresh and new.
What’s even better is that they’re not ambiguously straddling the line between modern and future shooters like what Ghosts did. Exosuits, hoverbikes, EMP grenades to take out unmanned attack drones, invisible stealth choppers and walking spider tanks definitely fit into the “Advanced Warfare moniker.
Power changes everything
That’s the tagline for this game, and it couldn’t be any truer. Call of Duty games in general grant the player with extraordinary power from time to time, whether it be behind the overpowered gunner seat of an AC-130 Hercules aircraft, leading the ground assault in a heavily-armored tank, or at the controls of a death-raining attack helicopter.
Eat your heart out Tom Cruise and Matt Damon…
In this game, you’re constantly jacked thanks to an exosuit that allows you to perform heroic feats of strength, climb up walls, or boost yourself upwards. You almost feel a bit too powerful once you’ve maxed out your suit and are brimming with smart grenades and guns. Thankfully, the enemies seem to be more powerful as well, and can rival Gears of War for bullet-sponginess.
While your character is more powerful, you’re still not invincible. And careless players may easily find themselves staring at death screens often if they’re not respectful of their less powerful but overwhelming and armed opponents.
One of the awesome setpieces early in the game sees your character – exosuit and all – forced to cross a bustling highway while being fired upon by enemies. It’s a simple concept, but this Frogger-meets-COD section was riveting, and really helped drive home the fact that as powerful as you are, you’re still a miniscule bug in the grand scheme of things, easily splattered on a speeding truck’s windshield if you’re not careful.
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.
Advanced Warfare feels familiar, but a few additions and tweaks make all the difference. In a way, it almost reminds me of the difference between Halo and Halo Reach (which I actually loved). Not everyone will dig the futuristic stylings of this game, but it might just be the one that brings back jaded CODers back into the fold and enjoying solid single player action that has been marred by recent lackluster efforts. Stealth sections in this game are all-the-more amped by technology such as cloak suits and grappling hooks, while traversing battlefields are made more fun by boost jumps. It’s simple additions like this that make Advanced Warfare feel like a different game, while still staying true to its pedigree of action, stealth, and slow mo breaches.
Of course, this isn’t a perfect game, and some aspects broke the immersion for me. As amazing as the pre-rendered cinematics are, the in-game graphics sometimes leave a lot to be desired, especially when they are presented immediately after a cutscene. One glaring moment happened pretty much at the beginning of the game, after a gorgeously-rendered sequence showcasing soldiers preparing to drop into a battlezone gave way to a cityscape that was a bit too bright, a bit too clean, and just didn’t live up to the type of graphics one would expect from a next gen game. Another moment happened shortly after, seeing a pre-rendered version of Kevin Spacey that could have passed for the real thing, and then an in-game representation with dead eyes and sallow skin.
Another gripe are the sounds. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the vibration and sounds made by the guns seem slightly more muted than previous games, and I found the “clack, clack, clack” sound was a bit unsettling compared to the “booms” and “bangs” I was expecting. If this is a function of having a powered suit dampen the vibration, or just a different sound design team, I’m not entirely sure. But it was a bit distracting, and bothered me slightly.
Final gripe: QTE moments. Why are they there? They serve no purpose, and I managed to fail two of them because I just wasn’t expecting to have to time a button press.
Once you get over these initial (and albeit small) disappointments, the game really does suck you in.
- Cinematics look amazing
- A nice change-up from the overdone modern military warfare
- Great setpieces including a harrowing Frogger-style street chase, a tense presidential rescue at Camp David, some neat stealth moments and futuristic corporate-controlled shenanigans.
- Fans of previous COD single player sessions will appreciate a new take on familiar COD stylings
- Clack, clack, clack instead of bang, boom, boom, pow gun sounds
- In-game graphics leave a bit to be desired, especially after seeing stunning pre-rendered visuals
- Bullet sponge enemies are a bit frustrating
- Some crappy use of QTE peppered throughout the game.
The Old Guy in me Says
If you’re a player who was once impressed by Call of Duty’s campaigns, and have since soured on them because of monotonous repetition, give Advanced Warfare a chance. It’s worth your while to see what a fresh and inventive development team can do with old game mechanics, especially when given some free reign to experiment. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is a step in the right direction for Activision, and a needed shot of adrenaline for a series that was in need of waking up. And just like Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects, you’ll find that this old game isn’t what it seems.