For many years now the ‘Call of Duty’ franchise has been sneered at by the Hardcore gamer. They lambaste it for the audience it garners (vociferous teenage boys with mics) and for being more of the same, the famous “copy and paste” scenes of ‘Modern Warfare 2’ and ‘Ghosts’ seemed to confirm everything they hated about the franchise.
New studio Sledgehammer Studios were originally tasked with making a COD spin-off title, now they are the lead of this years annual release and they have their work cut out for them following the abysmal ‘COD: Ghosts’.
The question is have they succeeded in making a good COD game that has significant changes to entice people back?
Let’s get this out-of-the-way early. ‘Advanced Warfare’ is the first COD game to be afforded the luxury of a three-year development time since ‘Modern Warfare’, developers often cite this as the perfect amount of time to create a true AAA title. ‘Advanced Warfare’ clearly shows the benefit of allowing this amount of time and is hopefully the benchmark as the COD series continues with three developers (Treyarch, Infinity Ward & Sledgehammer).
The most obvious benefit of the time allowed to develop is the graphical engine, the world looks amazing (if rather uninspired in design) particles fly everywhere, the lighting engine is amazing and looks almost real in spots, the character models are great but the most impressive aspect of the engine though is the incredibly detailed facial animation. We are entering true uncanny valley territory! At first I thought it look horrible (this is often the case as your brain will pick out things that look wrong) but the more I played the more I was impressed. Kevin Spacey has been brought into the game world and looks utterly amazing. By only the facial animation I knew what the characters were thinking and how they felt about their situation. The facial animations on display here are the best I’ve seen in a video game yet.
Aside from the huge graphical leap, ‘Advanced Warfare’ is not revolutionising the COD formula. What Sledgehammer are doing though is taking the core COD ingredients, refining them, then building upon very solid foundations.
The core gameplay ingredient that makes COD so playable is the mobility of its protagonists. It has always been weighty-yet-graceful feel to it and this has been retained. However the introduction of the EXO suit allows the player to jump thirty feet in the air and this opens up the playing field with a whole host of tactical and strategic options being offered to the player. The suit is more than just a double jump though, the player can dodge in mid-air with a flick of the movement stick, you can pull people to you a la ‘Mortal Kombat’s’ Scorpion, climb up metal objects, grapple hook up the side of buildings amongst other uses. The EXO is the single biggest change in ‘COD:AW’ and it is an incredibly successful one.
No longer are you being filtered down a corridor (whether you’re indoors or outdoors) now you genuinely have several options; if you look around there are many ways of dealing with enemies and it allows for player experimentation to find the most efficient route through the opposition. The verticality offered at almost every point is hugely impressive however at all times the use of this freedom is optional – many COD veterans will probably just play it the way they always have and that is fine. I enjoyed trying to find better ways of getting through the masses of enemies, walking tanks, helicopters, swarms of unmanned drones and boosting soldiers. With these enemies often assaulting you at the same time options are healthy and in my case (as a rather poor COD player whose been absent since MW2) required.
The gun-play of COD has always been excellent, again Sledgehammer have opted away from wholesale change and just tweaked it a little. All the conventional weapons are still present and correct. Added on top of your classic sniper rifles and machine guns however are a whole host of high-tech weaponry. Laser guns, a plasma shield, huge ‘Avatar’ like mech suits all add something new to the established gun game. The high-tech weaponry often need no ammo but will be a dead giveaway to your position and are rarely your best option – which is a little bit of a shame really, but it’s a solid foundation on which to build.
The grenades on the other hand are great! And they are of a great tactical advantage to the player. They are split into categories – frag (normal explosive), threat (a handy environment scan that highlights all enemies for a short duration) and an EMP (which disables mechanical enemies). When used correctly they really change the game and will allow the player to approach any situation, in any way they desire.
Everything mentioned above carries over to the multi-player section of the game. EXO abilities all make the jump and are governed by a cool-down meter, the customisation options extend to futuristic gun attachments, camouflage, killstreaks and grenades. I won’t go into specifics about the multi-player as it is still very much COD multi-player and I know that people are much more knowledgeable than I on the subject. My one criticism of the multi-player is that Sledgehammer have not taken into account the maneuverability the EXO suit gives the players and (impressive) maps can be traversed in seconds (they are still the same size as other COD’s). This can lead to spawn camping and other unpleasant situations – but there is no denying that this portion of the game is fun and frantic. You know if you’ll enjoy the multi-player by now.
It’s not a perfect game, far from it. The biggest issue is with the EXO suit, it’s so glorious when you have this freedom at your fingertips – yet it is so frustrating that the game will dictate to you what abilities you can use and when. It seems against the ethos of the game – which revolves around player choice – that the game would do this. I would much rather have been recommended a load out but still have a choice to ignore it and make my own (but keep the ability you need to complete the level). This is the games biggest shortcoming.
Secondly the story is told incredibly bombastically! Underneath the bravado there is a real message about American interventionism, the perils of allowing private companies to supply armies and about the pitfalls in the congress system in American politics (and by extension fragmented and divisive party politics the world over). This story could have really hit home in a time were wars are becoming more unjust and people are becoming much more cynical of them. Unfortunately it is lost in a stream of (hugely impressive and inventive) set pieces. This is a video game and COD is certainly not the only one to be guilty of flimsy story-telling. This is still the best COD story since ‘Modern Warfare’ and I greatly enjoyed it – even though I didn’t care about the characters – and I won’t be too critical of a COD game being; frankly, a COD game.
Overall I have really enjoyed my first foray into ‘Call of Duty’ in six years. I had an incredible amount of fun and will still play the multi-player…see you online soldiers.
Have you played ‘Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’?
Did you enjoy it?
Tell us in the comments below!