Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox One
Another year, another Call of Duty. It’s easy to grow tired of a series which often seems like a record stuck on repeat, but the latest instalment, Advanced Warfare, does its best to remedy that. It’s advanced in every sense of the word; an inspired decision to set it forty years in the future allows it to refresh its plot, environments, and gameplay, while the technology of new consoles enables remarkable graphical quality. It still feels a little too predictable and a little too similar to previous games in the series, but it’s a surprising breath of fresh air in a series that has grown increasingly stale.
Set in the year 2054, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare follows the story of Jack Mitchell, a former marine recruited into the world’s largest private military contractor, Atlas Corporation. Mitchell is the kind of flavourless soldier we’ve come to expect from the series, and the plot, which pits Atlas against an anti-technology terrorist organisation called the KVA, contains all the usual twists, turns, and betrayals.
Although the campaign is extremely short, it actually does a decent job of moving things along in an exciting manner. There’s plenty of pulse-pounding action and the setpieces are some of the best that gaming has to offer; you’ll hop from Seoul to Lagos to San Francisco, Bangkok to Antarctica, and each one has something special to offer. Most of the characters are surprisingly well-rounded; headed by Kevin Spacey, providing his likeness and performance to Atlas CEO Jonathan Irons, the cast does a good job of bringing them to life.
Unfortunately, the narrative is often uneven. Mitchell is the biggest problem; though he talks in cutscenes, he is entirely silent whenever you’re looking through his eyes. The result is that the story feels fragmented and fails to flow properly. Furthermore, the plot is too predictable. It’s no surprise when things start going south, because relying so heavily on a single private corporation for the world’s defence and infrastructure is an understandably bad idea. All of this regrettably prevents the campaign from really shining for the five or six hours it will keep you occupied.
If you’ve played any previous Call of Duty game, the gameplay of Advanced Warfare will feel familiar. You’ll tote a variety of guns through a variety of locations, merrily shooting your way through a plethora of faceless enemies. The real joy, however, comes from all the new gadgets at your disposal. Mitchell is equipped with a military exoskeleton which has a host of great functions, such as a grapple gun, magnetic gloves for climbing walls, and a boost jump that will take you fifteen feet into the air.
It doesn’t stop there, though. No expense has been spared to give you an arsenal of futuristic weapons, including an assortment of useful grenades. Some will home in on enemies, others are equipped with EMP charges, and some will highlight enemy heat signatures so you can shoot them through walls. You can deploy mute charges to make your attacks silent, or activate stealth mode to turn yourself invisible for a short time. The range of tools at your disposal is impressive and really does make the combat feel “advanced”.
These new technologies make battlefields truly three-dimensional, allowing you to move around freely and approach situations in a variety of ways. The campaign takes advantage of this, throwing you into situations which require the full breadth of your abilities. Stealth and action are each given plenty of attention, and the variation in mission styles keeps things from ever getting tedious. The inclusion of vehicle sections – such as piloting a fighter jet or a hover tank – also helps to keep things interesting, and while these aren’t as refined as the rest of the gameplay, they still make an engaging sideshow.
When you’re finished with the campaign – which really won’t take you too long – there’s plenty of multiplayer content to take a look at. Before you even get playing, the game offers you the chance to customise your character, including their gender, appearance and loadout. The choices here are numerous, and are far greater than simply picking your primary and secondary weapons. You can pick your grenade types, exoskeleton abilities, and what bonuses you’ll get for achieving killstreaks. This allows you to choose how you want to play before you even step foot on the battlefield.
Once you’ve finally got your kitbag sorted, there are a multitude of game modes to choose from. There are some old classics like Free-for-fall, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag, and some newer ones like Momentum, where two teams do battle over a series of capture-points. The multiplayer maps are generally well designed, each one coming with its own particular challenges and taking advantage of new exoskeleton abilities.
The multiplayer is the real highlight of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and it adds many hours of fun to the game. It’s more accessible thanks to the new Combat Readiness Program, a mode which allows you to practice on bots and learn the new maps without worrying about more experienced players. Generally speaking, the multiplayer feels better balanced and less hostile to newcomers, evened out thanks to the customisation and exo-suit abilities. Some modes inevitably play better on certain maps than others, but on the whole it’s an excellently designed system.
There’s also a co-operative mode called Exo Survival, which sees one to four players fighting off waves of enemies. It’s not particularly inspired, especially when compared to the co-op mode of another short game like Portal 2. You’ll battle your way through hordes of foes, the difficulty increasing with each round – but there’s really not much more to it. It’s a challenge for the sake of a challenge, and only the most hardcore completionists will be desperate to get to the end of it.
Of course, the gameplay is only one element that has been given a makeover in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. The game’s presentation is superb, the graphical detailing exquisite. If you ever wanted to get up close to Kevin Spacey but were being stopped by that pesky restraining order, look no further. Advanced Warfare offers you the chance to study every last bit of him with unprecedented fidelity, and the other characters are just as accurately rendered. Similarly, the environments are gorgeous and no expense has been spared in faithfully bringing them to the screen. New Baghdad might be a fiction, but the game almost makes it seem like a reality.
There are a few problems in Advanced Warfare, but they’re rarely bad enough to kill your enjoyment of it. For example, NPCs will happily push you out of the way to walk their designated paths; despite playing as a Marine wearing a military exoskeleton, you can get shoved out of the way by a businesswoman talking on the phone. One time, a squadmate even knocked us off a skyscraper mid-mission, sending us hurtling to our death. It’s off-putting when these kinds of thing happen, but never game-breaking.
The biggest problem, however, is this: that despite all its advancement, and despite all of the shiny new bells and whistles, everything that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare does feels like it’s been done before. Although it does breathe new life into an increasingly stale formula, it doesn’t achieve anything radical or revolutionary. There are times when it takes bold steps in the right direction but they’re never quite enough. For example, in one level you are taken prisoner and made to walk through an internment camp. Try to pause or study your surroundings and the guard will hit you, shouting to keep moving and keep your eyes forwards. It’s actually one of the highlights of the game, but powerful moments such as these, which could lift it to greater heights, are few and far between.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is a great action game, full of high tension moments and brilliant gameplay. It refreshes the old formula sufficiently to keep it interesting – but doesn’t do enough to become something special in its own right. It’s a lot of fun to play, but with a short campaign, uneven story, and by playing things a little too safe, it’s not quite as advanced as it claims to be.