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Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review

by William Schwartz

As a series, Call of Duty has focused on minor iterations to its gameplay formula to keep players coming back for each yearly release.  The core first person, modern military shooting of Call of Duty has essentially been untouched since Modern Warfare 2, however.  Map design and stories have varied.  Perks, power-ups, weapons, and game settings have too seen changes from year to year — The Call of Duty series and its stable of development teams have all had their turn to tweak this familiar formula. While the aforementioned features and changes have been marketed as major deviations in previous years, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the most drastic step in a new direction for the franchise.

It’s a fine line to walk for Sledgehammer Games, the developers tapped to make their first full fledged Call of Duty title after helping in the development effort in the 2011 release of Modern Warfare 3.   Sledgehammer is introducing completely new mechanics to the gameplay of Call of Duty by empowering players with more mobility, introducing the Exosuit.  It changes the industry’s most popular online shooter in significant, sometimes uncomfortable ways, while attempting to retain the core feel of the series.  They’re largely successful in this.  Multiplayer in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the thing that many will spend countless hours on in this year and the next, feels both familiar and entirely new, bringing forth both major and minor changes to the formula.   Even if the story and wave-based cooperative modes feel more derivative of previous Call of Duty games.

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There have been plenty of memorable Call of Duty storylines over the years.  Some spanning through multiple games in the now four different universes.  There’s the Modern Warfare storyline, Black Ops, Ghosts, and now Advanced Warfare games, all of which have used a pretty standard formula to push players through bombastic near-future-war single player campaigns.  Advanced Warfare isn’t much different than the previous.  It’s a cinematic shooter experience that acts as a showcase for the cool technology that underpins the gameplay.  Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare isn’t exactly uncharted territory when it comes to setting, story, or delivery.

Atlus Corporation, a PMC led by Jonathan Irons (Kevin Spacey) is on the cutting edge of military technology.  The player character, under the employ of Atlus, is introduced to all of this new tech throughout the course of the twisting and turning 8-10 hour campaign. Single player feels most similar to the more recent Call of Duty games, as its structure is analogous to other recent releases in the series.   Shooting sequences peppered in with set piece moments that usually focus on some aspect of the new technology to be showcased, and a few vehicle sequences to boot.  There’s not much that feels entirely new in Advanced Warfare’s campaign, even if there’s a shiny new skin on it all.  It follows a fairly rigid formula, the solitary hero soldier taking on the evil figurehead.  If you were hoping that Sledgehammer returned Call of Duty to the series’ heyday roots of jumping in and out of many facets of a much larger battle, you’ll be disappointed here.  Advanced Warfare is as straight a line as any story in the series, despite some very easy to spot sweeping curves. It’s a campaign that is chocked-full of moments that definitely feel like you’ve been there and done that at some point,  if you’ve been playing these games over the years.

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On new gen consoles, and presumably PC, Advanced Warfare’s single player campaign is a fantastic looking game.  Cutscenes which move the story along are exceptionally well done, with actors that look pretty close to the real thing.  This goes double for Spacey’s character, who looks unbelievably life-like on screen.  There’s not much to gripe at with Advanced Warfare’s campaign.  It’s beautiful and serviceable, and while it’s not breaking any new ground in story telling or gameplay ideas, it does introduce you to the Exo-suit, which is the literal game changer for Advanced Warfare. The suit makes the player feel more agile, offering new core dashing and jumping movements, but the story never really lets you get loose in it, only teases of what’s to come in other modes.

Players can get a good feel for these new gameplay mechanics in Survival Mode though — It’s a cooperative wave-based mode that is very similar to the one found in Modern Warfare 3.  The major difference is the exo-suit abilities that must be managed, along with fighting against enemies that have similar jet-packing and movement abilities themselves.  For the uninitiated, Survival mode tasks players with staying alive through waves of enemies, then purchasing upgrades and abilities after each wave to fortify defenses.

1-4 players can tackle this mode, and there’s a couple of different variations of the exo-suit on offer. A light, heavy, and specialist exo varies the loadout in small ways, allowing players to be more agile or tanky. Exo Survival Co-op is not the best cooperative mode that Call of Duty offers.  Zombies from Treyarch still holds that crown, and Infinity Ward’s efforts in the Extinction Mode from 2013’s Call of Duty: Ghosts was also pretty impressive.  Survival feels more bare bones than either of the other story based cooperative modes, but it’s certainly both challenging, and rewarding for those who can last longest.  Sledgehammer has added some secrets to unlock in the mode, but they are reserved for those who can hold out the longest on specific maps.  Of the three pillars of Advanced Warfare, Exo Survival feels the most uninspired.  Despite adding Exo abilities into the mode, not much has been added to this since 2011.

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Most people who buy Call of Duty come for the competitive multiplayer though, and this is where Advanced Warfare really feels like a brand new game. Since every player starts out with an exosuit by default, and have the ability to customize that suit from the outset; the gameplay in Advanced Warfare Multiplayer, its maps, and modes have changed a lot. It just feels like an entirely new experience, with a very familiar rock-solid core shooting element. The exosuits give players core jumping and dashing abilities, that run on a battery. Run, jump, slide and strafe to your heart’s content, or your battery drained. You can also use power-ups within the exosuit which give you super abilities, chosen when creating an Operator load-out.  These can make your suit do a number auxiliary abilities, like cloaking, health and shield buffs, faster movement speed and a few others.

All this running and jumping in the exosuit could easily have been just a gimmick, but it’s not.  It feels wonderful in multiplayer, and adds a new dimension to the gameplay.  Map design and these new gameplay features add a vertical element to every level, and enemies can literally come from anywhere. While map design is done in familiar fashion that pushes players into choke points on many levels, the days of corner camping those lanes are probably numbered. There are just too many angles to cover. Too many ways for players to flank. One on one encounters can play out in amazing fashion with the ability to boost, jump, and strafe around the map. For the most part, players are always moving in Advanced Warfare multiplayer.  And why not?  Running around in this power suit is a blast, maps have tons of traversal elements and beckon you to do so.  This game is undoubtedly meant to be played at a faster pace than previous titles in the series. After you adjust to this new pace, and exactly how movement has changed in Advanced Warfare, things start to slow down though. It starts to feel more like previous Call of Duty games, the solid 60fps core shooting intact, and many familiar game modes play nicely with the new features.

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For the most part, it’s familiar territory when it comes to multiplayer game modes in Advanced Warfare.  Most of the popular modes that have been shipping with each Call of Duty game are here, and Advanced Warfare certainly isn’t lacking for variety when you want to venture off the path of  the popular modes like  Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy, or Kill Confirmed.  Hardpoint returns, along with a new mode called Uplink, which has players playing a sport-like affair where a Satellite Drone must be scored in an Uplink Station.   There’s an Infected Mode.  And also a Ranked Playlist for more serious competition.  A Classic Playlist offers all the new maps without the exosuit movement abilities, on the off-chance that change just isn’t your thing.    That won’t likely be the case though as it really doesn’t take long to get the hang of the exosuit.  These new maps were obviously tailored for these new abilities that it offers, and some of the modes, like Kill Confirmed, feel like natural fits for the exosuit movements.  Not all of the modes fit well with the exosuit though.  Some can get extremely frantic with so much movement going on, but for the most part, it’s a great fit when it comes to the modes and their melding with the new movement features.

Like other Call of Duty games, Advanced Warfare allows the player to build custom loadouts for their character, known as an Operator Loadout.  Players have choices in how to customize their Exo-abilities, Traditional Perks, Primary and Secondary Weapons, Attachments, and Scorestreaks.  Building off of the Black Ops 2 system of picking any 10 items, Advanced Warfare introduces Pick 13.  It’s a give and take system, that allows you to customize to your heart’s content, knowing that you’ll have to give up some of one thing for more of another.  Just about any combination is possible though.  Want more attachments and less perks?  You can do that.  Or you can go heavy on perks and leave your secondary weapon behind.  Any number of these combinations is a possibility.  This level of customization spills over into the all-important series defining Scorestreaks.  Where previous games allowed for players to pick and choose among rewards for racking up points without dying, these are also now fully customizable.  The reward structure is similar to previous years, earn kills, assists, or points, and deploy powerful weapons on the battlefield.  Now however, their effects vary by how many points you are willing to spend/earn to make them more or less powerful.  Altogether it’s an interesting system that allows for a lot of tinkering to find that perfect class to fit your playstyle.  And while it’s not wholly original, it builds off of one of the better systems introduced to Call of Duty multiplayer in recent years.

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While the Exosuit gameplay changes are the big star of the show in Advanced Warfare multiplayer, there’s been a lot added to the back-end of this mode in terms of character customization and progression.  Advanced Warfare has the most fully fleshed out system of character customization that the series has ever seen.  Even from the get-go, there are a ton of ways to differentiate your character from the legions of other Call of Duty players out there.  You can customize the appearance of your person, and the accessories and items that you are wearing as well.  That idea isn’t exactly new.  Call of Duty: Ghosts offered a similar system, and rewarded players with unique gear for completing challenges or competing in Clan War matches.   But this system has gone to whole other level in Advanced Warfare.  Playing multiplayer gives you the opportunity to earn loot, a system that rewards players as they grind from level to level with supply drops filled with weapons, power-ups, and cosmetic options.

It’s almost as important as the new movement abilities, this loot system in Advanced Warfare.  Where previous games could get stale in progression, offering players these customization rewards keeps things interesting.  The rewards are both aesthetic and functional.  Some will simply be pieces of armor or clothing for your character to don, making him/her look different than other soldiers on the battlefield.  While others are special rare versions of weapons, with attribute boosts attached to them.  If you’re the type of player that finds a weapon and sticks to it, you’ll be hard pressed to pass up the opportunity to at least try these custom items and see if they suit your playstyle.

Putting it all together, Advanced Warfare’s competitive multiplayer suite feels like the most complete and robust package in years.  It’s got an answer for everything.  Tired of the same old corner camping gameplay?  The exosuit has you covered.  Did banging through level after level of prestige feel boring and monotonous?  The new loot system and rare item drops give you something interesting to work towards.  But none of that stuff matters piece by piece, it’s the way it all fits together to make the most engaging, and best playing Call of Duty game in years.

The Verdict

For as well as all the changes made in Advanced Warfare adapt to the core structure of Call of Duty, it makes you wonder why it’s taken this long to see this type of innovation within the series.  Whether Activision just didn’t want to kill their golden goose, or whether they just hadn’t come up with any ideas, it’s clear that Call of Duty isn’t going anywhere.  All the new additions, the Loot System, Pick 13, and Exosuit give Call of Duty multiplayer a much needed shot in the arm, layering on multiple reasons to keep playing, what is probably the best all around package that the series has ever delivered on the competitive multiplayer front.  While the campaign has its moments, with Spacey being a standout, there just aren’t as many new ideas brought forth on that part of the game to get excited about.  The good news is, the campaign is about 8 hours long, where multiplayer could keep you entertained for 80.

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Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

  • Available On: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Xbox 360, PS3
  • Published By: Activision
  • Developed By: Sledgehammer Games
  • Genre: Shooter
  • US Release Date: November 3rd, 2014
  • Reviewed On: Xbox One
  • Quote: "Advanced Warfare puts together the most compelling competitive online multiplayer package the series has seen in years. The same can't be said for campaign or co-op, but does it really matter?"
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