Through the fact that last year's Call of Duty: Ghosts was met with very negative critical receptions, this year's newest chapter in the franchise, Advanced Warfare, has the big task to let the series recover quite a bit from Ghosts' negative impact.
Just like Black Ops 2 before, Advanced Warfare places its bets on the future. Various new gadgets and most notably the addition of an exo-suit along with Kevin Spacey playing a big part in the game's story are supposed to make this installment stick out with novelties as well as acting power behind its story.
But is this enough to make COD truely feel fresh again or is it simply masking the fact that it's once again just more of the same?
In 2054, Private Jack Mitchell (Troy Baker) of the United States Marine Corps participates in a battle against North Koreans in Seoul, along with his squadmates Private Will Irons (Paul Telfer) and Sergeant Cormack (Russell Richardson). In the midst of the battle, Will is killed in action, while Mitchell's left arm is severed from his shoulder, forcing him to be discharged from military service. After attending a funeral service for Will, Mitchell is offered to join the Atlas Corporation, the world's most powerful private military contractor, by CEO Jonathan Irons (Kevin Spacey), Will's father. As a reward, Mitchell is given an advanced prosthetic arm to replace his lost one. Fighting against terrorist groups becomes a new routine for Mitchell. Yet when he faces up against the constant threats of the increasingly more menacing KVA terrorist group, there might be way more behind their evil plans than it seems...
Mostly thanks to the decision to have you play as one single character throughout the game's entire campaign, Advanced Warfare's storyline is much less convoluted than the ones before it. Following one continuous thread makes events and relations to characters quite a bit more convincing this time around. But despite the fact that the omnipresent Troy Baker as Mitchell once again does a very good job with his mo-cap- and voice performance, he is easily outplayed by the true star of the campaign - Kevin Spacey.
Though cheesy and clichee dialogue still largely remains a glaring issue with COD games (and Advanced Warfare is no exception) Kevin Spacey's appearance in scenes really brings quite some excitement to them. Comparable to his role as Frank Underwood from the Netflix hit series House of Cards, his shameless self-assurance is hard not to be amazed by throughout the story.
|Despite the mostly silly story, the set-pieces and missions are pretty cool.|
Yet despite the star power on the forefront of the campaign, Advanced Warfare features an incredibly predictable story which also happens to be one of the most plot-hole-heavy ones in the franchise. Right from the start players will draw parallels to clichee action movie plot devices that all find their place in Advanced Warfare's storyline: a teammate sacrificing his life, the unavoidable graphic scene only there to add shock value, the traitor revealing himself, and of course a villain with supposedly good intentions though with a super-evil (and super-stupid) evil plan. The COD-storyline-checklist is obviously worked consequently through here, yet the story itself is enjoyable enough to endure. With several exciting set-piece moments, like car-chase shootouts ontop of a moving bus and a giant terrorist attack on the Golden Gate Bridge, throughout the roughly 6 hour campaign, Advanced Warfare's story is mostly standard been-there-done-that COD-fare in the end, yet it is also undoubtedly the best future-set COD story to date easily beating Black Ops 2's. Whereas Black Ops 2's future story was a boring unfocussed mess, Advanced Warfare's storyline feels much more streamlined and accessable even despite its numerous plot holes and clichees. Pre-mission cutscenes further string missions together way better and therefore make the entire campaign experience itself feel like a nice round up little Michael Bay-ish action story, even when the game's ending makes little to no sense and feels a bit anti-climactic.
|Serious "House of Cards"-flashbacks incoming!|
Due to the fact that a COD-game is far better divided up into its singleplayer and multiplayer component, this section of the review will mostly focus on the fundamental gameplay mechanics presented in the singleplayer campaign and how the campaign gameplay itself holds up.
Everything about the multiplayer gameplay is written in the according "multiplayer" section.
The Campaign - "Thinking differently...when allowed"
Exo-suits are the new main selling point in Advanced Warfare and though those robotic-frames around your body grant you cool abilities like double jumping through the air, super strength, magnetic gloves, etc. Advanced Warfare's campaign features some weird and quite illogical limitations regarding what specific exo-ability or tech your are allowed to use and when.
With that said, out of the 3 to 4 available different exo-suit classes you are pre-assigned to a specific class with each mission (which cannot be altered and is completely depending on what mission you play). Accordingly, your objectives during a mission are always tied to your exo-suit class' loadout. Therefore, a stealth mission during the campaign automatically has you be equipped with an exo-suit with a grappling hook and cloaking device. Sure, tying a specific exo-suit to a specific mission aims for the goal of completely and carefully devoting time to show you and let you test out each exo-ability one after the other before heading into multiplayer, yet this also causes some awkward moments. Those moments are encountered when you find yourself in a mission in which you sense the perfect opportunity to (for example) use the grappling hook to instantly climb onto a high ledge only to remember that the game didn't give you the grappling hook for this specific area/mission.
|God damnit! I need a grappling hook!|
Yet with this rather minor nagging aside, the new exo-suit abilities do a great job in changing how you perceive, fight and traverse through Advanced Warfare's levels. Handling your surroundings and staying flexible and mobile feels more intuitive than ever in Advanced Warfare. An open window above you is no longer only a potential sniping-location but also a door into the building that can be simply accessed by double jumping through it. Many obstacles and even simple aids like ladders seem to get completely rendered irrelevant through the simple double jump mechanic. Navigating maps therefore feels a lot like Advanced Warfare learned (and sort of copied) quite a lot from other new FPS IPs this year - most notably Titanfall. Yet this is actually a good thing though, since its these exo-abilities that make encounters in Advanced Warfare a good amount more different and refreshing compared to the standard COD shootouts that we are very much used to by now. Regarding new ways to cope with enemies, another notable addition or rather improvement are the multi-function-grenades that embody one of the most obvious futuristic designs in the game's offered weaponry. A single grenade can now be used as an EMP-, threat-detecting-, stun-, or auto-aiming frag grenade simply selectable through the push of a button. All the gadgets might come off a bit too much at first, seeing how you will likely even forget that you even have abilities like slowing down time, the game's futuristic tools will eventually grow on you.
However, while double jumping easily is the most frequently used ability in comparison to the rare situations the magnet gloves come in handy, Advanced Warfare additionally features an upgrade tree that gives you the opportunity to level up your exo-suit between missions with points gained from regular kills, headshots, grenade kills and intel hidden in each level.
One of the more obvious negatives however, is that Advanced Warfare is sadly launched in quite of a buggy state. Aside from especially teammate A.I. being quite significantly off at times, with teammates shooting at enemies that are only a couple of meters away and don't land a single bullet, there are also many graphical issues that make Advanced Warfare feel surprisingly glitchy. Lip-synching is almost always very off and in one instance, entire characters even seemed to clip out of existence during cutscenes. These hicups are hopefully dealt with through the oncoming waves of updates for the game.
|Hide & Seek no more!|
Core Mutiplayer Suite - "Call of Titanfall"
Multiplayer mainly is split up into two sections in Advanced Warfare: regular multiplayer and Exo-Survival.
Exo-Survival is mostly the same Survival mode first introduced by Modern Warfare 2. There, you and up to three other players are put up against waves of soldiers with ever increasing difficulty. Aside from the newly added exo-abilities and new enemy types, there is little in terms of novelty in Exo-Survival mode. Once again, you can level up your soldier or weapon and the activites demand you stay mobile and aware while fighting your way through the waves, which reset after wave 25 and from there on stack up to infinity. Survival is a great mode and as always features many and extensive opportunities for fun co-op teamwork with quite some maps to unlock and hours to spend perfecting each map despite the lack of truely new features in this mode. Nevertheless, the a bit more narratively driven Spec Ops mode from the Modern Warfare series would've fit nicely into Advanced Warfare's overall package alongside the Surival mode, yet it is sadly missing.
|Except for Exo-Upgrades, there isn't anything too new in Survival mode.|
Whereas the campaign nicely introduces you to the new and faster pace of Advanced Warfare's shootouts as well as the numerous futuristic gadgets, the exo-suits show their heaviest impact in standard PvP multiplayer. With that said, with a total of 10 modes across 12 maps Advanced Warfare's standard multiplayer really has gotten a very noticable injection of speed. Most accurately comparable to Titanfall's and Destiny's multiplayer component, enemies are now no fixed ground targets anymore but frequently jump, dash and zip across the air making them mostly tougher to take down. Once again, it shows that the double jump mechanic truely is the primary and most present new addition to this newest COD installment. Just like in the campaign, navigating the environment and simply getting from A to B is much faster this time around, which is only further underlined through the fact that maps are notably adjusted to the increased movement speed now (and far less unnecessarily big than in COD: Ghosts). Mechanically speaking though, the double jump also feels like the only true feature that manages to distinguish Advanced Warfare's multiplayer matches from the ones of other COD titles. Gunplay as well as weapons feel generally the same as before, other gamers once again favor the "lone wolf attitude" clearly over tactical teamwork, and your big arsenal of futuristic gadgets doesn't make things in matches any more different or exciting than the gadgetry from Black Ops 2's multiplayer.
|How did you get up th...AH!! NOT IN THE EYE!!|
Maps and Modes - "It's A Trap!"
As already noted, Advanced Warfare's maps are clearly designed for the game's new and faster gameplay direction. The most enjoyable and outstanding ones of the roster are clearly the map Terrace and Riot. While Terrace is set on the floors and rooftops of a greek nightclub, Riot is nicely designed for head-to-head approaches against other teams making things incredibly hectic and chaotic in a good way. What further makes a good bunch of Advanced Warfare's maps interesting is the addition of specific hazards spread throughout some of the maps that can be manually triggered like traps for other players to run into. Therefore, the map Ascend for example deploys turrets while Riot has special devices label targets on the opposing team. Also there are even maps like Bio-Lab and Recovery which open up new sections of the map over time.
Regarding new modes, Advanced Warfare is kept more subtle with less truely new additions in store this time around.
The mode sticking out the most though is probably the mode Uplink, which can be described as a more frantic American Football-esque version of Capture The Flag. There, you have to get a satellite and toss it or carry it to the marked goal. The kicker here is, that you can't fire your gun when you are holding the satellite, yet you can toss it at an attacking target to deal some damage.
The double jump mechanic and more fluent navigation in Advanced Warfare clearly benefits modes like Capture The Flag, Uplink or Kill Confirmed the most, in which a specific player has to be hunted (or you yourself are hunted), since running and quickly getting to the goal is the prime objective there.
|Get used to aiming upwards a lot .|
Ranking- and Levelling System - "Ironing Out The Old Ghosts"
Advanced Warfare's multiplayer luckily adresses COD: Ghosts' big balancing-issues head on by implementing Black Ops 2' efficient "Pick 10 System".
The rest of Advanced Warfare's ranking and levelling up system though generally once again follows the standard COD formula, in which each time you get a new gun you have to level it up before you get the according scopes and other attachements for it. What's draws another parallel to the first Black Ops game is Advanced Warfare's focus on cosmetic customization of your character. Through frequently encountered supply drops filled with weapons, gear and reinforcements, customization is quite fun in Advanced Warfare. Opening up a supply drop like a Kinder Surprise Egg always seems to provide something new for your character, even though customization is mostly limited to clothes, gear and weapons and doesn't go as deep and all-out like in COD: Black Ops. Customization is still nice and following and improving your individual specific playstyle is nicely encouraged in Advanced Warfare through little nuances like being able to trade in weapons that you don't want for XP or the fact that you can try out each weapon on a firing range before heading into a match with it.
|Pick 10 is a fairly good way to avoid balancing-issues.|
Looking a good bit better than its predecessor, Advanced Warfare definitely looks next-gen graphically. With a more confident and more precise vision of the future, Advanced Warfare's future cities, gadgets and overall art design feel much more appealing, interesting and less all-over-the-place than Black Ops 2's vision. Aside from your numerous gadgets and weapons, environments are richly detailed with sci-fi inspired technical touches everywhere, giving a nice vision to how our world might look like in the year 2045. And of course you can also experience every bit of it in the trademark 60FPS just like in any COD game.
Yet, we already mentioned that (at least compared to the previous COD games), Advanced Warfare launched in a notably buggy state. The glitches are far not as tragic as it might seem and are not enough to break the game for you but are nevertheless quite annoying. Especially the last-gen version of the game suffers the most from various technical problems varying from blurry textures often having to load in, to entire character models of teammates stutterly disappearing during a cutscene.
What's interesting about this, is that those problems seem to almost entirely be located in the game's campaign, since the multiplayer component seemingly and luckily runs without any problems of the sort.
While most gunshots still sound fairly underwhelming in comparison to COD's biggest rival (the Battlefield franchise), Advanced Warfare features quite more bass in its overal sound design. Explosions therefore sound more impressive and simply juicier than before, which definitely is a good thing for a game with so many of them taking place. The highly praised technique used by the sound department which allegedly has every explosion in the game sound differently, might be true but is honestly not really noticable during the game.
Voice acting is nothing special in Advanced Warfare. It's mostly the usual COD fare with yelling American grunts all over while some English and Russian accented characters are mixed in. Yet of course the performances of Troy Baker and Kevin Spacey steal the show here. Whereas Troy Baker simply does his standard and professional routine performance, Kevin Spacey somehow shows to have the talent to make even Advanced Warfare's stupidest lines and bits of dialogue sound professional and convincing...mostly. Though of course even this Academy Award winning actor can't fix Advanced Warfare's clicheed and plot-hole-heavy Swiss cheese of a script, he at least makes the campaign's cutscenes and story itself far more fun to experience than it actually has any right to be.
|The future looks beautiful...and grim...again.|
Summed up, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare definitely feels more like the first true next-gen than its predecessor from last year. Exo-suits and several other futuristic gadgets are quite fun, while especially the exo-suit ability to double jump freely through the environment makes navigating maps and approaching enemies in Advanced Warfare feel a good amount more different from previous COD titles. Yet sadly, in too many aspects it's apparent that the developers don't fully trust the exo-suits' potential to go full out and entirely alienate the COD fanbase with new ideas. With that said, while the game's campaign is undoubtedly fun to experience thanks to some cool levels and entertaining set-pieces, the story is still painfully predictable and weakly written COD-fare. You will see plot twists come at you from miles away and even despite the likes of Kevin Spacey and Troy Baker joining in, Advanced Warfare's story is just too stereotypical and plot-hole-heavy to truely stick out as a positive example for the franchise.
Yet, it's Advanced Warfare's multiplayer component which let's the new faster paced action truely peak. Enemies as well as yourself are much more flexible thanks to the exo-suit abilities, making killing airborne enemies a constant in matches. However, Advanced Warfare's meaningful main differences truely seem to almost entirely focus on the new ability to double jump, making most of the general gunplay, ranking system and entire gamefeel still be clearly identified as the ones of a standard COD game.
On top of that, the servicable yet sadly very unimpressive Exo-Survival mode with little to no additions to the way the well known Survival mode is played, serves as a prime testament that even in a COD game with exo-suits set in the future, the developers of Sledgehammer are still greatly clinging to the classic COD gameplay formula and only dare to make little steps into new directions.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is without any doubt a better game than last year's COD: Ghosts and a far better future-set COD game than the horrible Black Ops 2. Yet, given the fact that the game still for the most part sticks to its traditional COD roots with the same old strengths as well as problems still intact, the game sort of restrains itself from truely breaking free and daringly going all out into new directions. Changing the game to a faster pace through the exo-abilities is a nice addition and will do the trick for COD-fans for a while, but to truely make a lasting impression, Advanced Warfare should've taken even more risks.
Final Verdict: 6 out of 10
Big thanks goes out to Activision and Bite Global for providing us with a review copy of the game.
Status: Okay / Only for Fans
Big thanks goes out to Activision and Bite Global for providing us with a review copy of the game.