The first game in the Call of Duty series released all the way back in October 2003 for PC, and while regarded as a great game I don’t think anyone would have expected it to immediately become an annual franchise that would thrive for over a decade. But that’s exactly what happened. My first experience with the franchise was Finest Hour on Xbox, and I wouldn’t play another one until Modern Warfare on PS3. By the time I played Modern Warfare, the sequel had already released. As such, I didn’t play more than one or two games of Modern Warfare online; I stuck to the campaign, which I enjoyed quite a bit. But I never got wrapped up in the Call of Duty craze, and until this year I haven’t played any other Call of Duty game.
So the take away from that is that this review is being written by someone who isn’t really a fan of the franchise (I don’t have anything against it, and the ones I played prior I really enjoyed) and a total noob at COD multiplayer. It was actually another Activision title, Destiny, that revived my interest in the first person shooter genre after I burned out on it.
There were a number of things about Advanced Warfare that caught my eye as an outsider to the franchise. The near future setting with the exo-suit and better mobility being a key draw. Another key component was the fact that it appeared Sledgehammer Games was doing something different to freshen the series up. I’m a Kevin Spacey fan, and it looked as if his performance was going to be really good. In short, I was excited for the single player campaign and couldn’t have cared less about the multiplayer because its never seemed appealing to me.
Now that I’ve spent just about a week with the game and have completed the campaign and played multiplayer, I can finally write this review. It really wasn’t a surprise to me that I enjoyed the campaign a great deal; I expected that going in. What did surprise me though is that, God help me, I enjoy the multiplayer in a Call of Duty game. I’ll have more to say about that in a bit. For now, it’s campaign time.
As expected, the story of Advanced Warfare was predictable. There wasn’t anything plot wise that you don’t see coming, but that’s okay. Call of Duty is an over-the-top action blockbuster, not a well written thriller that keeps you guessing. Just because it’s predictable doesn’t mean it isn’t any good though, because I actually found the story to be pretty good for what it is. With the exception of the first mission, which was more of a tutorial and set up than anything else, every mission feels like you’re progressing in the story and not just doing something for the sake of padding time.
The exo-suit is a nice addition to the COD formula. The added mobility feels great, and the thoughts that some folks had about it being like Titanfall was unfounded. It’s just the right amount of added mobility without being too fast or too much. You can double jump, depending on the suit and the situation, but it isn’t a super jump. You can also boost forward while in jumping, and you can boost backwards and left and right, which really helps to be able to dodge enemy fire and especially grenades. There are other abilities suits have (depending on the suit) which include a cloak, a shield, extra health, and so on.
As you progress through the campaign, you’ll have four sets of challenges: kill enemies, get headshots, kills with grenades, and collect intel. Progressing through these challenges award you upgrade points, which you can use to upgrade your character in the single player (and it’ll carry over to a new game as well). These upgrades do stuff like give you more armor, extra grenades, faster reloads, more battery life, etc. There’s no skill tree there; you’re not going to upgrade one thing at the expense of something else. Complete all of the challenges and you’ll be able to fully upgrade your character (which will certainly help during a Veteran playthrough).
On the subject of grenades, I really like them in this game. You have two different types of grenades; tactical and combat. Grenades within the tactical group include Threat (enemies appear red on your screen and you can see them through walls), EMP (perfect against Drones and AST), and Flash. Combat grenades include the standard Frag, a contact grenade, and the Smart grenade (you throw this one and it’ll fly itself to a nearby target, or you even try and guard it by pointing in a direction after throwing it). I pretty much only used the Smart grenade and the Threat grenade. Those are great grenades that you want to make sure you hit up ammo crates to replenish because they really are invaluable.
Since this is a first person shooter, you’re going to spend a lot of time shooting people and objects. As such, the game has to be competent at its main mechanic, otherwise its going to fall apart. As you would probably expect, the shooting in Advanced Warfare feels really good. And also sounds pretty good. There’s a variety of weapons and iron sights, and some are certainly better than others based on your preference (I’m not fan of iron sights so much, so I tend to avoid them as much as possible). Give me an assault rifle with a red dot sight and I’m happy. You’ll always know when you’re hitting your target as a X will appear in your reticule as you hit your target or a doubled X if you hit a headshot.
The pacing in Advanced Warfare is really good, and Sledgehammer breaks up the constant shooting with some exciting changes. There’s a strong stealth mission, a mission where you’ll be operating a sniper drone, and a few vehicle missions that are exciting. And there’s a few times where you’ll get to climb into a big Goliath suit and totally wreck some stuff. You’re constantly being funneled into the next exciting segment. One of those segments involves crossing a highway that might as well be a harder version of Frogger’s opening level.
In the lead up to the game’s release, a lot had been said about the cinematic nature of the game. The motion capture in the game is great, and yes Kevin Spacey is Kevin Spacey in the game. The voice acting throughout is strong, and Spacey in particular did a really good job. The visuals are really good too, and I do believe Sledgehammer hit their goal of being cinematic (without sacrificing framerate to achieve a “filmic” look and feel). It was easy to get sucked into the campaign because of the performances of the actors involved and the visuals.
The campaign isn’t terribly long, but it isn’t as short as some of these games have been. There are 15 missions and playing on the default difficulty it took me around seven hours to complete it. So it’s very much a game you can beat in a day and if you don’t care about the multiplayer then you can rent it, complete it, and be done with it. However, as I found all of the missions to be enjoyable, I am playing through it again currently on Veteran difficulty. And I’m actually taking the time this time around to explore a little bit and try and find all the intel.
And now we move on to the biggest draw of Call of Duty for most folks, the multiplayer.
I’ve seen my brother play a lot of Call of Duty multiplayer over the years (he buys every COD for PC, and this year he bought Advanced Warfare for PS4), and I’ve watched a lot of streams of people playing the multiplayer (both regular games and the MLG tournament games). In watching all of it over the years, I could never figure out the appeal. Did it look fun? Sure, but not to the hysteria that the game generates each year. As I watched, I always thought “this just seems random luck based and not skill based.” And now that I’ve played more than just a handful of games, I still kind of feel that way.
It seems like most of the time I die it’s because I’m shot and the back and you have no time to react to that. There’s always someone rounding a corner after I run past it, or popping out of a door, or popping up at just the right time from the roof to shoot me in the back. One game, I died four times literally as soon as I spawned. I didn’t even have time to move more than two steps before I was dropped. Is it a reflection of a lack of skill to get shot in the back or as you spawn, or just bad luck? I say just bad luck.
But that’s the Call of Duty way, and I understand that. It’s a large part of its success. You can do great in one game, where you’re the one who always happens to come upon an enemy from behind, and you can do horrible in the next one. The nature of game is largely built around the randomness and luck based encounters with a fast paced time to kill, and of course the scorestreaks for when you’re doing well that rewards you with more XP or free and easy kills. I get it, and the system isn’t flawed because everyone is largely on equal footing.
As a level one noob in my first game, I was put in a game with guys who were already in the 30s and 40s (and of course those who were lower). Even with a starting AK with iron sights, I was able to have a 2.33 KD (that was a bit of anomaly for me). Yes, as you level up you’ll unlock new weapons, modifiers, perks, abilities, and scorestreaks. But the starting weapons of a noob will still down a high ranked player very fast, so in that way the game is more balanced than you might think.
There has been some definite lag issues since launch, and maybe some hit detection issues (although it could just be lag I suppose). There are times when you think you should have the kill, but you get killed instead, and when you watch the killcam it’s like you never even hit the guy (despite getting the X on your screen to indicate hits). Sledgehammer has a patch coming out that is suppose to fix some issues with the multiplayer, including the lag, so we’ll see how it improves going forward. I do have a good Internet connection, so the lag issues I’ve run across certainly haven’t been too widespread or game breaking, but there are those who have reported severe problems trying to play. Your mileage may vary until the patch comes out I suppose.
Of course the multiplayer is all centered around the grind. The never ending quest to unlock everything; weapons, perks, abilities, modifiers, scorestreaks, armor, camo, emblems, calling cards, etc. There are a TON of challenges to complete that will unlock new stuff, a lot of it cosmetic. There’s also a ton of modes and playlists, including the hardcore playlist and a classic playlist for those who want to play without the exo-suit stuff (I love the exo-suit and extra mobility, so that playlist isn’t for me).
As you play, you’ll occasionally receive or earn Supply Drops, which give out a variety of rewards like upgraded weapons, boosters, or armor (including armor that has a time limit on it before it expires). A lot of this stuff you can redeem for XP, so if you get something in a Supply Drop that you don’t care for, you can get a 1000 or so XP for it to make it not be totally worthless. Sledgehammer even brought back the Pick 10 system and improved it by making it Pick 13, allowing you customize your loadout exactly how you want with even more options. Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer is all about customization.
For those who don’t want to jump head first into online multiplayer, you have to two options. You can play against bots, or you can play the Combat Readiness training program. That’s a mixture of online players and bots, but it keeps you anonymous and hands out scorestreaks without having to earn them. It’s designed to ease those who may be uncomfortable into playing Call of Duty multiplayer. I say just jump in headfirst. If you go 2-12, who really cares? Play the game to have fun, and don’t worry about what everyone else thinks. Mute them if you need to.
It’s worth pointing out that Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer does operate at a solid and smooth 60fps. And I do have to admit that the multiplayer, despite seeming luck based to a large degree, is actually a lot of fun. I credit a lot of that to the quality shooting, good map design, and ultimately the fast paced nature of it (I love not having to wait to respawn, even if I end up dying immediately after spawning from time to time).
In addition to the standard competitive modes, Advanced Warfare also features a cooperative horde mode for up to four players. You can even play it solo. I love the horde mode in games, it’s one of my favorites in large part because I prefer co-op to competitive. In Advanced Warfare it’s called Exo Survival, and your objective is to survive as long as possible. If you complete 25 waves, you’ll “flip” the map, which just means you begin with more difficult enemies. Complete another 25 waves and you’ll “Flip Flop,” you know like in the Price is Right. There’s a trophy for both flipping a map and flip flopping it.
In Exo Survival you’ll pick between one of three Exo suits, each with different weapons, score streaks, abilities, and movement speeds. There’s a heavy one that moves slower but takes more damage, a light one that moves fast but can’t take as much damage, and a slightly more balanced specialist one that has the worst starting weapons (sniper rifles in a horde mode isn’t exactly the best). As you complete waves, which can be either kill all the enemies or objective based, you’ll earn upgrade points that you can spend on your exo suit or weapons. You can upgrade it so that your weapons do more damage and your armor can take more damage, and you definitely want to max out both of those as soon as you can..
As you play, support drops will land. These can contain a scorestreak or perks that you get to keep throughout the mode. You definitely want the perks; which can allow you to move faster, and use a weapon outside of your class (which means the heavy suit can use an assault rifle, which is great), in addition to other perks. You always want to know where to go to upgrade your suit or gun, and get the supply drops as they are of the upmost importance (and if you’re playing with others, don’t hog them all up).
The action in Exo Survival is, as you’d expect, fast paced, and honestly it has some difficulty to it. You won’t die anywhere near as fast as you do in the campaign or the competitive multiplayer, although a lot of it does have to do with which suit you’re wearing (and you can change it when you want), but you can certainly get overwhelmed quickly. If you’re playing with others, you’ll have about 25 seconds if someone goes down to revive them. If you don’t make it in time, they’ll bleed out and won’t be able to return to the game until the round is completed. If you’re playing solo, you’ll get revived once, but after that when you die it’s game over.
All in all, Exo Survival is a fun and challenging horde mode. Whether you’re playing it solo, with a friend, or online with three random strangers, you can spend a lot of time in a game of Exo Survival and have a lot of tense fun in the process.
I can’t speak to how Advanced Warfare stands up to previous entries in the series with the exception of Modern Warfare, but as someone who hasn’t been into these games in the past and had interest caught because of what Sledgehammer was showing off, I can say that I wasn’t disappointed. I enjoyed the story Modern Warfare told, and I think Advanced Warfare has a better campaign and one that I want to play again. The visuals, the audio, the pacing of the story, and the gunplay itself all come together to create a really engaging campaign. Combine that with a frantic, fast paced and exciting multiplayer modes (competitive and cooperative) and you have a great game.
The competitive multiplayer has some flaws, for me personally, but it also is a lot of fun and hast that grindy and addictive “eh, one more match” quality to it that can be a big time sink. It’s where the vast majority of the replay value comes from, and I know there are plenty of people who will play nothing but the multiplayer and completely ignore the campaign. Yes, the multiplayer is fun, but the campaign should not be overlooked or ignored. A fun horde mode rounds out a great package.
In looking around and hearing what fans are saying, it seems the general consensus is that Advanced Warfare is the best Call of Duty in years. I can’t say that, but as an outsider to the series since Modern Warfare, I can say that Advanced Warfare hooked me and if nothing else I’m way more interested in the series going forward. Treyarch is up next, and the rumor is that it could be World War 2 based (a sequel to World at War at that). If that’s the case, I think that’s smart. There’s no sense in stepping on Advanced Warfare’s toes with continued progression to the future, so a return to the old World War 2 setting might almost feel new again. Whatever they end up making, Sledgehammer has certainly set the bar high with their first full Call of Duty outing.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare gets a four out of five: GREAT.
* A retail copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.