Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
The above may sound like a criticism of the game but it is not, community aside the underpinning mechanics of this game have been solid and stable for some time, there are some things that this series has done well for some time. The bombastic scripted moments really generate a “woah” feeling and the guns and shooting mechanic have always felt weighty and seldom if ever under powered (though there are many fan complaints about over powered guns causing problems like “Shotgun rolling”). Most importantly their multiplayer became a refined science of Pavlovian conditioning with experience rewards and kill streak bonuses combining in just the right proportion to keep you interested in the game alongside just enough gameplay modes to keep the games tight and fast without a bunch of time waiting for players.
Sledgehammer Games turned this around, a fairly new studio founded in 2009 as an understudy to the recently gutted (due to internal revolt) Infinity Ward they operated as a backup studio to Infinity Ward’s lead with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was their first chance to shine and shine they have! First off the bat, the Call of Duty series has until now been grounded either in historical or contemporary settings (the innovation that Infinity Ward brought to the table with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare). In the Modern Warfare game the furthest in to the future we’d extend was material we would see as working prototypes of the Future Soldier program, in Advanced Warfare Sledgehammer have shifted the gameplay, by adding speculative technologies like airships, drop pods, exosuits, and more they have created a world that allows for an entire new range of game play options. These are all things that based on current Future Soldier and DARPA projects could be something viable in a near future scenario.
This time though, and perhaps it was by virtue of the series being one of the most financially successful in the industry, we had a ton of big names associated with the series in the game industry with the current “it” actor Troy Baker staring as your virtual stand in Jack Mitchell. Jack is not really explored as a character during the combat but fleshed out during cut scenes. Using the “Silent Protagonist” structure popularized by games like Half Life 2 where lots of people talk around you and seem to act as if you have some kind of emotional depth but you are a silent figure where you project your emotions on to this tabula rasa. During cut scenes though it’s a different story, every character is in fact acted exceptionally well. There is a underplayed control that lends these characters a believably (for the most part but more on that in a second). Jack is on his first deployment side his apparent childhood friend Will (who went through boot with him). It’s implied they’ve been friends for ages but the length is never really laid out explicitly or really mattered that much. You go through a rough landing and a tough battle, it ends with Will sacrificing himself to complete the mission.
Jack survives but at the cost of his arm, you are given a rather intense scene ending in an operation that saves Jack’s life before cutting to the end of a funeral for Will. You can “pay your respects” in an almost ridiculous scene (one that Conan O’Brien made rather appropriate fun of) by holding down a button. This is where modern video games fall apart. In their quest to create interactivity in even the most trivial of moments it can at times “gamify” material in a way that becomes distracting. This scene though serves to introduce us to the greatest Bond Villain in video game history Kevin Spacey’s Jeremy Irons. Father of Will and also (conveniently) CEO of one of the biggest PMCs in the world Atlas Corporation he offers Jack a chance to continue to keep up the good fight with a free prosthetic and a job at Atlas.
Atlas’ first few missions are pretty straight forward, you rescue hostages and attempt to stop a evil terrorist menace intent on the vague agenda of “destroying technology”. There are some great unique gameplay moments that involve Mitchell controlling drones and even in the inevitable “oh crap” moment where we have our typical Call of Duty moment (in this case a nuclear facility going critical) it actually feels believable and enjoyable and it’s this nuclear explosion that unleashes the full fury of Spacey being well Spacey.
Kevin Spacey is a talented actor, he is probably (when given the opportunity) one of the best actors in Hollywood. He is able to do understated and nuanced delivery for example his portrayal of GERTY in the Duncan Jones helmed Moon but in this case they must have directed him to unleash his inner monster because he was in full scenery chewing over the top bombastic mode during pretty much any scene he was a part of. This was a weird juxtaposition against the performances of the other actors all captured with full mocap and really getting to the point where these performances are hard to distinguish from the real life thing.
Playing on Hardened mode it was a challenge but never impossible, the gameplay was solid and the addition of your exosuits created a mobility and series of tactical options that simply did not exist before. In short, this is the most fun I’ve had with a Call of Duty game in years. The single player game unlocked a series of “Supply drops” these are “packs” of upgrades, equipment and customization options available in the multi-player game. The multi-player game includes a series of pre-made load outs as well as the ability to create your own classes. Character customization includes (for the first time) female combatants which is nice since I know a few women who enjoy playing this game and one of the protagonists of the story was a female. As you progress you unlock access to different weapons and attachments as well as cosmetic gear to customize your soldier and your player card.
The multi-player is a very different experience from the past iterations with mobility featuring far more prominently than it ever has before. Vertical as well as horizontal movement comes in to play and the sheer variety of tactical options can be overwhelming. At times I found the play itself difficult with combatants popping out of nowhere and at times being visually difficult to make out against the backgrounds but I think this is more a reflection of my skills as opposed to the gameplay, the community itself was not particularly toxic (yet) and the options ranging from team and lone wolf combat scenarios to capture point gameplay options gives you a lot of different types of games to sink your teeth in to. All in all, it’s a fun game with a variety for every level of player and sets up an interesting world for future installments.
- Solid shooting and gameplay mechanics
- Good variety in multi-player options for the casual through to the hardcore
- Interesting and believable future tech design
- Female protagonists in combat roles
- One of the most compelling stories in the series to date
- Amazing casting and acting
- Dependent on a “Silent Protagonist” archetype for the story missions
- Kevin Spacey’s performance at times over powers the other performers and chews scenery like oreos
- Gameplay learning curve for newer or more casual players still steep especially in multiplayer
- Slightly hackneyed resolution to the single player
- Zombies locked behind a DLC wall
- Season Pass is prohibitively expensive (almost the price of a new game)