Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has been a complete, out-of-nowhere surprise for me. For both good and bad. From playing every single game in the franchise since Modern Warfare, I thought I knew exactly how Advanced Warfare would pan out. As soon as I clicked start, all my expectations and preconceptions instantly changed.
For the first time since Call of Duty 4, it’s the campaign mode that really stands out with this game. I’d heard early reports about how good it was, so instead of my usual practice of getting stuck straight into the multiplayer, I started on single-player first. I’m glad I did.
The story is great. It doesn’t venture too far from the traditional Call of Duty set up, but not since Black Ops has the franchise been so successful in implementing the formula. It’s better than Black Ops. The wide variety of locales feels interesting, but never forced. In previous games I’ve found jumping from regions and environments to be jarring and at times laughable, but here it slotted in with the plot seamlessly. They picked some really great locations, too. I particularly enjoyed the Greek town of Santorini, the narrow and winding backstreets and claustrophobic white terraces perfectly portraying a sense of place.
It’s been a while since I’ve noticed cut-scenes, but these are easily the best I’ve ever seen. Every single animation is fluid and life-like, and as expected – Kevin Spacey completely steals the show. He’s basically his character of Frank Underwood from TV show House of Cards. Friendly yet menacing, helpful yet distrustful. Sledgehammer has used the actor perfectly here, getting them fully immersed in the project rather than a lazy afternoon voice-over session, pinned to another actor’s mo-cap work. You can see from mannerisms and expressions that you’re watching Kevin Spacey, his acting pedigree and ability pushing the series into a new era of narrative and direction.
Levels are well-paced and absolutely perfect in length. It’s been a while since I’ve had ‘just one more level’ syndrome, but I found myself rubbing my eyes in the early hours of the morning, rationalising how I could squeeze in another mission before bed time. They’ve broken it down well into chunks of fun, manageable gameplay that leaves you wanting more. For the first time in ages, I also spent time away from my console thinking about it. You know a game’s good when you’re at work, counting down the hours until you can rush back home to get back into it.
Unlike most games that either stray too far into the ridiculous or play it ridiculously safe, the equipment and weaponry in Advanced Warfare is fantastic. It all feels grounded in reality, an insight into the future of technology rather than a leap of imagination. The EXO suit skills and abilities are a bit hit and miss, but stuff like the mute charge, the stealth camo and the grenades are phenomenal. The breach moments are really well-thought out, and the progression of equipment is nice and gradual, using the full arsenal of tricks and abilities by the end without feeling like a continuous struggle uphill to master everything.
For all its vision and advancement in the campaign mode, it’s sadly let down by an all-too-familiar multiplayer. But really and crucially, it’s not the game’s fault. Call of Duty is stuck in a paradox from which escaping is very difficult. Let’s look at it two ways.
Firstly, the series is widely renowned as a massive landmark in FPS multiplayer, especially for consoles, due to its introduction of class-levelling systems and loadouts in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The collectible nature of weapon camos and customisations it introduced broke new ground when it was released 7 years ago. It quickly gained a loyal, fanatical fan base and set the tone and pace of future games to come.
But in today’s landscape, it’s the Call of Duty series itself that is the traditional, stale experience. Games have moved on, improving and updating the formula. And here I’m looking at Destiny, Bungie’s FPS MMO, in particular. I think it’s worth mentioning other games in this review as they are going to be undoubtedly compared. And rightly so. If people are going to sink a lot of time into a levelling system to improve and upgrade characters, they want to make sure they’re doing it for the best game they can.
With Destiny, players create characters and gain equipment much more in an MMO style, further expanding on the RPG elements Call of Duty first experimented with. Bungie took this idea to the next logical stage, and created a character that is uniquely yours, taking it all the way through campaign missions and into the multiplayer arena. In Destiny, I truly cared about my armour, or the weapon you had been using for countless hours. After that experience, it feels a little backwards coming back to the simple façade of character creation, new items of clothing and emblems are little more than token gestures of time spent in-game. It’s not that Call of Duty has done anything particularly wrong with its multiplayer, it’s just not kept up with the times.
And if we look at where it’s tried to innovate, it’s already been beaten to the punch. One of the key things it’s tried to change up, and indeed the first message it displays as you start multiplayer, is the verticality and EXO abilities. They promise to be ‘the biggest change to multiplayer in the game’s 10 year history’. Sadly, not only has this already been done, but it’s been done better. Titanfall, released earlier this year by Respawn (a company made up of ex-Call of Duty developers), completely nailed the scale and verticality that Call of Duty is going for here. Titanfall is bigger, better designed and pulls off the futuristic setting better in the context of multiplayer. It feels better to control, and feels closer to achieving what Advanced Warfare was going for.
Destiny and Titanfall aren’t perfect, and Advanced Warfare feels like the middle-ground between both, but not in a good way. By sticking to its standard approach and adding variety by tacking-on even more features and weapons, multiplayer feels more bloated than ever. And with its competition innovating and expanding, Call of Duty’s multiplayer is simply out-gunned, outclassed and outdone by the others.
I say all of this with a particularly heavy heart, as I’ve absolutely loved previous instalment’s multiplayer mode. I’ve prestiged in every game with the exception of Modern Warfare 3, so I’d like to think I have some weight to my opinion. It’s not bad by any means, it’s just lost its edge and innovation that once made it so addictive and compelling.
So should you go out and buy Advanced Warfare? You absolutely should. But not for the reasons I initially thought. For the first time in ages, Call of Duty’s campaign is back on top to stake its claim as the most exciting and dramatic FPS around. A stale and traditional multiplayer lets the experience down overall, but this fails to put any dampeners on what is a thrilling, must-play experience for the single-player. And we still have Zombie mode to come. Ooh-Rahh.