Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review

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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.

7135_08_0011_s20140903-0031_1412351264It’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.

7135_08_0042_s20140903-0031_1412351267For 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.

7135_08_0048_s20140903-0031_1412351268I 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.

 

Score: 8/10

 

Cult of Call Of Duty: A Franchise For The Unhinged?

N-Gage_Call_Of_Duty_logo_hi_psd_jpgcopyAs Activision start getting ready to dish out this year’s Sledgehammer Games flavoured Kool-Aid to their millions of quick scoping, rage quitting, energy drinking, stupid glasses wearing, jerky eating, modded controller wielding fundamentalists. It felt like a good time to have a deeper look at phenomenon that is Call of Duty and the lengths that the most ardent players will go to for the highest K/D ratio.

Call of Duty started life on PC back in 2003. Created by the now much diminished Infinity Ward, the original title and its expansion by Gray Matter Interactive; United Offensive, had a heart and soul that has been M.I.A since the first Modern Warfare. With most of the team coming from the once great Medal of Honor franchise, the first game, and the second numbered entry had a gravitas that can only be found by being based on the real world horrors of the Second World War.

1, 2 and 3 came over as an opus to the truly heroic and courageous men from all sides of the war…. Hell, even the Russians who are increasingly used as the go-to bad guys had a starring role. Sure, the chisel jawed American GI’s played a part as did the pithy Brits but they were not alone in their valorous endeavours. Polish, Canadian, French and Dutch all played a major part in the campaigns for the first 3 games, and the campaigns were all the better for it.

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I’m not going to go on about what has happened to the franchise since those heady days, the people that care will already know, and those who don’t wouldn’t be interested. Call of Duty, just think about those words and try to forget the games for a minute. The fact that they still use the name has become an insult to the games that came before and, more importantly the people and ideals the first few entries originally venerated. Team America saves the world really has been done to death now, the franchise if rife with cheese, plastic American cheese that comes in a squirty can, super-sized.

Much has been written about the declining stands of the games, and with each new instalment the complaints get louder, even from their dedicated fan-base. Believe me having played all of the games to date I truly understand these complaints. I hated COD Ghosts and, once I completed the campaign and had my fill of multiplayer after 10 or so hours, I haven’t touched it again. But the fans, oh the fans, instead of just not playing it and perhaps giving Activision pause for thought as the online numbers dwindle, they continue to play it! Sure, making constant YouTube videos about why it’s so bad for their 5 viewers, but they just can’t seem to kick the habit, if that’s not addiction I don’t know what is.

Whilst they might not be mugging grannies for their pension money just yet, being a follower of the Call of Duty fashion is becoming increasingly expensive. With the explosion of so called E-Sports and the Beetle mania that surrounds the “top” players, the faithful have to spend a pretty penny to emulate their generally foul mouthed, rather obnoxious idols. With modded controllers that give them an advantage over the everyday COD player like you and me, costing upwards of £100, that’s knocking on for £200 by the time you’ve got the game, the increasingly bizarre maps and expansions, not forgetting subscription fees for wherever you game. This is just the beginning of the craziness.

With pro-players being endorsed by just about everything from controllers, energy drinks, fancy sunglasses, headsets, snack bars and even beef jerky. Businesses are cropping up left right and centre to push unnecessary twaddle on the millions of players whose brains must surely be lacking some vital components to be taken in by such blatantly unnecessary cash consuming crap.

 

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Whilst the controllers might actually give the zealots some actual gaming advantage the same cannot be said for everything else. Nearly £100 for a set of glorified sunglasses that you can pick up from your local £1 shop is mind boggling. Supposedly used to reduce eye-strain, there is of course a free alternative, put your controller down and step into the real world for 15 minutes every hour, controversial I know but it really works!

Fruity caffeine laced drinks that cost £1 a pop, but don’t forget the special £10 drinks bottle so that the two people watching your Twitch stream know that you only drink the best! Hungry? How about one of the vilest culinary inventions ever known to man? It tastes like shit but all the cool kids eat Jerky. There is no limit to the way that clever businessmen will make money from simple minded fools.

From the Koresh like Kotick, leading his flock to rapture every November, to the other business men and women who peddle their wares to the unthinking masses rubbing their hands with glee. Call of Duty is undoubtedly a billion dollar franchise, but it’s everyone who is earning millions on the periphery who are laughing all the way to the bank. Year after year internet prophets predict the demise of Call of Duty, and yet like some vast behemoth, incapable of correcting its course it thunders on, sweeping up a new crop of weak minded noobs, fresh fodder for the capitalist kingpins who mastermind this great machine.

Call of Duty died a long time ago in my eyes, and for the first time since the series began I won’t be buying this year’s entry or any others in its undoubtable long future that lies ahead. It’s time to let it go, let it rest in peace. I’ll be re-watching Band of Brothers this November instead of playing a rehashed 8 hour campaign, and instead of stumping up cash for map packs I will only play for a few hours I’ll be donating to Help for Heroes.

 

Everything That Is Wrong With Call of Duty: Ghosts

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Everything That Is Wrong With Call Of Duty: Ghosts    **SPOILER ALERT**

Call of Duty: Ghosts has come under a lot of fire for many reasons and I understand why. The game itself feels less like any other Call of Duty I’ve played, I find it disappointing- but it would be important to say I don’t hate the game. I feel indifferent to it. To me it just doesn’t feel like Call of Duty. So I’ve decided to go through and highlight some of the games shortcomings and list exactly where I think this Call of Duty game has gone awry, and where it is too much of the same.

It all starts with the Campaign. Am I the only one with a bad case of Déjà vu?  During the first mission, ODIN is unleashed and Logan (played by you) and Hesh manage to survive the blast from a flying gas tanker. Once you awaken you may think you were playing a remake of the last mission from Modern Warfare 2. It is in fact a cut scene that has been recycled. The fact they seemingly did this does them no favours, when people all over the internet are claiming that every game is a re-skin of the previous. It takes more than four years for CoD fans to forget what many consider the greatest Call of Duty of all time.

The Campaign also doesn’t deliver as much of a punch as previous core games of the series. It’s not as emotionally captivating as the Modern Warfare series – it doesn’t take us through as many twists and turns as the Black Ops series. It feels almost hollow, with the main focus being on becoming a ‘Ghost’- which y’know, is the most important thing during the end of the world- well that and your attack dog.

Multiplayer… Now where do I begin? Since day one it has been riddled with spawning issues, framerate issues, a lack of what I would define as good killstreaks. Seriously unbalanced weapons and not to mention some very poorly designed maps.

I have video -clips in my OneDrive/XboxOne uploaded of some serious spawn killing, I’m sure other seasoned players can testify to this, as do the videos I have linked on this piece.

I’m not just talking about camping in or near a spawn and picking off people as they run out. I mean people spawning in front of me and me in front of them.  Now, you would think that as the maps are so huge this should NOT be happening, that there would be a radial spawn field that would make sure there are no opponents within that specific area before you spawn. What makes me laugh, is there has been several updates yet none really seem to address the problem.

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The frame rate issues have only really came about since the update that prepared for the Onslaught DLC pack. Although it is less noticeable on smaller maps- maps like “Stonehaven” have been affected with reports of between 45-60fps fluctuations on this map particularly. Also the field order for the map “Containment” creates a plethora of frame drops, leaving the experience feeling partially broken. Whilst aiming down the sights of a sniper rifle you will get about 30fps, frame rates are also dropping because of explosives and effects that use an alpha base. 60fps is what Call Of Duty is really known for, yet some report frame rates below 20fps and it’s yet to be fixed.

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The kill streaks: In the beginning we had bulletproof dogs and invincible squad mates, now that they have leveled and balanced them to a degree. But what’s the point in going for high kill streaks when in all honesty-they suck? Gryphon’s are useless, unless you’re a perfect shot- they almost always take two shots (with explosives?). LOKI is pretty useless because of the sheer amount of buildings to hide in (same situation with Helo Pilot), not to mention how long it actually takes to fire and for the shot to be received.  Rather than kill streaks they should just allow you a pack of IED’s for your kill streak. How often can you escape an IED? Even with lightweight and marathon if you tripped that IED you will most likely die even if you’re the other side of a wall.

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The maps are generally pretty awful. A lot of them are far too big, and offer far more to campers than to people who enjoy fast paced action (which is what Call Of Duty WAS). It seems like you have to run 3 miles to see anyone, only to get killed by someone who has just spawned behind you and shot you in the back. There are FAR too many head glitching points, the game seems to give unfair advantage to those willing to use the dirty tracker sight and sit in one place the whole game.

OVERALL , I can honestly say I don’t hate the game, I’m just disappointed with it. It doesn’t offer much in terms of mixed game play, like previously stated- it seems to ally itself with CoD campers. I am a rush player, and have found I have to slow myself down and adapt to this game. I honestly think that maybe Infinity Ward is tired. With Respawn Entertainment (seemingly the talent of Infinity Ward) releasing Titanfall later this month it will be interesting to see how many players will actually remain on Call of Duty: Ghosts.

I think there is a possibility that the combination of Raven, Infinity Ward and Neversoft may be removed from the cycle if Sledgehammer does well and IW do not step up to the plate with their next game.  All the problems with this game so far seem like amateur mistakes; maybe these are something to do with Raven and Neversoft? I don’t know, but this is not what I expected from Activision and Infinity Ward.

 

Author: Mark Kerry

Platform Played: Xbox One

Videos Courtesy of DigitalFoundry and satantribal