Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review – New Innovation Breaths Life Back Into The Series

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First, it should be understood that going into Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, all hope of ever experiencing a true next-generation Call of Duty actuality was completely unexpected. The rinse and repeat practice befalling the franchise, with each new iteration, became synonymous. There were never going to be enough Hollywood explosions in the campaign or new zombie modes, added perks or slight adjustments to the multiplayer gunplay that would save the series according to my personal discomfort for the lack of innovative initiative for the series…until now.

Enter Advanced Warfare

For the first time since the initial shift from the classic World War experiences to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the series has finally evolved for the better. While the aesthetics of Advanced Warfare is a simple approach, maintaining a familiar menu screen with options consisting of a Campaign, Multiplayer and Exo Survival mode, which offers a cooperative online and offline horde team approach for up to 4 players, the true contrast from previous games in the series is found in what’s under the hood.

As it is a custom of mines to tackle the campaign before taking on the multiplayer with fingers crossed, this did not change with Advanced Warfare. Where Call of Duty: Ghost dropped the ball in an attempt to pose itself as a next-gen shooter, Advanced Warfare remedies this betrayal in spades.

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Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the Call of Duty experience early adopters of the PS4 and Xbox One were expecting. The game proudly expresses it graphical muscle adding authenticity to Sledgehammers vision of the future.

The year is 2054 and the ballistics of war has changed considerably from your last call of duty tour, pun intended.  You are Mitchell (played by Troy Baker) fighting for the U.S. military now equipped with Exo-suits. Exo’s offer an advanced way of engaging the enemy, allowing soldiers to move faster, perform stronger maneuvers, enabling them to leap great distances as well as fall from massive heights with controlled stability. Need protection from in-coming bullet fire or attack bots, simply rip a door off a nearby car and use it as a shield and then throw the door at an enemy soldiers to fully express your combative aggression.

Upon the untimely death of a dear friend, to being discharged from your military duties, Mitchell becomes acquainted with Jonathan Irons (played by Kevin Spacey) who is convinced your duties as a soldier a far from over. Iron believes your potential as a soldier can be fully realized at ATLAS, the privately funded highly advanced military corporation which is owned and operated by Irons. As with many of plot lines of any Call of Duty title, the hot boils of war spill all over the globe, from South Korea, the U.S., Nigeria and Greece to Iraq, Antarctica and Baghdad, Sledgehammer takes you all over the world in pursuit of the infamous ‘bad guy’. For Advanced Warfare a notorious crime boss named Hades becomes your main target and along the way Mitchell is accompanied by his new brothers in arms of ATLAS.

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Unlike other games in the series, Advanced Warfare places you in the shoes of the main character for the entire ride, while offering varied set-pieces throughout the campaign, exploiting the advanced dexterity of the flexible Exo-suits and weapons at your disposal. The experience does take some getting used to if you want to be more than proficient with your complete arsenal.

Instead of a simple frag grenade toss, holding down the left upper button brings up your multi-functional grenade which can be selected as a threat, flash or EMP grenade. The threat option lays down an area silhouette, revealing all the enemies in the area. Upon holding down the right upper button, another multi-functional grenade is offered which can be selected as a frag, smart or contact grenade. The smart option is most impressive as it enables the grenade to be propelled like a missile in pursuit of its target with devastating results. The contact option comes as advertised, meaning, after it is tossed, whatever it comes into contact with, will be destroyed. Mitchell on the other hand is far from invincible, yet you’re empowered by the advancement of military technology.

The campaign presents a compelling narrative with some of the best voice acting of the series. Some of those unforgettable bonds and relationships of the series found in combatants like the hard-nosed Cpl. Price and the late Soap McTavish and Ghost find their essence into Advanced Warfare. Your new ATLAS team which consist of bold characters like Gideon, Joker and Ilona as well as other allies who make a big splash later on in the form of Cormack, make this one a memorable experience. This time around combat chatter is never wasted with corney one-liners. Conversations are tight and to the points, more in line with what you would expect from professional soldiers. In a way, this could be playing it safe but we’re not complaining.

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Consisting of 11 chapters, the campaign moves along a believable path of continuous trigger pulls without being exhausting. Maybe this is due in part to the proficiency of the advancement in your arsenal or the approach of not marinating each play set with a shower of bullets. Regardless, we appreciate this new direction of the campaign. Of course this is Call of Duty, so expect many things to go boom, however there is a more intelligent approach at play here. In one particular chapter which begins with a 4 year separation from the campaigns previous events, Mitchell and Gideon are tasked with patrolling what’s left of the city of Detroit. Not giving away too much of a good thing, yet when Mitchell finds himself alone for a brief time in a sort of dark and dreary setting, needing to find his way back to Gideon, to then racing back to the safety of their stronghold, it is clear there is more here than your typical shooting gallery affair. The balancing act of gameplay and level designs, mixed with knowledgeable dialogue, bridged by some of the most visually stunning cut-scenes in the business make this a hard campaign to put down.

Adding re-playability to the campaign, after completing a chapter players are presented with an Exo upgrade UI, allowing enhancements to be made to their Exo. In total, there are 22 upgrades to enhance Mitchell’s Exo abilities. From detection, armor, resistance, tactical, lethal grenade, sprint, battery, reload and quick aim, to recoil and flinch, these upgrades are acquired by receiving upgrade points for completing mission challenges. The pause screen reveals your campaign Exo challenges which consists of overall kills, headshot kills, grenade kills and gathered intel.  After my first play through, I returned to the campaign to fully maximize my Exo abilities and gather the sometimes hard to find intel scattered throughout each level.

The majority of what is presented here feels like a true next-gen shooter. Aside from the more than impressive visuals and believable settings flexing the might of the PS4, Xbox One and PC versions of the game, the added touches are apparent. Sprinting feels better, weapons offer holograms of your bullet count and grenades, attachments such as the hybrid optic sights or the thermal sights are stylish with a futuristic appeal.

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Exo-suits also provide an overdrive mode allowing Mitchell to slow down the objects around him, in essence speeding him up in order to more accurately land fatal shots at the enemy. This option works exactly as the adrenaline option found in Killzone Shadow Fall. Eventually Sledgehammer brings out the ninja like grapple hooks adding to Mitchell’s already more than capable traversal Exo abilities, yet the grapple hooks are nowhere to be found in the multiplayer which I’ll shed more light on shortly.

My first campaign play through was closer to 8 hours and while some might consider this a short-lived ride, the complete ride was a great one, although I was expecting a more climatic ending. Troy Baker and Kevin Spacey along with the other cast members deliver a riveting performance, revealing just how far interactive media has come. If the campaign is short-lived, it is only because I never really wanted it to end. Throughout the varied set-pieces, no two chapters were alike, yet they moved you along an ever increasingly dangerous progression with intense build up.

Jumping into the popular multiplayer, the proven Call of Duty pvp DNA is all over this one, with an added bonus of cool. The saying, ‘if you’ve played one Call of Duty you’ve played them all’ might have to be omitted with Advanced Warfare, as the traversal system has been completely altered for a faster and more punishing experience. This is no doubt COD, however the addition of the Exo abilities breath’s new life back into the series, bringing with it an appealing loot system, attractive character customization options and a quickly accessible firing range to test out your new weapon acquisitions.

The Advanced Warfare multiplayer experience becomes more personalized this time around. Players are always welcomed with their created character who is progressively being made to look different, assisting with feeding your ego. After a match players are sometimes greeted with new equipment to add style to their characters look, yet these items are temporary unless they are provided via those exciting supply drops. Supply drops rain down loot like Christmas gifts and you’re excited to receive them. All of your supply drop items are stored in your personal armory if you’re curious as to how much loot you’ve received thus far.

The multiplayer menu falls in line with previous games in the series with your player rank in the right corner and your selection screen in the left corner. Creating a class is exactly how you remember it, only this time you can quickly jump right into the firing range and let off a few rounds, testing whether you’ve chosen the right weapon for the next match. You can even check out other players and their attractive character loadouts before and after matches. I’ve yet to understand how supply drops are determined, they seem quite random with no real set order as to how item are allocated. You could be a level 47 player like myself at the moment and come across a level 24 player who has acquired some cool looking items you wished you had and vice versa of course. While supply drops may not be in a systematic leveling order, you’re grateful you’ve received that awesome looking helmet or 3-round burst pistol.

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Aside from the weapon items received from supply drops, items you acquire for character customizations add no benefit to you as a combatant. A nice perk touch could have been aligned with certain customization items. For example, certain eyewear or helmets could have been a substitute for an optic attachment, allowing the optics sights to be integrated into the eyewear or helmet. Gloves could have also been integrated with perk abilities such as quick draw, fast reloads or healing capabilities which would have been something completely new for the series.

Instead Sledgehammer gives all the enhanced attention to the Exo-suits and they certainly do not disappoint. Across the 13 available maps player will find themselves discovering their new Exo maneuvers and abilities as well as learning the new maps vantage points. Just knowing map layout is no longer enough. Match skirmishes are now fought all around and above you. Exo abilities allow players to take out enemy player from all possible angles with swift mech-like dexterity, forcing players to fine-tune their loadouts for success.

For a game based on future tech you would also expect the majority of the weapons to follow suit, yet for the most part, they do not. Making up the list of futuristic looking weapons, you’ll find the entry assault rifle, the Bal-27 (a great weapon by the way) along with the SN6 submachine, the Atlas 20mm sniper rifle, the Tac-19 and S-12 shotguns as well as the EM1, EPM3 and the devastating XMG (a beast of a weapon with dual firing options for duel wielding). In total, Advance Warfare brings 25 weapons of choice, all of which can be giving the new skins treatment. Each weapon also has an alternative type with modified performance which must be acquired.

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Perks work as expected, bringing back the give and take approach. The Exo ability and launcher perk are new to the perk lineup. There are 8 Exo-ability perks and 10 Exo-launchers making the playing field a very different place from the last time you visited Call of Duty.

With all of the added Exo abilities and launchers, the Call of Duty multiplayer experience has become increasingly dynamic and an absolute blast to play. For a series as successful as Call of Duty however, you would expect the multiplayer to be supported by dedicated servers.  This is a quick twitch shooter, so the need for network balancing and stability goes a long way. Instead, that doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment. The multiplayer experience is a great one, yet it could still use better networking.

From team deathmatch, hardpoint and momentum there are a total of 11 multiplayer game modes, with the newest entry being ‘Uplink’ where players attempt to throw or carry the satellite drone to the Uplink station to score. There is also a bonus playlist, hardcore playlist, ranked play as well as a classic playlist where player who want to go back to playing Call of Duty without the Exo movement can do so.

If you’re looking to work together with friends against AI controlled bots, the Exo Survival Co-op mode awaits, offering the option to play online or offline. As with the multiplayer mode players can find a game or create private matches. Map selection is offered from among the 13 available maps with difficulty settings as an option. From my experience, Sledgehammer must take pride in punishing players as the AI bot are quite challenging.

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Exo-Survival which is a horde mode for Call of Duty offers a never ending wave of challenges. The enemies in Exo-Survival don’t just stand there and eat bullets. These guys are flanking you and constantly trying to out maneuver you with  their Exo abilities. Going at it too far away from your fellow team members invites a quick take down as the AI bots stay in groups trying to overwhelm you with their numbers. While enemy soldiers are always coming at you, randomized challenges are thrown your way such as attack dogs, gathering dog tags, eliminating all the enemies, taking out the attack drones, diffusing bombs location on the map, etc.

Testing out how many levels you and your buds can withstand before being crushed is a rush. The furthest we’ve gone so far is level 15. I know that sucks, when others have been as high as 66 rounds, but wait until you give it try. You’ll start to appreciate reaching level 10 consistently.

It has been some years since I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spending hours playing Call of Duty. This latest offering has completely made me do an about face. Without changing too much of the Call of Duty formula, what has been renovated has been more than enough to reignite my passion for the series. Sledgehammer Games smartly plays it safe and for good reasons. The new traversal system and Exo-perks are empowering to the player without abandoning the accessibility of the experience. No offense to aged PS3 and Xbox 360, however running Advanced Warfare on the PS4, Xbox One and PC presents a splendid attraction of compelling on-screens action, as if watching an action-packed futuristic military blockbuster movie. The campaign is thrilling with top-notch acting and gorgeous visuals

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The new Exo abilities drive you to want to be better as a combatant in multiplayer. While only a few multiplayer maps try to be dynamic in some instances, maps do lack additions such as elemental effects or more night maps. Yet this all seems forgivable when you’re having this much fun.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is a bold new step in the right direction for a series which has lacked innovation for far too long. Sledgehammers Games has laid a bright new foundation for the series. Let us just hope their future development process of the series continues to be met with innovation and bold expression.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is without a doubt the best shooter of 2014.

AWR

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