Another year, another Call of Duty. At this point the series really is take-it-or-leave-it. Whatever changes are made, they are not meant to stray too far from the formula, for better or worse. Luckily, the changes made to Advanced Warfare are for the better and inject new life into a series that, by the time of Ghosts’ release, was really just making superficial makeovers to a tried and true, if not tired, formula.
Advanced Warfare’s setting takes place in the mid-21st century. Whereas Black Ops II gave us a peek at what the future of technological warfare holds, Advanced Warfare gives us the full picture. Drones, solar laser cannons, shields, and exo-suits that launch you into the air are among the many things the future of combat is apparently bringing us, and Advanced Warfare does its setting justice by making it believable without indulging us, too much.
The campaign of Advanced Warfare has you playing Jack Mitchell, a soldier who joins the mercenary company ATLAS, an organization with such global power and reach it has no singular equal. Given a second chance by ATLAS’ founder Jeremy Irons, played stupendously by Kevin Spacey, Mitchell gets drawn into a conspiracy that has global implications.
The campaign is very entertaining and certainly a step up from Ghosts. The levels really take advantage of your new abilities with the exo-suit. No longer are levels confined to just corridor shoot-outs. Now you can jump over buses, cars and houses, dodge to the side to avoid fire, and even rip out car doors and throw them at your enemies. Still, many of the levels will still guide you from place to place as per expected from the series, with the exception of a few levels. Here, I was given a surprising amount of freedom and to be honest, I wish there were more of these levels. Do not get me wrong; I enjoy the blockbuster Call of Duty formula in the campaigns, but they are usually accompanied by immersive stories with characters that keep me engaged.
Unfortunately, Advanced Warfare does not have that sort of story. While the characters are more likeable and the plot far more sensible than the abysmal Ghosts storyline, it lacks the subtlety and grip that the Modern Warfare series and the Black Ops series had. Advanced Warfare seems to think it is telling a grand tale of the dangers of relying on paramilitary organizations, but its overt insistence on telling it leaves it feeling empty. I can take the clichés and cheesy dialogue, even, but the way in which Advanced Warfare presents and executes its narrative is a far cry from the series’ highs.
At least the game looks and sounds good. The new engine renders some rather impressive visuals even when not maxed out on PC and its audio design is rather stellar. The voice-acting is a return to form after the misfire in Ghosts, and because of that, the characters, as was said before, come off as more likeable, but still not written quite well enough to be memorable.
Fortunately, the multiplayer once again shines through with the best shake up the series has had since the first Modern Warfare. Mobility is very much emphasized here and staying still or behind cover the whole time is the last thing you want to do. Basically, if you liked games like Unreal Tournament, you will feel at home. The gameplay is a lot faster and frantic, as now you need to have 360-degree awareness, since fire can come from pretty much any direction.
From a customization standpoint, Call of Duty has not had it better. There are tons of things to do, from the usual customization of weapons and classes to a new loot system where you can redeem unneeded items for experience points. There are now additional perk slots and you can even remove kill streaks and put perks in their place.
Another plus for Advanced Warfare is how accessible it happens to be. There is a Combat Readiness Program mode for those who need practice and are not ready to take on the actual multiplayer experience. Here, you fight a combination of bots and players who join the program and the mode gives you encouragement for how you are doing so as to make even assist kills feel worthy. As well, for those players who would rather stick with the old-school Call of Duty experience, there is a playlist that does away with the exo-suit.
Finally, the game includes a co-op horde mode. Up to four players take part, holding out against increasing waves of enemies. Every round you survive allows you to upgrade and purchase various abilities and equipment. As usual, modes like this are best played with friends, as there is a need for coordination in order to survive beyond a few rounds.
Advanced Warfare is the biggest change to Call of Duty since probably the first Modern Warfare. The emphasis on mobility and verticality freshens up the formula while still sticking to it. What shortcomings the campaign does have are alleviated by a fantastic and accessible multiplayer experience. If that is not enough for you, then you will be disappointed and should just move on. For everyone else, put on your suits and get ready to blast off.
(Played on PC, available on most current and next-gen consoles)