You go to the grocery store to get some Doritos, but they’re sold out. You head to the gas station to grab a bottle of Mt Dew, but the shelves are empty. Taco Bells are burning across the country and there’s only one explanation: It’s November…Call of Duty Season. It’s been ten years since the beginning of the Call of Duty franchise and about eight years since Call of Duty became the Madden of first-person shooters. What sets this year apart from the rest? Well, this will be the first year for Sledgehammer Games to step into the development cycle of the series. Can this new, futuristic setting and burst of fresh development blood revitalize this (deservedly) criticized franchise?
First off, let’s talk about the reason why everyone online is dying to get their hands on this game: the story mode. Yes, Advanced Warfare (AW) boasts a 4-6 hour campaign which takes place around the globe in 2054. Do you remember when Call of Duty campaigns were about being a simple soldier in momentous battles? Well, Advanced Warfare doesn’t. AW continues the trend that Ghosts inspired for making the game all about being the terminator combined with James Bond. I’ll admit, the premise of AW is an interesting one: Jonathan Irons (Kevin Spacey) is the CEO of Atlas, a privately owned military contracting company. Over time, this company becomes the most powerful standing army in the world. With no allegiances to any particular country, Atlas is able to operate independently from bureaucracy. You play Jack Mitchell (Troy Baker), who becomes Atlas’ top operator after lending a hand to Jonathan Irons’ son. Now, I hate to ruin any of the impossibly clever plot twists, but having the world quivering in fear from a ruthless military corporation doesn’t go over so well and it ends with Kevin Spacey laughing maniacally.
Despite the initially promising storyline, the campaign begins to stale after a couple of hours. I can only handle so many missions where I’m forced to clunkily drive through a rundown, ravaged Detroit (oxymoron) on a hoverbike before my mind wanders to other games. Kevin Spacey does a surprisingly good job at voicing Irons, but his performance is betrayed by his character model. The face-mapped model of Spacey has a Kristen Stewart-level lack of facial expressions, falling somewhere into the uncanny valley. The missions are almost unfairly linear, making you restart from a checkpoint if you wander too far into the environment. As you would guess, the bulk of the campaign are tense firefights and chase scenes. The campaign does act as a rather pleasant tutorial for all of the changes you’ll be experiencing in the multiplayer, though. It eases you into how to operate the exoskeleton suits and familiarizes you with the many weapons you’ll be using.
Now for the meat and potatoes: the multiplayer. Regardless of all of the changes, it’s still Call of Duty, so I won’t bother going over the basics. All of your favorite gametypes are back and the class customization follows the 13-item limit of Black Ops II. Where Ghosts tried to change things up and failed, Advanced Warfare succeeds. You’re now able to customize your character with a variety of armors, pants, shirts, etc. You can also add special perks to your scorestreaks, for the price of an increased score requirement. For example, you can choose to have your orbital care package drop with a higher chance of having a more powerful item within, but you have to earn 100 more points before it unlocks. These little tweaks with the familiar systems are an intriguing way to spice up how you play.
The most noticeable differences to the multiplayer are the addition of Exo suits to the core matches. You can now double jump to higher spaces and ledges, making the combat of Advanced Warfare vertical (though strictly limited with invisible walls). You can also choose an Exo ability, which is equipped like a grenade. These abilities range from a temporary increase in speed to hovering in mid-air for a short amount of time. You would think that these abilities would break the game, but Sledgehammer Games has gone to great lengths to keep these powers balanced. When I was watching the release trailer and seeing the Exo suits in action, I thought the gameplay looked more like Quake than Call of Duty. But, AW is still handles and feels like a Call of Duty game. The Exo suits certainly add a new angle to the combat that we’re all so familiar with, but don’t compromise the core gameplay.
Graphically, the only thing that is beautiful about AW is the cutscenes. I’m honestly not sure if their cutscenes were CGI blended with real actors and sets, but they look pretty damn great. The actual gameplay, however, is pretty bland in comparison. The textures are better, as well as the light, but there’s really no benefit to playing on the current generation of consoles instead of the previous. The sounds of AW are up to snuff for the franchise, with guns having crisp, booming snaps and the Exo suits hissing with steam and making satisfying thuds when you land. The vocal performances of Baker and Spacey stand out among the rest of the cast, but neither packs in as much personality or emotion than characters I’ve seen from them previously.
Advanced Warfare is a solid entry in the Call of Duty series. It doesn’t go out of its way to be different, but it makes enough changes to the gameplay to feel more fresh than its predecessors. The campaign starts out promising, but quickly becomes more of the same CoD formula. The multiplayer takes a few steps forward with the introduction of the Exo suits and futuristic weapons, but I fear that it’s going to fall in that awkward middle ground between purists and those who want the franchise to overhaul itself. I think it may be time for us to stop looking at Call of Duty to reinvent or redefine and start looking at the developers to move on to another franchise.