Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (REVIEW)

written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)

Remember... Remember... the 3rd of November... the gunpowder's reason and plot... I fathom no feeling why gunpowder's reason should matter solely for naught.

November's a month for family, Black Friday deals, freaking gigantic turkeys, and pumpkin pies at Costco. But for the yearly initiated, November is also a time for gunpowder and death-matches... mind you not in the literal sense (I hope). The month of (American) Thanksgiving is also the month for a new Call of Duty game. Last year, I (personally) skipped out on my COD fix... Call of Duty: Ghosts wasn't being received well and it sat at that awkward time between console generations (remember Call of Duty 3?). But with a brand new developer taking the reins, Sledgehammer Games injects some much needed innovation into a series that once felt revolutionary but in recent years started becoming stale. That is until November 3rd...

This ain't your grandad's Call of Duty child... while much of the core mechanics are maintained, the inclusion of the EXO Suit give the franchise new life. Personally, the last time I felt THIS excited when playing a Call of Duty game was after that first tanker mission in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Though the seasoned veteran can pick up and play the game without much of an adjustment, it's delving into some of the new skills the EXO suit provide that really ramp up the gameplay to 11.

From familiar abilities like hovering, a double jump (thanks to a booster/jet pack), and a cloaking ability. Everything about this package is shiny and new. What stuck out to me most was how rooted in realism these mechanics felt. For example, the double jump never felt floaty or too sci-fi like (I'm talking to you Destiny) and the weapons... though new and totally futuristic... felt completely plausible. If the franchise took too many cues from sci-fi shooters like Halo and Destiny, it wouldn't feel much like Call of Duty anymore. Many skeptics, myself included, felt like the inclusion of such futuristic means of making stuff go boom would alienate that oh so familiar COD feel... but I also felt the franchise needed something new... so I welcomed it... and yes I am extremely satisfied with the final package.

Advanced Warfare's armory gets a futuristic (though grounded) new coat of paint. The biggest change was how grenades are handled, mapped to the shoulder buttons (on consoles) you can cycle through three different varieties of grenade for each grenade type. You have an offensive and defensive grenade, the threat grenade paints hostiles and allows you to see them even through obstacles while the smart grenade zeros in on the closest enemy to your position. A streamlined ability point system allows you to also rank up your EXO suit during campaign mode, from reducing how much you flinch when shot to increasing armor or blast resistance. While not as deep as some RPG games, it does create an incentive to track down objectives that grant more ability points.

With all these advances to your soldier's mobility, gun-play is significantly sped up. Much like how Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare changed mobility by allowing the player to (finally) sprint, Advanced Warfare kicks that up a notch thanks to abilities afforded by your EXO suit. This creates a very different game from the last few entries in the series, in multiplayer your reaction times have to be even swifter (thank goodness for FPS freeks) in addition this also made some of the skirmishes in campaign mode that much more challenging. The game is fast paced, even faster than any previous entry, and for the uninitiated this may feel quite intimidating, I'm curious to see how some of the best COD players in the world will utilize this fresh new set of moves.

Like previous entries, we have single player campaign and multiplayer options. I won't get too into the mutliplayer but selecting matches and setting up private matches is as simple as it has always been. A plethora of match types is available from the moment you launch multiplayer, the Pick-10 Create-A-Class mechanic from Black Ops II returns... but instead touts a Pick-13 variant with score streaks incorporated into the Create-A-Class system. Scorestreaks come packaged with all new customization, granting fresh features but requiring more points to earn the reward. The new rewards system grants the player supply drops upon completion of tasks... allowing the player to unlock three items of varied rarities.

Creating YOUR soldier is further expanded upon with the Create-An-Operator mode. You can customize everything from face to gender, even the most minuscule details like which gloves or what skin your EXO suit has.

EXO Survival is your co-op multiplayer experience, similar to Survival Mode from Modern Warfare 3. Your team is faced with waves of increasingly difficult enemies with varying objectives each round, after completing all tiers of EXO Survival you're granted the ever coveted Zombies mode... idea Activision... how bout a Walking Dead DLC pack complete with their faces? I don't know bout you but I would totally tango with the undead rocking Norman Reedus or Andrew Lincoln's face.

The campaign serves more than just acclimating the player to Advanced Warfare's new combat system. Each mission allows the player to utilize varying EXO Suit types which conveniently play into the narrative of the story. While the campaign mode is just as linear (and short) as one would expect a Call of Duty game to be, the variety of mission types makes up for it. Sure we have the tried and true “follow the yellow waypoint” missions... along with the “go here and make that go boom” missions, my most memorable moments were from a mission where I was forced to be stealthy and avoid detection. While I didn't think they could make a stealth/sneaking mission work in a Call of Duty game, I have been proved wrong.

Call of Duty®_ Advanced Warfare_20141104215645.jpg

I've danced around the narrative a bit, mostly because I didn't want to jump right into an “OMG Kevin Spacey” rave... but damn... the House of Cards actor really does make a difference to the overall narrative. Kevin Spacey was brilliant as the head of the Atlas PMC, Jonathan Irons. The rest of the cast was spot on as well; the primary protagonist and the operative you play as throughout the entire campaign is Jack Mitchell, voiced by Troy “the Daniel Day Lewis of voice acting” Baker. Troy also lends his likeness to the character in cutscenes.

This, hands down, is my favorite Call of Duty campaign since the very first Modern Warfare. The story is wrought with expertly acted bravado thanks to its stellar cast. Though the story was quite predictable from the get-go, to be honest I don't come to Call of Duty to experience a story wrought with intrigue and Shymalanian plot twists.

Graphically, this is a major step up from even last years entry. Everything looked so wonderfully rendered, there were moments I forgot I was playing a video game. Though the graphical fidelity in cut scenes were extremely ramped up, the in-game engine produced some stunning visuals as well. The lack of a HUD may feel jarring at first, but it does serve to better allow the player to immerse themselves into the role of . Your waypoint is where it always is, but monitoring your ammunition and grenades is possible via a holographic display on your gun... how futuristic. It took a bit of getting used to and I found myself occasionally looking to the screen's corners, but the level of immersion I felt playing made this campaign an absolute delight of an experience.

VERDICT

Advanced Warfare is THE thing the Call of Duty franchise needed. The series was getting stagnant, and after the disappointing Call of Duty: Ghosts, I was ready for something new. Sledgehammer Games did a phenomenal job with the franchise, and although the story was over far too quickly (as per usual) it was the best Call of Duty campaign since the first Modern Warfare. Everyone should play this game... I mean c'mon? Kevin Spacey yo!

PROS

+ Immersive narrative
+ Gorgeous visuals
+ Brand new yet comfortably familiar
+ Kevin-FREAKING-Spacey
+ Troy "the Daniel Day Lewis of Voice Acting" Baker

CONS

- Short campaign
- Predictable story

SCORE BREAKDOWN:

Story 4/5: While predictable, this was the best acted campaign mode from any Call of Duty game. Plausible reality coupled with an immersive experience make this one NOT to miss. Plus... Kevin... freaking... Spacey.

Graphics 5/5: Do you SEE those screenshots? You can see their pores!

Audio 5/5: Every bang, zip, woosh, and zoom sound quite grounded... especially with a very COD-esque score...

Level Design 3.5/5: The linear level design left much to be desired, but taking the new mobility into account did make for some interesting multi-leveled combat.

Set Pieces 5/5: Whether sneaking through bushes or facing a nuclear meltdown, everything was ramped up to Michael Bay and beyond.

Polish 5/5: The most polished at launch COD game I've played in a long time, framerate never dropped and everything was beyond satisfactory.

Controls 4.5/5: The new upward mobility coupled with the tried and true COD combat system made for a truly comfortable shooter... can't complain much here.

Overall gameplay 4.5/5: See above

Extras 4.5/5: A robust multiplayer experience, highly customizable, and ZOOOOOMBIES... this is the complete package and then some... well done...