Call of Duty Advanced Warfare – Review

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It’s a little strange heading in to Call of Duty Advanced Warfare because I haven’t played a Call of Duty game in four years, my last being Black Ops. The series has come a long way in this, its first truly Next Gen outing. It hasn’t held back on its punches either by drafting big names like Kevin Spacey of American Beauty and House of Cards fame and Troy Baker of all video game voice fame (The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite).

It’s weird because in a way, Call of Duty is almost a multiplayer game before it is a single player shooter. Sledgehammer Games have come on board along with Raven Software. If you don’t know, Raven have as much good pedigree as Sledgehammer, who created Dead Space and co-developed Modern Warfare 3. Raven have a wealth of awesome titles in their history including Hexen, Soldier of Fortune, Star Wars Jedi Knight 2/3 and Star Trek Voyager – Elite Force. The last game being not only an excellent shooter but quite possibly the best Star Trek game ever made. Just so you know who you’re dealing with.

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The comparisons between this game and Titanfall have been raging since its announcement and of course there are some. Respawn, who created Titanfall and were formerly Call of Duty developers, set themselves very squarely in a futuristic Mech-based vein and Advanced Warfare does at least one of these things and maybe riffs off others. In fairness to the game, that kind of thing is nothing that Halo 4 didn’t do before either of them, and the movement perks of the Exo Skeleton suit aren’t anything that isn’t in Destiny’s multiplayer. So as far as that goes, it’s one of those industry coincidences that happens from time to time. Like every game due for release in 2015 seems to have a monster called a “Kraken”… Trust me, you’ll notice that next year.

PC gamers might want to skip this paragraph. When it comes to the performance of Call of Duty, this game doesn’t disappoint, unlike Ghosts did before it. Everything is at 1080p on PS4 and an upscaled 1080p on the Xbox One. Don’t get grumpy yet. The game downscales as and when the quality is needed on the Xbox One (dynamic scaling) so the game holds a constant 60fps for the most part. The PS4 version does suffer occasionally with frame rate drops although to be honest these are not really that noticeable and are few and far between. So in theory, despite the resolution drops, this could be the first game on the Xbox One that outperforms the PS4. The game holds 60fps mostly though on both consoles, especially in the multiplayer, which is exactly what Call of Duty is known for and what the community has requested. So, job done in that sense, box ticked. The game is absolutely excellent though visually, as you’ll hear later with the work done on the actors. But there’s still something that makes everything feel a little blocky, a little sharp-edged maybe? It’s hard to describe and for the most part it excels in the graphical scrutiny but the city levels and the multiplayer at times feels a bit too angular compared to the complexion and work that is in other areas of the game.

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The campaign, in one regard, plays out like any Call of Duty game has since Modern Warfare – Massive set pieces in recognizable places with different types of military based gaming from tanks to boats, ground assaults, drone attacks and airplane dogfighting. In fact the story begins in an almost lawsuit-inducing similar way to Halo 3: ODST. Without spoiling anything, the story is as trite as an action military based plotline can be, and the series has still found a way –despite being set 50 years in the future – to bomb/assault Baghdad and jab at the North Korean’s with repelling an invasion of the South. Could have chosen anywhere in the world but no, still obsessed with modern Mesopotamia and introverted communist nations, aren’t we… I digress.

The thing is, regardless of whether or not you think the series is insensitive to any particular world view (regardless of the infamous “No Russian” mission), it has never pretended to be anything but fictitious entertainment in a terribly militaristic sense with a slight, possibly unintentional commentary on the state of the world at hand. Much like both versions of Red Dawn, except much better. Modern Warfare 2 had it with the grainy helicopter camera perspective of shooting white human outlines fleeing in a field in shots reminiscent of recent friendly fire footage. This game has it in its sense of accountability and bureaucratic freedom of private security and military forces, which if you’ve ever looked in to are a dangerous and scary proposition to the geopolitical conflicts at large. And, guess what, you’re part of one.

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No spoilers here, you should experience the game for yourself with its trips to Camp David, New Baghdad, Seoul and Greece, as well as the much-advertised San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge shootout. But in the other regard, the game comes in to its own with the care and attention taken in animating and voicing the two main characters. Troy Baker stars as Jack Mitchell, a Marine who’s prematurely ended career gets given a new lease of life under Kevin Spacey’s Jonathon Irons, and his corporation Atlas who develop military tech and are the worlds largest private security/military firm. The rest of the voice acting is as you’d expect in Call of Duty with Gideon Emery doing his best Jason Statham impression. But the two main names give some excellent performances, backed up by some incredible CGI animation of themselves both in cutscene and in-game sequences. Spacey’s performance is by no means the intense yet disturbingly compelling level that Frank Underwood is but as far as video games go this is a pretty big performance from a two-time Oscar and BAFTA winner and certainly some excellent casting. Both Baker and Spacey add a good bit of depth to a game which doesn’t really push the boat out in terms of narrative, but that’s not something you really care about in a Call of Duty game. You’re happy enough to just sit and be entertained, regardless of vaccum packed bodybags, terrorist threats and coordinated global destabilization that seem to be the go-to military plotlines in our post-24 gaming narratives.

The weapons for the most part seem well balanced, although at times the pistol, the Atlas 45, is completely gutless and other weapons, including a Minigun, seem to take an absolute age to kill people despite aiming for headshots. Possibly this is the trade off of futuristic armour, etc, that you can plough a guy with bullets from 6 feet away and still take 10 seconds to kill him. Despite being Advanced Warfare, nothing is too advanced to be outrageously fictional or space-age and everything – except a particular sniper rifle, EMP’s and interchangeable option grenades – aren’t that much out of the realms of your standard gun+bullet=shooting fare. It’s easy enough to get a grounding, get your preferred weapons and have at it. The little extra modifiers such as the bullet time-esque overdrive are cool to a point, and I do love using the Sonic noise option with the Exo suit and creating a mass of easy targets. But for the most part they only become usable in certain missions where they are designed to be used, like cloaking technology in a stealth mission. So your game style doesn’t really change or benefit from them. Which is a shame because, as you head to the end of the game, it would have been nice to actually benefit from these features rather than just use them like level-based perks. The biggest thing about the exo skeleton suit, the jumping and boost options are again only usable in certain missions so you don’t really get the full effect that you might have been hoping for in the single player campaign. But it has to be said that when you stealth kill some people with your grappling hook, especially when you rip a pilot out of mech suit and smash him face first into the ground, it is quite satisfying, despite the lack of times that you can do so.

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That’s where the multiplayer comes in to play. Super smooth gameplay, well designed maps, interesting gun gameplay and a fairly balanced leveling system which is easy to get up to an intermediate level. The game modes are well tested over years of Call of Duty multiplayer and their experience shows.   The exo skeleton in this mode is where it seems designed for. It allows you to jump farther, boost yourself around with relative ease and it feels perfectly balanced to the pace of the game. Most people I speak to say that Modern Warfare 2 was the height of the franchise’s multiplayer action and if that’s the case then this is just as good if not better. The Uplink mode, which is basically like Basketball or Halo’s Oddball/Headhunter game types, works incredibly well, especially with the elevated goal making use of the exo skeleton. This is certainly ticking all the boxes that the competitive gaming scene have asked for but it feels accessible enough that you can just jump in and have fun, not worrying about being smoked out by people who are already level 30+. At least that’s what it’s like at the moment. If you get used to playing then you’ll do well and for once, it seems like the games are balanced enough that it rewards someone who has a good game rather than people who camp and get cheap kills. At no point yet have I started screaming, “HACKS!” or “CHEATS!” or “Aren’t you aware there’s other games you could play or possibly read a book?” And at no point has my families gender or lifestyle been questioned or insulted in a triad of voice breaking abuse, so I’m happy.

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In all seriousness though, the multiplayer is a joy to play, and it’s not often I say that about a Call of Duty game. There isn’t the ridiculous kill perks that constantly wipe out the map every 40 seconds, or anything that really puts you out into a constant sprawl of death. Of course there are several times where you’ll have bad luck or a run of poor form but the game doesn’t make you feel put out or that you’re spefically at fault. It sounds weird but it’s enjoyable enough that you may have a bad game and you don’t immediately rage quit. It’s like the game sort of hugs you a little and says “never mind, give it another go.” The fact that matchmaking is rather quick and the performance in game is super smooth, definitely aids that decision to soldier on and get back to your fragging. Certainly, there are no launch server issues here. This means that even with a few hours play you can make some serious progress in your multiplayer gaming experience. There are several custom loadout options as you go through and unlock all the weapons and armour extras. There is a bit of avatar customization but it isn’t really that in depth, as in depth as you’d like anyway, but it’s a nice little touch in personalizing your online experience with different armour and hats (again something that has already been done quite well in the Halo games). All of the modes are there like capture the flag, deathmatch (both team and free-for-all), big team games, domination, objective destruction and a few modified playlists (like limited HUD and ranked play), with Zombies reportedly to return in DLC. Given that, as I remarked earlier, Call of Duty is almost a multiplayer game before it is a single player it is quite the improvement from previous years and a job well done.

The big question with this game and with the multiplayer specifically is whether the exo skeleton and the futuristic basis for the game really changes the Call of Duty franchise for the better. In one way, no because it is ultimately a plot point in the campaign that could have been any kind of technology and the multiplayer dynamics behind Call of duty Advanced Warfare are very good anyway, so much so that all it kind of provides is a jumping boost and opens a lot more of the maps up along with different combat tactics. In the other way it does because it really brings the franchise up to date with its competitors (Titanfall, Halo 4, Destiny) and has the benefit of seeing what they’ve done for the past three years and how to implement these new gaming styles in to their already well established and tested formula. In truth Call of Duty Advanced Warfare is the start of a new generation for the franchise that appears to have trimmed its last generation fat and stepped forward into a promising future. It doesn’t change too much but gives an entertaining package that you can rely on.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare benefits from a big overhaul in its multiplayer but to credit that purely on the exo skeleton would be unjust. The game feels generally a lot more balanced and whilst the suit is the selling point, it’s merely a vehicle for the rest of the fun the game has. The storyline is traditional Call of Duty fare despite the big name cast of Kevin Spacey and Troy Baker giving it some volume. This is a return to form for the franchise and feels like a well balanced and rewarding game and multiplayer, but it doesn’t jump out of anything that we kind of rely on with Call of Duty or push itself to really WOW us. A good, but comfortable effort.

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– Great visuals and performance

– Multiplayer mode is a vast improvement

– Exo Skeleton doesn’t make the game but certainly frees it up

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

– It isn’t a huge reach from Call of Duty’s past

– Campaign story doesn’t push the boat out narratively

– Use of Exo skeleton in Campaign too restrained

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[tab title=”Why a 7.5?”]

This game is good. It is a return to form for the series and the exo skeleton does enough to revitalise some of the gameplay, but mostly revitalising the interest and the effort put in to the multiplayer mode as a whole. But, whilst visually stunning and with some good big name performances, it kind of sits comfortably on the Call of Duty mantle without pushing itself out to be the stand out game or completely wowing us. Definitely enjoyable and worth the 7.5 score but just misses on something higher due its lack of drive to really elevate the franchise up to the next level.

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game

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