Call of Duty Innovates
The age of the military shooter is over. The days of grey brown FPS with army sergeants barking orders down your throat have passed. We as a community have just gotten bored of the same old military formula, and thus the big shooter developers need to mix up their formulas a bit. Battlefield has decided to ditch their military motif for a cops and robbers formula, while Call of Duty , arguably the biggest shooter franchise in existence, is going down the sci-fi future route with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare . We got to see the game at E3 2014, and it certainly impressed us what a new studio with an extra year of development time could do to reinvigorate an old timey franchise that feels like it has used up all of its tricks.
First of all, as is the case with many next-generation games, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is absolutely gorgeous, and the stage demo we saw was sure to point that out. We have made a flying leap over the uncanny valley here, and the degree of realism that these digital soldiers display is astounding. Heck, pupils dilate when looking at explosions, which is a shame because we all know that cool guys don’t look at explosions. Basically all the action, even the big cinematic points of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will be rendered inside the actual in-game engine, which is a huge achievement.
The setting of Advanced Warfare is the “science future.” Basically, you won’t see lightsabers or eye lasers or faster than light travel here. Rather, the game is attempting to take a look at what warfare might look like in the very near future of 2054. Guns still fire conventional bullets and bombings are still a great way to knock out an enemy force, but everything has become much more computerized. Soldiers have access to mechanized exoskeletons that give them extra strength, remote robots that can fight without them there, magnetic gloves that allow them to scale walls, and active camo that allows them to blend into any of their surroundings. This may seem a little farfetched, but rest assured that each of these technologies is actually already developed and has been tested multiple times in real life.
The gameplay still feels like Call of Duty . In the single player, your basic objective is to move to a location, have a cover based shootout with your enemies, move to another location, and every so often encounter some sort of awesome set piece. What Advanced Warfare does, however, is open up the world by giving you more options. If you don’t have cover, for example, you can set up your own remote cover shield. If you have issues getting to your checkpoint, climb a wall. Want to cause some real carnage? Hop on to a hovertank!
Everything in Advanced Warfare feels like it has been blown up from the original Call of Duty formula. Your mech suits let you double jump, so the game has become a lot more mobile. Your grenades are a lot smarter, heading straight toward a target, so you have to plan less while using them. There’s even the ability to mark your targets with a scanner that allows you to see your enemies behind cover. This way you don’t run out into an ambush. All of this was just shown in single-player but I hope it sticks around for multiplayer as it would change the game on a huge scale.
The one thing that I worry, is that the game will not appeal to old school Call of Duty fans because of its speed. Even though the same ADS (aim down sight) mechanics from the Call of Duty franchise survive intact, the game feels a lot more like an arcade style shooter than anything else. The ability to double jump gives the game a feeling almost like Titanfall . You can start firing a lot quicker from a sprint than you were able to in past Call of Duty ’s as well. The slow cover based experience has certainly taken a backseat to using cool gadgets and getting straight into the heat of battle.
That being said, I think that it’s OK that Sledgehammer decided to screw with the formula a bit. As I said in the beginning of this article, the age of the military shooter is over. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is trying something new instead of sitting on their hands and waiting for the formula to die. For that, I applaud them, and I can’t wait to see how the game evolves as we head closer and closer to its release date.
When Activision invited me to the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare multiplayer preview in San Francisco, I admit, I walked into it with low expectations. Call of Duty has rehashed the same multiplayer formula enough times that I just wasn’t excited by it anymore. Instead, I had been getting my shooter itch scratched by games like Borderlands 2 and Titanfall , because CoD had started to feel ploddingly slow and repetitive. The magic had gone missing. Shooters evolved and left the venerable franchise behind.
But, let me be the first to say that Sledgehammer Games has found that magic again. They have delivered on their promise of engaging and modern multiplayer while maintaining a familiar Call of Duty feel.
The first and most revolutionary improvement is boost jumping and boost dodging, an ability provided by your soldier’s mechanical exoskeleton or exo. Boost jumping makes higher level areas are now much more accessible. You can boost jump over obstacles, onto roofs, out of skylights, and through second story windows. This makes you think about the map traversal and strategy differently as well. Advanced Warfare ’s exo soldiers are much more agile than the unenhanced CoD troops of yesteryear, making this game feel truly three dimensional.
Your exo also allows you to boost left, right, forward, and backward. This feels a lot like a shorter range version of Titanfall ’s titan dashes. You can boost on the ground, but the real fun happens in the air, where you can theoretically boost an unlimited number of times. In practice, if I used a boost jump, I could boost twice directionally before hitting the ground. In one of the levels, there is a small rectangular room encircled by a raised catwalk. It was very easy to enter the room and immediately boost jump and boost forward or to the side and land on the catwalk, giving you the high ground advantage against opponents.
You are not nearly as agile as the wall-running, double jumping Titanfall pilots, but this is a feature, not a bug. Call of Duty is much faster this time around, but it’s still Call of Duty . Boost jumping and dodging feel more like a better way to traverse the map, explore, and get the drop on your opponents, and not like mid-encounter evasive maneuvers. Boost dodging left and right felt a bit awkward compared to strafing, but the feature is new, and I didn’t get to use it much. I wish that boosting carried you an extra ten feet, but that might be the Titanfall player in me talking.
One gripe I had stemmed from the fact that while the maps have lots of skylights to fall through and jump out of, and plenty of low buildings to explore, there were several instances where I wanted to climb up onto the highest roof, and the game wouldn’t let me. It declared me out of bounds, and I would die if I didn’t return to the match within a few seconds. This is disappointing. If you allow me to jump thirty feet into the air, I’m going to try to climb to the highest available position or leap over large buildings to cut across the map. I think some of the map design lagged behind the available features for enhanced movement. There were, however, many opportunities to leap onto roofs and score kills from unexpected positions. I really enjoyed this, and I feel like with a few more months of map design and refinement, we will see some really great stuff.
There are twelve confirmed game modes, including the standards of Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Search and Destroy, and Kill Confirmed. Domination also return and will be round based. The most intriguing new mode is Uplink, which is basically a fast-paced game of football. Your goal is to grab a volleyball looking techie item, which replaces your guns, and carry or throw it into the Uplink, which is an energy field about twenty feet off the ground. Throwing it in nets gives you one point, and carrying it into the Uplink gave you two. Games are very fast paced. Unlike Capture the Flag, there’s only one ball and one uplink, and both teams fight over them. You can also pass the ball to teammates or enemies. Only CtF, TDM, Hardpoint, and Uplink were available to play at this preview.
The exo also has an array of seven abilities that you can customize for each class. Cloak yourself, pop out a full-body riot shield, enhance your minimap radar, give yourself a health boost (think the Juggernaut perk from years past), hover in mid-air, improve your movement speed, or destroy incoming grenades and rockets using a trophy system. These abilities are limited by a battery life, providing game balance.
This is all part of Sledgehammer’s “Pick 13” class customization system. You select from a collection of perks, primary and secondary guns, explosives, exo abilities, score streaks, and wildcards. Wildcards enhance your pre-existing abilities, allowing you to equip multiple perks in each slot (for a potential total of six), throw three attachments onto your primary weapon, one attachment on your secondary, equip two primaries, and more. You may skip carrying grenades altogether so you can have extra perks. You could forgo a secondary weapon and wield a knife instead to get those grenades back. You can also mod your scorestreaks, increasing their score cost, but improving them immensely. This creates meaningful player choice in class customization, which I really enjoyed.
Sledgehammer has also introduced the supply drop system, which is a series of random loot drops for gear and scorestreaks. The more you play, the more supply drops you get. You can get enhanced guns, new outfits, and free scorestreaks to be used a few minutes into your next game. The guns are the most notable bit–they’re based on standard assault rifles, SMGs, etc., but provide a stat tweak such as a bit of extra damage or an increase in handling in exchange for a decrease in rate of fire. There are three levels of drops–enlisted, pro, and elite. Better drops give you better, rarer gear. These drops felt a bit random, but who doesn’t love a new pair of pants? The virtual lobby allows you to see your tricked out soldier and other players’ outfits as well.
Sledgehammer’s new engine, three years in development, looks gorgeous. It’s a massive improvement upon the very tired, dated-looking engine used for Ghosts . Granted, we only played this on an XBOX One, so your results may vary. Don’t expect last gen systems to provide current gen graphics.
Overall, Sledgehammer Games have created an experience that makes the game feel fresh again. This jaded CoD veteran is now eagerly anticipating Advanced Warfare ’s release.