Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review
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Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Box Art
System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One*, PS4*
Dev: Sledgehammer Games
Pub: Activision
Release: November 4, 2014
Players: 1-16
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
Advanced Warfare, Advanced Storytelling
by Angelo M. D'Argenio

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was advertised as a brand new way to play Call of Duty, and that advertisement was right! When Activision flew me out to San Francisco to review the game, I wholly expected my opinion to fall in line with how I felt about past Call of Duty titles. The single-player would be OK but would really just be a side show to the main act of multiplayer. However, after playing the game, I have to say that my pre-conceived notions were flipped on their head. Instead, I was met with a multiplayer suite that was decently fun, but a single-player mode that was one of the best in Call of Duty’s history.

So let’s talk about the single-player first. There are a lot of things that are different this time around, more than just the futuristic time period of the 2050s. For the first time in Call of Duty history (spoiler spoiler) the main villain is American (OK he is technically “South African” because that’s where he grew up, but he is white and certainly American seeming, and the single-player designers at Sledgehammer said that was on purpose.)

Jonathan Irons, played by Kevin Spacey, is the CEO of the world’s largest Private Military Corporation, Atlas, and he sort of stands as an icon for industrialism and capitalism. His catch phrase is, “I care about profits, not policy.” He has so much backing and has been so successful in the field that his technology far outranks the American military’s. He has more troops, he has more power, he has more ambition, and while this originally paints him as an entrepreneur and even a savior when the world’s governments cease to function, eventually this power mixed with his own conflicted personal issues and views turn him into a villain. For the first time, Call of Duty doesn’t fall into the same “random country gets uppity and threatens the American way” pattern, and it is a HUGE breath of fresh air.

The plot of the single-player goes a little something like this: you are Mitchell, a former soldier who lost his best friend, Will Irons AKA Jonathan Irons’ son, on the battlefield. You lose your arm in battle and Irons decides to invite you into his PMC, offering you the best robotic prosthetic money can buy. This arm ends up being an important symbol in the game, as Will died because his arm got caught in a helicopter door before an explosive charge went off. The arm you receive stands for the void created by the loss of your friend, and the robotic arm you receive stands for the way you try and fill that void with work for his father’s PMC.

Life in Atlas is pretty good, all things considered, until you learn that Irons is withholding information from the world’s governments which could allow them to stop terrorist attacks from an anti-technology renegade called Hades. Instead, he let the attacks happen, allowing the world to slowly become more and more reliant on Atlas, until his PMC controlled every major port, supply line, airline, and more. It’s then that he develops a biological weapon that kills based on a DNA signature. With a push of a button he can destroy anyone who isn’t a part of Atlas, or one of Atlas’s allies. He decides to end world war by becoming the one and only true military force in the world, and it’s around this time that you realize, “Maaaaybe I shouldn’t be fighting for this guy anymore” and embark on a mission with fellow deserters to knock Irons off his throne.

I cannot emphasize enough how great this story is. It was incredibly gutsy for Sledgehammer Games to make the main villain of a Call of Duty title this American CEO upward mobility stereotype. It was heavily alluded that Will and his father didn’t get along before his death, and so without Will to fight with, Irons starts blaming everyone and everything for his son’s death. He blames America. He blames world governments in general. He blames the very concept of war, until he eventually comes to the realization that only his supreme force can bring world peace.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Screenshot

Yet as crazy as Irons is, as absolutely sociopathic he has become, there is this nagging voice in your head that says, “Irons has a point.” He constantly monologues about how ineffective the world’s governments are at preventing war, and how, only by inviting in his corporation, have the world’s conflicts been solved. He brings to light all the bad things about war profiteering, and asks you, “Would you rather be owned by a politician who lies about having your best interests in mind, or a corporation who upfront says they only want to profit off you?” Do you value truth and peace or happiness and ease of mind? His character alone is worth playing this game for and Kevin Spacey delivers a blockbuster performance unlike anything we have seen in the gaming world so far.

This story is backed up by rock solid gameplay. You’ll once again be brought to several different world locations and be asked to take on a number of different missions, but all of these missions feel unique. You are constantly playing with new toys, including threat grenades that highlight where the enemy is, smart scopes, stim abilities that heal you, overclock abilities that slow down time, smart grenades that home in on the enemy, EMPs, and more, and these are just the conventional weapons. The set piece weapons--like drones, tanks, turrets, an airplane that you fly flight sim style through a canyon, spy drones, mute charges, magnetic gloves, grapple launchers, hover packs, jet packs, and more--are even more fun to use.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Screenshot

If there was one problem with the single-player, it’s that the game falls back too often on the convention of, “Kill all these enemies before moving forward.” In the middle, the game drags a bit because of these shooting gallery segments, but the plot keeps you moving forward. The campaign is pretty hard, but luckily there are checkpoints everywhere. Every few steps the game saves again, allowing you to redo small portions of the game and inch your way forward. A couple times the game did error though and sent me back more checkpoints than it was supposed to, but this was rare.

What’s interesting, is that maps seem to be set up to allow you to set your own challenges, which is very new for Call of Duty single player. For example, one portion has you setting explosive charges around the map. You soon realize you can speed run this section using well timed jumps, or slowly mow your way through waves of enemies. It’s your choice. There’s a point where you have to have a firefight in the middle of traffic. You can pursue your enemies through the traffic, or bunny hop on top of vehicles. Once again, your choice. There’s just an element of replayability that you didn’t find in other Call of Duty games.

It’s also worth noting that the graphics, especially in the single-player mode, are phenomenal. The pre-rendered cutscenes look like some sort of big blockbuster CGI movie, like Avatar. Heck, sometimes I forgot I was looking at CGI. The locales feel alive, and they feel a lot less like set pieces and a lot more like environments. You feel like you have a reason to go to each new location, a reason besides, “The developers wanted to show you some explosions here.”

So like I said, the single-player mode this time around was one of the best I have seen from any Call of Duty, telling a fantastic story that criticizes capitalism, war profiteering, American war politics, and more. The multi-player, on the other hand, has a couple good ideas and is fun in its own right but falls a bit short of the single-player’s greatness.

High points of the multiplayer include the new boost jump, which allows you to quick dash on the ground, double jump in midair, air-dash (yes you heard me) and more. This allows confrontations to be a lot more mobile, which makes them a bit more interesting. Getting the drop on an enemy does not necessarily guarantee a kill, especially when you consider perks that increase your health, temporary abilities that increase your health, armor, and other ways to defend yourself. Heck, as soon as you get shot, you can start double jumping just to try to avoid death.

As a consequence, maps have also become a lot more vertical than previous Call of Duty maps, as a well-timed double jump can get you up to the roof of basically any building. Overall the game feels faster, more like an arcade shooter, like Quake or early Halo, and it’s a good feeling.

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