Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Preview

It’s been a long time since the Call of Duty franchise has been considered the height of story telling, with Modern Warfare most regularly trotted out as one such moment from the last generation, and Black Ops achieving similar acclaim in certain circles.

With Ghosts not scratching that itch for many, Activision seem to be aware of the need to reinvigorate their series, and have gone about it with several key moves, pushing Sledgehammer Games to their first title as lead developer and adding the big name of Kevin Spacey to the cast as they found a new storyline forty years into the future, in a time where private military companies are the dominant forces.

– ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW –

Spacey’s visage was a major highlight of the reveal trailer, and Brett Robbins – Creative Director at Sledgehammer – explained, “It was a decision we made really early in the project to try to make the characters’ faces much better, to really make them stand out.

“Also, narratively, we’re introducing a lot of new characters and we really want those characters to be memorable, so it was important for us to have the faces look great. We use performance capture, so when we do motion capture for the story scenes, we capture not just the body movements, but the face, the voice; it’s a full performance.”

Indeed, it seemingly goes a bit beyond this, with Private Mitchell, our protagonist, quickly making the jump from the US Marines in the opening level to signing up for with a PMC. He’s voiced by the seemingly omnipresent Troy Baker, in a shift that sees us move beyond just having another silent protagonist.

When I asked about the decisions behind having silent protagonists, Brett replied, “I’ve worked on a lot of games, and it comes up every game. Should we have him talk or should we not have him talk? When I was Creative Director on Dead Space, we decided to have Isaac not talk. The push and pull is always immersion versus story. It probably does drive the narrative a little stronger to have him speak, but then you can also wreck the immersion of the player, who’s like, ‘Hey, that’s not what I’d say. That’s not what I sound like.’

“So we’ve kind of split the difference. In our cinematic moments, like the movies and everything, he does speak and you see him. You see who Mitchell is and you understand him as a character. During the actual gameplay of the level, he doesn’t speak, and that’s just to preserve that in-the-moment immersion, but he’s a real character with a real arc, and I hope players will really like playing him.”

CODAW-Preview-IL1

But for gamers, who have become familiar with the traditional formula of Call of Duty games, the most important part is how Sledgehammer are trying to reinvigorate the gameplay of the series. That same futuristic setting that sees PMCs becoming the dominant military forces also features a litany of new and more technologically advanced military hardware to back them up.

The biggest change will naturally come from the exoskeleton that Mitchell wears into battle. It’s stuffed with technology which drastically augment his abilities, from small touches like having small boosters to slow a long descent – as seen in the E3 gameplay reveal – dodge out of the way or perform double jumps, to being able to rip car doors off for cover or the more ostentatious cloaking ability shown behind closed doors during a stealth mission.

“We’re really able to give you some new movement off the controller,” Brett explained, “which is interesting. With the boost dodge, boost slide, boost jump, you can chain moves together, which feels really good and different.

“[The exoskeleton] gave us a lot of new options to create these super soldiers that can just do a lot more than we could do before. […] It’s also a challenge, because you don’t want to go too far, you know? The guys aren’t Iron Man, they’re not superheroes, they’re still soldiers.”

Alongside this, weapons all have a futuristic twist so that regular SMGs have holographic bullet counts built in, you can whip out a laser gun as a secondary gun or make use of a multi-function Variable Grenades that can reveal all enemies in cover, home in on enemies and more. Then there’s all the ancillary supporting tech of drone swarms, mobile shields and so on.

CODAW-Preview-IL2

Whether this can come to really affect the level design is another matter, and I do have some concerns that Sledgehammer will be trotting out overly familiar feeling action sequences to what we’ve seen before, coming from the two levels shown behind closed doors.

The first of the two featured an action packed car chase down a freeway, chasing a van as it headed to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in another show of futuristic technology, with an EMP-like cannon attached to your vehicle. The subsequent gunfighting down the bridge did a good job of showing off many of the new technological twists, with some rather clever ideas thrown in for how it can be exploited for warfare.

While this was fairly straightforward action in a cool setting, the second level trod rather closely to the signature stealth mission of the franchise as a whole, as you must infiltrate an enemy lab to uncover their illegal development of chemical weaponry. There’s the obligatory rappelling scene, the evasion of enemies, a loud and bombastic escape in a stolen tank – albeit a rather cool hover tank.

The exoskeleton’s built-in cloaking device came into play while trying to avoid enemy patrols – which had their own exoskeletons of varying sizes – but its implementation was fairly uninspiring. Although cloaked, you’ll still have to avoid making noise in order to stay undetected, but despite being warned of the need to observe the battery life at the start of the mission, this was not apparent during gameplay. Possibly as a consequence of being a preview demo, there was never any real threat of the battery running out, and turning it off and on again in a matter of seconds at the behest of an NPC was all it took to recharge.

It simply lacked nuance during the demonstration, which I hope will be present in the final game, so that as you go through the obligatory moment where you crouch silently and enemies walk right by you, you’ll be nervously hoping and praying that the battery charge doesn’t run out before they’re past.

Speaking to certain thematic similarities, Brett said, “We take inspiration from a lot of sources and not just this franchise but from other video games, from movies, from television. So there’s never a time when we deliberately look at something and say, ‘Hey, we want to do it like that.’

“It’s usually that we have this idea that fits into the story and the flow of the game, and then we start saying to ourselves, ‘OK, we have this idea, but how has it been done before? How can we do it better?’ I think that’s more of the process, where we start with what we think is a cool, original idea and then do research on it and work backwards from there.”

CODAW-Preview-IL3

If the overall formula feels similar to the past, there’s still plenty hope for the actual story and the cool factor of many of the new twists that are provided by the futuristic setting. Additionally, this is all being pushed by a new graphics engine that is nowhere near as beholden to the last generation as Ghosts was, with high quality body and facial animation and graphical effects that finally bring the series bang up to date graphically.

“Advanced Warfare is the first Call of Duty to be developed truly on next-gen,” explained Brett. “Sledgehammer Games has led the next-gen effort, so all of our assets and all our rendering were built to try to maximise the new consoles. That, I think, has created a pretty big leap in fidelity.”

Yet, the most important factor for many gamers is going to be how all of this comes together in multiplayer. Here, the increased mobility and capability of the exoskeleton could potentially lead to a much more expansive and open style of online play, with more variety in level layout and a fresh twist on the fast paced running and gunning that it Call of Duty’s calling card.

“We’re not talking about multiplayer today, but I can say that on a high level, all the things that we’re showing in the campaign, with the exoskeleton, the different grenade types and weapons and mechanics, that translates to multiplayer and co-op. It’s across the entire game.”

While there are a handful of doubts in my mind, Sledgehammer are striving to bring a lot of new ideas to the Call of Duty franchise. They’re pushing to deliver on what the new consoles are capable of graphically, setting up a new universe and cast of immaculately recreated characters and, importantly, bringing new gameplay mechanics to the series.


Thanks to Brett Robbins for taking the time to talk to us as part of a small round table session. Alongside ourselves, questions were also asked by Jason Fanelli for NowGamer.

– PAGE CONTINUES BELOW –

5 Comments

  1. I’m really interested in the single player campaign, but I have had my life’s fill of cod multiplayer so I’m not quite decided yet.

  2. so the message I’m getting is,
    its call of duty with some new bells and whistles that at first site will amuse, for a while,then the paint will crack and the same old cod will appear.
    doesn’t this happen every cod yearly update ?

    • Though this doesn’t help you in the slightest, I’ve got an edit option. :P

      I think that, just from this preview of a few sections of the game, it can really go either way. There’s the potential for the exoskeleton to really shake up the way that you play a level, and if the designers can keep coming up with new and interesting ways to exploit that, the 6-7 hour campaign that we’ll presumably get could be great, but if they tread to tread too closely to what’s gone before and just bring out the obligatory stealth mission (with rappelling scene, BTW), a flashback to some events 10 years previously and so on, then it won’t have achieved what they’ve set out to do.

      Having Spacey on board to really lend a lot of gravitas to a pivotal character in the game’s plot could also really help raise the game’s level.

      Maybe the more interesting side of things is how having double jumps, dodges, slides etc. thrown into the multiplayer will change how that plays.

  3. wow that’s a major spelling mistake!
    straight to the bottom of the class!
    *SIGHT*
    this site needs an edit option..

  4. This game looks amazing. i can’t wait to try the exo abilities in multiplayer. :)

Comments are now closed for this post.