With the announcement of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Activison and Sledgehammer Games were staying fairly tight lipped about the multiplayer experience. However, with the addition of the exoskeleton to the game, it was quite clear that this would be the perfect opportunity to overhaul the way that the series plays online.
It immediately gives you a lot more flexibility of movement, with the exo’s jetpack abilities giving you a much larger second boost jump, compared to the feeble little arc that your human legs can manage. It can send you arcing up into the air a good few metres, and let you get to a ledge or walkway above you with ease. Additionally, the ability to use the jetpack to dash in any direction with a click of the left stick doesn’t just play out on the ground, but lets you add a shift in the air, to let you bridge a gap and quickly navigate the map. There’s even a slam, if you want to take a leaf out of Mario’s book.
But there are limits, and you might go in expecting to be able to reach places that you actually can’t, whether it’s a jump that’s too high or actually you butting against the map limits and invoking an Out of Bounds message. In contrast to Titanfall, a game to which there will doubtless be many comparisons made, the double jump and air dash ability manages to feel very different, and without allowing you to run along walls and chain moves together, you will find yourself running around on the floor more often than not. It might just be that the floor is a level or two higher than usual.
As a consequence, map design has had to shift to allow players the freedom to use their abilities. The change isn’t all that dramatic, with a mixture of closed off areas forcing you to stay on the floor and then more open spaces that allow you to loop into the sky, and with a greater likelihood of windows in the roof for players to smash through. Some maps will also feature large events, such as in Defender where a large tsunami wave comes and batters one side of the map, situated next to the Golden Gate Bridge, leaving fairly large underwater sections for you to play with.
It all came together for me in a match of the new game mode, Uplink, where I was first to reach the satellite ball, just as three enemies filled the doorway ahead of me. I threw the ball at them, double jumped up through the broken roof, dropped down to their side and unloaded my SMG into their flank for a triple kill. It was glorious.
Coming alongside everything from TDM to CTF and Hardpoint, Uplink is a sportier off shoot from the one flag CTF formula, featuring a ball that can be thrown between players and either thrown into the goal or carried through for more points – it’s eerily similar to the excellent Bombing Run from Unreal Tournament 2k4. Carrying the ball means you can’t use a gun, but you can throw the ball at your pursuer, occupying their hands so you can shoot them in the face. This was easily me favourite tactic.
The exoskeleton does a lot more than just augment every player’s movement capabilities and, just as in the single player, it holds myriad potential technologies, from allowing you to briefly hover in midair to cloaking yourself or housing a trophy system to block incoming explosives and grenades. These drain the exo’s battery life, but give you a potentially major advantage in a gunfight.
Similarly, the exo now deals with throwing your grenades, with a wrist-mounted launcher letting you point and shoot, effectively. There’s the traditional frag grenade, but you can now quickly place Semtex from afar for it to explode a few seconds later, summon a drone that will mark, fling out an EMP and more.
However, the options open to you are simply vast. There’s some very extensive and granular character customisation, from gender to picking knee pads and shoes, which is helped along by the Supply Drops that give you new or rare items of clothing and custom weaponry and more for completing challenges and even just for spending time in the game.
Sledgehammer have also taken inspiration from Black Ops 2’s Pick 10, necessarily expanding it to Pick 13 to cater for the exoskeleton’s abilities and the return of scorestreaks. In a clever twist, Scorestreaks are part of the Pick 13, but you can opt not to have any at all, and spend your points elsewhere, or augment a Scorestreak so that it’s more powerful, but costs more to earn.
If you’ve struggled to get excited or enjoy Call of Duty games of recent years, the exoskeleton might just be the hook to draw you back in. When running around on foot, it feels a lot like the Call of Duty we all know, but as soon as the exoskeleton gets involved, whether it’s the futuristic abilities, the wrist launcher grenades or simply letting you double jump and dodge, it does a lot to stand out from the crowd.