The future of war is notoriously difficult to predict, but in the past three years, we’ve seen the Call of Duty series take three attempts at predicting what we might see. In Sledgehammer Games’ first solo effort, Advanced Warfare’s future sees the rise of the PMC as the preeminent force in global warfare.
Yet it’s actually with the US putting boots on the ground in South Korea to stave off a North Korean attack that we meet our new protagonist, Private Jack Mitchell. Mitchell’s rookie mission doesn’t exactly go to plan, suceeding in his mission objective, but losing his best friend and his arm in the process.
It’s an injury that sees him honourably discharged from the military, but with more advanced technology by far available to Altas and their CEO Jonathan Irons taking an interest in his life, he soon finds himself with a new bionic arm and part of one of their elite units. As the terrorist KVA launch attacks around the world, he finds himself once more on the front lines.
With technology forty years into the future, frontline troops for the more advanced armies are equipped with exoskeletons. Rather than fully encasing the body, these are primarily focussed around augmenting a human’s abilities, letting you double jump and dodge quicker, as well as giving you access to a number of futuristic gadgets.
During the campaign, your suit’s capabilities are limited to a subset of all those in the game, sometimes not allowing you to perform the game’s trademark double jump, but making up for it by giving you access to some other tool. However, the tech goes way beyond the exos, with advanced drones everywhere, laser-based weaponry and even multipurpose grenades that can mark enemies, give off an EMP blast or home in on an enemy target.
It would have been tempting to break out gadgets for a single use at convenient times, but this is thankfully not the case. Things like the mute bomb, which deadens sound within a certain area, appears on several occasions, for example, as are the electromagnets on your gloves to let you climb metallic walls.
The story also neatly avoids feeling like it’s going through the checklist of Call of Duty tropes too often. Yes, there are vehicle, overwatch and stealth sections, but with the story coming in at over six hours when played on Hardened, they sat well within the overall pacing of the game. However, I did feel that there were one or two missteps, with the game’s ending feeling to me to be the weakest part.
Kevin Spacey is ideal for the role of the machiavellian Jonathan Irons, who featured heavily in the game’s marketing campaign and is the real driving force behind the game’s plot. Spacey’s quite stunningly recreated likeness is matched by the rest of the cast, especially during the pre-rendered intermission cinematics, during which Mitchell is lent a likeness and a voice by Troy Baker – the latter a first for the venerable series that is restricted to these cinematics.
There is admittedly a step down in terms of absolute quality when shifting to the in-game engine, but it still looks quite outstanding. The heat shimmer from an exo’s boost jump, the motion blur when performing a boost dash and the explosions are all quite delightful. This is a big step up over Call of Duty: Ghosts, with the lighting effects and facial animations in particular much improved – though there are still some bland looking locations and incidental dialogue is primarily accompanied by expressionless mouth flapping.
It’s all in the game modes.
- In addition to the usual Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed and returning favourites like Search and Destroy or Infected, the exo’s movement comes to the fore in Capture The Flag and new game mode Uplink – a sporty form of one flag CTF. For new players, the Combat Readiness Programme strips away names and blends human and AI players to give a less pressurised entry into the world of multiplayer.
While the campaign is a marked improvement, with a story that I consider to be one of Call of Duty’s best for several years, it’s the multiplayer that will be the primary attraction for many. With the introduction of the exo, this is a major shift for the series and how it plays online, but it’s also one that still manages to feel like a Call of Duty game.
The absolute biggest difference that the exo makes is that of increased mobility. The boost jump allows you to reach a rooftop or window in moments, augmented further by the ability to perform a boost dash in four horizontal directions. Maps that range from holiday resorts to the tops of South Korean skyscrapers and the depths of a derelict Baghdad prison, have been designed to accommodate this enhanced movement too. Skylights and large open windows feature heavily, to allow easy access, while rooftops tend to be quite spartan and have relatively few points of cover, to neutralise the advantages of height to a certain degree.
Yet, the exo’s boost feels much weightier than those in Titanfall and Destiny, with a much shorter and sharper burst that feels like it brings you back down to ground much quicker. Without wall-running or long arcing trajectories, and with the boost dash in usable both in the air and on the ground, this is still very much about fighting on foot and knowing when to take to the skies. It helps to enhance the frenetic pace rather than alter it too much.
Picking what weaponry and gadgets you have equipped is all handled within the Pick 13 system, a descendant of Black Ops 2’s Pick 10. Each gun, attachment, scorestreak, gadget and perk takes up one of thirteen points that can be allocated however you want. Additionally, you can double up on some of these with up to three wildcards, which effectively make that second primary weapon cost two points.
It really allows you to customise the loadout how you want it, and the holographic firing range lets you test out a new gun for a few moments between matches. I quickly added a shotgun as a second primary alongside my SMG for close quarters fighting, or combine the a few perks with the exo’s cloak and mute device to make myself difficult to see and impossible to pick up on the minimap. There are a remarkable number of possibilities, and these are only extended by the game’s loot system.
Loot is now an integral part of the multiplayer experience and the key to getting gun variants and customising your look, coming in a variety of forms. Timed loot, which you earn by completing certain objectives in a single match, expires after a certain period of time – get numerous headshots in a round to earn the Bloodshed armour pieces, the helmet of which will be particularly common. There’s also permanent loot, for more overarching milestones.
Included are variants of guns, which you must first unlock the base model by levelling up in order to use, which might tweak the weapons attributes and attachments and add an interesting skin to it, as well as a myriad of outlandish items of cosmetic armour and gear.
Any custom armour won’t change your stats, but everybody in the game can create a character that they thing looks cool, and it’s very quick to give you some of the more exotic and interesting looking pieces of armour, from angular helmets to gold inlaid chestpieces. I was barely able to scratch the surface of the loot system, with more available once you prestige, unlockable during co-op or single player, and more to be added for free after launch.
Perhaps the weakest or at least the least inventive part of the game – certainly compared to Ghosts – the co-op drops four players into one of the multiplayer maps and pits you against potentially endless waves of enemies. The twist here is that they wear exos just like you, and as the waves progress they gradually become more and more difficult.
Clearing a wave earns you a few coins to spend at the upgrade stations for both your weaponry and exo, allowing you to switch gun, add attachments and upgrade things as you get to higher and higher levels. You can also switch between the three complimentary classes, but having struggled to get past round 7 on a variety of maps, we discovered that having four heavy exos, with their thicker initial armour and the giant Goliath suits as a scorestreak, stood us in good stead.
This tactic unfortunately felt like being able to bludgeon our way to success. However, it’s also fair to say that we learnt to stick together as a team and found the good defensive positions in order to survive dozens of rounds.
At the heart of Advanced Warfare is the exoskeleton and all of the possibilities it opens up, transforming the way that you get around amidst the futuristic setting. Yet it delivers on many more levels too, from a compelling story and cast of characters to the graphics and the vast array of options for multiplayer character and loadout customisation. Sledgehammer have shown that there’s life in the long-running series yet, and thrown down the gauntlet to Treyarch and Infinity Ward.
Versions tested: PlayStation 4 & Xbox One
This review came from playing the game at a dedicated two day review event. Travel and accommodation was provided by Activision, and this featured relatively idealised playing conditions ahead of launch.