The words “new” and “different” in the video game industry have become the equivalent of the words “tasty” and “fresh” in fast food advertising; they’re used so often that they’ve lost much of their original meaning, and it’s becoming hard not to automatically respond to them with skepticism.
Upcoming games in the Call of Duty franchise get faced with this kind of skepticism more often than most, thanks to the series having earned a reputation for not changing much between each annual release. However, the combination of Sledgehammer Games joining Activision’s circle of Call of Duty developers and the release of an impressive trailer starring Kevin Spacey have got a lot of people’s hopes up for Sledgehammer’s first game, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
To find out exactly what Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will have to offer in the fields of “new” and “different,” Game Informer sat down with Sledgehammer studio heads Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield and asked what will be new, what will be different, and what will stay the same. The developers explained that they wanted to introduce new ideas while at the same time not straying too far from what the fans love, and as a result they studied other games in the franchise closely to try and replicate the best bits of them.
In addition to the introduction of military exoskeletons and hover-bikes shown in the trailer, Condrey and Schofield also said that they wanted to focus on the narrative and change up the body-swapping norm of the series by putting the player in the shoes of just one protagonist: Private Mitchell (Troy Baker). It’s not the most radical of changes, but the decision to tell the entire story through the eyes of a single protagonist – thereby breaking the body-hopping traditions of the Call of Duty franchise – is pretty bold. When Schofield was asked to talk about Mitchell’s character, however, he looked a little flummoxed.
“You know, he’s a… uh, a dude, from the United States. He’s just sort of a normal guy. We do have a whole backstory on him and it’s fairly generic. That’s what we wanted, we wanted a guy who started off as anybody…. He starts out as a normal guy but we see him grow over six to eight years.”
The studio may have deliberately designed Mitchell to be this way, but having a protagonist who is a normal dude from the United States with a generic backstory isn’t exactly new or different – for the Call of Duty franchise or the FPS genre in general. After promising that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will have a big focus on narrative, it’s not exactly encouraging to hear the lead developer refer to the main character as “generic.” The fact that Mitchell looks like the absolute standard default video game protagonist – a youngish, brown-haired, generically good-looking white guy with stubble – isn’t exactly going to help him stand out from the crowd either. Then again, they do point out that players will be following the life of the man over quite a few years.
That’s not to say that having a boring protagonist is going to make and break the game; many games with fantastic stories have a playable character who never speaks and essentially just a pair of eyes for the player to look through. According to Gondrey and Schofield, however, Mitchell will talk during cutscenes as well as narrating the game, which means he needs to have a little more flesh to him than a silent protagonist would.
One way in which Condrey and Schofield intend to give the narrative and cinematics room to breathe is by delivering the mission objectives in real time within the gameplay sections, so that the cutscenes won’t be charged with delivering a mission brief on top of telling the story (and, of course, looking pretty). The same goes for the linear design of the game – gone are the “follow dots” and abundantly obvious and out-of-place waypoint markers and in are the makes-sense-with-the-times GPS tech.
Condrey also said that one of their intentions was to deliver a “Red Wedding scene,” referring to a certain memorable event in the Game of Thrones series. The Call of Duty franchise has its own version of this: the nuke scene from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and other games in the series have tried to replicate the shock value of that moment with mixed degrees of success.
Overall, the interview is somewhat promising, but also hints at some potential pitfalls for Sledgehammer’s first Call of Duty game. Given the strong political overtones hinted at in the trailer, it will be interesting to see exactly where Advanced Warfare‘s narrative takes Private Mitchell over the progression of his career.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare releases November 4, 2014 for last-gen and current-gen platforms.
Source: Game Informer