When Activision announced a new developer (Sledgehammer Games) and a new three-year development cycle for the Call of Duty franchise many saw it as an overt attempt to keep the billion-dollar franchise competitive. Not only would Call of Duty add fresh blood to the mix, but also each development team would now have enough time to ensure their games offered something new.
That being said, with a new developer on the scene fans were unsure what to expect. Would Sledgehammer Games try to follow in the lead of their predecessors or would they carve their own path using lessons learned.
As it turns out, it's a little of both. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare does have its own style but it still feels innately Call of Duty. Bombastic action sequences, cool weaponry, and a particular visual aesthetic, albeit with a shiny new graphics engine, are still on the menu for this year's iteration, but with the franchise fully immersing itself in the next-gen many wonder whether that will be enough.
In search of an answer, we headed to Activision's booth at E3 2014 to see two sequences from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. As with past years this was a completely hands-off demo that was shortened "in the interest of time."
It's important to contextualize this year's presentation with regards to previous Call of Duty demos because the Advanced Warfare footage we saw failed to hit the same highs we've come to expect from these sizzle reels. No matter how pessimistic one might feel about a new Call of Duty release, it's hard to leave one of these E3 presentations without even a little bit of hope.
The two sequences on display couldn't have been more different in tone from each other. One featured a high octane assault on the Golden Gate Bridge that concluded in the only way possible, and the other was a quieter stealth section that used some of the game's near-future tech to shake up the typical always-at-11 pacing we've come to expect.
And while what Sledgehammer had to show of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare looked extremely sharp from a visual perspective, especially the detail in soldiers' faces, the footage didn't leave us wowed. Sure, in spots it was exciting, like when our main character Mitchell takes control of a hover tank and lays waste to a jungle installation, but there was no lasting impression. The multi-use grenades are a cool idea, as is the jump boost, but not enough to make Advanced Warfare stand out. At least not yet.
Strangely, what has me personally more excited for Advanced Warfare is the footage Sledgehammer showed at Microsoft's Press Conference. That struck me as a more evocative selection of footage, right down to the ending.
It may be franchise fatigue or a poor choice of demo levels, but whatever the case the Advanced Warfare footage didn't match, let alone exceed, past years' presentations. Sledgehammer clearly knows what they are doing, and the stealth section — which is part of a larger, more action-heavy level — proves they aren't afraid to mix up the base Call of Duty formula. Some would say that the franchise hasn't been wowing them for years, but from someone who still gets excited every year I came away slightly disappointed.
Now, however, we look to the inevitable multiplayer reveal to discover what changes Sledgehammer has brought to Call of Duty's online component. Innovation in multiplayer is important for this upcoming game's success, and we are eager to see what the new developer has in store for fans.
What have you thought of the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare footage shown thus far? Do you see it as innovative or unique enough to help rejuvenate the franchise?
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare releases November 4, 2014 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
Follow Anthony on Twitter @ANTaormina for more E3 2014 updates.