When Activision first announced that Call of Duty was moving to a three-year development cycle, and slotting in Sledgehammer Games for its 2014 release, few knew what to make of the announcement. On the one hand, Sledgehammer had a chance to rejuvenate the franchise with a fresh perspective. But it seemed just as likely that the studio was merely a gun-for-hire – meant to hold serve while Treyarch prepped the next-gen Call of Duty blowout that Ghosts tried to be.
Then, Sledgehammer Games revealed Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and proved that their game was not a stopgap. With its near future tech and unique approach to multiplayer, Advanced Warfare looked to be the shot in the arm that COD fans have been looking for. And we are happy to report that, by and large, Advanced Warfare delivers on that front.
While Advanced Warfare still retains that trademark Call of Duty identity, it also brings some new ideas to the table. The use of the Exo Suit, for example, helps crank the campaign to new blockbuster levels, brings new twists to the co-op horde mode, and most of all adds new dynamics to multiplayer. It seems funny to think that such an obvious concept would have such a big impact, but it’s Sledgehammer’s varied use of the Exo Suit that helps Advanced Warfare stand out. Granted, the developer doesn’t venture too far outside the franchise’s comfort zone, but they aren’t just copy and pasting either.
As far as the campaign is concerned, it’s standard Call of Duty fare bolstered by excellent visuals, competent storytelling, and tremendous motion capture work. The linear progression, “on rails” sequences, quicktime events, and “Follow” indicator of Call of Duty’s past are all here, unfortunately, but even the campaign is exciting and engaging enough. Players will actually care about, or at the very least connect with these characters, more so than they have in more recent games. The story still carries Call of Duty clichés, but adding Kevin Spacey to the mix and rooting the narrative in something other than a fight against a tired foreign nation is enough to make it passable. To be honest it’s Kevin Spacey’s presence that helps tie everything together, and makes Advanced Warfare‘s one of the series’ better campaigns.
Adding to that is a cornucopia of action movie sequences that run the near future gamut. Call of Duty has never been a slouch when it comes to bombastic set pieces, but the creativity has been sorely lacking in recent memory. Here, the action finds clever ways to shift gears from full-scale war complete with overhead drones, crashing choppers, and hulking mech suits to more subdued stealth sequences. There are hoverbikes, hover tanks, mag gloves, active camo, and grappling hooks to play around with, and Sledgehammer makes sure each element gets its due. Some of the toys are more heavily used than others, but the campaign continually finds ways to give players more to do than just shoot nameless bad guys.
Make no mistake, though, shooting nameless bad guys is still the name of the game with Advanced Warfare. It’s just that the game’s use of the Exo Suit, and a few other handy tools, bring new wrinkles to the gunplay. Now, players can jump to higher platforms with the boost jump, dodge incoming ordinance with the flick of the left stick, trigger an overdrive ability that slows time, and even pop out a portable riot shield for a quick reprieve. Granted, these additions might not fundamentally change the make-up of combat, but they add variety to each encounter. Instead of simply funneling down a path (which the game still uses more often than we’d like) in a rote shooting gallery, players can find interesting new ways to tackle a situation.
But where the campaign uses the Exo Suit in more straightforward ways, multiplayer opens up even bigger possibilities to the player. Again, at a glance the tech seems like such a small change, but it reinforces an enjoyable online experience. In essence, the Exo Suit makes Advanced Warfare‘s multiplayer faster and more dynamic without drastically changing up its core concepts. Where abilities like the cloak, riot shield, or boost jump may have been useful gimmicks in campaign, they are practically essential in multiplayer. Combat is quick and more chaotic than it has ever been, and it’s also arguably more fun. The fundamentals are all well represented, but Sledgehammer finds clever ways to breathe new life into them.
In terms of its selection, the game ticks all the boxes that players have come to expect from the series. The maps are all varied in their design, with some even changing mid-match. Nearly every fan favorite mode is back, including a few enjoyable new ones like Uplink. The weaponry has that near future flair, and suits a variety of playstyles, and the scorestreaks, loadout, and perk systems ensure players will keep working towards the next carrot on the next stick. It’s as full a suite of Call of Duty features that players could want, even if it isn’t reinventing the wheel.
There were some concerns early on that the Exo Abilities might be too much of a crutch or give players cheap ways to stay alive, but Sledgehammer has smartly limited every abilities use. Everything has its counterpoint in the game, and therefore everyone feels both powerful and vulnerable.
The Exo Suit also plays a large part in the cooperative Exo Survival mode, which pits up to four players against waves of enemies while sprinkling in the occasional objective here and there. The mode is a lot like Modern Warfare 3‘s co-op horde mode in that players can upgrade and buy new weapons and abilities as they go; except in this case the Exo Suit offers even more upgrade possibilities. The maps also break out into tiers, which gives teams more to work towards than simply improving on a single map. Ultimately, those who have enjoyed COD‘s co-op modes in the past will find a lot to like about Exo Survival, and the same is true for those who want more gunplay after completing the campaign. But the mode is unlikely to make many converts.
As a complete package, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the shot in the arm that fans have been waiting for. It’s not a total reinvention of the franchise by any means, but smart touches here and there help make each component part more engaging than in past years. The campaign is pure spectacle in all the right ways, with a competent story, worthwhile characters, and some memorable set pieces, but multiplayer is really where Advanced Warfare shines.
Again, it’s worth highlighting that those who were looking for Call of Duty to be more like its competitors or to completely change its identity will find no such drastic changes here. Rather, Sledgehammer Games has taken a near future setting and used that to bolster combat, mode selection, and story in ways that make Call of Duty exciting again.
What do you think of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare? Let us know in the comments below.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is available now for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One copy for this review.
Follow Anthony on Twitter @ANTaormina