By William Chandler
Do note that this review is only of the campaign and does not take into account any of the multiplayer features.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is at least better than the low point found in last year’s entry, Ghosts, but more importantly, it manages to actually recapture a little bit of what made Call of Duty such an enjoyable series in the early years. That is to say Advanced Warfare is strange because while it certainly attempts to push the franchise into the future through both the setting and, subsequently, the mechanics, it also feels more stuck in the past than ever.
Advanced Warfare is extremely faithful to the established Call of Duty formula, however, exactly which version of that formula may be the most surprising part. It feels most at home when compared to Modern Warfare 2’s flavor of action movie insanity, especially when you consider the sense of scale both of these games have. The release of Black Ops in 2010 signaled a full on departure from the large scale warfare prominent in previous entries and started to focus more on smaller, more intimate and secretive conflicts. More spy movie shit, if you will. Modern Warfare 2 had its fair share of spy movie shit as well, but much of it was in the background of a much larger conflict, and the player often participated in both types of missions.
Similarly, Advanced Warfare consistently switches between small and large scale battles throughout its campaign, ensuring that the pacing shifts enough that things never really feel stale. This return to the feel of older Call of Duty games is welcomed initially but it might be too little too late because, regardless of how good the game is, it’s still Call of Duty. The sense of excitement and wonder that used to permeate the release of a new Call of Duty is noticeably absent, as it has been for years, and really only serves to hinder Advanced Warfare in the long run. I definitely enjoyed myself while playing the game, but I also couldn’t help but feel like Advanced Warfare’s attempts to recoup the status quo that was lost in the last few games only made its formulaic mechanics outshine any potential amazement from the new stuff.
Advanced Warfare takes place in the near future with events that span from 2054 to 2060, but the plot moves at such a break neck pace that the length of time never really feels like more than a few days. Players take the role of Private Mitchell, an eager and unsure young Marine turned Private Military Contractor thanks to the enthusiasm of one creepily over-inspired PMC CEO, Jonathan Irons. Troy Baker turns in a decidedly Troy Baker performance as Mitchell, although I doubt he really had all that much to work with, but I find it extremely odd that they chose for his character to never speak when the player has control. The transition from head-nodding mute to detailed narrator is jarring and one that I never really got used to. But the real intrigue lies in Kevin Spacey’s performance as Jonathan Irons. He does a pretty good job through and through, but it’s too bad that his dialogue took a trip to silly town towards the latter half of the game, what with his wide eyed insanity really overtaking any apparent critical thinking skills, because his character was quite solid and believable prior to that.
The quality of the writing and plot is, at its best, at least decently better than the usual Call of Duty fare, but it is eschewed in favor of “making shit happen” towards the end. Seriously, the last couple of missions are incomprehensible story wise, and really just drag the player kicking and screaming towards a resolution of some kind. This isn’t entirely unexpected in Call of Duty but it is a damned shame here because the story showed great potential early on. All of the near future details really allow for a lot of intriguing moments, like an early mission set in a highly convincing simulation or even something as simple as a futuristic digital looking business card.
The futuristic elements are much more than a mere aesthetic change, though. They serve as an excellent vehicle to present some pretty drastic and fascinating gameplay changes, the most notable of which are entirely based around movement and traversal. The addition of an exo-suit allows for jump jets which gives the player a double jump and a jetpack esque hover in some missions, as well as a sideways dash that acts as an accelerated strafe in all missions. There are other mission specific abilities for the exo suit, like a collapsible shield and a grappling hook, and they’re all used to great effect. The HUD is also fully integrated in game as a part of the world which is probably my favorite stylistic change to come out of the move to near future. A holographic ammo counter is projected on the butt of the gun and it will move to a spot underneath the sights when you zoom in, which I thought was much cooler than it probably actually is.
All of this greatly compliments the gameplay which is as polished and satisfying as ever. However, that alone does not make a good Call of Duty game simply because well refined mechanics are expected from the franchise at this point, but thankfully the level and encounter design are top tier in Advanced Warfare. Pretty much every single mission is an enjoyable globe trotting romp of endless shooting and quick time events, complete with the series standard set pieces that at least aren’t laughable in this entry. I at least found myself legitimately having fun until the end when that all too familiar feeling of monotony set in, which has plagued Call of Duty campaigns for years now.
And, in the end, I suppose that’s my biggest problem with Advanced Warfare. My tastes have changed drastically since nine year old me fell in love with the original Call of Duty in 2003. I’ve grown up a hell of a lot since then but Call of Duty appears to have actually regressed over the years making every return to the games a pretty bittersweet experience. Advanced Warfare marks the first time in a while that the games have shown any modicum of sophistication or any desire to actually grow up and surpass what we expect from the franchise. Perhaps this means that a game is due in the near future that will actually transcend just what it means to be a Call of Duty.
Unfortunately, as it stands, Advanced Warfare is decidedly not that game. Just a quality entry into a stale franchise that exists only to remind us of what the games used to be and their misguided attempts to be that again.