Jetpacks seem to be the new “cool thing” in first person shooters this generation, adding a sense of increased mobility to a genre that struggled in innovate towards the end of the previous console cycle. One particular title that seems to have been on a creative decline as of late is Call of Duty, and recent titles like Titanfall and Destiny have made Call of Duty seem almost archaic in design. But then something like Advanced Warfare comes along, boasting enough alteration to the series’ existing mechanics and plays differently enough that I felt invested again. But the addition of jetpacks and heightened mobility isn’t revolutionary enough to the point that this doesn’t feel like the annual twitch shooter we’ve come to expect. Sledgehammer Games should be commended for their ambition, even if some of their biggest new features feel shamefully stolen from bigger and arguably better games.
Success in Call of Duty has always been determined by the speed of your reflexes and how fast you can react given the situation, as the player with the fastest trigger finger almost always comes out on top. This still plays a part, but the way in which you can approach any combat situation is altered considerably thanks to the enhanced maneuverability granted to you by mechanical exo-skeletons. This invention gives you the ability to double jump, jet around the environment and a number of context sensitive special abilities. It’s quite surprising how such a trivial change changes the way you play so dramatically. You are no longer limited to the ground, and smart players will quickly take advantage of the multi-floored design of each stage to trick their enemies and gain the upper hand. These new additions make the biggest impact in multiplayer, whereas in the brief single player campaign you are given a specific set of abilities for each mission. This is a bit of a shame, as some freedom to experiment with whatever equipment you want could have deviated away from the overwise heavily scripted mission design.
The campaign thrusts you into the shoes of Mitchell, a fresh faced marine who finds himself partaking in the US invasion of South Korea, the reason for the US being there is never really explained however. After losing his best friend, his arm and the battle itself Mitchell is essentially out of service until he meets Jonathan Irons, leader of the PMC organisation known as Atlas. The latter character is portrayed by Kevin Spacey, and is the best reason to see the campaign through to the end. His maniacal behaviour and completely irrational decision making makes his character a joy to watch, and is arguably the best villain Call of Duty has ever had. The narrative is complete nonsense though, but the likeable yet generic cast of characters and ridiculous pacing meant there was hardly a dull moment. Each sequential set piece was better than the last, abandoning any possibility of realism to thrive in the near-future gadgetry you have at your disposal. One mission you could be using a jetpack to ambush a plane in the arctic, whilst the next could place you in a large scale mech with enough firepower to conquer a small country.
The campaign still feels incredibly restrictive though, and these confines are especially prevalent when greatness can be seen beneath them. One particular stealth mission equips you with a grappling hook that can be used to traverse the environment and silently take out enemies. But straying from the on-screen instructions results in immediate failure, so you are never given room to experiment or approach the situation in a way you would like. This could have easily turned Call of Duty into a first person Arkham game or something more akin to Deus Ex if you could do as you wished. Instead Sledgehammer seem too afraid to deviate from the established norm, and the single player experience feels somewhat lesser as a result.
The increased mobility and new mechanics truly come to life in multiplayer, where the campaign’s restrictions on abilities are completely removed. You can jump, dash and run around the multiple maps however you please, but your newfound agility isn’t without its consequences. Carelessly leaping into the air during a firefight is an easy way to get yourself killed. But carefully timing your leaping across the map is the perfect way to pick up kills in quick succession. Pulling off a flawless leap through the air whilst eliminating enemies is super satisfying, and is the best way to gain the upper hand in the majority of modes. Advanced Warfare adopts the “Pick 12” system of Black Ops 2 and increases it to 13, allowing you to customise your loadout however you like, even if it means using 3 attachments on a single weapon or taking up an extra perk. You can also customise your character’s gender and clothing options, although these are purely cosmetic changed and don’t impact gameplay it’s still impressive how much diversity there is between players on the battlefield.
Don’t go expecting any new modes or breakthroughs in how multiplayer works though. The usual modes such as team deathmatch and search and destroy make a welcome return, and still play as well as you expect, retaining their addictive “just one more match” quality. The most ambitious new game mode is Uplink, which is essentially first person basketball…with guns. Each team has a designated scoring zone, and extra points can be obtained depending on how you score. This actively encourages you to take advantage of the new movement mechanics, and through this it becomes evident that each map has been designed with this sense of verticality in mind. You are motivated to take advantage of the new mechanics that have been implemented, but the faster pace and smaller size of the maps makes playing as a sniper or any other long ranged orientated class quite difficult. You can no longer remain in one place and pick off enemies from a distance. This may frustrate some players but also paves a way for eradicating some of Call of Duty’s long term hindrances like camping and unfairly picking off unaware players.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the best entry in the series since 2009’s Modern Warfare 2. Sledgehammer have taken the tired formula we’ve come to expect and shaken it up enough that the franchise feels fresh again. Unfortunately these changes aren’t enough to distract from the fact that this is still a Call of Duty game at a fundamental level. The campaign is still a thrilling yet a stagnantly linear affair, taking control away from the player far too often to hide its flaws or remain engaging, bolstered slightly by Kevin Spacey’s great performance. Despite all this, Advanced Warfare is still a damn good time, taking what is best about the series and making it relevant again with some exciting new mechanics. Next year’s entry has a lot to live up to, especially if it fails to provide the liberating change of pace Sledgehammer have provided.