First-person shooters have had a rough time as of late. “Battlefield 4” did little to promote the series and ran into crippling issues on the current generation of consoles, leading many to declare that the game had been shipped in an unplayable state. Likewise, “Call of Duty: Ghosts” was launched as a graphically mucky rinse-and-repeat sort of game that left fans of the franchise — and Activision’s sales numbers — sorely disappointed. Fear not, however, as “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” has finally been released, breathing new life (sort of, considering the release of “Titanfall”) into the genre and presenting a story mode finally worth your time.
“Call of Duty” games are infamous for having campaigns that the majority of hardcore fans will never even think twice about, opting instead to go straight for the online multiplayer. This time around, doing that may actually be a mistake, as the game’s story is a great step up from the last few iterations. The campaign in “Advanced Warfare” begins 50 years in the future as North Korea is invading South Korea. You play as Jack Mitchell (Troy Baker), a marine tasked to take the city back alongside your best friend Will Irons (Paul Telfer). As you are about to complete this mission, Irons dies, you lose an arm and the screen fades out. Eventually, through various missions, you find yourself working for the Atlas private military corporation and attempting to stop the Luddite terrorist Hades from destroying the world with its own advanced technologies. All the while, Atlas becomes more powerful as you accomplish more missions.
The graphics and acting are inextricably tied together, as performance capture has reached a point that threatens to overcome even the uncanny valley. Main characters in the game are rendered lovingly and this is made no more apparent than whenever the CEO of Atlas and your late friend’s dad Jonathan Irons (Kevin Spacey) is on screen. Irons looks uncannily like Spacey, appearing almost photographic in moments when the character model ceases movement and just barely looking off when he starts to talk. Environments are likewise rendered, only occasionally showing an off texture or polygon that could shatter a player’s suspension of disbelief. Additionally, the intense graphical fidelity of the game is held up by the solid 60 frames per second, hardly ever dropping and allowing for quick kinetic gameplay based on twitch reflex.
“Advanced Warfare’s” near-future setting allows for some interesting gameplay innovations in the series. The exo suits that your character wears allow for increased strength, endurance and mobility during every level, and once you get used to using the various different abilities, they will become second nature. Avoiding enemy fire is made more complex in the best possible way when it involves keeping track of the corners and small corridors in a stage, and using them to your advantage, dashing sideways with your suit to move instantly out of the enemy’s line of sight. Likewise, jumping has added a vertical dimension to gameplay, as the additions of an upward boost and a jump-dash mean that sniping positions are now more accessible and less impenetrable to the player who knows how to flank them.
As always though, multiplayer is the focus of “Call of Duty” and does not disappoint in this year’s release. The already quick and frantic gameplay has become no less so with the addition of exo suits and the abilities that they include. Players will need to quickly adapt to the changes in mobility now available as the multiplayer maps are designed to encourage traveling upward as well as moving on a flat plane. As quickly as somebody gets a beat on you, a quick dash to the side or a jump boost and backward dash can land you in the perfect position to take out your attacker before they can react. The suits can also be equipped with modifications such as shields and speed-enhancers, allowing for the few seconds of time needed to change the flow of a skirmish.
Multiplayer modes include old favorites such as capture the flag, free-for-all and the ever-popular team deathmatch. These modes would play the same as ever but for the exo suit additions to gameplay and the slight changes to kill streaks, balancing the modes less in favor of early-game perk use and prompting players instead to trade the option for greater loadout customization. Additionally, new modes such as the basketball-like “Uplink,” in which players must grab balls of intel and get them to their opponents’ net of nebulus technology, and the cooperative “Exo Survival,” wherein a group of players must defend against waves of drones, dogs and other suited enemies (a la “Zombies” of older CoD games), provide a fun deviation from the modes to which we are accustomed.
“Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” is a step in the right direction for the entire genre of competitive first-person shooters. With an entertaining — if not entirely cartoonish and predictable — story mode and an improved multiplayer, this game is easily worth the money of any fan of the series looking to escape the stagnation of recent years, managing to suffer only slightly from DLC paywalls. While Sledgehammer Games has managed to successfully change up the series’ formula, the progress in this game only brings to mind the backlash that will come about from the next studio who tries to make a CoD iteration without the abilities possible through exo suits.
Rating: 4 stars