Photo courtesy of Activision
Each year like clockwork, Activision releases a new entry in its juggernaut brand. As the years roll by, the video game publisher finds itself under increased pressure to differentiate each new entry from its predecessors without compromising the spirit and game play that has staved off franchise fatigue for so long.
It is an unenviable position to be sure, but in its first “Call of Duty” release as lead developer, Sledgehammer Games has proven itself up to the task. “Advanced Warfare” often finds itself treading the same ground as previous games, but it innovates in just enough ways that it’s worth the price of readmission.
“Advanced Warfare” takes place in a future where privately owned military companies hold monopolies on war technologies, and drones replace men on the battlefield. After a stint in the Marines, you are discharged minus an arm and a best friend.
Soon after, you are approached by Jonathan Irons, the CEO of Atlas Corporation, the premier private military company of the time. Irons offers you a position in his army and sends you across the globe to perform various tasks that require the obvious: shooting a lot of people.
Academy Award winning actor Kevin Spacey plays the role of Jonathan Irons. This lends a star power to “Advanced Warfare” that previous “Call of Duty” games lacked. In an effort to supplement this, the game tells much of its story through cut scenes, whereas past entries would simply use voice-overs playing on top of images of maps displaying various points of interest. The result gives the otherwise forgettable characters a surprising amount of depth.
Outside of Spacey’s performance, however, the overall story is still standard “Call of Duty” military nonsense with a few twists that you’ll see coming a mile away with some laughably odd moments thrown in for good measure.
The campaign contains an absurd number of explosive set piece moments, most of which would make John McClane shake in his boots. Throughout the course of the seven-hour story, you will jet pack onto a moving airplane, escape a series of collapsing ice caves and even pilot a fighter jet through a crumbling canyon. My personal favorite, however, is a stealth mission that requires you to sneak through a heavily patrolled compound. “Advanced Warfare” handles stealth surprisingly well, and it is a very welcome deviation from the standard shooting gallery moments.
Where “Advanced Warfare” really starts to set itself apart is in the game play. Sledgehammer uses the future setting as a way to introduce a number of fun technologies that challenge the way you approach missions in “Call of Duty.” A double jump boost allows you to reach high vantage points for picking off enemies from afar; a grapple attachment will have you zipping around a battlefield like Batman; and magnetic gloves are used in scripted moments to climb magnetic surfaces Spider-Man style.
At the end of the day, though, this is still a “Call of Duty” game. You will primarily be following your fellow soldiers down linear corridors and popping in and out of cover to pick off enemies from afar. It’s a shame, too, because with the added mobility options, I expected to be double jumping around each stage and tackling objectives like some kind of agile “super soldier.” Aside from one mission near the end of the game, this was not the case. The new mobility options are a lot of fun, but are denied their full potential thanks to the linear nature of each mission.
The game shines its brightest in the multiplayer mode. Sledgehammer has taken the hugely entertaining formula that has characterized every “Call of Duty” since 2007 and has made it fresh again. Thanks to the new mobility options, multiplayer matches have an added vertical dimension not seen before in the series. The map designs reflect this and encourage liberal use of the boost jump.
All the standard game modes return such as team death match, capture the flag and domination. There are a few new modes as well. My favorite, in particular, is “uplink.” Essentially a twist on basketball, players must run a drone to a target area in the enemies’ base. The back-and-forth is reminiscent of professional sports and is very tense. It has become one of my go-to modes when playing online.
The “survival” game mode from “Modern Warfare 3” and “Ghosts” returns under the new name, “exo survival.” Here, a team of one to four players must fend off increasingly difficult waves of enemies. This type of mode has been seen in many different forms across the shooter genre and, unfortunately, “Advanced Warfare” does little to stand out. It simply feels like a rehash of previous versions with little incentive to return to it. It can provide some fun couch co-op play, but not a whole lot more. Besides, when the other multiplayer modes are so well-executed, there is really no reason to stick with exo survival.
“Advanced Warfare” is a fantastic effort from Sledgehammer. It feels like it has struck that delicate balance between innovation and legacy. The mix of new mobility options and the tried- and-true, fast-paced multiplayer combine to form a solid step forward for the brand. While the story may be as unremarkable as ever, it is presented in such a way that feels fresh, which is something that I appreciate very much. I look forward to spending a lot of time into the game, and also to Sledgehammer’s next effort.
Note: This review was conducted using the PlayStation 4 version.