Hands-On (and Off) with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

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Around this time last week I was getting ready to board a plane. I very briefly visited the land of bangers and mash, mushy peas and fish, for a little sneak preview of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. I got a little hands-on time with the multiplayer and a good look at one of the early single-player missions. I walked away a little conflicted.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is being helmed by Sledgehammer Games, a new studio that now brings the development house tally to three. Sledgehammer were the first to get three years to make the Call of Duty they wanted, and that is something that truly shows. Advanced Warfare is a different game in a few ways, and an evolutionary step towards the new era of what the pedigree shooter will become. It’s not entirely surprising to see a few rough edges still poking around in a few areas though.

Hands-Off Single-Player

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Sledgehammer Games Co-Founder Glen Schofield was present to go through all of Advanced Warfare’s new and intricate features, as well as debut a brand new mission from the single-player campaign. The mission takes place early on in the campaign, and you’re tasked with rescuing the Prime Minister of Nigeria in an extremely hostile part of Lagos. Schofield explained that Advanced Warfare chose to focus on one protagonist instead of several, documenting his journey in the Atlas Private Military Group over several years. It’s in-line with Advanced Warfare’s bid to give Call of Duty’s single-player a more engaging narrative, and it could work out.

What does make an immediate impact, however, is the inclusion of Kevin Spacey. Seeing the Academy Award winner pop up on the HUD to have some stern words with the team in Lagos brought all the powerful punches it needed to. Spacey’s character, in that short window, felt like an intimidating, power hungry figure that I can’t wait to see evolve during the game’s campaign.

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As for the mission itself, it definitely looked like something you’d expect from a Call of Duty campaign. The pacing starts off slowly and builds up to some fantastic set pieces, ranging from marking enemies through walls for a quick breach to hopping between cars in a frantic highway chase. These moments feel familiar, but it’s the small changes that make the biggest impact. The Exo Skeleton is already changing the way multiplayer works, but it was great to see it used effectively in single-player as well.

One particular segment had the main character and his team fighting off enemies in a small traffic circle. The Exo gives players a lot more mobility, which made for a far more frantic set piece. Having enemies coming from all directions forced the use of the Exo to boost, dash and slide in nearly every direction to avoid fire. It certainly looked like a lot more fun, but without the chance to actually play it I can’t really say whether it was mainly scripted or not.

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Hands-On Multiplayer

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I did, however, get my hands on Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer for the first time. Most of the maps on offer were the same ones from Gamescom, but considering I never went to Germany this was all new to me. I realised that fairly quickly as well, with most of the other attendees clearly having far more experience than me. The first few matches were a little frustrating as I came to grips with Call of Duty’s new focus on verticality. It’s what modern shooters are injecting into themselves to feel quicker and more chaotic, and Advanced Warfare’s new maps pull this off rather well.

Maps almost feel double tier, as if there is an entirely separate highway of routes running above you now. Sledgehammer spent the entire development time tuning and tweaking maps and routes to make sure that verticality was emphasized, but not the only way to play. The two maps I played felt balanced with a good mix of tight indoor corridors and open, expansive areas where the high ground was key. There isn’t an instant “I’m higher so I win” feel to the multiplayer, and it’s very much still about how quickly you can take aim and fire.

The Exo Skeleton still makes a very big difference though. Instead of compensating for a small bunny hop, you’re now left wondering whether your enemies can dash sideways, boost jump up and over you, or reach a new height entirely. Movement has drastically changed the pace and flow of movement in multiplayer games, so it’s disappointing that the system ended up working against it while I played.

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For example, on a few occasions I tried to jump through a broken window while sprinting, usually to escape enemy fire. In other first-person shooters with similar movement, such as Titanfall, this is fairly easy. You jump, your character vaults and speed is maintained. In Advanced Warfare, however, I found myself hitting the frame and falling back most of the time. It broke my movement, purely because it seemed like I wasn’t meant to easily fit through the tight space. I’m not sure if that’s what it’s meant to be, but it was incredibly frustrating given the faster pace of everything else in the game.

The same thing happened when I tried to grab onto particularly high ledges. You boost jump by double tapping A on an Xbox One controller, propelling high towards ledges that you can grab and mantle onto. The problem is that grabbing is mapped to A as well, requiring you to hold down the button to initate a climb. It works…about half of the time. The other half send you falling right back down, your face against the wall and a few seconds away from bullets in the back. Again, it’s not fluid, something other first-person shooters have already nailed.

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These are things that can easily be tweaked and changed through patches, but it will be interesting to see how the competitive market reacts. Aside from that, multiplayer was an absolute ball. Playing Uplink for the first time was as frantic and adrenaline pumping as I hoped. Racing with the satellite (ball) and trying to score at the other end of the map is a fun, thrilling mode that I can see myself sinking hours into. I soon started picking up some kickass Supply Drop loot and making my online avatar feel truly unique.

There’s still the standard progression, but Advance Warfare pulls out all the stops to make every match feel like it’s rewarding you with something. Supply Drops are ranked in rarity, and reward you with weapon and gear loot that sets you apart from the brown and grey soldiers in the pack. The Pick 13 system is also a great step forward from Black Ops II’s Pick 10 system, making space for unique Exo abilities and new perks. The menus are slick and easy to get through quickly, which is a must considering all the options available to players. There’s a lot on offer here, and I only really got to scratch the surface in the end.

Interview with Glen Schofield

I had the chance to sit down with Sledgehammer co-founder Glen Schofield during the event, and I asked him all sorts of questions. We got to chat about how the three year cycle has affected the quality of Advanced Warfare, and how open Sledgehammer was to messing with a multiplayer formula that was near perfect. Schofield believes that, even with the various changes, the Call of Duty community will welcome the evolutionary steps that Advanced Warfare takes. There aren’t any sure things in this industry, and Sledgehammer are well aware of that, but they seem confident in their first vision of what Call of Duty should be.

I can definitely see that Advanced Warfare is changing things up a bit. This still looks and feels like a Call of Duty title, so it’s not going to be an alien experience to returning fans. There’s definitely a hint of difference, and that ripples through ever facet of the game. It’s incredible what a little bit of flexible movement does to the overall experience, but I do wish it was a little more fluid. I’m excited to see what Sledgehammer has done with the single-player though, given the experience on the studios head. Advanced Warfare certainly feels like it has a lot more heart behind it than Ghosts did, but we’ll only know for sure next month.

Last Updated: October 3, 2014

Alessandro Barbosa

You can all call me Sandy until I figure out how to edit this thing, which is probably never. Sandy not good enough? Call me xXx_J0k3R_360degreeN0Sc0pe_xXx. Also, Geoff’s a bastard.

  • Spaffy

    Meh. I haven’t been excited for a COD game since MW, not about to start now.
    But I will be watching…

  • Bob

    Are people this scared of showing that they actually play COD, that there has only been one comment. AW looks awesome, its going to sell tons, cant wait till 3 NOV. I have even bought a PS4 just for AW.

  • Generic ZA

    Hehe, now where have I heard that before, broken windows creates problems, that aside I’m guessing many people will getting their COD pew pew on once this is released.

  • F34R_CS1977

    Scuf controllers are essential now

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