It’s been a hell of a long time since I thoroughly enjoyed a Call of Duty title. After the first Black Ops, I completely lost interest in the series and put it behind me. The futuristic setting of Advanced Warfare tickled my interest though, so I was quite keen to see how it turned out. As a bit of disclosure, let me say that I was flown to a top secret location with a few other European journalists to have a few days of hands-on time with the game. Sadly, there was no free yacht or giant pay cheque under my pillow. Instead, I got a ton of time to explore the future, and I think it’s looking rather bright for the series.
The year is 2054. As you’d expect from the typical Call of Duty game, there is some or other crisis taking place. You fill the role of Jack Mitchell, a US Marine who lands in Seoul to help fight the invading North Koreans… some things just never change I guess. You’re accompanied by your best friend, William Irons. The mission ends horrendously with Mitchell losing not only his buddy, but also his left arm.
Fast forward to the funeral and Jonathan Irons, William’s father, steps in. This is the character played by Kevin Spacey, one of the game’s biggest marketing bulletpoints. It’s an important character too, as he is the CEO and founder of Atlas Corporation, a huge company that is home to the world’s most powerful private military. Needless to say, his organisation has some of the most advanced technology of the time, and he offers Mitchell a second chance.
As a new member of the Atlas Private Military Corporation, you partake in several missions all over the globe, stepping in where others can’t due to all the political red tape. There is a terrorist organisation known as the KVA who are out to cause all sorts of havoc, and it’s your job to hunt down their leader, Hades.You have access to all sorts of new tech toys during these missions thanks to the futuristic setting. The most notable piece of gear you have is of course, the Exoskeleton. You won’t believe just how much that artificial spine has changed up the gameplay. Simply put, it’s a lot of fun.
Each mission has a different type of Exosuit with different capabilities depending on the situation at hand. I was a bit disappointed to find that I couldn’t boost jump in each stage, but that’s understandable as it wasn’t really needed for most. Thankfully, you can still use the left or right boost to dodge regardless of what Exosuit is equipped.
There are also some neat accessories. My favourite by far was the grapple hook. There is a stealth mission which has you swinging up and over ledges and into bushes for cover, while another is more intense, requiring the player to move up and down areas quickly to gain vantage points or fulfil objectives.
I was honestly surprised at the detail Sledgehammer put into one level that made use of it. I was chatting to the one developers after finishing the campaign, and he mentioned some of the things the grapple hook was capable of. I had missed some of these subtle nuances. I went back and replayed that particular level, only to find that grappling to a ledge with an enemy has several different takedown animations. In fact, ledge death is just the start. There are other, much cooler uses which I won’t spoil for you.
The Exosuit also has room for permanent upgrades which adds a very light RPG element to the game. These are acquired by simply killing enemies, performing headshots, or finding pieces of intel. Upgrade points allow you to improve the likes of reload speed, sprint speed, and various other aspects of the suit. I thought it was a nice touch, allowing players to feel like they are getting just that little bit stronger or better as the game progresses
Overall, I liked the campaign. There are the usual explosive and unusual set pieces typical to a game of this nature. Not all of them blew me away, but I never once felt disappointed either. The only real dislike I had was the ending… it felt a little flat, setting up an obvious sequel. That’s just my opinion though.
I know many will pick up Advanced Warfare just for campaign, so is it worth it? To ensure I finished my review, I played on regular difficulty, and trust me, I still had my fair share of deaths. With that in mind, my total playtime clocked in at just under 7 hours. Comparatively, another journalist said his playthrough on regular took 8. Higher difficulties will obviously take a lot longer. In terms of replayability, I think the campaign is good enough to have people playing it a second or third time. I know I certainly will.
As for Jonathan Irons, Spacey does a sterling job. The facial capture really is amazing and looks ridiculously lifelike. That being said, he is not the only memorable character. Mitchell does also come across as somewhat developed as the story progresses, a lot more relatable than previous protagonists. Those around him were far more interesting to me though.
This for many is the real Call of Duty. The big question is, how does the Exosuit affect the traditional multiplayer experience? It’s a tough question to answer. Personally, I think it’s a welcome change to the series, something that was desperately needed. That being said, I don’t know if it is something everybody will enjoy. It’s an odd feeling. You will sprint around the map, dodging left and right, jumping up to reach new heights, and it all feels a little alien at first. Yet, it still somehow manages to feel exactly like Call of Duty should. The Exosuit really opens up the maps when it comes to mobility, and they have been designed to utilise this new movement to full effect.
When it comes to encountering other players, I was strongly reminded of Unreal Tournament when it came to double jumping or boosting left and right. A skilled opponent will still more than likely shoot you in the face regardless of which direction you choose to dodge, but I really felt like it was giving me a fighting chance in encounters.
There is just something addictive about facing an enemy, dodging their fire, and pulling off a headshot. I was genuinely surprised at how boosting became second nature, whether it was to get around corners quickly for cover, or simply in a head-on encounter to improve survivability. I don’t think it feels cheap either. Killing a fast moving enemy is just that more rewarding – at least in my eyes.
There are also a bunch of new abilities thanks to the Exosuit. For example, you can choose to equip a movement upgrade which when activated, makes you run at a much faster speed. Another will give you access to a riot shield of sorts, allowing you to back out of any unfavourable situation. One that has many people riled up is the cloak upgrade. No, it really isn’t broken. An invisible player may be harder to see, but they are still very much spottable if you’re paying attention. Also, none of these abilities last forever. They have a limited use per life.
Customisation is better than ever. Remember Pick Ten from Black Ops II? Advanced Warfare ramps that up to Pick Thirteen. As the name implies, there are thirteen points to spend on customisation, really allowing the player to tailor exactly how they wish to play. I seldom used grenades, or my Exosuit ability for that matter (depending on how I felt). Pick Thirteen allowed me to drop those in favour of something else, say, three attachments on my primary, or extra kill streaks. You can utilise it however you want. Feel like you don’t have enough perks? Just drop a secondary weapon and grab another awesome passive!
Beyond that there is also cosmetic customisations. Sledgehammer want players to really stand out and feel unique. What’s awesome is that rewards aren’t based purely on your abilities in combat. Supply drops are awarded depending on time spent playing, and they contain anything from new pants or helmets to new weapon variants. If there is unwanted gear, those can be cashed in towards your level XP. The gear itself is rad, with options to equip new items in categories from your shoes right through to the exosuit itself.
Overall, It’s the multiplayer experience you’d expect from a Call of Duty title. There are numerous game modes to suck up all your time, including some old favourites like Hardpoint, and the new Uplink – a sort of futuristic, combatitive basketball – which is a lot of fun. The Exosuit notches up the game to a speedy 11. I really can’t comprehend the thought of going back to a Call of Duty title that doesn’t have this awesome piece of tech. Again, I’m not sure if this change is something that will appeal to everybody, though I rather enjoyed it.
A growing trend these days is the inclusion of a mode which has players surviving against endless waves of enemies. Call of Duty has done this since the good old zombies back in Black Ops. Advanced Warfare has its own too, called Exo-Survival. There are no undead or aliens. Instead, players have to fend off perfectly ordinary enemies, for the first few levels anyways. Journalists were split off into different groups. My team consisted of people from Poland, Hungary, and the UK. We were ambitious, we had dreams… we were going to destroy wave after wave.
Except, we didn’t. Exo-Survival is damned tough, at least it was for us. Enemies get stronger, to the point where it’s just insane. Players are expected to go up against soldiers who are ill-equipped, to soldiers with grenades, to soldiers and dogs, to invisible soldiers, to grenade throwing soldiers with dogs, to invisible grenade throwing soldiers with dogs, to insanely armoured enemies akin to the Juggernaut from previous Call of Duty titles, except that they are in freaking mech… You get the picture? Oh, and there are drones in the air, shooting you in the face now and then too.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, camping is not an option. A wave will almost always have a secondary objective, and if unfulfilled, results in hardcore punishments on the team such as gear or primary weapons being disabled for example. These objectives can include the likes of defusing three bombs within two minutes, defending a hardpoint, collecting 20 dog tags all over the map, and so on. It really does keep players on their toes. Thankfully, to even the odds, each wave rewards the player with Exo Currency. These can be used to upgrade weapons, kill streaks or the Exosuit itself.
There are three classes to choose from; Light, Heavy, and Specialist. Each have their own unique equipment. Finding a good balance in a party can really make a difference. Personally, I enjoyed the Light class. They only have access to submachine guns and assault rifles, as well as a UAV kill streak, but they are also the fastest and most mobile which compensates for their low armor.
Each map has its own unique feel, and finding the perfect spot is a real challenge. That in itself is difficult, because no map seems to have a corner to hide in. In the end, it doesn’t matter as there are those pesky secondary objectives to fulfil. My ragtag team managed to reach level 11. Another team (with an Advanced Warfare developer) reached level 98. I really don’t know what sort of sorcery was used to achieve such a feat. Oddly enough, I tried the game solo at a later stage, and made it further than I did with my team. I reached level 12, only stopping because it was time to leave the hotel.
Games of this nature can grow stale really quickly. I only got about 4 hours or so of playtime, yet I could easily play dozens more. Exo-Survival is a great addition to Advanced Warfare, and something I am confident many will enjoy. I just have no clue whether level 98 is something achievable by the average group of people. Knowing the Internet though, I’m sure the 100th wave will be passed soon enough.
You’d expect the new movement options to come at the expense of great, comfortable controls, but this isn’t the case at all. Dodging is achieved simply by pushing the analogue stick in while facing the direction you want to boost in. Double jumping is just a matter of tapping jump twice, and that movement can be further improved by boosting in the desired direction midair. It works, it’s not complicated at all. As I’ve said already, the new movement felt like second nature to me in next to no time.
Most of my time with the game was spent on the Xbox One. I did get a handful of hours on the PlayStation 4 too, and to me there is no real noticeable difference. In the end, it all comes down to console preference. While I love the design of the new Xbox One controller (really, it’s the sexiest controller EVER), I transitioned to the Dual Shock without any issue whatsoever.
Is the game too futuristic? Not at all. Sledgehammer have gone out of their way to research all the gear they have included. If such a thing doesn’t exist already (as in, beyond a prototype stage), it definitely will in the near future. Holy crap, I need an Exosuit with a grapple gun so I can go Spider-Man around Joburg CBD! I spent around 15-16 hours with the title. That is just a scratch on the surface of the longevity thanks to the multiplayer and Exo-Survival modes.
Disclosure: The review was conducted over a three-day period at a review event in the UK. The single player review was conducted on an Xbox One at my own pace in my hotel room with no intervention from PR or the game’s developers. The game was played to completion on regular, and took in the region of 7 hours. The multiplayer component was played in a specified room with other media representatives. As multiplayer information is verified online, the multiplayer sessions were conducted over Xbox Live.
Last Updated: November 3, 2014