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VideAU Games Review: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (PlayStation 4, 2014)

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Venerable yearly franchise and the shooter du-jour of hyperactive 13 year olds everywhere, Call of Duty is back, with it’s first true next-gen outing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. CoDAW seems aware that the franchise is becoming increasingly stale with age and it is determined to try and remedy this by giving players the kind of gadgetry and movement they've never had before in a new, futuristic setting.

Most people buy Call of Duty games at this point for the multiplayer, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the single player campaign is the game’s true low point. It’s the kind of Michael Bay-esque action movie rollercoaster you've come to expect from a CoD campaign.

You play as Private Jack Mitchell (played by the now omnipresent Troy Baker), a soldier who is wounded badly in a mission gone wrong, losing his arm. His best bud Will Irons is killed in action and Mitchell is discharged. At Will’s funeral, his father Jonathan Irons (Kevin Spacey) offers Mitchell a place at his company, a massive PMC called Atlas. Irons replaces Mitchell’s lost arm with an advanced prosthetic. You are trained up and sent to shoot your way to a terrorist calling himself Hades and off the story barrels headlong into ever more improbable action movie territory.

The problem that I have with the campaign is that it’s barely a game. Playing through Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s campaign is like being forced into repeatedly hitting a specific mark by an overly fussy film director. Do exactly as the game says or you will die or fail your objective immediately. Frequently, I would be told to follow a particular NPC to the next objective marker. My character walks far faster than the NPC does so, hoping to save a bit of time, I walk over to where the NPC is clearly going. The game promptly fails me because I apparently left the mission area. “No, no, no, CUT!” the game says, “I said ‘follow’. Alright everybody, back to one, we're going again!” The scenario I'm describing happened to me a truly maddening amount.

This insistence on getting it "right" is all in service of attempting to maintain momentum. The game really doesn't want you to stop or explore at all. Again: shoot the guys, do the thing, move on. The missions are kept pretty short for this reason - the moment you start to get a feel for an area, you’re whisked off to another one. All told, I was able to knock the single player campaign over in an afternoon, clocking in at around 7 hours or so. This sense of misplaced urgency is especially punishing during vehicle sections. One section saw me piloting a speedboat through a series of canals (a sequence that borrowed liberally from a similar sequence in Half-Life 2). It was solid and different and made a nice change from the endless shooting. But it was over in the blink of an eye and the mission ended. CoDAW likes giving you cool toys and then not really giving you time to enjoy them, or really even get a feel for them, before taking them away again.

Speaking of cool toys, there’s a few positives to talk about in this regard. Your character is outfitted with a robotic exo-suit (that looks suspiciously similar to the exo-suit worn by Matt Damon in Elysium). The exo-suit bestows on the wearer incredible strength, speed, jumping ability and a little bit of a jetpack for descending steep drops. It works fine, but in terms of traversal it pales in comparison to something like Titanfall where traversal was so fluid and a real joy to perform.

You’ve also got access to a variety of deployables as well, from grenades to temporary buffs like Overclock (a short burst of bullet time) and Mute (a deadening of sound within a certain area to cover the sound of you massacring guards without being detected). You’ve also got access to various drones as well. The grenade switching was a component I really enjoyed. There are six types of grenades, bound to your L1 and R1 buttons. You can switch through them to find what you’re after. Threat grenades temporarily reveal enemy positions on screen. There’s homing grenades that will fly quickly to wherever you hover your cursor and detonate. There are, however, a lot of them to cycle through and I would frequently miss the one I wanted or impulsively throw a non-explosive grenade when I wanted one to frag out.

In terms of firepower, you have an awful lot of weapons at your disposal from shotguns to machine guns, rockets to grenade launchers, pistols to snipers, laser cannons to crossbows. They’re all suitably meaty and serve much more specific purposes in the multiplayer component (which we’ll get to soon, I promise) but in the single player they all feel a bit the same. Guys die from bullets no matter which gun they’re coming from so you can pretty much pick up anything you want and wreak havoc with it. Even the shotgun seems to have a pretty crazy range.

The in-game HUD is pretty tight with most information being kept to the bare essentials like how much ammo you have and who’s an ally when you highlight them. However, there were two areas I felt needed some improvement were a way to better detect who friendlies were - by the end of the game they were all beginning to look the same as the bad guys and I kept killing them by mistake - and why the hell is the Skype window that pops up on your HUD from time to time so ludicrously huge. I’m playing your game on a 50” screen, Sledgehammer, and you've managed to take up a third of it with a video call that goes on for a minute and a half during combat. It just doesn't need to be that big.

There’s an element of the campaign that still feels extremely dated too, and it’s the game is still built entirely on triggers. Infinite enemies will pour into each area in waves until you cross some invisible line in the sand and the game tells them to stop. It’s another example of the game forcing you onward before you might be ready. Call of Duty has used this mechanic since it’s first iteration back in 2003 and it has never felt more outdated and archaic.

This will be my final point on the single player campaign, but it applies to the multiplayer as well. I do actually have something nice to say about Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (!!!) and it’s this: this game is beautiful to look at. The graphics teams have done some really amazing work here. The lighting is gorgeous, the textures are crisp, the weapon designs look really cool and are very detailed. Character models are extremely realistic and the motion capture is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a game. In terms of visuals, it is an endless treat for your eyes and the teams involved in building this area of the game should be extremely pleased with themselves. Amazing work.

Alright, alright, I've beaten the hell out of the single player long enough. Let’s talk about the part you actually care about: the multiplayer. Off the bat, there are 15 different multiplayer modes to choose from (including the co-operative Exo Survival mode), there’s perks, there’s a ton of customisation, 15 well-designed maps - it all hums along about as smoothly as you would expect for a series with such a focus on this component. I am, personally, absolutely rubbish at CoD multiplayer, but that isn't enough to keep me from being able to see that - objectively - there’s to like about it. The depth of character customisation gives you a real sense of ownership of your character and you can still set up multiple weapon and gadget loadouts depending on how you want to tackle each map. The Pick 10 create-a-class system has been upgraded to Pick 13 so you've now got more options to drill down on to find the perfect match for your playstyle. The boost dodge and boost jump provide a bit of verticality that, while still not on Titanfall’s level, does change up what you’ve come to expect from player movement in CoD multiplayer. There’s lots to tweak and play around with here and series veterans will be right at home, racing to prestige all over again.

Ultimately, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare doesn’t feel very advanced at all. I just got done reviewing Halo: The Master Chief Collection right before beginning my playthrough of this game. When a thirteen year old shooter makes your modern day one feel rather bland and robotic by comparison, you know that something has gone horribly awry. The Call of Duty series is in desperate need of a revamp to bring it kicking and screaming into the next generation. Fans of the series will return in droves for this year’s multiplayer offerings, but you can and should be demanding more.

Review Score: 6.5 out of 10
Highlights: Gorgeous visuals, rock solid multiplayer
Lowlights: Bland, pushy single player campaign.
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Publisher: Activision
Released: November 4, 2014
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Reviewed on PlayStation 4