Advanced Warfare is One Heck of a Roller Coaster
Before we jump headlong into this review, there are two things you should know about me:
- I am at best, a casual Call of Duty fan. Therefore, this review is probably not for you hardcore fans who've probably forgotten more about Call of Duty than I will ever know. While I've played all the Modern Warfare games, I've only owned Call of Duty 2, Modern Warfare, Black Ops 2 and now Advanced Warfare. I am by no means a semi-pro player who can explain why an AK12 performs better in one game over another.
- I've been in real combat and often have trouble suspending my disbelief when I'm thrust into some of the more dramatic "Hollywood" approaches Call of Duty takes in delivering its tactical situations during campaign and multiplayer play.
In the interest of full disclosure, please also understand that Activision provided me with a review copy of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
To answer the question, "Is Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare worth your time and money?" I'll be breaking the Advanced Warfare experience into categories that I believe represent all of our unique play style preferences (Here's a link to a full description of the categories I use in my reviews):
Players who enjoy fast-paced, non-stop action, should have a ball with Advanced Warfare's campaign and multiplayer modes (aside from some seemingly widely experienced server lag issues that we'll cover in more detail later). The campaign houses the Hollywood roller coaster you're used to riding, but offers enough diversity of play to keep things interesting. I personally had a great time riding hover bikes and taking out guards using a drone to support my team's assault on an enemy compound. Sledgehammer did a great job removing the tedium from these segments to keep them fast and fun.
Call of Duty's campaign modes usually annoy me after the first few missions as the ridiculous tactical encounters often place the player in situations that go against conventional wisdom. Example: sending two people to fight off an entire company of soldiers in an attempt to assassinate their leader. However, the future setting and the game's newly introduced Exo Suit went a long way to help suspend my disbelief by leveling a playing field that's always stacked against the player.
Advanced Warfare's campaign is not all smiles, though. Many of the missions have the same annoying pre-determined path you're supposed to take in order to succeed. While the maps may open up a bit to allow you to maneuver, rest assured that there is still a critical path you're supposed to traverse. Veer off of it for too long and respawning bad guys will always be all to happy to return you to the prescribed course. This is a facet of Call of Duty's combat that I've always hated and it's exacerbated by the fact that your artificial intelligence controlled squad mates are about as helpful as taking your pet hamster into the fight.
Multiplayer modes keep the action rolling with varying degrees of chaos. You of course have the classic 6-on-6 Team Deathmatch and Kill Confirmed battles. But you also have the highly chaotic killfest that is Domination.
What truly sets Advanced Warfare's multiplayer apart from its predecessors is the verticality afforded by the Exo Suit. This is not what I'll call "superficial" verticality a-la riding an elevator to the 90th floor of a building in Battlefield 4. The Exo Suit adds a layer of speed and diversity to the combat never before seen in Call of Duty.
Unfortunately, I can't help but wonder if technological limitations kept the developers from making the maps larger and more traversable than they are. The constant "Out of Bounds" error message that pops up when you attempt to reach certain rooftops really didn't make sense to me. I felt there was no reason to constrain the player in this fashion when games like Battlefield 4 encourage this type of maneuvering.
By now, everyone should know that the Call of Duty franchise is really all about the online multiplayer. I'm happy to report that Sledgehammer really did a solid job with not only continuing the legacy, but providing a much needed evolution of play. The Exo Suit abilities are by no means revolutionary. But, the variety of play the suit affords is an absolute must for an aging franchise on life support.
The ability to traverse the length and width of a map in seconds and the game's perk system really allows the player to be creative in how they issue out justice on their competitors.
Unfortunately for PS4 players, there have been widespread accounts of server lag and spotty hit detection. Rumor has it that Activision did not deliver the promised dedicated servers for PS4 players and instead has gamers going head to head on peer-to-peer servers. Whether this is true at the time of this review, I have yet to see. However, I can vouch for several matches where I was killed hiding behind an impenetrable wall on my screen because I was still out in the open on my opponent's screen. I imagine patches and upgrades will be forthcoming to address these issues. But, it is frustrating to see games this popular suffer from issues the company clearly has the resources to address.
Call of Duty has always been more Chinese Checkers than Chess. Players who prefer tactical shooters like the ARMA or Delta Force series, may find Advanced Warfare a bit too arcade-y. In multiplayer, the only consistent tactical advantage you have is your ability to memorize maps, learn enemy player tendencies and keep it moving. Attempting to hold an single piece of terrain will certainly get you killed as every position on a given map has multiple access and egress routes. For years, this approach was the main reason I didn't enjoy Call of Duty games. However, I've learned to adapt my play style to the game's more arcade-centric flavor.
I don't want to imply that Advanced Warfare employs no tactics or that it's just a free-for-all shoot people in the face simulator. You just have to understand that the tactics that work in real life don't apply hear. In fact, the tactics that work in real life are exactly what will get you murdered in Call of Duty games. If you can't turn off the conventional tactician portion of your brain, then Advanced Warfare is certainly not for you.
Players who enjoy leveling and customizing their onscreen personas should find quite a bit to love with Advanced Warfare. Your created operator still levels by gaining experience points in competitive play and you still unlock various weapons, armor and accessories by completing goals in battle.
What I found really interesting and enjoyable was the fact that you also build your character in campaign mode. The execution is a bit stifled in that many of the campaign missions don't allow you to use all of your abilities. But, it did add a nice touch of progression to what's typically a very linear shooting gallery with dumb AI enemies.
Players who enjoy playing cooperatively with friends will find a functional co-op survival mode. I've always believed that co-op modes felt tacked on in these types of games. Advanced Warfare didn't do too much to help change this sentiment. What I really want to do is tackle the main campaign with a friend, not play a soulless horde mode.
Fans of the Zombie Survival modes in older Call of Duty games will get a brief taste of Zombie mode in the main release if they can survive long enough. However, keep in mind it's just a taste. A full Zombie Survival mode will only be available via Downloadable Content.
Audiophiles and Visualists
Advanced Warfare most certainly shows off the capabilities of this current generation's hardware. Textures are sharp and clean, color is plentiful and the draw distance shows decent improvement over the last generation. You should immediately notice that the graphics are a bit more vibrant in single-player mode. Further, the cut scenes in this game are especially excellent.
Advanced Warfare's sound is best showcased by the superb voice acting. The entire all-star cast nail their roles with outstanding delivery. In multiplayer mode, I was also pleased to see that sound played a significant role in determining enemy proximity. Everything from muted gunshots in the distance to footsteps creeping on your 'six' work perfectly to set the tone for battle
You may find it strange to hear me give significance to Advanced Warfare's story, but I believe it bears mentioning. Make no mistake, the plot is just as grandiose and ridiculous as it's ever been in any Call of Duty. However, the writers very smartly chose to focus on the story's characters. Thanks to the excellent voice acting and the writers not trying to make the story into shakespearian quality prose, you should definitely make an emotional connection with the protagonists from beginning to end. Thanks to some clever presentation at the game's end, you'll even come to connect with the story's villain.
I'd also like to quickly mention that I absolutely love the fact that one of the main characters is a woman with strong character and convictions, who's not paraded around as some scantily-clad sex object on the battlefield. Aside from Troy Baker's rendition of Mitchell and Spacey's role as Irons, Russel Richardson, Gideon Emery and Angela Gots really conspire to steal the show as Cormack, Gideon and Ilona respectively.
Advanced Warfare won't change the world of gaming or even revolutionize the first person shooter genre. But, I believe Sledgehammer was very smart to enhance the genre's existing strengths to make a highly enjoyable, if familiar experience. If you hate the series, I don't believe Advanced Warfare can change your perspective. But, If you've enjoyed Call of Duty in the past, you will certainly find enough to love about Advanced Warfare to warrant a purchase.