While Call of Duty may be the games industry’s closest equivalent to one of Hollywood’s “tent-pole” blockbuster franchises – and still generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year for Activision, much sooner after release than any mega-budget movie series could – recent instalments of the first-person shooter have shown signs of going through the motions. Enter Sledgehammer, which previously helped Infinity Ward to make Modern Warfare 3 and has now been entrusted with full CoD-creation duties. Given the first proper crack at a CoD game on the next-gen consoles, it had a lot to prove and has risen to the challenge in heart-warming fashion. Advanced Warfare is a much-needed franchise-freshener.
Perhaps more than any other games franchise, Call of Duty has looked to Hollywood for inspiration over the years and its desire to ape a blockbusting action film has never been more in evidence than in Advanced Warfare. The central character in the storyline is Jonathan Irons, CEO of the private military contractor Atlas. Irons is played by Kevin Spacey – and very well, given the often clichéd nature of the dialogue he’s given. The performance-captured cut-scenes are impressively detailed: Advanced Warfare looks truly next-gen from the outset. And the single-player storyline is an order of magnitude better than those of recent CoDs. It’s actually memorable, and full of twists and change-ups. The single-player campaign still isn’t one of the longer ones you’ll find in a game, but it’s much meatier than the desultory efforts from Black Ops II and Ghosts.
But what elevates Advanced Warfare above recent instalments of CoD is its future setting and the clever way in which Sledgehammer has interpolated the sort of weaponry soldiers might be able to get their hands on in 2080. Your key item of futuristic kit is an exo-suit, which enables all manner of semi-superhuman abilities, including a huge boost-jump, a boost-dodge, a time-slowing focus mode called Overdrive, health-restoring stim-packs, a retro-rocket which lets you hover or fall without damage from great heights and an invisibility cloak.
Unfortunately, you never get more than three abilities at a time in the single-player game, but different missions highlight different abilities. You have a great futuristic arsenal, too, which notably features Threat grenades that temporarily highlight enemies in red, Smart grenades that you can direct towards individual targets and EMP grenades which are vital for taking down drones. There are countless other toys, like an excellent grapple which can be used for stealthy movement or performing hidden take-downs, and an attack drone that operates like both sniper and tank, sending out swarms of auto-targeting missiles. As does the mech-suit, which features towards the end of the game and is much more fun to pilot than anything you’ll find in Titanfall.
The end result is still identifiably Call of Duty, but with added dimensions that make it feel more tactical and generally fresher. And the same can be said about the multiplayer. When you go online, it’s worth mastering all the exo-suit’s enhanced movement possibilities – there’s an air-dash, a ground-pound-style slam and an enhanced knee-slide, in addition to boost-jump and boost-dodge. The more exotic exo-suit abilities, though, are restricted in multiplayer compared to the single-player game (for balancing reasons). The maps are way more vertical than those of previous CoD games, due to the boost-jump abilities, which adds a tangible sense of bringing something new to the all-too-familiar party.
The multiplayer modes include with staples like Capture The Flag and Team Deathmatch; Hardpoint is back and a bizarre new effort resembling American football with guns, entitled Uplink, should appeal to the hardcore. Meanwhile, an almost bewilderingly comprehensive system lets you tailor your loadout and abilities in minute detail. Neophyte CoD players can cut their teeth in a special arena for those feeling their way into Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer side called the Combat Readiness Programme, which redacts gamertags, spoon-feeds streak rewards and generally makes for a far less punishing online experience – at the expense of the long-term rewards.
The co-op Exo Survival mode, though, feels like something of an afterthought: it does vary proceedings between repelling waves of exo-suited enemies and more mission-based, offensive sequences and it also brings more access to the exo-suit’s kick-ass abilities than the straight multiplayer, but it’s far too similar to the CoD co-op modes of yore.
Overall, however, Advanced Warfare does a mighty fine job of reviving a franchise that has looked in need of resuscitation for a while now. It bodes well for the future of the franchise since, now that Sledgehammer has stepped up to the plate so impressively, Infinity Ward and Treyarch will have three, rather than two, years in which to craft their instalments. If you’ve begun to fall out of love with Call of Duty in recent years, Advanced Warfare may be just the thing to rekindle your relationship.