Another year, another edition of Activision’s massively popular shooter. That’s really how we tell that the gaming year is finally winding down to a manageable pace but it’s how a large number of gamers mark their calendars. A new Call of Duty means new maps, guns, gameplay and a whole lot of online trash talk once the campaign story has been flashbanged and shot in the face.
That is, if players get to the campaign at all. A lot of players don’t, preferring to jump right into their KD ratios and levelling their characters without the benefit of have trying out what’s new this year. After the let-down that was Call of Duty: Ghosts, on a story level at least, you’d be forgiven for thinking that developer Sledgehammer would be issuing another lacklustre story so that we can get it over with and head online. You’d be mistaken.
The single-player campaign introduces players to the new gameplay mechanics. Not too gently, mind you. You’re a gamer, you’re supposed to know which end of the gun a bullet comes out of and how a double-jump works. Double-jump in a shooter? Yup, thanks to the new exo-suits, a metal exoskeleton that augments the abilities of players when on the battlefield. There’s a whole raft of other tech to play with as well, homing grenades, EMPs and threat grenades that reveal the location of enemy units are just a few of these.
A cast headed by a very well-animated Kevin Spacey doing his very best PMC (private military corporation) CEO impersonation will dunk players into the Advanced Warfare storyline. Initial impressions will prove to be a bit… corny, almost. Two friends, seeing action in Seoul in South Korea, are sent to take down a generic target and one of them gets his arm jammed into a hole that has just had an explosive planted in it. Following a touching (in a manly way) speech the player character, Mitchell, is blown up, losing an arm in the process, and his friend unfortunately doesn’t survive the explosion.
But Mitchell’s friend, Will Irons, is the son of Jonathan Irons, the CEO of Atlas. Atlas is a PMC that contracts to the highest bigger, with a collection of tech that would make the Pentagon break down and cry with joy if they found some samples in their christmas stocking, and a reputation for effective action. Irons Senior takes a shine to Mitchell and Mitchell is given a new robotic arm and a new home at Atlas. The target for much of Advanced Warfare is the terrorist Hades but there are a few twists and turns in store. Utterly predictable scenarios though, there’s a demolished landmark, a boat-based level and, yes, somehow things come down to a knife, but the story itself and the cast are engaging (if cliched in places) enough to hold your attention through the six or seven hours it’ll take to complete. (See, no spoilers.)
Bring A Friend
Once you’ve learned the basics in the campaign, it’s time to head off to Exo-Survival, a dedicated co-op game mode that can be played locally (split-screen), via system link or online. Exo-Survival is a variation of the Spec Ops modes of Call of Dutys past, where players attempt to survive wave after wave of progressively tougher enemies. The difference comes in with the objective variations: every few rounds, players are tasked with a specific objective than needs to be completed. You might be defusing bombs, holding a hardpoint or something similar – it just adds some spice to a familiar game mode.
Exo-Survival gives players one of three Exo suits to choose from at the outside. There are Light, Heavy and Specialist options, each with their own perks, upgrades and advantages. The Light suit is designed for support, players move faster and can jump higher, with a UAV that can be called in so you can pin-point enemy units. The Heavy features a gun that we can only call a bullet-hose, heavier armour but it limited with regards to speed and height. Players can, however, spawn a Goliath, a mech-suit that makes short work of… pretty much everything. The Specialist suit offers a shotgun that makes very large holes, more balanced armour and movement and a sentry gun. Every play style is catered for, but that’s not where this ends. There are zombies before you leave Exo-Survival (on the final Riot map) but there’s the multiplayer to contend with as well.
The big playground is online, where you’d better be bringing your A game. Advanced Warfare features a lengthy collection of game modes, though the big ones here in SA are Team Deathmatch and Kill Confirmed. There’s also Capture the Flag, Momentum, Domination, Infected and a bunch of others that we’ve seen previously. These can be played online, via a LAN (system link) or locally with a split-screen and bots.
Gameplay online, as it is everywhere else in Advanced Warfare, is fast, frantic and fraught with frags. The customisation options from Ghosts have stayed, so players can built their own character around a base body, with gear, gender and logos on clothing all being tweakable (and we expect more than a few microtransaction purchases will be made available later).
Assigning weapons and perks borrows from the Black Ops series as well as Ghosts, you’ll be able to customise your character’s abilities up to a certain limit. Builds are up to you.
But it’s the new Exo mechanic that refreshes online play. The initial collection of maps is designed to vertical gameplay as well as the traditional run-and-gun, you’ll have to adapt to looking up or face wholesale slaughter. Movement, aiming and combat in general is smooth and speedy, though we suspect that there will be some more balance changes made in future. They’re still adjusting Black Ops II, after all. But that double-jump… double-jump changes everything.
If you’re any kind of shooter fan, Advanced Warfare has to be on your playlist. It’s a better debut than Ghosts managed, while retaining the features from last year’s game that really worked well. You might be focused on the multiplayer but give the campaign and Exo-Survival a bash, they won’t disappoint either.