Another year another COD. Well, I say that, but I have refrained from buying a ticket for the hype train since 2010. The last ticket I bought was for Black Ops, which was a bit of an experimental entry with a thriller tinged campaign and the addictive wager multiplayer modes, including my favourite, One in the Chamber. With Sledgehammer’s first attempt at taking the helm for the series, we see the return of the experimental muscle Treyarch had previously flexed.
My absence from the series has worked for and against its favour. The exoskeletons of Advanced Warfare brighten up the multiplayer mechanics – seriously, I fucking love double jump – and the campaign is actually decent with some genuinely interesting level design.
However, the story is still a schlocky set-piece heavy rollercoaster and multiplayer is still the same old twitchy gunplay you’ve already played. A lot.
It’s a game that would have benefited from not being part of the Duty series; with a little bit of extra breathing space, it could have really come to life but wouldn’t have been allowed to spend or make as much money.
For me, the campaign is surprisingly the star of the show. It ditches the constant barrage of player character deaths of the Modern Warfare series, instead opting for a fairly straight forward summer schlock movie dealing with loyalty, ethics and politics. While that may sound awful – and taking a completely detached view of the proceedings, it truly is – some of the predictable moments can actually border on compelling. It seems that the little extra care into the campaign has paid off for Sledgehammer.
The exoskeleton challenges are a fun addition which encourage the player to increase their kill count, collect intel, make the all-important headshots and rack up the grenade kills. However, the upgrades on offer as a reward for these challenges are uninspired and range from an extra grenade slot to increased reload speed. Nothing special here, but hopefully this will be addressed in future iterations.
Then there’s the characters. You play as Jack Mitchell, a pretty bland ’bro’ who goes from a beard-and-buzz-cut wearing grunt who has no problem yelling, ‘Oo-rah!’ when prompted, to a bland survivor with long hair and broody stares. But, despite being portrayed by Troy Baker, Mitchell isn’t the star of the show.
So let’s get this out of the way: Kevin Spacey is in Call of Duty. Yes, there are other characters that take more screen time – your fairly generic but likeable partner Gideon is with you for the majority of the story, portrayed by Gideon Emery, a certain voice to listen out for – but Kevin Spacey’s Jonathan Irons is the celebrity and unashamedly celebrated. Whenever Irons is on screen, Sledgehammer makes sure he is the focus; Spacey gets to flex his familiar likeness in a role that was evidently shaped to accommodate his domineering presence and politician-like prowess, and this results in a memorable performance for a videogame.
Truth is, the character is run-of-the-mill Spacey performance and yet again the story has a fixation on America’s great influence. Great.
Oh and before I forget, Michael Bay. Because, you know, Bayhem. Uh…
Disappointingly, the multiplayer relies on its predecessor even further. Little has changed.
Advanced Warfare keeps the choice to be female from last year’s Ghosts, but has half of the skin options as the male counterparts; Black Ops 2’s Pick 10 has returned and has been bumped to Pick 13; and dynamic environments make a not-quite-so grand return.
New modes come in the form of Momentum and Uplink; the latter being something that is actually a little different – think basketball with guns and less fun. The exoskeletons are a nice addition but sadly fail to truly shake up the gameplay as promised.
That said, the verticality of the map designs and the ever-enjoyable double jump provide a further way of approaching your attacks and a new way to consider defending yourself. It also means the levels have less bottlenecking as exploration is encouraged. Sadly, the opportunity to explore seemingly results in less cunning and more camping, a problem that, depending on your play style and point of view, has plagued the series for far too many years to count.
The game isn’t as refined as the very pretty graphics would have you think: the HUD can be overwhelming, particularly in multiplayer, or distracting, such as when Kevin Spacey’s mug takes over half of your screen to have a wee chat mid mission; the frame rate drops a few times in the campaign; the graphical detail takes an understandable dip on split screen; and the lack of sound options is a worrying trend creeping into this generation of games.
Ultimately, the changes Sledgehammer have made result in less innovation and only slightly deviation for a series that has long been on a stale track. I enjoyed the game for a few days and I cannot deny, but the fact I have already sold the game on release day says it all: a somewhat enjoyable romp with little staying power.
Sorry COD, maybe see you in another four years when you have more mechs and tech…
Edible, yet slightly over cooked with a hint of what could have been.
Please consult the rating guide.