Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review: Modern Again

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare drops its pretense of modern conflict and jumps into full sci-fi futurism, much to the series' benefit. Our review.

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No series in recent memory has lost me as thoroughly as Call of Duty. Though I was enamored with Modern Warfare, the yearly iterations of varying quality quickly lost my interest. I had become a bona fide skeptic, immune to the flashy demos of Advanced Warfare I saw at press events. Imagine my surprise when Advanced Warfare brought me back to a place of genuine enjoyment. The similar naming scheme is no coincidence: this is the best the series has been since Modern Warfare reset the modern military shooter.

The Future, Conan?

Unlike Black Ops 2's tentative toe-dip into futurism, Advanced Warfare dives in with both feet in the somewhat distant future. It eschews all pretense of being a loose metaphor for current geopolitical struggles, and instead turns unabashedly sci-fi. Thanks to an ever-expanding arsenal of high-tech fantasy gadgets and vehicles, this is the series at the apex of feeling like a gritty G.I. Joe reboot. 

The major future-props are the EXO suits, advanced exoskeletons that can turn any soldier into a superhuman. These suits enhance natural abilities, letting a normal person rip open metal or lift heavy objects, while also granting special abilities like a grappling rope or boost jump. Completing mission objectives grants points to upgrade your suit with small perks like extra armor or grenades. The EXO suit is modular, letting soldiers equip up to three abilities depending on the mission type.

This is a double-edged sword for Call of Duty stage design. The abilities are catered to each stage, which lets Sledgehammer iterate with a variety of traversal and combat scenarios. However, it does reinforce the criticism that Call of Duty is set on a narrow path, since the constant switching prevented me from feeling like I was really learning the abilities and adapting my own creative solutions. Instead, I was being told it was time to use X or Y ability to see the next whiz-bang setpiece. 

Those setpieces are genuinely thrilling regardless. The futurism makes the weaponry feel more differentiated, so the smooth shooter gameplay the series is known for no longer boils down to a series of interchangeable auto rifles. And even aside from the variety provided by the EXO suits, Sledgehammer took special care to pace Advanced Warfare evenly. Quieter moments that crescendo into explosions and the environments are incredibly diverse. 

Spacey for Rent

Even if this is the series dropping current events, the story is still passably related to a subject that we've seen in the news: private military corporations. Following a botched Marines mission that kills the player character's best friend, you're recruited by his father, Jonathan Irons, played by Kevin Spacey. Irons owns Atlus, a PMC organization with funding far beyond the U.S. military. The Marines had future-toys, but stepping into Irons' corporation means you get the best money can buy. As a member of Atlus, you intervene in global conflicts as the company rises to prominence as the go-to military-for-hire in the world community. Most of your efforts are focused against a terrorist known as Hades, who aims to destroy technology and send society back to a more primal state.

Your friend's death does lead to a silly moment in which you're asked to hold a button to pay respects. It's hard to fault Call of Duty for this, but it was a cold reminder of how limited the video games are. In the middle of a game that has honed a perfect gameplay metaphor for war and killing, the act of grieving is relegated to a button prompt. It's not the fault of Advanced Warfare that the medium is so underdeveloped in that area, but the juxtaposition was striking.

Spacey brings all of his gravitas and polished smarm to the role.

Irons is played by Spacey in every sense of the word, from vocal performance to very impressive facial capture. Usually when a game company hires a big-name actor to trade on their name, I've gotten the sense the actor feels this is all beneath him, and the result is a shallow, phoned-in performance. Not so for Spacey. He brings all of his gravitas and polished smarm to the role. Though the story takes a rather obvious turn, Spacey's performance went a long way toward selling the emotional stakes of his decisions. 

The facial animations are just one way Advanced Warfare impresses, and certainly not the only one. Everything from the environmental art design to the mechanical weight of the suits looks and feels more real than ever. 

Pushing the Multiplayer (by Ozzie Mejia)

Call of Duty's multiplayer could often be seen playing it safe, year after year. Even in the face of its competitors taking chances with the multiplayer combat that the Activision's series helped make famous, CoD's various developers seemed content to rest on their laurels. This year, Sledgehammer Games chose to push the series' long-standing multiplayer formula forward. The result is the freshest the series' multiplayer has felt in years and shows what Call of Duty is still capable of when its developers put forth the effort.

One of Advanced Warfare's most notable multiplayer additions is its Pick 13 system, building upon the Pick 10 system from the Black Ops series. This allows players to further customize their loadouts to suit their play style, while allowing enough versatility to cover their shortcomings. For example, those that die quickly and often can opt to eschew Scorestreak bonuses entirely, in favor of more attachments, additional perks, or extra frag grenades. Similarly, anyone that can rack up kills like nobody's business can stack up on higher-tiered bonuses, many of which take up two or three slots. Customization options are such that nobody in Advanced Warfare should feel truly outmatched and it's accessible enough for anyone to jump into for an extended period.

Movement in Advanced Warfare feels far more fluid than in years past. Many of CoD's standard movements, such as sliding and vaulting, remain in place. But the Exo abilities grant some interesting new movement options, especially with the addition of the boost moves. Boost jump, in particular, is an example of how something fairly common (a double jump) can add so much. In this case, boost jump further demonstrates Advanced Warfare's focus towards vertical combat, mixing it up with the standard corridor and chokepoint-based battles that have been a large staple of the series.

Game modes can be hit or miss, however. Hardpoint's return from Black Ops 2 is a welcome one, with the game's emphasis on vertical combat adding a new degree of complexity to the 'king of the hill' conflicts. The new Momentum mode unfolds at a delightfully fast pace, with control points laid out in such a way to encourage both teamwork and going in with guns blazing. A few other modes don't hit the mark quite as well. The new Uplink mode, for example, tries to get cute by having players fighting over a ball to place in a designated goal, but the charm quickly dissipates and and the chaos quickly begins to wear thin.

Multiplayer sessions also feel far more rewarding with Advanced Warfare's new Supply Drop system. Performing certain tasks and simply playing the game for certain amounts of time will reward weapon and gear drops of varying rarity, which is a nice extra incentive to attach to the usual goodies that are attached to earning XP and completing challenges. Considering how many different customization options and details Sledgehammer has put into user-created soldiers, it actually provides ample incentive to keep shooting for those rare drops. The only iffy aspect of Supply Drops are the rarer reinforcement drops that include Scorestreak bonuses, which can sometimes turn the tide of a battle. It's one thing to get outplayed, but it's a rotten feeling to lose because of a random item drop.

Advanced Warfare's multiplayer is a case of "better late than never." Maps with dynamic events, open vertical areas, and a robust create-a-soldier system have been among the items on CoD fans' wishlist for years. Sledgehammer has answered these pleas pretty effectively, creating a multiplayer experience that still holds that enticing charm, while adding enough trinkets to further tighten its addictive grip.

Conclusion

In many ways, Advanced Warfare is another series reboot. While it lacks the sheer audacity of Modern Warfare's approach that shook up the shooter genre, it is staking a claim as its own part in Activision's ongoing Call of Duty arsenal. After annualization that had led to a seeming sense of complacency, Sledgehammer has joined with the best entry in years. Satisfying fans is one thing, but this one subverted my skepticism and brought me back.


This review is based on a Xbox One retail copy provided by the publisher. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is now available in digital and retail stores, for $59.99. The game is rated M.

Editor-In-Chief

Pros

  • Sci-fi futurism revitalizes the franchise
  • EXO Suits provide gameplay variety
  • Diverse, beautiful environments
  • Smart improvements to multiplayer overall

Cons

  • Still a very guided experience
  • Some multiplayer game modes a drag

From The Chatty

  • reply
    November 5, 2014 9:22 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review: Modern Again

    • reply
      November 5, 2014 10:04 AM

      8/10 is Shacknews' new 7/10.

      • reply
        November 5, 2014 10:11 AM

        Would actually be kind of cool to just not bother with a score number. Be a rebel.

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 10:12 AM

          This is the way the reviews work on the Internet and to get indexed by Metacritic you need them I believe.

      • reply
        November 5, 2014 11:15 AM

        I like to think we're still a bit tougher than most sites. Escaping "launch hype" and all that.

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 11:20 AM

          I don't think anything's gotten a 10 yet, has it?

          • reply
            November 5, 2014 11:23 AM

            WWE SuperCard, 10/10 in a review written by me that was never posted :(

            • reply
              November 5, 2014 11:59 AM

              Strong take.

            • reply
              November 5, 2014 12:25 PM

              Given the meteoric success of WWE supercard, what is your recommendation for people with TTWO in their portfolios?

            • reply
              November 7, 2014 6:04 AM

              wait gerstman bought shacknews?!

          • reply
            November 5, 2014 11:26 AM

            Not yet. Still nothing that has blown us away yet.

          • reply
            November 5, 2014 12:54 PM

            Grim Fandango 2 has yet to be released.

          • reply
            November 5, 2014 9:51 PM

            What games in the history of gaming would you give the perfect 10 to?

            • reply
              November 5, 2014 10:05 PM

              First things that came to mind, no order:

              1) A Link to the Past
              2) Super Mario 64
              3) Starcraft
              4) Baldur's Gate II
              5) Mass Effect II
              6) Half Life II
              7) Wave Race 64 (Yup, loved that game)
              8) Burnout Paradise City
              9) Warcraft III
              10) X-wing vs tie fighter

              • reply
                November 6, 2014 5:04 AM

                I think the thing that's interesting about that list is that they're all older games. You can't predict a game's staying power until it actually stays. That's kind of why I don't mind Polygon's retroactive reviewing.

    • reply
      November 5, 2014 11:11 AM

      Nice review, I really like the new format, and on the end the + and - .

      Also I really have to say once again I really love the changes to site it really looks very nice now and the formatting/layout is professional now and is much much better.

      Also all the new content and features etc has come such a long way, big respect to Asif and Shack staff.

      Keep it up.

    • reply
      November 5, 2014 11:57 AM

      Why no mention of all the networking problems the game is having?

      • reply
        November 5, 2014 12:01 PM

        Probably because every COD has launched with those problems?

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 12:09 PM

          If the game isn't working properly don't you think people might want to know before they spend 65 bucks on it? Are you saying that people should just assume that the game they bought won't work properly? Because if you are that's pathetic and unacceptable.

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            November 5, 2014 2:49 PM

            It sounds like you already knew about the problems so what is your issue? Are you bucking for an editorial gig here or just providing some barely constructive criticism?

            Actually, it's about games journalism, amirite?

            • reply
              November 5, 2014 3:01 PM

              That's a total cop-out

            • reply
              November 5, 2014 6:05 PM

              My issue is that reviews didn't mention it being broken and not having dedicated serves (which is not a new or trivial issue for the series) and had I known these things I wouldn't have spent my money. People don't even know they are lagging because of the way the cheat the lag compensation, but people being ignorant doesn't solve the problem. What's your issue?

              • reply
                November 5, 2014 8:32 PM

                He's wrong, you're right. I've noticed most of the reviews just pretend like networking model is the "new normal" and just gloss over it if they mention it at all. It's crap, the model's crap, I won't pay for it and I hope others can be made aware of it before they waste their money too.

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 12:29 PM

          pretty much. are there still issues with keeping a party together?

      • reply
        November 5, 2014 12:13 PM

        I played on Xbox One and have had no such networking problems. I can only review what I experienced myself.

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 12:15 PM

          Probably because you're the only ONE playing it there. PS4LYFE!!!!!

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 6:12 PM

          same. *shrug*

      • reply
        November 5, 2014 12:13 PM

        0 problems so far

      • reply
        November 5, 2014 12:46 PM

        They don't review user error

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 8:34 PM

          You being a tool about this doesn't help the situation. The game is broken at the design level due and the developers know this.

          Look at the reddit AMA they did on release night. They skipped all the questions about dedicated servers, networking and matchmaking except one. That one they simply responded "yes" and never explained. It's a joke.

      • reply
        November 5, 2014 12:55 PM

        Has there ever been an online heavy game that did not have network issues at launch?

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 1:59 PM

          Oddly enough, Destiny.

          We were so sure that game was going to be borked at launch.

          • reply
            November 5, 2014 2:00 PM

            And that's the same publisher. Weird.

          • reply
            November 5, 2014 3:00 PM

            There were some connectivity issues that affected some people (myself included) on PS3. I was getting disconnected a few times a day. I stopped seeing them regularly when I switched to PS4.

      • reply
        November 5, 2014 12:59 PM

        I wonder how many are on shit wifi while their roommates are torrenting, and will make angry posts on the internet about networking problems

      • reply
        November 5, 2014 2:29 PM

        I'm on PC and there are no networking issues

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 8:17 PM

          I wish. I've had quite a few good games, but some have been complete shitshows. Games where I die more than a second after rounding a corner, where I can put half a dozen rounds into someone before the first one registers, and where every death feels like a one-hit-kill.

          It's kind of a coinflip -- either everything's quick and smooth or it's a timewarp back to 1997 where everyone's on dial-up. :[

          • reply
            November 5, 2014 8:48 PM

            That's you connecting to a host with a crazy ping. You can avoid this via: http://www.reddit.com/r/CodAW/comments/2l48k2/pc_default_maximum_matchmaking_ping_is_800_heres/

            however it'll still be shitty P2P with poorly implemented latency compensation. It'll just avoid your "coin flip". If you're not in the USA or western EU though you'll get a lot less games.

            • reply
              November 5, 2014 8:54 PM

              What the fuck, it defaults to allowing connections with 800ms pings? Yikes, who thought that was a good idea?

              Thanks a ton for the tip. Set it to the 200ms limit for starters, and will filter down from there if matchmaking time is reasonable :D

            • reply
              November 6, 2014 5:06 AM

              Luckily I play on West EU servers

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 8:35 PM

          Bullshit. Try playing the game when Australians (like me) are on. The game searches for P2P hosts with < 800ms ping (no typo!). If you get to join my game you'll have horrific lag.

        • reply
          November 6, 2014 3:11 AM

          I'm having rubberbanding issues like fucking crazy. I'm being teleported off the edge of maps and dying in places I ran past 5 seconds before.

    • reply
      November 5, 2014 1:01 PM

      The amount of hacking on PC is pretty amazing already. That's definitely one benefit to playing on console.

      Had two games in a row with guys using aimbots in hardcore team deathmatch. The aimbot was going wild headshotting teammates as well as enemies. Bleh.

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        November 5, 2014 1:06 PM

        What compels people to cheat at these games?

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 1:15 PM

          I have no clue. It has to be just little kids being assholes.

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 4:38 PM

          Hacking because they can. Bucking authority or the norms.

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 5:55 PM

          Some people derive pleasure from spoiling the pleasure of others. They should be shot.

      • reply
        November 5, 2014 8:09 PM

        I have yet to see the first hacker and I'm about halfway through my second prestige.

        Though I have been accused of hacking an awful lot.

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 9:49 PM

          There wasn't any doubt that these guys were hackers. Numerous kills with 0 deaths, and snap-to headshots on every single one of the kills. It's a peer-to-peer game, so hacking is going to be bad.

          • reply
            November 5, 2014 9:54 PM

            I really hope they release a dedicated server option.

      • reply
        November 5, 2014 9:47 PM

        I haven't seen any hackers. Not even anyone that could be considered hackers by people quick to judge. Maybe it's a hardcore thing?

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 9:49 PM

          Nah, these guys were hackers. Entire server was calling them out. 33-0 with nothing but headshots.

    • reply
      November 5, 2014 1:32 PM

      The audio lip sync issues on PC is very annoying.

      • reply
        November 5, 2014 1:53 PM

        Why do we still have audio lip sync issues in games developed in 2014? Did they mocap facial expressions? If so, that makes it really hard for the voice actors to sync up, since voiceover work is usually done very late in development.

        That said, I remember Deus Ex: Human Revolution had body animations that would trigger during conversation scenes, and sometimes you'd see the same one repeat again, or animate out of sync with the character's dialogue cadence. Despite the lip syncing working perfectly, it was still jarring because the body gestures (head nods, arm gestures) were moving out of sync with the conversation.

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 2:26 PM

          It only happens in cutscenes during level load so, but I would assume those are all compressed vid files so not sure why it happens.

        • reply
          November 5, 2014 7:50 PM

          It's like the audio is in a separate track from the video. The first cutscene upon starting the game up works just fine. The damndest thing is that the audio for once is *ahead* of the video, which is as fucked up as a soup sandwich.

          • reply
            November 5, 2014 8:03 PM

            On my machine the video and audio stays synced, but the whole thing kinda stutters and sputters.

          • reply
            November 5, 2014 8:57 PM

            Most audio tracks in cinematics for games these days are separate from ambient sound, since they have to be localized for different languages. I think I remember seeing this for the Singularity Bink videos, where the video had just ambient audio in it, but the game engine would lay down the dialogue track and mix it in (hopefully perfectly synchronized).

    • reply
      November 5, 2014 5:58 PM

      The ATLAS facility seems like one giant OHSA nightmare. Choppers swooping down low, seconds after dudes in exo-suits bounce by.