Refreshing and inventive are two words that I never thought I’d use in regards to the Call of Duty series. Granted, the franchise was at one time a shining example of how to craft a thrilling and engaging FPS experience, but in recent years, it’s turned into a bit of a cash cow. Year after year, Activision pumps out a new instalment and each time it feels like they’ve simply re-skinned the game, threw in a few new multiplayer maps, slapped a new title on it and called it a day.
Well, such is not the case with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, which is not only the most exciting outing that the series has seen in years, but is also the first time in a long time that a Call of Duty game has felt truly fresh. While it’s hardly redefining, and certainly not wholly unique, Sledgehammer Games’ entry into the juggernaut franchise is exactly the kick in the ass that it needed, giving new life to a once great IP and possibly even providing us with an early candidate for Game of the Year.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, as you can probably infer by its moniker, takes place in the future. More specifically, in the year 2054. You play as Jack Mitchell, a US Marine who loses his arm while in combat. At a funeral service for one of his fellow soldiers, he’s approached by Atlas, a Private Military Corporation who offer him an advanced prosthetic arm and a chance to return to war. Mitchell takes the offer and goes to work for the powerful PMC. Under the supervision of the company’s boss, Jonathan Irons (played by Kevin Spacey, who’s a definite highlight of the game), Mitchell and his team go after a terrorist group known as the KVA. However, not all is as it seems and as the soldiers come closer to tightening the net on their enemy, they soon learn that there might be something far more sinister at play here.
While I applaud Sledgehammer for bringing in someone like Spacey to lend gravitas to the story, I must say, the plot of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is pretty terrible. Not that anyone plays these games for their story, but still, this is clichéd and predictable to the point where you’re calling out events well before they happen. It’s not engaging in the least and perhaps moreso than any other game in the series, the plot is really only there to string you along from set piece to set piece.
Admittedly, it’s a perfectly coherent story and extremely easy to follow, but that’s only because it’s so by the numbers that there’s simply no way you can get lost in it. It’s clear that Sledgehammer is trying to tackle relevant topics like totalitarianism, fascism and private militaries, which are all timely and interesting topics, but it’s done in such a predictable fashion that it rarely holds your interest.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can move onto the good stuff, and that’s the gameplay. For the first time in the franchise’s history, Call of Duty has truly taken its combat to the next level. In fact, there’s so much here that feels new and unique to the series that I don’t even know where to start. But perhaps the Exo Suit is a good jumping off point.
As this is the future, soldiers are equipped with Exo Suits, which, among other things, grant them several new ways to move. From double jumps, dashing through the air, using magnetic gloves to climb walls and being able to slam the ground upon returning to it from a boost jump, you’re given several new ways to approach combat. No more are you forced to simply head down a linear path and assault your enemy head on, as you can now tackle the battlefield from an all new perspective.
Granted, you can’t always use these abilities (which is a shame), but when you can, they allow you to attack your enemy from above and behind, allowing for more creativity when devising your strategy. You can upgrade the suit as well to gain more health, longer sprint times, quicker reloads etc. This doesn’t factor hugely into the game, but it’s still a nice touch.
Of course, Call of Duty hasn’t turned into a platformer, and its reliance on movement is nowhere near what we saw with Sunset Overdrive. This is still very much the Call of Duty we all know and (somewhat) love. You’ll still be going down corridors and making your way through linear areas as you crouch behind cover and breach rooms in an attempt to clean out waves of identical enemies. It’s just that with the Exo Suit, you’ll have a lot more mobility; before you were restricted to the ground, now you’ll be able to access much more of the environment.
Again though, you can’t always use your suit’s abilities, which is a bummer because they really do enhance the gameplay. However, they’re given to you often enough to keep things feeling fresh and fun.