It's weird in retrospect to look at the Call of Duty franchise, a series that started as a WWII game on PC, and see what it's become under Activision's umbrella. The yearly title now shares development by three studios, with this year's game being developed by Sledgehammer Games. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the first game since Modern Warfare to truly feel like a step forward instead of simply an iteration or cash grab sequel.
As you peel back the layers of Advanced Warfare's onion you begin to realize that the game is much more than just shooting for the sake of shooting. It creates interesting in fun situations for the player by combining futuristic technology with its narrative. The story puts you in the shoes of Mitchell, an ex-military soldier who has gone mercenary after losing his arm in battle. Through the use of cybernetics you've become part machine in a struggle against terrorists and for hire to the highest bidder. Set in the future Sledgehammer does a great job of creating nifty gadgets and weapons at your disposal.
The most obvious addition is the exoskeleton suit - which further bolsters your capabilities as a human. With three classes of exos, players will be able to jump higher, slam down from above, grapple, cloak, and shield themselves in combat. Think of the exos as a character class and loadout. My personal favorite is the light exoskeleton which grants the ability to not only jump higher with a double jump but change direction mid jump. Launching yourself into battle and strafing out of harms way is exhilarating and makes you feel like a total badass.
Most of the guns in the game are pretty straight forward and don't necessarily feel TOO futuristic - don't worry, there is a laser - it's the gadgets you have that showcase some inventiveness. You have lethal and non-lethal grenades at your disposal which can be cycled between different modes of attack. For instance you can mark enemies with a non-lethal grenade so you can shoot through walls to take them down or cycle it to an EMP blast to deal with pesky drones. The lethal grenades can cycle between heat seeking targets or standard frag like blasts. While not directly controlled there are breaches where you use a "mute" charge that somehow dampens all sound in the area temporarily giving you the leg up when taking down a room full of baddies. Ding Chavez would definitely be jealous.
The campaign here is the strongest it has been in some time, thanks in part to an engaging story filled with famous faces and voice actors. The in engine cutscenes look gorgeous, though at times we approach the uncanny valley with the likes of Mr. Kevin Spacey. Still I can't recall the last time the story was both comprehensive and engaging in a Call of Duty game for me. The missions have a good variety to them as well, with the pacing of the game breaking things up between adrenaline filled fire fights, to careful takedowns in the dark. You'll ride vehicles, climb buildings, control drones, and snipe from a distance. There's a good variety of missions to play and challenges to complete within those missions. Complete the challenges and you'll earn points to upgrade your character in between missions for things like grenade capacity, health and more.
Of course Call of Duty's biggest draw is the game's multiplayer modes. The game continues its tradition laid out by the predecessors with lots of game modes, plenty of maps, and fast paced quick competitive combat. The exoskeleton changes the dynamic of the firefights and the map design, adding more verticality to many of the levels. Players will not only earn experience and unlock weapons, but now can unlock character customization options like glasses, helmets, shirts. Yes, there is now another meta game of things to collect.
While I still mostly avoid the multiplayer due to a lot of toxicity, Sledgehammer has tried to address this with a new game mode called The Combat Readiness Program. In this mode of play all player's gamertags are turned off as well as voice chat. The servers fill in missing players with AI bots and as a player, you'll never know if you are taking out human or AI opponents. This is a really slick way to ease people into the greater multiplayer world of Call of Duty and a great way for people to avoid what can generally be socially unpleasant experience.
In terms of co-op there's only one mode in the game right now, it's called Exo-Survival. A zombies mode is definitely coming as its teased by completing over 200 waves of the current co-op mode, but as we reported, it's going to be premium DLC.
Exo-survival is a waved based survival mode for four players with three classes of exoskeletons to choose from. Each class limits your weapons and special ability choices, thereby creating a need for a cooperative team of balanced classes. With light, heavy and specialist at your disposal, you can pretty much figure out how they all fit together in the gameplay puzzle.
After defeating each wave of enemies players run to a weapon or exoskeleton upgrade station. At these they can purchase new weapons for their class, restock ammo, or upgrade score streaks and exo-suit abilities. I found you'll want to quickly pump points into weapon proficiency so you are dealing appropriate damage to the baddies coming at you. In terms of the waves themselves there's some variety - it's not just straight up killing. Some waves have you collecting dog tags or defusing bombs, others force you to defend an area on the map or deal with enemy drones. If you fail an Objective Round, you won't lose - but bad things do happen. Your entire HUD could be corrupted by a System Hack or you weapon may jam periodically for the next round.
Exo-survival is fun, but the difficulty in it ramps up quickly and there doesn't appear to be much in terms of rewards for playing the mode. Other than unlocking more difficult maps, of which there are 14 maps in total, the only other thing to earn seems to be a few achievements. With all of the items and upgrades to earn in the regular multiplayer, this is kind of a bummer.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare I feel is the first CoD game in years to not feel like an add on from a previous game. An intriguing story, great graphics, a solid cast of characters and plenty of multiplayer options all contribute to a solid value for your $60. Of course there's still a ton of stuff coming (for a price) - but with what's here, you'll get plenty of hours of enjoyment out of it. In terms of co-op, I was a bit disappointed, the mode while fun, feels a bit shallow with very little incentive to keep playing. That said, I really think Sledgehammer nailed the futuristic combat experience for the campaign, let's just hope they aren't clairvoyant.