Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review: Not the Usual Suspect

Another year, another Call of Duty. Clockwork annualization and gigantic sales numbers have rendered the franchise a commercial juggernaut, as well as a lightning rod of criticism. Saying that opinions are strong on the series would be an understatement, and spending five minutes on any gaming forum reading said opinions will make your head spin. I myself have always been critical of the series from a casual fan’s perspective. As I stated last month, I hadn’t purchased a Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare 2. As much as the games deserve their praise for tight mechanics and thrilling action, there didn’t seem to be enough variety to keep me coming back. This all changed with the announcement of Advanced Warfare. With every announcement, trailer, and interview, it looked like Call of Duty was ready to change things up and breathe new life into a franchise very much in need of it. This isn’t the same old Call of Duty; this is a franchise making a statement that it’s not ready to ride off into the sunset just yet.

I had every intention of playing the campaign first, but I figured I’d check out the multiplayer just to see how the servers were running. My quick look turned into a five-hour deathmatch festival and the time melted away from me as I entered a bullet-filled trance. From the outset the multiplayer is instantly addictive. The sheer madness of the whole multiplayer experience is the product of an incredible blend of speed, skill, and tactical mastery. Exo suits are the big introduction in this installment of the series, and I honestly can’t think of a more perfect addition. With the exo suit you’re given complete control to dash, jump, and boost at your leisure, and platforming prowess finds itself being just as integral to your success at executing that perfect headshot.

Guns in the future look pretty awesome.

Guns in the future look pretty awesome.

As satisfying as the new-found speed of Advance Warfare is, the real gem of this new installment is the “Pick 13” customization system. With this new loadout system, you’re able to customize your experience and fine-tune your gear to your strategy and vice-versa. This freedom of choice between guns, scopes, exo powers, grenades, and score streaks is incredibly liberating. You’ll find yourself spending way more time than you originally thought making all kinds of tweaks to your loadouts. The loadout customization also means that you come across all types of players with all types of play-styles. As far as variety of modes is concerned, Advanced Warfare has a lot to offer, but in my mind it’s all for the sake of vanity as the classic modes—Kill Confirmed and Team Deathmatch—shine brightest as the go-to multiplayer modes.

Along with multiplayer itself is a satisfying progression system that keeps on giving just enough to keep you hooked. New gear is presented to you in the form of supply drops. Supply drops can have any number of things ranging from guns to aesthetic upgrades such as pants or a sick new helmet, or even timed XP bonuses. All gear is ranked in terms of rarity and nothing quite matches the excitement of opening a package with the marking of “Elite” on it. Levels are gained rapidly at first and slow down gradually just as any standard RPG leveling system would. Matchmaking does a fine job matching you up with players on par with your level range, and as you gain levels you find the competition gets tougher very quickly. As someone who had been out of touch with the series for a while, I found myself outmatched. My frustration with getting dominated by players more skilled than myself quickly turned to motivation to practice my tactics, learn to use the huge variety of weaponry I had available to me, and pretty much suck it up and get good.

I wonder if this guy ever met Keyser Söze.

I wonder if this guy ever met Keyser Söze.

Another staple of the Call of Duty franchise is the over-the-top Hollywood-esque single-player campaigns each entry has to offer. In Advanced Warfare everything is business as usual. We’re treated with a never-ending cascade of bullets and explosions as we find ourselves journeying across the world under the guise of Jonathon Irons, a private military executive played by Kevin Spacey. A lot has been made of Spacey’s involvement in this game. While I found the voice acting to be top notch, the motion capture was a bit off and the inconsistencies of the animation were puzzling. Certain parts of the game characters and animations look fantastic, but other parts—mainly during more well-lit set pieces—look plain weird. This is a small gripe, and in the end was not a big deal in my overall enjoyment of the game, but I found it a little disappointing.

The campaign clocks in just around five hours and overall is an enjoyable experience. As someone who is a huge fan of Call of Duty‘s campaigns, I will admit I was expecting a little more. The story itself is bare bones, the characters aren’t exceptionally engaging, and the involvement of Kevin Spacey seems wasted on a character that ends up being a basic, by-the-numbers character in the story’s grand scheme. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s just that I found myself wanting more.

The campaign is an add-on to what Advance Warfare is really about, which is the multiplayer. Since its release a week ago, I find myself constantly thinking about loadouts, kill streaks, and strategies pertaining to each and every map. The ability to innovate on such a grand scale while still preserving the series’ core fundamentals is a feat the developer Sledgehammer should be immensely proud of. To invigorate life into this franchise was a tough task, and they pulled it off with all of the gaming world breathing down their necks. As DLC rolls out and I continue to hone my skills, I have no doubt that Advanced Warfare will be finding its way through my disc drive often within the next year. If you’ve been skeptical of the franchise and have wondered if you’ll ever give it a shot, or have been looking to return after a long hiatus, now is the perfect time to launch yourself into the madness.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was reviewed using a retail version of the game on PlayStation 4.