Will you ever care about Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s single-player campaign?
No one buys Call of Duty for the single player game. Or so conventional wisdom says.
The campaign may not be the long-lasting focus, the reason to keep the game in your console’s disc drive beyond the first week. But it’s there, played a lot by the fans who want to rollercoaster through explosions, collapsing buildings, ziplines and flying bullets. It’s the war movie ghost train and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
“We didn’t want it to feel like Deus Ex. We wanted to keep the pace of the game fast. We give you the loadout. It’s scripted in that sense.”
“We wanted to focus on the narrative. To really spend time and tell a great story and get some really strong characters in there,” says Schofield.
“What we mean is we didn’t want it to be just a military story. It has to be a story about life, and hope and camaraderie, pain and loss. Characters have to have more meaning and we want you to relate to them.”
It’s easy to mock the idea of a quality story being told through jingoistic military gunplay, especially in a series of games where America and its allies (but mainly America) saves the day. But in Advanced Warfare it’s different. The key villain is played by one of Hollywood’s celebrated actors and the big bad country is replaced with a corporation. The enemy is American.
“We didn’t want to pick a new nation and turn them into the bad guys. We ripped it straight from the headlines,” offers Schofield.
“The rise of private military corporations in Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iran. There’s more PMC operative there than there are allies. They’re not governed by the Geneva Convention or any of these same rules so they’re doing whatever they want. When we talk to military experts they’re very afraid that the PMCs are getting too big.
“We also wanted a single protagonist. Other Call of Duty’s in the past have had multiple characters but we wanted to tell the story of Private Mitchell and his growth as a marine over the course of ten years, seeing the twists and turns that he goes through.”
“With the people around him we made sure they had big backstories so that they’re characters that you invest in. That you have feelings towards them and that was how we were able to get Kevin Spacey involved. He was very interested in the script and he saw what we’d written for his character – he was intrigued.”
“There are some people who only play one game a year, and they pick Call of Duty. If you go completely crazy you will alienate them”
Watching a demo of one of the single-player missions in Advanced Warfare we’re back in familiar territory, but that’s not a bad thing.
The player is charged with rescuing the prime minister of Lagos. You get no choice of loadout before the mission begins – you’re given specific kit for a specific job. So you climb using the magnetic gloves, let off a mute charge in order to breach and clear and disorientate your enemies before taking them down with headshots. There’s no denying it looks fun, but it feels like a throwback to the Call of Duty of old.
“We didn’t want it to feel like Deus Ex. We wanted to keep the pace of the game fast,” offers Schofield.
“We give you the loadout. It’s scripted in that sense but you can use boost jump whenever you want in the level. We’re not saying ‘don’t use that here’.”
After the infiltration all hell breaks loose in a courtyard and it’s here the players gets more freedom of movement. After an intense firefight there’s a chase to a freeway, but then it’s back to a heavily scripted set piece. The player must jump from roof to roof of moving trucks, taking out enemies in cars and helicopters as he goes. It’s thrilling, with the final section seeing you just making the jump to the door of a truck. You swing in and out of traffic as you line up a headshot on the driver…
It’s that Call of Duty campaign structure we know very well. Scripted short bursts of action, an open environment to progress at your own pace, and then a spectacular set piece to finish the level off. I’m not complaining, I’m one of the people who happily plays through the single player game.
“That’s one of the fine lines,” says Schofield. “How far do you change Call of Duty? Do you make it an open-world game? That’s different for Call of Duty but there’s a lot of open-world games.
“We lay out the game and we lay out the levels and we think about pacing, colour palette, locations, time of day, type of gameplay, vehicle placing and everything else. And we try and change it up. There are places where you have to go to this point and do this thing, but in other areas we open it up.
“There are a few places where you get to choose how you want to do it, and then there are others where it’s like a zipline. We mix that gameplay up as much as we like to mix up the time of day or the colour palette.”
All that talk about no one buying a Call of Duty game for the single-player game is nonsense, as Schofield points out:
“We have a hardcore audience who are very vocal about that. And there are some people who only play one game a year, and they pick Call of Duty. If you go completely crazy you will alienate them.
Next: Humble and honest, meet the team charged with reinvigorating Call of Duty