Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare isn’t just about Hollywood megastars and double-jumps, says Matt Martin. Warning: lots of single-player campaign spoilers inside.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has been sold on three pillars; Kevin Spacey, the exosuits and the multiplayer game. While that was absolutely the right thing to do, playing through the single-player campaign you’ll find a lot of new elements that lift Advanced Warfare way above Ghosts, Black Ops 2 and Modern Warfare 3.
I don’t think I’m alone in thinking Advanced Warfare is better than all three of those games. One of the problems with any Call of Duty game is that in the constant stream of spectacle you’re not encouraged to look around.
I’ve been taking my time in Advanced Warfare – here’s a list of things I like when I’m not double-jumping buses and listening to Kevin SHOUT A LOT GODDAMMIT.
Advanced Warfare is a war game first and foremost, and I’m not looking for a deep narrative experience. I don’t think I really care about my main character either, but the incidental storytelling that happens around the campaign caught my attention. The Aftermath mission is the most detailed in this respect, with the anti-Atlas graffiti, the OCP-style promotional video, the food and drink rationing in the refugee camp and the requirement that DNA is exchanged for jobs. In all the bombast it’s easy to overlook some of the details that Sledgehammer has added to flesh out a takeover-the-world storyline.
Ilona, the female soldier
Because we need a break from being accompanied by a British soldier shouting “bollocks! Incoming!” through every other mission. I can’t decide if Ilona is a positive role-model or just another grunt with a gun who happens to be female, but I’m glad she’s included in the cast and it feels like a step in the right direction.
Painting enemies with the Threat Grenade
There are a lot of new gadgets and exosuit abilities, but for me the Threat Grenade really stands out. I tend to forget I have some of the gear like the riot shield and so rarely use it, and items like the magnetic gloves are only used at pre-defined sections. But the Threat Grenade is something I use in every mission. All the time. It’s changed the way I play through open sections of the map and I can’t imagine future Call of Duty games without it.
The facial animation is amazing
Caveat: the facial animation is amazing apart from on Kevin Spacey’s character. I think the problem I have with Jonathan Irons and his dead eyes is that we’re so used to Spacey’s face in real life that a very close approximation of him isn’t good enough to trick our brains. He looks amazing, but it’s a weird hybrid of real and computer animation. But look at the faces of the other characters; Cormack and Ilona in particular, and you’ll see some incredible work on facial expressions and muscle capture or whatever the hell the technical terms are.
Sledgehammer does a nice line in non-violent technology
Advanced Warfare is all about killing gadgets, but elsewhere the technology is well thought out. Scanning for the Key-Man. Calibrating the strength of your artificial arm. Tapping at the virtual computer screen and best of all, watching the hologram video of Spacey’s pivotal scene. Some of these are interactive, some aren’t, but I enjoyed all of them and I wasn’t pulling a trigger during any of it.
Sticking with one protagonist was the right thing to do
This is a big departure from previous Call of Duty games. The series was originally pitched as “no one fights alone” and with previous games we’ve played multiple characters and nationalities. This made far more sense when it was a World War II shooter – there were real differences between playing as a conscript in the Red Army compared to the British Tommy. But the last few Call of Duty releases became incoherent. Part of the fluidity of Advanced Warfare, I think, is down to playing it from one perspective all the way through.
The HUD has a neat solution to boring stuff
I’m paraphrasing massively here, but Jack Kirby once said that if you’re going to have exposition in a comic book, put it in the same panel as characters punching each other. Advanced Warfare sure likes its cutscenes, but exosuits also feature a video HUD, so talking heads ramble on about story while you’re clinging to the bottom of a car in an effort to escape. Video doesn’t play while you’re taking headshots, but it’s a step away from watching a boring man waffle his next cliche or show you a really big map.
It’s a breach-and-clear to old-school Hollywood
Advanced Warfare stands head and shoulders above many of the best blockbuster movies out of Hollywood. When Irons gives you the grand tour of Atlas, with its combat practice and walking tanks, it’s recreating scenes from Star Wars or Avatar. It drops you right in the middle of a big spectacle and helps expand the universe you’re playing in. Sledgehammer has done a great job pulling together slick presentation, snappy script and bonafide movie stars to deliver a real threat to traditional movie-making.
Okay, it is a little bit about Kevin Spacey
I get to have a virtual drink with Lester Burnham. C’mon, that’s pretty cool.