Reviewing a Call of Duty game is difficult because so much has come before. Yes Advanced Warfare is very similar to the other games, in all of the good ways and many of the bad. Yes the multiplayer is still full of one of the worst communities in console gaming. Yes there’s another season pass with another set of controversial DLC packs. But if you look beyond that this is a much more refined and impressive game than perhaps we’re used to from the series. We’ve finished the campaign and put many hours into the multiplayer, so here’s what we think.
In terms of the engine Call of Duty looks better than the predecessors, but it’s still unlikely to win any awards. The level design allows for some impressive set pieces but the linearity means if you look beyond the corridor you’re running down you’re likely to spot some ugly textures or flat details. The resolution is increased, it’s still 60fps but the improvements are fairly small. In single player there’s some impressive lighting effects in parts and character models are much better, in multiplayer there’s very little difference if any. The art design is improved to work with the engine so many of the multiplayer maps look more cohesive but technically it’s not a huge leap forwards from Ghosts.
The single player campaign is as exciting and frustrating as ever. There are some spectacular scenes and the story is the strongest it’s been for a long while. Kevin Spacey is excellent as Michael Irons, head of the shady but powerful Atlas PMC. Fans of House of Cards will instantly recognise a lot of Frank in Irons, but the story jogs along and stays comparatively grounded compared to the ridiculous excesses of Ghosts. The gadgets that try to steal the show are genuinely impressive with exo abilities, sound muffling mines and threat detectors all feeling like cool toys. Unfortunately many of the best ones like the mute mines, you have no say in when to use them. In a better game you’d be shown the sort of situation where you want to use them early on and then you’d be given free reign to make that kind of strategic decision. In Advanced Warfare that happens with the threat detectors and the grappling hook (to an extent) but many of the other cool devices like a fly drone and the aforementioned muffler mines are restricted to guided uses. You spend nearly the whole campaign following the AI and just doing exactly what they tell you, leading to the whole thing feeling like an on-rails ride rather than a game with any sense of agency. The couple of levels where you’re given some freedom (a stealth section through an expensive home and grounds and a full frontal assault on a heavily guarded city) shine because you can approach it how you want. Hijack turrets to take out flying vehicles or grapple over to them and shoot everyone inside. Stealth your way through or murder everyone at the party, it’s up to you. If only that was maintained through the rest of the campaign’s 5 hour running time.
In terms of multiplayer this is very much Call of Duty as always but with some cool new additions and some clever refinements. Scorestreaks are less important but are now customisable. You can make them more powerful like giving a turret AI control at the cost of needing more points to get that streak. They dominate games much less now and this is refreshing if you’ve been pinned by helicopters in the past.
The new mobility is fantastic once you get used to it but it’s a steep learning curve. Being able to boost side to side while being shot or approach a sniper from above is liberating, but it does lead to a lack of any kind of front line in most games. People can get all over the map and you’re likely to end up getting shot from behind or the side a little more than you’re used to. One of our favourite moments so far was jumping into the air outside a window a sniper was shooting from and tapping LB to hover in place, kill the sniper and then drop down back to safety.
The beats of multiplayer are much the same but this is certainly a generous offering and if you’ve ever enjoyed Call of Duty’s multiplayer from Modern Warfare onwards you’re likely to find a lot to like. There’s plenty of maps that lack the useless space of Ghost’s, there’s some interesting features like a tram turret in Detroit or a tsunami in San Francisco, there’s a lot of variety with just the base game. There’s also a wealth of cosmetic customisation options which you unlock as you level up and earn supply drops alongside variants of weapons that have slight stat differences and some different skins. In terms of matchmaking there’s plenty of playlists and of course they’re all currently well populated. New features include a ranked play that uses divisions in a similar way to Starcraft 2. It’s not running yet (currently in pre-season) but it’s a good way to increase longevity and give you a sense of progression no matter your skill level.
It’s easily overlooked but worth remembering that Call of Duty does offer a split-screen mode. It’s now only two player like in the last entry but you can both go online together and the game runs incredibly well online in split-screen mode which is a huge amount of fun as long as you have a big enough TV to see what’s going on.
Overall Advanced Warfare is a triumph for Sledgehammer. They’ve taken the Call of Duty brand and picked the best bit while adding their own incredibly mobile and forward thinking spin in terms of weapons and abilities. Unfortunately this innovation doesn’t extend to the gameplay in single player and that formula is starting to feel excessively tired. While it might be entertaining thanks to Spacey’s performance and the cool toys, the linearity really does start to drag and there’s little that’s memorable. We’d like to see the next game in the series really open things up and trust the players to make their own fun a little.