Before Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare landed on our doormats, this has been a year to remember for the first person shooter. The likes of Titanfall and Destiny have made vital efforts to push the envelope in terms of what we can expect from a shooter.
Titanfall has been a fun-packed title with awesome mechs, jetpack parkour and some decent DLC, despite server issues that made the early months a little rough. And Destiny, well the jury's still out a little there as Bungie's MMOFPS has been a little light on content for many gamers, but there's a solid foundation. It's been a year where developers have attempted to shake things up, and for that they should be applauded. And let's face it, the sequels could be incredible if they take the feedback on board.
But what about Sledgehammer's new innovations with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare? It's not the futuristic setting or the hiring of Kevin Spacey that has us more excited than usual (although it certainly helps), it's the prospect of the huge impact the exoskeleton will have on player movement. It's the biggest change to the series since Modern Warfare and after playing through the game, it's become clear that running around like your average Joe just won't cut it anymore.
The abilities on offer vary throughout the campaign as they're pre-assigned at the start of each mission. Generally though you always have the ability to double jump and dash sideways or backwards via clicking the left analogue and pointing it in the desired direction. It's an awkward control input that I would have preferred to be handled via a shoulder button press and the left stick, but it works as intended throughout. I didn't use it much in the campaign, but online it becomes a fantastic way of buying yourself a split second to get out of someone's sights. The enhanced jumps add some much needed freedom to level design though and looking for a higher vantage point is usually your first instinct in each level.
Other fancy new skills include grenades with multiple modes like homing, threat detection, frag, EMP, flash and so on. Not having to choose one or the other is great and there are plenty of spares to find during the game too, so feel free to have fun with them.
There's a fantastic wrist mounted grapple line that, although introduced agonisingly late in the game, is an instant classic. In a neat stealth level you can use it to pull guards into the bushes and break their neck before using it to climb up ledges. This is also one of the few levels where you're given free reign on how to approach an area as most stages are very linear. Being forced to ride hoverbikes on autopilot for the majority of a mission is just mean by the way, Sledgehammer.
So yes, COD's still something of a glass corridor shooter, but it's a spectacular ride nonetheless. Granted, you may have already seen some of the more impressive set pieces in the demos. But lengthy gun battles on the Golden Gate Bridge or using mag-gloves to leap between vehicles like Agent Smith in The Matrix Reloaded is huge amounts of fun that Call of Duty seems to pull off so effortless. More so, when compared to the passionless solo campaigns offered in recent Battlefield games. Quieter moments like hiding from the drones and their nerve-racking scanning noises will stay with you for a long time too.
So what about the movie factor? The story starts off a little clichéd, but after the twist that you could bet an appendage on foreseeing, it gathers momentum that keeps you hooked until the end. There are some fantastic performances from Spacey and yet again Troy "Bioshock Infinite/Last of Us/Infamous: Second Son" Baker as you, the hero. Russell Richardson (it's not Idris Elba!) also stands out, for a fantastic turn as your CO.
The facial detail is arguably the best I've ever seen and they're never hidden in the shadows as plenty of scenes enjoy lush sunlight emphasising how strong the character models are. One criticism though is the ever so slight mistimed lip syncing, which is the only fault I could find, and I had to look pretty hard. On the other hand though, a tech savvy friend of mine proposed that maybe it was down to PAL Vs American NTSC screen refresh rates, so if you're playing in America, do let us know what you think of your local version in the comments below.
Other areas of the game are suitably polished with extra particle effects during explosions or floating bits of ash gently nudging you throughout to remind you that you're playing on a new-gen console. It's not a huge leap, if I'm honest, but I was suitably impressed with the level of detail, especially in the outdoor environments - corridors are as good as they're ever going to be. The frame-rate was smooth throughout naturally, thankfully that slick COD feel has made the jump to next-gen without issue.
Overall, the campaign has greatly benefitted from the new gadgets and radically enhanced player movement. We're not pretending that many elements haven't been seen before in a slew of other titles and genres, but Sledgehammer have suitably tweaked them to suit their purpose - making it feel fun. Even little changes like being able to upgrade your character to not stagger as much when shot, subdue weapon recoil or carry more grenades adds some much needed sense of character development to the single player game.
Next time we hope that the series will be a bit more influenced by the likes of Far Cry 3, and let us play the game at our own pace. Not with an open world necessarily, but by dumping the constant AI companions. They drag you through the campaign and constantly shout commands over and over until you comply, leaving you no time to explore for intel laptops. It's incredibly annoying and had me shouting 'just f**k off a minute' more than once at my TV. This wouldn't be so bad if they ever shot anything, or there was the option to have a friend hop into their shoes and play the campaign in co-op with you, but again the option is notably absent.
There is a standalone co-op mode that sees you pick an exo suit with oddly rigid weapon options and head into a map with up to three team-mates to fight off waves of enemies. To be honest, I found this much harder than past COD co-op scenes and only lasted about five minutes a time. Play with headsets or at least gain some high ground together and cover the angles and things do improve. Expect zombies to make an appearance via DLC at some point too.
I'm not going to tell you what you generally already know about the competitive multiplayer options. So hopefully, here's what you need to know. Create a class is open from the start, allowing you to edit five different loadouts.
An incredibly useful addition is instant access to a firing range that lets you fire any weapon from the loadout screen, so you can see if it feels right for you before heading online. Simple, yet essential - I love it. Less great are the leanings towards killstreaks over scorestreaks, which sees the gap between better players and Joe Schmo seem as large as ever.
There are plenty of modes to choose from like the usual TDM, CTF, free for all, and other modes that focus on capturing and holding areas and so on, the shifting capture zones of Hardpoint being a highlight.
What you should be really excited for though is the return of Kill Confirmed where players aim to pick up the dogtags of fallen foes to score points for their team, with you able to pick up team-mates' tags in order to deny points for the opposition. The added verticality afforded by the exoskeleton makes this already fun mode absolutely awesome.
You want something new? Enter Uplink mode, where teams compete for points by picking up a ball and getting across the map to throw it through a hoop or jump through for extra points. Other players can shoot and kill the carrier to steal the ball, while the carrier can bash them with it. It's like a very murdery match of Quidditch that should put the nail in CTF's coffin. A fantastic team game then and scoring a brace of goals in my first match was easily the highlight of my multiplayer experience with the game. It looks fun, it is fun and it's the mode that will have you coming back for more.
As you play multiplayer, XP comes at a steady rate giving you plenty of new items to use. Attachments are rewarded for racking up the kills with the relevant weapon and you're often given random weapon drops with variant weapons with unique stats. There's always something to adjust and tweak via the excellent 'pick 13' setup that lets you adjust a loadout to your heart's content by removing the usual item limitations.
We'll surely delve into the multiplayer side of things in more detail over the coming months, especially for the DLC. It's great to see the servers performing well at these early stages, especially after the weeks I spent trying to review DriveClub, so chances are you'll be getting months of fun out of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
- Gadgets and exoskeleton make a huge difference
- Smooth multiplayer experience
- No grinding. Just straight to fun mode.
- Campaign still something of a 'glass corridor'
- And still no campaign co-op
- Sexy items limited to killstreaks not scorestreaks in MP
The Short Version: So, 2014. Is this the year that the double-jump finally found its regular place in the first person shooter? It's certainly been the 'in thing' this year, as has a general boot up the arse of the FPS genre. How does COD stack up against Destiny and Titanfall though? Ignore the internet trolls, posers and haters, you can enjoy them all. In this reviewer's eyes though, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has been the complete package. A star filled, explosion-packed blockbuster smash of a campaign mode with a set of stellar multiplayer modes where Kill Confirmed and the new ball-based sport, Uplink, are set to become new favourites. Both the campaign and multiplayer owe a huge debt to the exoskeleton, which has proven to be the ultimate catalyst in pushing Call of Duty back to the top this year. Your move, Far Cry 4.
8 – GREAT: Great games typically provide competent production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that's sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. There'll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top - innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not groundbreaking - however you can buy games that score 8/10 with confidence.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PS3, XO, 360, PC
Developer: Sledgehammer Games