Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

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Use futuristic technology to neutralize a terrorist threat.

PC Release: November 4, 2014

By Ian Coppock

The title “Advanced Warfare” isn’t all that specific. What exactly is “advanced” about this Call of Duty‘s fare of war? Is it the tactics utilized by the righteous, one-dimensional protagonist? Or does it refer to the technology used by the good guys? Who is anyone kidding, of course it’s the latter. Advanced Warfare is definitely the blandest subtitle yet produced by the Call of Duty games, but if this game proves anything, it’s that a lot can be hidden beneath a bland exterior.

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Released in 2014 as a chaser to the much-maligned Call of Duty: GhostsCall of Duty: Advanced Warfare was the third CoD in a row to espouse the virtues of laser guns and killer robots. The game was also the first major CoD to be developed by Sledgehammer Games, whose most recent title, Call of Duty: WWII, is actually pretty good. Before shuttling CoD back to its World War II roots, though, Sledgehammer produced a CoD that, at least at first glance, is hard to tell apart from its peers.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare takes place decades into the future, in a world dominated by robotic warfare and cybernetic technology. Players step into the boots of Jack Mitchell, a fierce-eyed U.S. Marine who loses an arm and a best friend fighting North Korean forces in Seoul. Jack gets shipped back home short a limb and presides over that best friend’s funeral in the infamous “press F to pay respects” scene. That whole interlude wasn’t Sledgehammer Games’ proudest narrative decision.

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CoD managed to make player agency depressing.

On his way out of gaming’s most cringe-worthy “Press F” moment, Jack gets offered a job at the prestigious Atlas PMC by Jonathon Irons, the father of the deceased. Atlas is the largest, most well-equipped military in the world, putting even the U.S. armed forces to shame in terms of equipment and soldiers. Though Jack is initially hesitant to fight for a private army, the promise of returning to a soldier’s life (and getting a brand-new, cybernetic arm) entice him to sign on with Atlas.

Anyone who thinks that this whole setup sounds like a Deus Ex game isn’t wrong for doing so. Thus far, Advanced Warfare has already ticked a few Deus Ex boxes, including a horrible accident that results in cybernetics and the presence of unregulated PMCs. Now all that’s needed is an evil terrorist organization that mistrusts technology, and… oh wait, Advanced Warfare has that too. Yep, Jack signs on just in time to fight a cabal of Luddites who think that mankind has become too reliant on tech. Someone at Sledgehammer Games is a huge Deus Ex: Human Revolution fan.

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Now THESE are what I call augmentations!

Despite containing the same running and gunning sported in other CoDs, Advanced Warfare makes a few formula shakeups. The game does away with a heads-up display in favor of displaying holographic information on Jack’s weapons and tools, which feels a bit more organic. Additionally, Advanced Warfare allows players to pick different cybernetic enhancements (like extra jumping power or speed) to suit their playstyle. Apparently someone at Sledgehammer is also a huge Crysis fan.

Advanced Warfare‘s other “major” innovation is smart grenades. These little devils can be programmed to do everything from fly toward foes to emit EMP waves, and damn if they aren’t fun to use. Advanced Warfare also features an unusually large arsenal of both conventional and futuristic weapons, but the first-person shooting and automatic health regeneration informing the gameplay remain unchanged.

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Oh yes, and there are lots of drones.

As Jack, players learn how to use all of these gadgets and doodads over the course of an unusually long campaign. As the aforementioned techno-phobic terrorists strike at hot spots all over the globe, Atlas takes on an ever larger role in defending civilization. Most of the missions’ objectives don’t bleed into each other, which is typical of CoD but disappointing for a theme that has borne storytelling fruit for other games. Advanced Warfare tries to spice things up with a plot twist, but it can be spotted from a mile away, so good luck feeling the suspense.

Advanced Warfare tries to put most of its storytelling eggs into the character basket, with mixed results. There’s not a whole lot to say about Jack, mostly because he talks, like… five times throughout the course of the game. For some reason Sledgehammer Games hired Troy Baker, gaming’s bona fide male voice actor, to voice a character so quiet that players might forget that they’re playing as him. Not sure what the logic was there, Sledgehammer.

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Whojack?

No, the obvious star of Advanced Warfare‘s show is Jonathon Irons, the aforementioned CEO who’s voiced and mo-capped by Kevin Spacey. Spacey turned to his House of Cards performance for Irons, applying the same Machiavellian charm to the character that he does Frank Underwood in Netflix’s hit show. Like his Cards counterpart, Irons has a bit of a southern accent and a lot of ends-justify-the-means mentality. If Spacey can only play one type of political character, he does it well.

The writing in Advanced Warfare is about the level that most players expect from Call of Duty: heavy on shouted battle commands, light on exposition and character development. All of that said, the game does succeed in presenting a sliver of the futuristic dystopian atmosphere present in games like Deus Ex, even if that’s mostly because of the visuals and level design. The recent sexual assault allegations against Spacey also somewhat break the spell of seeing him in a video game.

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(Sigh)…

Advanced Warfare has a lot more going for it visually than with story. Sledgehammer Games took the unusual step of rewriting most of the CoD series’ IW engine for the game, and the result is a stunning world that threatens to cut eyeballs with how sharp it looks. With a high amount of powerful lighting and pixels so crisp that they almost look granular, Advanced Warfare might just be the most visually sophisticiated CoD ever developed. Even three years later the world still looks brand-new, as do the game’s gorgeous cinematic cutscenes.

Three years later, Advanced Warfare still sounds pretty damn good, too. The game’s music doesn’t stand out from CoD‘s usual gallery of fast-paced action songs, but the voice acting sounds just as good coming from Kevin Spacey as whomever played that one guy with the beanie. Additionally, Sledgehammer’s sound design is masterful; the sound of Jack stepping on broken glass in a Detroit meth lab might be the best footstep sound of all time. That may sound oddly specific, but those details matter a lot to atmosphere.

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Listen! Sounds like… dirt?

Apart from the campaign, Advanced Warfare offers up a bit of multiplayer and plenty of jetpack-wearing zombies. Advanced Warfare has managed to retain a small multiplayer community, but the game’s complete lack of dedicated servers has made it a hunting ground for hackers. Not that there are all that many new modes or changes anyway; this is Call of Duty multiplayer being discussed here.

As for the exo zombies mode… it’s zombies wearing exoskeleton armor. Enough said. The game’s presentation of armored zombies does warrant it a shred more novelty than the zombies modes in other CoDs, but the basic setup of defending an area from the undead remains untouched. Not even the voice acting performances of John Malkovich and Bruce Campbell help what little story there is to this mode remain memorable. The sight of a zombie in a jetpack, though, stays in the brain long after the fact.

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If only The Walking Dead was this exciting…

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare gets points for its occasional gameplay innovation and glitzy world, but its story campaign leaves a lot to be desired. On top of that, the game does have a penchant for making PCs chug a bit, so players who run rickety rigs might want to bear that in mind. Despite those problems, Advanced Warfare proudly bears the title of “substantially less mediocre” than the other CoDs out there. Players up for shooting a few terrorists while using a jetpack could do worse… but players up for a memorable narrative or solid multiplayer could also do a lot better.

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You can buy Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

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