Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Single Player Campaign Impressions

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So, I just finished Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Instead of reviewing the game as a whole, as I don’t have any desire or the requisite time to put into testing the multiplayer side of the game enough to offer a fair and thorough critique, I’ve decided to focus my attention squarely on analyzing the campaign. (Yes, some of us do actually enjoy playing Call of Duty solely for the single player. We do exist, folks.)

After approximately six hours of thrilling yet entirely familiar first-person shooting, these are my immediate takeaways from the new Advanced Warfare campaign. (Warning: There may be spoilers ahead.)

Kevin Spacey Plays a Good Bad Guy. Yeah okay, so his digitally rendered avatar is a bit dead-eyed, but that doesn’t stop the award-winning Hollywood actor known for his roles in American Beauty, Seven, Pay it Forward and House of Cards (going back further, I enjoyed his work in the underrated dark Christmas comedy The Ref) from stealing the show as antagonist Jonathan Irons. He does a great job of playing an even more extreme and power-hungry private military contractor than Jon Voight’s portrayal of Jonas Hodges in Season 7 of 24. Interestingly, a lot of Spacey’s performance is buried in audio and video diaries unlocked as progress is made through the campaign. Don’t forget to check the Intel section of the main menu for some worthwhile narrative exposition.

Finally, a Story That Isn’t a Complete Mess. Occasionally dopey moments aside (look below for one such example), Advanced Warfare delivers the series’ most engaging narrative since Modern Warfare. Of course, that’s not a hard thing to achieve considering the majority of the games have had jumbled, incoherent plots. Kevin Spacey is part of that, but the voice acting and mo-cop performances of Troy Baker, as protagonist Jack Mitchell, and Gideon Emery, as main AI companion Gideon, as well as others help to flesh out a strong supporting cast of human characters you actually get the opportunity to follow and care about from beginning to end. The only sour note is the cliché, predictable ending. Yup, it’s a dud.

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Hold Square to Do What Now? By now I’m sure you’ve seen all the Internet mockery of the game’s early funeral scene, and yes, it really is as dopey as advertised. Seriously, do we need an interactive prompt to goad us into pressing a button to pay respects to our best friend just lost in battle? No one making or testing the game during the development process noticed the utter stupidity in this interaction? Yes, it’s only a few dumb seconds out of half a dozen hours of material, but it’s one brief moment in time that signifies exactly where modern game design so often goes wrong. It’s such an unnecessary, immersion-breaking moment that turns what should be an emotional scene of solemn remembrance into a bad joke. Instead of actually paying respects, you just laugh at the screen and roll your eyes at such a stupid design choice. But hey, at least we got some great laughs out of Sledgehammer’s gaffe.

Never Looked Better. Call of Duty already made its “next-gen” debut last year in Ghosts, but except for Call of Duty Dog (he’s a good boy!), that game just felt lazy and decidedly last-gen, in my humble opinion. By comparison, Advanced Warfare, even though it too is available on PS3 and Xbox 360, truly takes the series into the new console generation with a visual splendor the series has never known and that only a few other current-gen titles can rival. (For the record, I played the game on PlayStation 4.) From South Korea, to Nigeria, to Antarctica, to various states across the USA and many other countries and continents in between, the globetrotting campaign consistently wows with one impressive set piece after another. The clarity, the draw distance, the photorealistic scenery, the uncanny valley facial animation, and the sheer volume of activity on screen at any given time is simply incredible. Whether you’re shooting it out on an aircraft carrier at sea, leaping from moving car to moving car down a highway bustling with traffic, witnessing the catastrophic meltdown and destruction of a nuclear power plant, or running and gunning across a car-jammed Golden Gate Bridge before it is brought crashing down from right under your feat, the game drops a WMD of graphical shock and awe at every turn.

Exoskeleton Giveth, Exoskeleton Taketh Away. Along with a host of sweet new futuristic military firearms, the Exo Suit is Advanced Warfare‘s standout contribution to the Call of Duty series and the FPS genre at large. Which makes its designed limitations all the more infuriating. At various scripted times throughout the campaign, the exoskeletal armor allows you to boost into a double-jump (and subsequently slam down on enemies if desired), boost dodge from side to side to avoid enemy fire, engage a stealth cloaking camouflage, launch a grappling hook, climb up metallic surfaces using magnetic hand grips, and trigger a Bullet Time slow-motion effect. However, the keyword in the previous sentence, unfortunately, is the word scripted, because the capabilities of the suit are limited to a specific loadout for each mission. Worse still, the game constantly peppers the screen with textual prompts for when you need to use an ability, rather than just letting you play how you want to. Of course, there are a few welcomed exceptions. For example, one mission involves sneaking into Kevin Spacey’s…ermm, I mean Jonathan Irons’ private estate, using the grappling hook to zip around the environment while long-distance stealth killing guards like Scorpion from Mortal Kombat (Get over here!). A couple other missions similarly use the grappling hook and boost jump mechanics to bring a more freeform style of combat and navigation to the experience, and to no surprise these missions end up being the most memorable highlights of the entire game. It’s a shame that the developers still can’t find a way to achieve a better balance between linearity and unrestricted play mechanics.

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Exo Suit, Upgraded. Although shallow in its overall execution, the game offers a handy upgrade system that synchs play performance with earning basic exo suit enhancements. As set tiers of total kills, headshots, grenade kills and collected intel files are reached, upgrade points are earned to spend on improving your robotic skeleton. You can expand grenade capacity, boost aim and reload speeds, lengthen sprint duration, reduce the jitter that occurs when taking damage, increase explosion resistance as well as overall health, and so on and so forth. It functions kind of like the perk upgrade system in Wolfenstein: The New Order, only here you are empowered with the ability to choose your upgrade progression. See, a Call of Duty game can offer at least some sense of unrestricted choice.

Nice HUD. Advanced Warfare sports a super-clean and streamlined heads-up display befitting the future war setting. Things like grenade types and gun ammo capacities are projected directly over the piece of weaponry, rather than cluttering screen space with a traditional HUD element. The only somewhat annoying aspect is the massive size of the holographic projections that are used to deliver NPC chatter and other story beats without breaking to a cutscene. These aren’t used a lot, and when they do appear they are typically shown during sections of momentary downtime, but they still block your view of half the screen and can make just walking through an empty area harder than need be. Other than that minor drawback, this game’s presentation is slick and sophisticated.

Threat Grenades Are Awesome. Many of the new futurisitc toys in this game are really cool, but my favorite has to be the threat grenade. Something that has always aggrivated me in the Call of Duty games are the moments when enemies become so hard to see and differentiate from behind cover and all the explosive visual effects happening on screen that you get picked off before having any chance to get your bearings. In Advanced Warfare, you can pop a threat grenade to make nearby enemies temporarily glow in red. There’s something really satisfying about turning the tables on a seemingly hopeless battle by tossing a threat grenade and quickly gunning down a whole squad of enemies who think their safe and sound hunkered down behind tough to spot cover points. So long, suckers!

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Hurry Up/Shut Up Already: In typical Call of Duty fashion, you are almost always at the mercy of a pace-setting NPC who you must follow until they open a door or reach a point to trigger a command for you to do something. Many times I found myself shouting, “Hurry up already!,” as I rushed ahead of AI squadmates only to wait for them to catch up. On the reverse side, if you stop to take time to search areas for hidden intel collectibles, the same NPCs will badger you incessantly to come on, as if you are completely incapable of remembering the mission objective or seeing the persistent objective waypoint. After all these years and games, Call of Duty still can’t figure out a way to let me play on my terms, at my pace.

Call of Duty is Call of Duty. It doesn’t matter how many coats of future paint are slathered on it. It doesn’t matter which of Activision’s revolving door of developers is at the helm. It doesn’t matter if Kevin Spacey is cast as the headline Hollywood star voice actor. Call of Duty is what it is at this point–take it or leave it. And I am perfectly fine with that. While the jaded Internet mob likes to speak for everyone by ripping on every new Call of Duty just because it has become the “cool” thing to do, most of the world still loves Call of Duty for what it has become, including yours truly. Would I want all first-person shooters to be like Call of Duty? Certainly not. Just as I wouldn’t want Call of Duty to completely break away from its formula and follow in lockstep with what other first-person shooters are doing. There is plenty of room for both styles of gameplay in my gaming library.

That Call of Duty formula still needs to be refined in a way that isn’t so restrictive and hand-holdy, but Advanced Warfare does deserve credit for making some interesting evolutionary advancements over previous titles. For me, the campaign alone is the series’ strongest all-around offering since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. But at its core, this is the same Call of Duty experience we’ve been playing since the World War II setting was dropped and the genre-redefining Modern Warfare ushered in a new era for the franchise. It has the customary 6-hour campaign. It has the same tight gunplay and explosive action. It has set pieces that will absolutely blow your mind. It has ultra-linear and highly scripted levels, with plenty of deaths caused by straying too far from the path the developers want you to follow. It has slow-mo door breaches. It has a lot of unnecessary QTE interactions. It has pace-changing vehicle and turret/tank missions–and for brief moments of time piloting hoverbikes, drones, hovertanks and speedboat-submarine hybrids is awesome.

Basically, the game holds your hand a lot and relies on all of the same old tricks, which results in a play experience that is equal parts focused FPS fun and restricted frustration. If you’re a Call of Duty-hating hipster, Advanced Warfare doesn’t make any drastic changes to the established formula that will win you over. However, if you’re a fan of the series or just like games for exhilarating popcorn action hero entertainment, this game really is a blast, not from the past, but the future.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!