Review: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Xbox One)

Let's be clear: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is very much a Call of Duty game. If you were expecting the latest game in this gargantuan franchise to be a complete departure for the series, then prepare to be disappointed. For the rest of us that still like the franchise, Advanced Warfare is a great entry in the series and is arguably the best Call of Duty game in years. While the core gameplay hasn't changed much in 11 years, it is still satisfying as heck and Advanced Warfare manages to incorporate new gameplay elements that make this year's game have its own feel. Call of Duty is still good, you guys.

One aspect of the series that hasn't moved forward at all is the storyline. Don't get me wrong, I know exactly what Call of Duty is trying to be; it's an explosive action story that focuses more on awesome set-pieces rather than actual stories and characters and in that respect, Call of Duty has always been great at accomplishing this. However, the story and characters are just standard Call of Duty fare. Terrorists, viruses, global domination etc. All of the characters are bland and forgettable, apart from Jonathan Irons, played by Kevin Spacey, who is the head of a private military company who recruits your character early on after a harrowing operation. From there, some twists happen, tragedy occurs and many people get shot in the face. Yep, it's Call of Duty. But with Kevin Spacey.

At this stage of the game, I probably shouldn't even be caring about characters and plot but I wish these games tried a bit more in that regard. There is some disturbing stuff that you will see toward the end of the game that is reminiscent of some of the darker moments in Wolfenstein: The New Order, but it's just a brief section and nothing else in the game is quite that interesting. It really is just a load of explosions and bombast, and for the most part I am fine with that, but I think these games could strive for more memorable storylines.

If you have played any of the previous Call of Duty campaigns, Advanced Warfare will be very familiar to you. You run around, shoot guns and constantly follow waypoints which allow you to progress further. It's fun for sure. The weapons look and sound great, there's a good variety of different environments and the missions feel unique from one another. For a game that has a lot of mindless shooting and companion following, each mission is fun to play and it's pretty hard to put the controller down. Call of Duty campaigns have always done a fantastic job of pacing and Advanced Warfare is no different in that regard.

Advanced Warfare's campaign is good fun, but my main problem with it is that it just doesn't take many risks. There's a surprisingly open stealth section that's fun to play through and throwing grenades that home on to their targets is great fun, but for the most part, Advanced Warfare is business as usual.

If you have followed Advanced Warfare's development at all, you will know that the big change to this year's game are the exoskeleton suits. In multiplayer, you will see players boost jumping around and you can also dash from side to side. This fundamentally changes multiplayer gameplay in a big way as players are given much more mobility than before and all of the maps have been designed with a sense of verticality in mind.

This is great, but you would also think that these interesting new gameplay mechanics would feature heavily in the campaign but that's just not the case. Even more confusingly, there are two separate exo-suits in the single-player but you don't have a choice of which one you use in a mission. So on some missions you have the ability to double jump, dash and a sonic blast ability, which will stun nearby enemies. However, some missions you can't so instead, you have a riot shield and a Bullet Time® ability just because? It all really doesn't matter because none of these new mechanics feel necessary and it's easy to blast through most of the campaign without using these abilities.

Just like all of Call of Duty campaigns since 4, Advanced Warfare is short and it will take you around six hours to finish. That's not a terrible thing, as the flashy and shallow campaign would get boring if it lasted for much longer. Black Ops II was clever in that it had a branching storyline, which helped give that campaign more replayability but instead, Advanced Warfare has a linear storyline so there isn't much reason to come back to the single-player missions.

Of course the single-player is only a minor part of Advanced Warfare compared to the multiplayer component. Much like the single-player though, it is very much Call of Duty as we know it. The same fast but precise style of the gameplay is present and with the new mobility options I mentioned earlier, it helps breathe some life into a franchise that has been pumping out sequels like it's going out of fashion. There are also Exo Abilities that you can utilise during gameplay. These range from temporary invisibility to increased movement speed. These Exo Abilities feel like watered down, less effective versions of some of the powers found in Titanfall and they don't add much to the game overall.

The unlocks and levelling system is mostly similar to the Modern Warfare games with a linear progression system, opposed to Black Ops and Ghosts which had a more freeform unlock system. So in Advanced Warfare, you have to unlock weapons by leveling up, and of course, you level up by gaining experience. And how do you get experience, you ask? You blast guys in the face of course! On top of that, you unlock attachments of the game's many weapons by actually using the weapon.

The only new aspect to the unlock system is that there is now a supply drop system. Basically, during multiplayer matches you will unlock supply drops and these can be opened in between game sessions. Unlocks are varied, between cosmetic uniforms and accessories to more notable boosts like Double XP or slightly variations of weapons that you will unlock normally. So for example, you may open a supply drop to get a AK12 that has been tweaked in such a way that has more accuracy but performs less damage. All of the unlocks here are colour coded and if there's anything you really don't want, you can convert it into additional experience points. The supply drop sounded scary when it was initially unveiled but in reality, it's fine and it's a good way to keep players playing as it's now very difficult to unlock absolutely everything.

As you would expect, there are plenty of game modes and maps to play said modes on. All of the series staples are represented like Team Deathmatch, Domination and Search and Destroy. All of the more gimmicky game modes from over the years like Gun Game or Cranked are absent, which I am mostly fine with, even though I have a soft spot for Gun Game. However, Ghosts did a decent job of adding game modes post release so hopefully the same treatment will be given to Advanced Warfare.

However, there are two fresh modes to play instead. Firstly, there is Momentum, which is actually an old objective based mode that used to be called War that hasn't been seen in the series since Call of Duty: World at War. It is similar to Domination or Hardpoint in that you need to capture flags, but here it presents a tug of war type scenario and the best games of Momentum are back and forth affairs. The other completely new mode is Uplink, which resembles a sport more than a typical first-person shooter mode, though saying that, there's a mode in Unreal Tournament 2003/2004 called Bombing Run that's basically the same thing! And there was also Grifball in Halo...

Anyway, Uplink is a bit like American Football or Rugby in that there are two goals and there's a ball that the players need to grab in order to score. However, when you have the ball, you can't shoot but you can pass the ball to your teammates so you can shoot again. It's a fun game mode that's much more enjoyable than those horrible new game modes that Ghosts had, but I personally prefer the classic game modes over Uplink.

If you can't hang with the competitive nature of Advanced Warfare's traditional multiplayer modes, there is also a four player co-operative mode called Exo Survival. Might sound special, but in reality it's a typical wave-based survival mode that borrows a lot of its design from the survival mode found in Modern Warfare 3. As you would expect, you can play this mode on any of the multiplayer maps and your goal is just to survive as long as you can. As you progress, more and more difficult enemies present themselves but to offset that, you will also be upgrading and buying new abilities and weapons in between rounds. It's a perfectly decent mode but I would much rather have seen new seperate co-op missions, akin to the Spec Ops missions found in Modern Warfare 2 and 3.

Generally, the multiplayer offerings in Advanced Warfare are great and there is plenty of satisfying action to be found here. However, there is one major problem that has been holding back its potential and that is the general lag problems that have persisted since the game's launch two weeks ago. When I say lag problems, it's nothing severe like lag spikes or anything like that. However, due to the fast and precise nature of Call of Duty multiplayer any little blips in Internet performance seriously effect gameplay. So sometimes it feels like your bullets aren't hitting when they should. Or maybe an enemy defies the laws of game physics and manages to shoot from around a corner without actually being around the corner to do so. It sounds minor but it's been happening enough times during my time with the game for it to be an issue, and I am not the only one having the same problems.

EDIT: The latest update for Advanced Warfare has managed to greatly improve connectivity during online play and it seems rock solid so far! It is great to see and it makes the game much easier to recommend than it was before.

Graphically, there is no doubt that Advanced Warfare is by far the best looking game in the series. Generally, the overall level of detail found on everything has been upped significantly. This is especially true for all of the characters found in the campaign, who look fantastic. It also still goes a long way that the game manages to maintain its 60 frames per second action at all times.

Sound-wise, there isn't much to say accept that it's all very good. Guns, explosions, death; all sounds good! The voice acting is also superb. I wish I could comment on the music but to be honest, I really couldn't remember it all, probably because of all of the firepower dominating the overall sound.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is a great Call of Duty game. It doesn't quite reinvent the series like some have hoped but that doesn't stop it from being a great game anyway. I hope the that the series tries to take more risks in the future, especially on the single-player front and hopefully the game's online performance will get smoothed out soon. Despite these problems, Advanced Warfare is worth getting into and is proof that the Call of Duty series is not going anywhere yet.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE

(A great game that largely succeeds, but stumbles in some notable ways.