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My character is called Mitchell and I can tell he is going to be the hero of the tale – a super soldier with toys and gadgets like Batman who is going to not just save the day but probably also save the world in the next 7 hours. I do not feel like a hero or a soldier. I haven’t played Call of Duty since 2007 and the last time I attempted the multi-player with two friends, we started with baby-steps on an empty map with me feeling like a version of Bambi, hunted down and shot in the head or stabbed from behind again and again. My Mitchell does not look self-assured to me, he looks a little lost and inexperienced, about to be swept away by events like a tidal wave.
I am granted access to the action after the opening cut scene with a button mash prompt. QTE’s (quick time events) are the bane of my existence creating endless death loops because I cannot press the button fast enough, repeatedly or hold it long enough. I drop the controller in my lap and use my taped left index finger to stab at the button and hope for the best. It worked, awesome. I feel more comfortable once I am allowed access to a weapon and hope that a scope isn’t too far into Mitchell’s future. I prefer to keep my distance.
The story that unfolds for me is not the tale of a hero. I go to the weapons range to try out some of the rifles in the first hour of the game and my score starts as poor. After practising a while, its average and then good. I can’t manage better than good, this is as fast and precise as I can get. Next up is practising with grenades. It does not go well. There is holding and tapping to select and I cannot see the text clearly and whilst I am deciphering the letters and trying to work out which grenade goes with which enemy, the enemies come and go and when I finally decide to just throw one, it bounces off a wall and blows up some sand. I am now a very worried soldier and yet, I am told how much potential I show, what a great asset I am and what wonderful things are expected of me. I am starting to feel like a sacrificial lamb being led to the slaughter.
The game play unfolds in a familiar pattern. All guns blazing missions, a steal mission, a here-in-front-of-you-lies-a-sniper-rifle mission, vehicle missions ticking off all the options – bike, tank, boat, aircraft, missions with hover packs, Batman style missions with a grappling hook etc. Unfortunately, I don’t get to keep any of the toys for long. I am told in a brief load out at the start of the mission which three special abilities I have this time round and it is hard to make good use of them as I forget which ones I have. Double jump to boost through the air fails miserably, not only can I not jump a greater than normal distance, I can’t even climb over a knee high obstacle. Tools and abilities are also not freely available for the whole mission, many are scripted and can only be used with permission from the script by pressing the button when you are told to press the button. But I don’t care, except for the QTEs, I am having fun hopping from one exotic local to the next with varying toys and abilities that provide fast-paced action thanks to my lovely exo suit.
As I start the final mission I still do not feel like the hero, I don’t even feel in charge of anything. I feel like the rookie, following orders, doing what I am told, sticking with my squad mates. Throughout the game, I only went where I was sent and did as I was told. The moment a key piece of evidence fell into my hands, it took me less than 5 seconds to hand it over to someone else and alongside it, I also handed over the responsibility of making the hard choices. I am a follower, down to the final mission where I am told by my squad leader what to do and when to do it.
The game I played was one of exhilaration and frustration. I excelled when I had a sniper rifle or grappling hook, but I felt like a lackey most of the time. Mitchell, scale that wall, scale that wall now! Mitchell, open the hatch, no, despite arriving here first and picking the left side, I’m the squad leader, I get the left side, go grab the right side, move, come on Mitchell, I’m waiting. Mitchell, where are you going?! The mission is this way! Mitchell, take out X, Mitchell, get the door, Mitchell, plant the charge. On it went, hour after hour.
I came to play a mindless run-and-gun shooter for unadulterated mindless fun. I found instead a game where my personal frustration of being boxed in by the game mechanics matched the frustration of my character who were given no room to think for himself or act independently. In the brief moments, the best moments of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare he was granted more options and more freedom to go where he pleased, he did so well. I grappled onto a helicopter, shot the occupants and jumped out again before it crashed. I destroyed a Goliath by ripping it apart from behind with my grappling hook and pulling its inhabitant towards me to crush their skull on the concrete. Mitchell shined as an unstoppable force aimed at the bad guys in the story.
It didn’t last long. Soon, there were orders again to follow, to open doors, to provide support, to do as he was told and with those orders came the script limitations – tap X, hold L3 for continuous sprint, fire at this target right here because I say so until, at the end, it all ends and my soldier walks away. I hope the experience has left him wanting more than to be a person who follows orders, never really thinking for himself, making choices based on loyalty to country, core and unit.
Single Player Campaign: 6-8 hours long
Co-Op: Wave based gameplay that takes place on the multiplayer maps for up to 4 players. Each wave is harder and points are earned that can either be spent on upgrading the exosuit or on weapon upgrades. Each wave has an objective and if not completed successfully, it carries a penalty for the next wave, like primary weapon is jammed, the map isn’t functional or the exo-suit has a glitch.
Multiplayer: The multiplayer is where Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare shines. The exosuit is the most talked about new feature. Jeff Gerstmann at Giant Bomb talks extensively about the multiplayer game in his review and concludes it with: ” It’s the best multiplayer the game has seen in some time and the whole thing totals up to a satisfying, if familiar experience.”
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has to be played on its own terms. It is scripted and staged down to “hit X now”, most objectives are follow that guy, go wherever he is going and do whatever he tells you when he tells you to do it. This is not always a bad thing, it is an easy game to just pick up and play and even if you haven’t played for a while, there is no complex learning curve required to get back into the game. Players can’t get lost, don’t have to wade through a long quest log or bulky inventory and everything is at your fingertips waiting to be enjoyed. I really enjoyed playing it on returning from hospital, knowing that it doesn’t ask much of me mentally or physically.
Veterans of the series will receive what they came for – the best single campaign since 2007, a solid multi-player experience, nice guns and a beautiful exo suit of armor. Novice players who have always wanted to play a first person shooter should also have a positive experience as it does one thing at a time and never reached an overwhelming point with too many choices. Players looking for freedom of choice, autonomous gameplay and who want to spoilt for choice of weapons, missions and game play style, look elsewhere.
I thoroughly enjoyed the single player campaign except for the QTEs. These were truly awful and I could make my peace with them if only it allowed me to skip right past after failing a set number of times. I found it a generally accessible game with a few short comings, some inherent to the genre and most revolving around the lack of flexibility and choice. If a player cannot hit a minimum standard in all types of game play, there will be times when it will be frustrating to play, however, the bar is set pretty low, even on the standard difficulty level and the upside of a scripted campaign is that I discovered I actually quite enjoyed game play styles that I had always avoided in the past when given the choice because I thought I might not enjoy them or failed at them long ago.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is one of the best instalments of the series so far and despite its lack of a consistent plot and limiting scripted game play, it does have its shiny moments when the scripting fades into the background on larger maps and I was allowed to test the limits of the tools I had at my disposal. This is a Call of Duty game, no doubt about it, but is a great Call of Duty game that looks good, plays well and builds on all the strengths of the franchise.
Product: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare | Developer: Sledgehammer Games | Publisher: Activision | Platform: PC (Windows), PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 | Genre: FPS (First Person Shooter) | Players: Single, Coop and Multiplayer | Version: Europe | Release Date: 4 November 2014 |Content Rating: PEGI 18+, ESRB M (Mature)