Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review
Play it again, Uncle Sam, but give it a little boost this time
Multiplayer has been a major focal point in the franchise for many years now. If you’ve played the multiplayer in any Call of Duty game in the last seven years, then you’ll knee-slide back online without issue. All the standard features are here; perks, Scorestreaks (killstreaks), weapon unlocks, care packages, prestige and ranking. Similar to Ghosts, you can fully customize your character with helmets, gloves and pants to look fabulous in that humiliating end of round death. You can even create a custom emblem, ala Black Ops, and proudly display it on your Kevlar vest so snipers can see you better. Pick 13 system lets you swap out secondaries, or double-up on grenades, to achieve your ideal loadout. If you plan on spending time with the online portion, unlocking all items provides an adequate time sink.
You can use laser guns in multiplayer!
In multiplayer, unlike the campaign, every player can use boost jump and select from several Exo Suit abilities. You can select cloak to impede target acquisition, or give yourself more health at the press of a button. Each Exo power lasts just a few seconds, making the timing of their deployment the biggest challenge. Using a speed boost to get into melee range might be ideal. Likewise, deploying a shield can turn the tide as a foe unloads a panic stream of bullets into your protected anterior. These brief powers do not seem like much, but they give you an edge and can suit your play-style. The boost jumping alone brings freshness to a franchise that has been rather stale for several iterations.
Boost jump changes multiplayer flow because no area is protected for long. Some maps are so open that snipers cannot hold off against a swarm of angry soldiers boosting their way across the map. The pacing is frantic, but hitting aerial targets is no easy task. The rare battles between soldiers flying around each other are entertaining, but they are typically interrupted by a third party. It is possible to keep yourself grounded, but you miss out on the quick transitions and the exploitation of peripheral vision. Boosting into the air is a great way to move between the thoroughfares and flank enemies, but it also makes you a target.
The thirteen online maps draw heavy inspiration from previous games in the series. The map Highrise from Modern Warfare 2 has been rebooted with an aerial flavour in Greenband. The new maps Instinct and Ascend share similar layouts to Jungle and Launch from the first Black Ops game. These layouts worked great in the old games, and that has not changed here, but it does not help make Advanced Warfare feel distinct. At least an effort was made to encourage boost jumping. So instead of stairs leading to a rooftop, ledges are placed at the perfect height. Vehicles in the streets of Detroit entice you to gain the height advantage. Maps also implement multi-tiered areas, such as the aircraft hangar in the Horizon map, and this is usually where most of the action transpires.
Greenband brings back fond memories of Highrise from MW2
Unfortunately the multiplayer experience is erratic because of technical issues. Two of the thirteen maps refused to load unless shader preload was disabled, but this resulted in random frame hitching across numerous maps that were running fine. With no server browser, it was impossible to avoid the offending maps. Once again you are at the mercy of matchmaking, which regularly threw me back into matches or lobbies I had just left. Network performance was prone to weirdness, resulting in melee attacks working better against enemies standing behind you. It was also possible to die before hearing any bullets only to discover that your killer unloaded half a clip. And there was no shortage of connection failures, menu lag, spawn problems and the usual bouts of player warping. Modern Warfare 2 had these network issues, so it is disappointing that Advanced Warfare lacks improvements and maybe even regresses.
Other non-technical issues detract from the online experience. The shotguns are dreadful with an effective range of three feet, but this was done to balance them against the faster player movements. Laser weapons are incredibly powerful at almost all ranges and don’t require reloading. The most infuriating Scorestreak in franchise history, System Hack, bombards the screen with visual nonsense, and you can only avoid it by sacrificing useful perks. Your screen is also constantly filled with awards, approximately one medal every 10 seconds, which is more often than kills. Ordinarily these awards could be ignored, but opaque medals placed just above your crosshair are notable obstructions with so many airborne targets. These are not just visual eyesores either, they produce an obnoxious sound that makes the inconsistent directional audio even harder to pinpoint. So the multiplayer is just fresh enough, thanks to the Exo Suit, but flawed enough to squash your desire to return.
System Hack is so awful that you may need to run the counter perk
Exo Survival mode is available for people who want to play online cooperatively. Just like the survival mode in MW3, you’ll face waves of AI enemies on multiplayer maps. In between each round you can stock up on ammo or unlock weapons and suit abilities. The Exo Suit setup is closer to multiplayer than the campaign, which makes it a decent bridge between the two sides of the game. Occasionally the objectives change, asking you to collect dog tags or take down an armoured soldier. Once you get through a dozen rounds, the prospect of repeating the survival mode quickly loses appeal. Exo Survival is another case of more of the same, which may not be a bad thing depending on your preference.
Advanced Warfare was a chance for the franchise to break free from its own rules, but Sledgehammer Games has tattooed the same rules over every facet. The campaign is every Call of Duty game you have ever played, with an Exo Suit that is not necessary or well implemented. The multiplayer brings fresh movement and Exo abilities, but is trapped behind technical issues and annoyances. If you still enjoy Call of Duty for what it is, a tightly-scripted imitation of itself, there is no reason to expect Advanced Warfare will be different. Everything you love, or hate, about the franchise is here for you to experience, and you can do it all again next year.