It’s 2054. You are Jack Mitchell, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. Your advanced weaponry lets you jump over tall buildings in a double bound, paint enemies with threat grenades, and control remote operated drones. You are the manliest of men. You’re sent to Seoul to battle North Koreans along with your brother in arms, Will Irons. Will is a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. When you first met him you were a little jealous that he had an even better sounding all-American manly man name than you, but you got over it and now you’re best buds. The mission in Korea ends in tragedy and you are honorably discharged from your military duties because of injuries sustained. But your story is not over.
The Illusive Man Kevin Spacey can rebuild you. He has the technology. Jonathan Irons is the CEO of Atlus, the most powerful private military force in the world, and there’s no way that can end badly. On your first mission you’re paired up with Gideon, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy…
Snark aside, I actually quite enjoyed the game. The fact that I’d never played any CoD game before likely increased my enjoyment. Advanced Warfare is the 12th Call of Duty game (14th if you count the ones released on handheld/mobile) released since 2003. The fact that increasingly shiny versions of the game are pumped out every single year never inspired a whole lot of confidence, and I’m sure that if I had been a fan of the series all along I’d be getting burnt out on the whole concept by now. But for a first time player, it was a lot of fun.
First of all, it looks absolutely gorgeous on my XBox One. Close-ups of people look almost photo-realistic. There are often dozens of enemies on-screen, along with allies, civilians, and vehicles. The environments look equally great and there is so much variation in the 15 mission campaign that nothing ever feels stale or reused. AW takes you from the high rises and neon lights of Seoul, to icy arctic crevasses, to blue skies and traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Likewise, your combat specialization changes from mission to mission, giving you access to novel abilities so gameplay changes and evolves throughout as well. In some missions you can grapple up to rooftops, or climb walls. In others you can send out a remote-controlled drone to deal with enemies, and block incoming attacks with your exo shield. Some levels require stealth, so you’re given a cloaking ability and mute charges for silent kills. It says a lot that I found the stealth parts of the game very enjoyable, because I’m generally far too impatient for subtlety in action games. Gameplay is fast, fun, and the controls are responsive and smooth.
The highlights of the game are the action setpieces. One of the standouts had me running through traffic, then jumping on the tops of buses as they sped down the highway to get to an enemy vehicle. Another had me crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, weaving through abandoned cars, taking out enemies with sonic pulses, and ended with a rather spectacular explosion.
However, the reliance on setpieces also brought about the game’s biggest weakness, as it made many levels feel very much on the rails. There was a definite feeling that I should just be going from point A to point B as fast as possible and, though the game does have collectible Intel that is slightly off the path, exploration was discouraged. I often saw a huge message “You are leaving the mission area” message displayed across my screen, which was jarring considering how clean and HUDless the UI was. Likewise, AI squadmates do everything they can to keep you moving forward quickly, which often involves repeating an order over and over if you don’t carry it out fast enough. “Mitchell, set the charge,” “Mitchell, take him out,” “Mitchell, open the door,” “Mitchell, change your socks.” That got annoying fast. This is where I really felt that CoD was catering to the lowest common denominator. As a player I couldn’t be trusted to pay attention to the mission details at the start and carry out the objectives on my own, or figure anything out myself. The game felt it needed to tell me to run here, duck, put up my shield, open the door, use the grappling hook, shoot, press X to pay respects.
The story and characters of AW are rather trite but, even as someone who has never played the series before, I knew this is not a game you play for the story. Twists can be seen a mile away. Characters are not memorable. At the beginning of the game I was dismayed that I couldn’t tell any of the characters, including my own, apart because all the white male soldiers (90% of the characters) have the exact same facial hair. Does military regulation enforce permanent 5 o’clock shadow? Eventually I realized that not knowing who anyone was didn’t really detract from the experience and I stopped worrying about it.
There is a dearth of women in the game. I went through a full 1/3 of the campaign before I saw a woman up close and talked to her. A very important scene that fleshed out Mitchell as a character was unfortunately deleted at this point, but here’s how it was supposed to go:
Mitchell tensed up as he saw Ilona. He didn’t know what to do. It had been six years since he’d seen a woman up close and that had been his mother. “Oh my god, a girl. Don’t fuck this up,” he said to himself as she approached. He tried complimenting her boots because had heard that chicks dig that. She looked at him sideways and told him they were standard issue. He made an excuse and ran back to his bunk as fast as he could without betraying his cool exterior. “Stupid, stupid Mitchell” he chastised, slapping himself on the forehead repeatedly. Maybe once he proved his prowess in battle she would learn to love him.
Thankfully, Ilona does become an actual character and is with you for a number of missions but as far as female representation, she’s pretty much it. Considering 15% of military forces are female now, and AW takes place 40 years in the future, I hoped to see more than one woman (especially in Atlus which is presumably not beholden to US policy). Disappointing, but sadly not unexpected. You can play as a female in multiplayer. Apparently, CoD:Ghosts was the first entry in the series that had this option. Ghosts was released in 2013. Is this real life? Of course, since multiplayer is completely first-person, your gender doesn’t matter a whole lot as you can only tell the difference when you get shot and start breathing audibly. But it’s nice the option was added after 10 years.
I did play a few hours of multiplayer, and while I prefer the campaign, it’s quite fun too. I haven’t had a chance to try all the different modes, I mainly stick to team deathmatch or confirmed kill. The mode I really like is Survival. This is a co-op mode with up to 4 players and the goal is to survive waves of bots. There are also some objective based waves thrown in to mix things up a bit. As someone who does not have much experience playing FPSs online against other people, Survival mode offers a bit more leeway and I found it much easier to get into. It’s good practice before jumping into real matches where people who have been playing online CoD for the last 10 years will frag you repeatedly until you give up.
Rating: 8/10 – Advanced Warfare is not a game you play for the story or to inspire deep thoughts, but it delivers what it promises – a slick, fast-paced, first-person shooter with outstanding setpieces. The amount of hand-holding the game gives starts getting tedious around 2/3 of the way through but the campaign ends at the right time, before this gets too annoying. Overall an enjoyable single-player experience, with good multiplayer content that will stretch out the game time as long as you want it to.