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New Execution, Same Old CoD

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    Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

    Rating: 3.0 – Fair

    New Execution, Same Old CoD

    The Call of Duty franchise hardly needs an introduction. Love it or hate it, everyone has at least heard of gaming’s most popular franchise in some way or another. Activision’s wildly successful first-person shooter has, over the years, become the basis to which all other shooters are compared: for better or for worse. It’s because of this popularity that the franchise has contracted a reputation for mechanical genericness, predictable rudiments, and overall community toxicity. While jumping on the CoD hate bandwagon is fun – and trust me, I know how fun it is – sometimes it’s important to take a step back and analyze games for the pieces of art that they are. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is an example of the culmination of good sci-fi writing and basic gameplay that doesn’t go too far to stand out in an expanding sea of first-person shooters, CoD clones, and even other innovative games within the genre.

    Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s story campaign takes players to the year 2055 and focuses on protagonist Jack Mitchell and his dealings with the Atlas Corporation, a Private Military Corporation that rises to global superpower status over the course of the game. We first meet Mitchell as part of a US Marine assault force sent to liberate South Korea from a massive North Korean invasion, where he loses his left arm and his best friend Will in the fighting. Will’s father and CEO of the Atlas Corporation Jonathan Irons (Kevin Spacey) offers Mitchell an advanced prosthetic arm and a job at Atlas. Mitchell spends the next four years hunting down terrorists and functioning as a high level contractor for Atlas until a piece of intel finds its way into Mitchell’s hands, forcing him to act of his own accord for the first time in his life. Advanced Warfare plays with a lot of themes common to the typical Call of Duty style of storytelling: a philosophical perspective on war, righteousness, and what it means to be a soldier, an antagonist that forces audiences into the moral grey area, and gripping monologues that challenge the notions of good and evil. As much of a reputation that the Call of Duty franchise has established over time, the single player stories have only once failed in providing me with an engaging and thought provoking narrative. They’ll always be filled with big guns and bigger explosions, but players who are willing to look past what they serve on the outside will find something much deeper and more worthwhile than senseless violence and cheap entertainment.

    The first thing I noticed when I dropped into South Korea was the consolidation of the HUD. Instead of appearing as a toolbar displaying ammo, grenades, and utilities, indicators are transposed directly onto the gun on a holographic display. The benefits of this are twofold: HUD-clutter is nonexistent, making the screen look clean and streamlined, and it lends to the immersion of the world in which the game takes place in. In the year 2055, military technology has advanced to an impressive degree. Teams of infantry can deploy instantly almost anywhere thanks to orbital insertion technology, drones of all sizes perform a wide variety of tasks from stealth to combat to recon, and each individual piece of infantry is equipped with an Exo Suit, a powerful piece of machinery that a soldier wears to enhance physical capabilities in combat. All this fictional technology isn’t just for world building – these new additions create mechanics that won’t be found in the more traditional boots-on-the-ground Call of Duty titles. Exo Suits, more or less associated hand in hand with this game, allow players the freedom of movement not found in previous installments in the franchise. They allow players to double jump, strafe in any direction, and provide all sorts of utilities on the battlefield. On certain missions, they come equipped with Mag Grips for climbing metal surfaces, grappling hooks to scale walls and infiltrate fortresses, and built in launchers for grenades and other ranged pieces of technology. A persistent upgrade system was also introduced to the single player, tasking players with completing challenge requirements throughout campaign missions to earn upgrade points. These challenges are completed by acquiring kills, landing headshots, scoring grenade kills, and finding hidden collectible intel scattered throughout the campaign. Upgrades go along the lines of faster reload speed, longer sprint duration, extra ammo and equipment capacity, and damage resistance. This system adds a layer of cumulative progress to an otherwise static campaign progression, but obviously it’s not too deep or impactful; just something extra added on top.

    As much as I enjoyed the single player campaign, I won’t sit here and praise it for being something that it’s not. If you’ve played a recent Call of Duty single player story before, you’ve pretty much played this one too. Linear mission based campaigns are not uncommon among first-person shooters, and aside from a gripping and powerful performance by the game’s antagonist and the new movement mechanics granted by the introduction of Exo Suits, Advanced Warfare doesn’t bring anything to the table to help it stand out from the crowd. Certain missions permit a degree of freedom with the grappling hook – one in particular tasks you with infiltrating a well-fortified estate and maintaining stealth through the whole mission – but the opportunities are both too limited and too easy to really praise the game for. Different gadgets and Exo abilities allow players to get creative with how they approach combat, but really it always just comes back to shooting your way through in good CoD fashion. Listening to audio queues from the environment and from AI characters will carry you through the game’s hardest difficulties without too many problems, and it’s here that you’ll see where Call of Duty games get their reputation for being majorly thoughtless and comparatively easy. Aside from the amped up graphics, playing through Advanced Warfare felt virtually similar to every other CoD campaign, from the explosive introductions to the patriotic finales and everything in between.

    Survival mode, first introduced in Modern Warfare 3, returns in Advanced Warfare as Exo Survival. Survival mode drops teams of 1-4 players onto a multiplayer map and tasks them with lasting against waves of enemies, steadily increasing in difficulty. From the beginning, players are given the choice between one of four Exo classes: Light, Heavy, Specialist, and Demolitions. Each class comes with a unique default rechargeable Scorestreak, varying degrees of mobility and armor, and specific weapon and equipment pools to select from. Each wave of enemies is followed by a brief 45 second rest period where players can restock, fortify, and prepare for the next wave. At the end of every wave, players are awarded with upgrade points which can be spent upgrading damage output, damage resistance, Scorestreaks, weapon attachments, and other things. Scorestreaks in Exo Survival are not bought in between rounds like they were in MW3. Instead, all players have a passive Supply Drop bar that fills up as players kill enemies, complete objectives, and clear waves. When the bar fills up, one drop pod falls for each player in the game containing either a perk or a Scorestreak to be used at the players’ discretion.

    Advanced Warfare’s survival mode remedies a lot of the main issues found in Modern Warfare 3’s survival mode. Players can no longer buy Scorestreaks in between rounds which was one of the major balance issues in the former game mode. Also, Scorestreaks are much weaker in their base form and offer the option to upgrade their usefulness over time. This system allows room for more player choice than the basic "get what you buy" mentality found in MW3. Upgrading the strength of Scorestreaks requires you to divert upgrade points from other aspects of your playstyle. Map balance seems to favor the players much later into the game because enemies lack the effective AoE they possessed in MW3; suicide bombers, suicide dogs, and gas units were much scarier than the less effective drone handlers found in AW. Training AST units is, for some reason, much easier than training MW3’s Juggernauts, and in more than a few instances my team was able to immobilize them by capturing their aggro while their gun was behind a wall or around a corner. Upgrading your character and abilities is much further expanded, but also linearized to a noticeable degree. There’s not really any attempt at variation within the game. All upgrades are available to all classes and the result is four classes that start with different equipment and play slightly different but end up pretty much identical by wave twenty. The biggest determining factor of what class to play revolves completely around what their rechargeable Scorestreak is and what starting weapon is preferable to the individual player. Once a Weapons Free perk is dropped from a Supply Drop, weapon restraints are unlocked and every class can wield every weapon, so aside from the Light’s superior maneuverability and the Heavy’s extra armor, there’s no variation at all in the late game.

    Call of Duty multiplayer games more or less guarantee the core basis of arcade multiplayer to which all other arcade shooters are compared. Having an ancestor in the universally acclaimed Modern Warfare and its revolutionary approach to arcade multiplayer, Advanced Warfare is unfortunately little more than CoD’s 2014 entry into its annual franchise cash-in. The CoD franchise nailed down the winning multiplayer formula years ago, but since then, all audiences have received the same rehashed and reskinned system year after year. To call it a copy of every year’s Call of Duty in terms of mechanics, play style, and map design philosophy is an overt understatement, and anyone who has played a previous CoD game’s multiplayer will have a great example of what they’ll get with Advanced Warfare’s. The game features the familiar loadout system, this time Pick 13, and gives players the usual customization options of primaries, secondaries, attachments, perks, wildcards, equipment, and Scorestreaks: literally [i]the same[/i] stuff found in every Call of Duty. The only big innovation made to Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer is the addition of Exo Suits, which have dramatically shifted map design for a larger emphasis on verticality and gun balance towards a lightning fast TTK. Also ironically, this is the one thing people who play CoD hate the most. Additional small changes and tweaks involve the futuristic technology like cool gadgets and tactical grenades, Exo abilities, and minute alterations of classic Scorestreaks.

    Playing the game’s multiplayer felt immediately familiar, and the muscle memory of when I used to play CoD religiously came back to me after only a few warmup matches of FFA. After I had figured out a few of the maps, gotten a handle on weapon balance and handling, and affirmed that I had a grasp on the new movement system, I hopped into a few other game modes. Advanced Warfare sports all of the basic arcade multiplayer modes – TDM, FFA, and Domination to name a few – as well as some of the more recent fan favorites such as Kill Confirmed (introduced in MW3) and Hardpoint (introduced in BOII). Some party playlists like Mosh Pit, Infection, and Gun Game are also included. The slight altercation in the map design’s average verticality created a lot of new opportunities that simply weren’t available in older CoDs. Double jumping effectively neutralizes choke points and makes defending zones incredibly difficult; fuses on explosives and general TTK reductions increase the pace at which encounters transpire; and the fact that Exo movements appear briefly on enemy minimaps result in the enemy having a general idea of where you and your teammates are (and vice versa) at all times. The constant Exo jumping, sliding, and strafing keeps players on their toes from multiple unexpected angles and often trains players in vertical aiming, a skill that most shooters simply don’t demand of players.

    I’ve been playing multiplayer games both casually and competitively for a very long time and I’ve met all sorts of people from every corner of the planet, but the amount of racism, aggressiveness, unintelligible rabble, and overall unpleasantness of the online CoD community never fails to amaze me. The culture that has grown around CoD over the years has grown undeniably worse as the franchise goes on, and after even a little exposure, it’s easy to see where the moniker [i]Children’s Online Daycare[/i] came from. Within just a few hours of play time, I had heard a racial slur or derogatory term from every shade of the rainbow. The community surrounding the online Call of Duty environment contributes largely to why I can only handle CoD in small doses. But hey, at least a twelve year old helped me discover my sexuality ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    Call of Duty is one of gaming’s most notable, successful, and consistent franchises, but above all, it’s a franchise founded almost entirely on its own reputation. That reputation is repetition, and CoD fans and haters alike can all agree that ingenuity is not the series’ strong suit. From the predictable story campaigns to the recycled multiplayer and even the less-than-optimally developed ancillary game modes that totally kick ass but don’t provide much longevity, people who buy any CoD game pretty much know exactly what they’re spending their money on: an old game with a shiny skin pretending to be inventive and new. Even now, while I listen to the game’s soundtrack and write this review, I hear nothing original; just the same sounds built to elicit the same emotions as every other CoD OST. I enjoyed my time with Advanced Warfare, and to everyone who enjoys playing tons of CoD, I wholeheartedly encourage it. But breaking it down to its bare roots, it can’t go without being said that potential buyers should expect nothing they haven’t already seen in a CoD game out of Advanced Warfare.

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