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Review - "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare" (PS4)

Reviewing a Call of Duty game is a slippery slope these days, more so for high-profile critics than independent bloggers like myself. Still, though, your opinion about an entry in Activision's unstoppable juggernaut of a franchise will earn you the damnation of one crowd and the adoration of another. It's become such a stigmatized series. If you like it, you're a "casual" or a "dudebro" or a "fake gamer girl" or a this or a that. If you hate it, you're a "snob" or an "elitist," so on, so forth. There's barely any in-between, I've noticed, which is really sad. A first-person shooter franchise with some genuinely good games in it has become an example of exactly what's wrong with the gaming community. That is to say, a lot of anonymous people on the internet shouting their opinions at one another as if they are objective facts.

And with another year comes another entry. The proverbial wheel keeps on turning.

Ladies. Gentlemen. Everyone else. I present to you Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, what feels like the 3,857th entry in the span of less than a decade. But as we saw with last year's Ghosts, which was a festering heap of generic garbage masquerading as a video game, not all COD entries are made the same. Something about that game cemented many people's beliefs, myself included, that it was time to throw in the towel. Everything, from top to bottom, reeked of desperation, of a cynical attempt to churn out a product in order to satisfy a sales quota. But the problem, it seems, was not with the franchise itself, but the developer. As time has shown, Infinity Ward is a developer that only knows one or two notes, lacking any sort of vision or creativity. Leave it to new blood Sledgehammer Games to return the series to a standard that, I would hazard to say, can compete with the big-league AAA titles. In fact, I'd go a step further and call this one a genuinely good game, if not a great one.

As you're probably aware of by now, Advanced Warfare takes place in the future and has Kevin Spacey in it. That's pretty much the only look at it we've gotten from commercials, on top of some robots and drones and other futuristic stuff that the franchise has implemented before. The thing is? This is the first entry that everything fits together. There are no oddly outdated things standing in stark contrast to these shiny new toys. Miraculously, everything fits together to form a coherent, cohesive future, one that feels consistent in its presentation throughout the entire experience. From the multiplayer to the surprisingly entertaining campaign, everything feels like it has genuinely been ramped up to the next level, perhaps in fear of falling to other big sci-fi shooters, like Titanfall and the other big 2014 Activision shooter, Destiny.

But Advanced Warfare actually has a massive edge on both of those titles. How? Because it actually feels like somebody cared about this game as both a standalone product and as an ongoing online title. See, Titanfall and Destiny failed because they didn't seem to have a firm grasp on the idea that, hey, maybe people don't want to spend sixty bucks for an online-only game with no substantial single-player content. Now, I'm not saying that this title's campaign, as good as it is, is ideal single player content. It's not. It can be cleared in 6-8 hours, if even that. But in that 6-8 hours, there's variety. There are new ideas. There are interesting characters, despite the glut of walking cliches still present. It's the video game equivalent to a blockbuster Hollywood film, but one of the good ones. If you're not into the multiplayer side of things, there is something on this disc that will still be good four, five, six years from now. That's more than I can say about the other two "competitors."

Kevin Spacey chews the virtual scenery so much and it's glorious.
And to be fair, some real effort went into this campaign, especially the performances. Kevin Spacey is wonderfully hammy as a mysterious head of a sinister corporation. His mocap performance is quite good, and avoids any of the creepy, uncanny valley aspects that are present in a game like Beyond: Two Souls. The other actors, including Troy "I'm taking over video games" Baker, are also pretty fantastic, their delivery impeccable, their facial expressions distinctly human in their variety and complexity. Also, there's a franchise first in Ilona, an ex-Spetznaz woman who you partner up with in a few missions. Yeah, Advanced Warfare is still very much a male-driven game, but it's nice to see a lady who isn't sexualized get in on the action and be an important character based on her own autonomous decisions. Kudos to the writers for doing something a little different there.

The story itself, carrying you a wide variety of locales to partake in different tasks, is interesting but flawed. For my purposes, the vision of the future was convincing, and the dynamic between a large private military versus a national army that occurs was relatively compelling. There are some intriguing geopolitical questions that get raised in the narrative... and then either dropped or hamfisted away by grating patriotism. Despite all the attempts at trying new stuff, the narrative still falls into the trappings of "gruff man who loses a best friend," or "war isn't pretty but we need it," or "questioning the status quo leads to evil." It feels like the writers wanted to flex their muscles, but Activision came down hard and neutered what could have been a complex, thought-provoking title. The final result is an engrossing world with a flimsy structure, primarily populated by stock characters that are still somehow compelling. Again, very much a traditional Hollywood type of story.

But for those of you who don't care about the campaign (your loss,) the signature multiplayer returns. It's... well, it's largely the same kind of game we've been playing since 2007, but I guess if it isn't broken, don't fix it? To be fair, though, the tweaks added help make it something that I find myself drawn to, more than I have since the original Black Ops. I may go one step further and say this is the multiplayer at its finest, and even if it won't win over many longtime naysayers, people who like this sort of affair will come away pleasantly surprised, and might even keep their copy around for some time to come.

The set pieces are huge and a bit stupid... in the good way.
This is where it really comes up to a matter of personal taste. Having already sunk a good deal of time into the multiplayer within a day or two, I can see myself playing this well into next year, maybe even paying for new maps as they become available to me, and (in an extreme case) until the next entry comes out. This is a rarity in a game, considering I almost never buy DLC of any sort, including the story-based variety. That being said, I understand some people won't be impressed by the changes. Yes, you can use your Exo Suit to boost around the map or double jump, but it is still very much the same type of game consumers have gotten used to. And if you're looking for something different in that regard, then, well, wait for the next Battlefield or something. Advanced Warefare, as stated above, isn't going to bring in a ton of longtime detractors (who have legitimate reasons for disliking the series,) but it sure is a blast for fans of fast, frantic shooters.

Whether you like the series or not, though, you have to marvel at the technical side of things. This is one of the most beautiful games I've played so far in this console generation, so if you have a PS4, Xbox One (or, y'know, a good PC,) you won't be disappointed in the graphics department. The character animations are excellent, the environments are lush and brimming with life, the weapons are ornately detailed. Everything has minimal aliasing, and despite the occasional area with glaring texturing laziness, generally places where we're obviously not supposed to be looking, it all looks fantastic. Perhaps it's not as top-notch as Tomb Raider, or as imaginative as Bayonetta 2 or Super Mario 3D World, but it's still nothing to sneeze at.

"Nothing to sneeze at" might be the best way I could describe Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. It's a fast, furious, futuristic shooter with tight gameplay and some nifty technical bells and whistles. Sledgehammer Games (along with the two other co-developers working on multiplayer) remembers how to make a compelling, addictive shooter with substantial content both online and off. While it might not be the absolute best shooter this year, or even remotely close to the best game this year, it's enough to keep me snared in the multiplayer for some time to come... which is more than I could say for Destiny.

It's a fun game that represents the best Call of Duty has been in years, and for many, that'll be enough reason to put forward their sixty bucks. Well, that, or Kevin Spacey's performance that's great for all the wrong reasons.

- Tight gameplay
- Pretty graphics
- Campaign isn't trash
- Multiplayer is addictive, rich in content
- Kevin Spacey plays Kevin Spacey 

- It's still Call of Duty
- The soundtrack is garbage
- Narrative hiccups stunt the story
- Zombies being cut off for DLC is sleazy... just saying 

Score: 8.0 (Groovy)


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