COD: Advanced Warfare review: A return to form

This review marks something of a departure from the usual reviews you find on this site. Normally, it’s just me spouting my opinion but this time, because this game is so multiplayer-focused, I’ve enlisted some help: Master Game Junkie, my teenage game-playing son who know more about COD MP gameplay than I do. So, this review is two parts: I’ll do the campaign, and Master Game Junkie the MP. I’ll post the MP review when he’s finished. It should be later today or tomorrow.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare

There’s a mission in Advanced Warfare that took me back to one of perhaps the finest missions in a COD game of all time: Modern Warfare’s All Ghillied Up.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare_Review_Exo CloakDecked out in a fancy exo-skeleton from Atlas, the private arms corporation owned by your now deceased best friend’s father, Advanced Warfare’s hero has to use the suits cloaking ability to skulk past patrolling enemy guards, aerial drones and scanners to reach the next objective.

It’s clear that AW’s stealth sequence owes a great debt to All Ghillied Up, and frankly, while it isn’t as  good as Modern Warfare’s radiation-ravaged Chernobyl mission, it sets the tone that hints that this year’s COD is a return to form for the series’ campaign which has been on shaky ground since Modern Warfare. It’s almost as if developer Sledgehammer Games, given sole control of this one, decided to go back to the series’ finest moments and get the series back on track.

Advanced Warfare is the best COD campaign I’ve played since Modern Warfare. Is it as good as Modern Warfare? No – but it’s close. Also, could this be one of the first games to actually have a character say the title of the game in it? Watch the trailer below …

For some reason COD games always seem to get a bit of stick from certain gamers. Part of me feels that people just hate on the series because it’s something to do or they want to jump on the band wagon.  t’s true that the series hasn’t changed much over the years, and the campaign especially has been in decline since the outstanding Modern Warfare, but fans of the series know exactly what they’re getting: scripted action and constant instructions telling you what to do, what to use and when to do it. COD games are not open-world, explore-anywhere-you-want games. Never have been, never will.

COD games are tightly controlled, blockbuster action, Michael Bay movies in video game form (Disclaimer: I’d rather play a COD game that watch a Michael Bay movie) where the player is funnelled in a particular direction to keep the action moving along  – and I don’t have a problem with that. I know exactly what type of game a COD one is as soon as I hit the menu screen.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare_Review_Will IronsCOD games have never been known for their storytelling, either, and AW’s is no different: You play former US Army soldier Captain Jack Mitchell who looses an arm (and his best friend) after fighting in Korea but is given a second chance – and a robotic left arm – by Jonathon Irons (played by a mocapped Kevin Spacey), the father of his best friend and founder of Atlas, the world’s largest private army. He starts working for Atlas but things don’t appear as they seem and it’s up to Mitchell and a secret military outfit called Sentinel to stop Irons.

The action travels to Seattle, Detroit and New Baghdad, each new set piece almost out doing the other, and the body count will stack up as you fight your way to the finale. In each mission, Mitchell is equipped with a different exo-skeleton that has different abilities: cloaking, grapple, shield, magnetic gloves, but sadly,  you can only use each ability when the game wants you to. I think I only climbed about three walls using the mag gloves throughout the entire game.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare_Review_Kyle CormackTaking a nod from the Advanced Warfare in the title, Mitchell is equipped with a variety of hi-tech armaments, too,  including grenades that can highlight enemies through walls and smart grenades – grenades that target enemies then explode. They worked well most of the time.

One of my favourite missions was one where Mitchell had to control a UAV hight above a Greek village, having to locate where a terrorist target was. It’s good to see that Sledgehammer mixed things up a little, and I also like that I was only in control of one character, not the multiple characters in previous COD games.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare_Review_UtopiaThe game is still QTE heavy and – I’ll say it again – tightly controlled, telling you when you can set a mine that silences noise or where you can use your exo-skeleton’s cloak but by Homer, I enjoyed the seven hours or so it took me to beat the campaign. I wanted to finish it. I didn’t feel I had to finish it. Sledgehammer has done something right.

Kevin Spacey’s performance is a little wooden at times (and his eyes are almost dead looking at first, given how realistic his in-game character looks) but I felt that his performance got better as the game progressed: It was if he had channelled is Frank Underwood here. And that’s a good thing. The in-game cinematics are so life-like that for a second I had to double-check that it wasn’t human actors. They look that real.

The bottom line is that if you don’t like COD games then stay away from this one. Heck, you probably weren’t going to play it anyway. I have to say, though, this one really surprised me – and in a good way. Yes, it’s scripted. Yes, it doesn’t break the formula. Yes, it’s annoying that you can’t use the cool gadgets and tech when you want, but if you want a fun-filled romp filled with action and mayhem, then grab the popcorn and buckle in: You’re in for a hellava ride.

Thanks to Activision which provided a PS4 retail copy of the game for review.