Review: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (PS4)

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Title: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (43 GB)
Release Date: November 4, 2014
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

I’ve been playing Call of Duty since its inception, and the quality has varied drastically over the years. After the last couple of entries in the series, I had no faith that it could ever rise from the ashes of mediocrity as nothing more than a twitch-fest and I’ve been vocal about my low expectations for Advanced Warfare since it was first revealed. Imagine my surprise now that I’ve played it though…

Gameplay:
I’m not going to bore you with the control schemes and the “normal” stuff you’d find in a Call of Duty. But the new aspects of the gameplay will be the focus instead. Also, as always, this review will be completely devoid of spoilers, so read in confidence. I will say that the story is well-written for what it is, even though you don’t have to be a Literature major in college to figure out what’s probably going to happen. The last few entries in the series have really been more about the locales and set pieces instead of a deep story, but the actual dialogue and structure are well done in Advanced Warfare.

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It’s roughly forty years in the future, and PMC’s (Private Military Corporations) are becoming a staunch reality. Along with that, technology has also made plenty of advances and those technological advances are what set Advanced Warfare apart from previous games in the Call of Duty franchise. I think that many feared it was going to be all laser-guns and force fields but thankfully that’s not the case at all. Instead, weapons have enhancements like thermal imaging (which we’ve seen before) and variable grenades which allow you to choose between three modes before throwing them. So now instead of equipping only a frag grenade you can have a single device in your arsenal that can either act as a frag, contact, or “smart” explosive grenade (the “smart” grenades actually seek enemies out after hovering in the air for a second).

The biggest difference though, is the inclusion of the Exosuit. If you’ve ever seen the movie Elysium (and I hope that you haven’t) the execution is pretty similar, sans the whole bolting the suit into your spine. Basically, each soldier wears a backpack that extends metal arms to the soldier’s arms and legs, adding additional strength and resilience. Although I think the developers are stretching our imaginations a bit to believe that a simple strip of metal along the outside of each arm and leg would allow a soldier to completely survive being hit by a car.

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The suit also adds other enhancements including magnetic gloves for climbing up metal walls or hanging on the side of a truck, among other things. You’ll also have other Exo abilities such as being able to extend a personal shield from your arm or even cloaking yourself for a limited amount of time. Of course, the most visible addition is the jetpack which many see as a huge similarity to Titanfall’s mechanic, and one that I didn’t particularly care for in that game. Luckily it’s not overdone and these additions offer more of an enhancement than a complete and ridiculous overhaul of the core Call of Duty mechanics.

The campaign (which took me around six and a half hours to complete on Normal) was good, mostly. Annoyances for me though were mainly in the non-FPS portions such as covering my squad with a drone, a stealth mission (I hate those), and during the couple of QTE’s. In these instances my biggest issue was that my objectives were incredibly vague, forcing me to resort to simple trial-and-error until I reached my goal. The problem I had with the sparse QTE mechanics was that when the icon showing which button I needed to hit would appear, it was way too small to recognize what that button was. Add that to the fact that the time given to the player to see and react was sometimes too short. In one section while hanging on the side of the aforementioned truck I had to resort to memorizing the specific buttons in a couple of spots. These occurrences took me out of the flow of the game though and needed to be mentioned.

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Back to the jetpacks, or more accurately, jump-packs. They offer a couple of different aids in your various traversals. If you have a huge drop you can use bursts to keep you from vaporizing your legs on a landing or you can use them to extend your initial jump with a second one in the air. Also, if you need to get across a huge gap make your jump then hold Square to float across. I was really worried about the use of these and in the campaign they serve a convenient purpose. In multiplayer though they change how the entire game needs to be played as you now have to think in almost a complete 360 degree space. There have always been high vantage points to worry about but now that it’s so easy to get to those high points that your attention to the vertical plane is much more important. More on these in the multiplayer section though.

Visuals:
This isn’t that “new engine” they used in CoD: Ghosts but instead it’s quite revamped. I would guess that somewhere, somehow, the original engine is under there but it would be very hard to recognize. Colors are rich, textures are ultra-crisp, and the framerate is still smooth. I’ve seen reports that the PS4 version stutters, but I’ve only seen those rare occurrences during the campaign (usually when your waypoint updates). During multiplayer though, if it drops, it must only be a frame or two because to me, I’ve never seen it happen. Animation is much improved as well but you can still see the set limitations that are probably required to fit with the high-speed gameplay.

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The lighting has also been overhauled and we now get wonderful shadowing and cool features like bloom and lens flares. None are overdone though since this is still an action game and that means your distractions need to be at a minimum so overall it looks really good.

Audio:
The series has always sported a great sound design and this one is no exception. Voice acting is top-notch with a great cast of quality voice actors. Ambient sounds are consistently good at setting the scene and pulling the player in. Guns and explosives are all recreated authentically, giving my subwoofer a good workout in the process. Also, have no fear, if you have a good set of gaming headphones you’re definitely in for a treat.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Well, here’s what really matters to a majority of the people that get these games. What, in my opinion at least, has devolved into a gadget-heavy twitchfest in the last few iterations has finally found redemption in Advanced Warfare. My biggest disappointment with Ghosts was that I really wanted a good CoD experience on the PS4, something that would drive my online friends to get and play it in a party like we used to in Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2 among others. Advanced Warfare has made that possible now as this is one of the best Call of Duty games that I’ve played in quite a while. Much of it will look familiar in terms of setup and finding a match, which is a good thing.

Matchmaking so far has been good but not perfect, but hey, fans of the series are used to this right? So far though it’s been better than it has in a while. Creating a custom class is less confusing than in the last couple of games but I’d personally like to see things get even a bit more simple. The new “Armory” still has me a bit puzzled though, and from the looks of some different gaming forums, I’m not the only one.

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What I’ve been able to gather is this: every now and then you’ll see a post-match message that you’ve unlocked a supply drop, but this isn’t an in-match drop like you’re used to. Instead, an item will appear in your Armory. You can also get items simply by playing online and some items that require a code redemption will appear there as well. Some items are timed (usually thirty to forty-five minutes) like Double XP tokens and certain items that have Bloodshed or Baron in their names. Also, you’ll unlock specialized weapons occasionally and fully customized stats for a gun you already own, which can be selected in Create a Class to replace the “normal” version of said weapon. Some of these will also have different ranks or colors (all of which denote rarity, similar to games like Borderlands and Destiny), and so far I see three different levels (all of which can be redeemed for XP):
Enlisted – Green = 500XP
Professional – Blue = 1000XP
Elite – Orange/Yellow = 2000XP

(Yup, loot drops)

I still struggle with what the specific armor items are and what positive or negative each might possess if equipped. Even after looking up the Armory I’m still confused, which isn’t a good thing. Also, Scorestreaks are now a part of create-a-class, so Pick-10 from Black Ops has now become Pick-13.

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Many of the modes will look familiar including the return of Capture-the-Flag and Hardpoint from Black Ops 2. The modes that I don’t ever play, Survival and Zombies, have also returned but I can’t speak to the specifics. I’ve been mainly playing my favorites, Ground War: a playlist with Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, and Domination with eighteen players instead of the normal twelve, and Domination: capture and hold three separate points, similar to Conquest in the Battlefield series. Map voting is still present and overall the playlists seem good enough.

The game includes thirteen maps for multiplayer with a fourteenth included for those that buy the Season pass, called ‘Atlas Gorge’, which is a remake of ‘Pipeline’ from CoD4. Overall, I’m really enjoying these maps, with ‘Terrace’ being my least favorite. Probably the biggest disappointment to some though is that close-quarters feel that’s you’d expect from a Call of Duty isn’t really present in these bigger maps. There are definitely sections that are more intimate but I’m surprised that they didn’t at least include one map that reverted back to that classic formula that set this series apart from the others. I’m really hoping that one of the upcoming map packs is focused on this type of gameplay.

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One BIG problem in multiplayer though, is the placement of the player names when they’re talking. Instead of being off to the side like you’d expect, the names appear in the top-center of the screen which is extremely distracting and honestly makes no sense. Making things worse is that I can’t find a way to turn them off, so I’ve been stuck with it no matter what.

Luckily, the in-game party system seems to work very well so far but I haven’t used it enough to figure out if players will get left behind. Also, I really wish they would have found a way to integrate the PS4’s party system as Guerrilla Games did in Killzone Shadow Fall. It’s just cumbersome having to join two separate parties.

Conclusion:
It’s been a pleasant surprise as to how much I’m enjoying this game. To me, it’s definitely a return to form in many ways and it’s wonderful to have an FPS alternative on the PS4 for online play. On the campaign side of things, it’s really solid with only a few gimmicky moments. Kevin Spacey is fantastic as you’d expect and the cinematic portions look almost live-action. The pacing through the story is well executed, but honestly, I don’t need to go through it again.

The bread-and-butter though is obviously the online multiplayer and so far it has delivered a great experience. I haven’t been compelled to continue playing a Call of Duty online for a couple of years now and it makes me happy that my fears were unfounded. I’m enjoying the game quite a bit and I hope that this trend can continue into the future.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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