By Patrick Dane
Ever since I was a child, the work of Disney’s Imagineers has been an admiration of mine. In particular, rides that sit you down, roll you along and tell you a story, putting Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion as some of my favorite experiential narratives. The way these rides directs your experience can be enrapturing. This was a strange thing to be thinking about while I was playing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but it didn’t take me long to realize the two are intrinsically linked.
In the now infamous article by Roger Ebert, he made the argument that video games aren’t art as they are series of shooting galleries strung together. That article has been taken on by those much more qualified than myself and it’s clear as day that video games take on many more forms than that. But where, Ebert was even more wrong, was that shooting galleries are art too. This is validated by the work of Disney Imagineers. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is a big Disneyland ride or at least its thrills work in the same way. The 7 or so hour campaign pushes you through a linear path, making sure you catch all the big moments at the right time in a bravado filled joyride. To some, that might seem like a criticism, but in this case, it really is not.
While many don’t come into Call of Duty for its single player aspects, Sledgehammer game’s first solo attempt at the franchise, they’d be missing a great example of ‘direction’ in a game. The pacing is smart, the path it pushes you on is varied and, while not entirely realistic, the world created is believable with some genuinely smart application for futuristic military tech.
Now, it goes without saying that as this is a Call of Duty game, you can expect the level headedness of a Transformers movie. You play as Jack Mitchell, a soldier who starts off in the US army. Due to story related reasons, he later finds himself becoming a mercenary for the private military company Atlas and comes under the wing of its CEO, Jonathan Irons (which you will no doubt have guessed from the intense marketing push, is played by Kevin Spacey.) I won’t get into spoilers, but if you can’t at least guess where the story is going from there, well you haven’t seen enough bad action movies. The story, by the end, is ludicrous. I say ‘by the end’ because there are times when the narrative plays with interesting ideas, like what would happen if a private company had more power than the biggest nations. It begins on an intriguing path, waivers halfway through before falling apart into a whole big clump of silly at the end. As an action focused rollercoaster though, it mostly works. The variety and spectacle of the campaign is compelling enough reason to see it through to the end.
Call of Duty has been the butt of many gamer jokes for years now, with criticisms that its gameplay is dumbed down and clings to unchanging mechanics. In that regard, Advanced Warfare should be considered a success. Rather than fall back completely on the tried formula, Sledgehammer games have imbued the Call of Duty mechanics with a fresh set of tenants. Being set 40 years in the future, the big change comes in the Exo-Suit. It means, depending on the mission of loadout, you have a ton of new abilities that spice up the aging formula.
Most notably, a rocket powered double jump gives the game a new sense of verticality. Surprisingly, it imbues play with a greater sense of strategy. Online games in particular are no longer just the run and gun matches they used to be. In the time I spent with the multiplayer, they are actually a little slower, with players trying to find vantage points over enemies. It is a simple addition, but it has given the franchise a sense of new life. That is and exciting prospect. This is only supported by other abilities such as cloaking, shields, hover abilities and more that only add more customization to the way you play.
Multiplayer is obviously a big part of a Call of Duty release though and after the series has experienced a drop off in sales recently, Activision will no doubt be hoping that Advanced Warfare catches the imagination of its audience. Now, I haven’t seriously played Call of Duty online for a while, so I’m not really the core audience they are trying to please, but I really enjoyed my time online. Where Advanced Warfare successfully takes cues from the franchises history, is in it’s customization. From the 13 customization slots you can give you avatar, to the superficial appearance items you get, there is a genuine complexity and finesse to creating the classes accustom to your play style. This is the kind of depth and experimentation of design that comes from a rock solid base that has grown over the years. It’s stimulating to constantly be rewarded with goods to personalize your experience after each match.
The multiplayer maps are maybe not such a high point, but it would be a stretch to call them bad. Each has a distinct personality with beautifully rendered graphics supporting the interesting locals, but I’m not entirely convinced of the layouts and design of all of them. None have struck me terrible thus far, but then again, none have left a deep impression on me either.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare may not be wholly revolutionary for the series, but it is definitely a step in the right direction after several lackluster titles. The story is nonsense filling with illogical coating, but the campaign is filled with so many neat ideas in regards to the world that it builds, the variety it offers and the execution of the direction, that it’s easily recommendable. Multiplayer buffs should also be pleased as there is plenty to admire. The game builds off of the rock solid Call of Duty formula, but adds a new sense of considered strategy and customization to keep things feeling fresher in that department than they have years. This should be the title that gets audiences hot on the franchise once again. If you’ve been burnt out on the series in the past, but are at least a little intrigued to see what Sledgehammer have done with the series, I’d advise you to give the game a look in.
Patrick Dane, once a would be filmmaker, has somewhat accidentally found himself as an entertainment journalist over the past two years. You may recognize him from around these parts, or you may not. Who’s counting? From E3 to SDCC to the Top Gear track, Patrick has explored the world of entertainment wherever it has taken him. He is always happy to talk words at you. Hopefully the ones above will suffice your needs.