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The Rundown

Another year, another Call of Duty release. As sure as the seasons change, you can rest assured that a new iteration of Call of Duty will hit the shelves in time for the hectic holiday shopping season. However, this recently passed holiday season, we we’re treated to something a little different than years past, in that Advanced Warfare is the first new Call of Duty release in recent years to be created under the “new” 3-year development cycle for the series. The idea behind this should be obvious. More development time should equal either a better end product, or at least something with more depth. Advanced Warfare, suffice it to say, delivers somewhat on the former, and laughs at the latter. 

Campaign

It’s hard to give a blanket statement on the overall quality of Advanced Warfare’s campaign, as there are a lot of different kinds of players, and some value areas of a game differently than others. For myself, I place the highest value on the quality of the story. Other aspects are also important, such as the visuals/graphics and replayability, but the quality of the story is at the top of my list. Unfortunately, Advanced Warfare’s story isn’t exactly “Game of the Year” quality (it’s not even close). What it lacks in quality in the story, it certainly tries to make up for with the stunning visual quality.

Without a doubt, the first and lasting impression I have from Advanced Warfare is the jaw dropping graphics. Sledgehammer (I assume with the good graces of Activision) decided to create a new game engine internally for Advanced Warfare, becoming the first game since Call of Duty 2 to not use the IW Engine. The jump in graphical quality from what can be seen in the predecessor, COD: Ghosts, to Advanced Warfare, is certainly worthy of praise. I played Advanced Warfare on PC, so speaking from a PC viewpoint, the depth and level of detail in the characters is what is most noticeable with this new engine. It’s not like previous COD titles had really bad graphics, it’s just that Advanced Warfare’s graphics are really that GOOD. Each character’s face is unique, and easy to distinguish from one to the next without a second glance. That may seem like a silly point of emphasis, but I feel that this is the area where new games will continue to make the most progress. And Advanced Warfare just helped to set the bar a little higher for the other “pump ‘em out fast” AAA game developers.

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Gameplay mechanics for your player, weapons, and gadgets were fairly unique, varied, and functioned well. Top of the list of all things useable is the Exo Suit, which every player has full use of throughout the entirety of the campaign. Your suit can use a different ability to further enhance a specific feature to it, which the game will change for you automatically from mission to mission. These additional abilities vary, but one example is giving you the ability to use a grappling hook, allowing you to reach elevated or long distance positions.

You get your standard assortment of assault rifles, SMG’s, shotguns, and pistols, all given a futuristic look of sorts to match the theme of Advanced Warfare. The different grenades are actually pretty cool, although they do have that “easy mode” feel to some of them. The two standouts were the Threat and EMP grenade. The Threat grenade would show all enemy positions within a certain radius of the detonated grenade, even if they were hiding behind hard cover, which made the game really easy at times. The EMP grenade is capable of taking down a huge amount of drones the few times they came into play, making it seem like a wasted effort in bringing them into the game.  One area of complaint for the mechanics is the vehicle controls when using a mouse and keyboard on PC. Flying the jet in one of the later missions was downright awful, and driving other vehicles wasn’t exactly spectacular, due to the lack of finesse in the controls. Even tapping directions to turn or steer would lead to my jet or vehicles lurching hard to either side. I don’t know if using a controller for these specific instances would help or not, but I would suggest trying it.

“You can put a pig in a dress, but it’s still a pig.” That succinctly and accurately best summarizes the storyline of Advanced Warfare. Sure, there’s plenty of Michael Bay-esque moments in the game that may make some people go wide eyed in wonder, but all of the pretty lights and breath taking graphics aren’t enough to hide this weak, uninspiring story. You play as the main character Jack Mitchell, a former US Marine turned private contractor fighter. He’s recruited by the company CEO of Atlas Corporation, Jonathan Irons (played by Kevin Spacey), who is also the father of Mitchell’s partner from the Marines that was killed in action.

Playing as Mitchell, you go from mission to mission in this wild goose chase of a campaign, first hunting down a terrorist group and their leader, fighting for what seems like a worthy cause, until the man and company you worked for turns against the world it once sought to protect. From there, it becomes a short mission to bring down the newly risen tyrant before he destroys and takes over the world through brute force.

One of the biggest problems with the campaign is a poor attempt at maintaining continuity throughout the story. The campaign will make large jumps in location and time frames between missions, with minimal details given to tie these storylines together, via short cut scenes while the next mission loads. It gives the feeling that each mission was written and created in advance of writing a complete script, and then was left to some poor soul to do their best to fill in the blanks afterward.

The biggest problem lies in the “follow the leader to win” design of the game. Never have I felt so uninvolved in a game as Advanced Warfare made me feel, it just felt like I was going along for the ride 75% of the time, and the other 25% I was actually able to shoot something, or react to a quicktime scene. Throughout almost the entirety of the game, you are following an AI character that basically gives you step by step instructions on what to do, and where to go, from start to finish. The entire game felt scripted, as if they developers never wanted the player to make their own decisions. What Advanced Warfare greatly lacks is immersion. They’ve managed to take most of the players actions and decision making out of the game.

Again, I’ll give Sledgehammer credit where credit is due. Advanced Warfare really is something to marvel at when it comes to graphics. The level of detail really is amazing, and moving forward, they have something great to work with. Beyond that, the campaign is lacking in every other facet. One can only hope that, with the cost of developing the new engine out of the way, they’ll use the same budget for the next title, and devote the extra money into hiring a capable and talented group of writers to actually create a worthwhile, compelling, and engaging story. As it is now, Advanced Warfare’s campaign is severely lacking in every single one of those areas.

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Without a doubt, the first and lasting impression I have from Advanced Warfare is the jaw dropping graphics.

 

Multiplayer

There are certainly a large number of people that will play the campaign in a game like Call of Duty, but let’s face it, most people pick up a game like this for the multiplayer. With the “new” three year development cycle, that alone was something to be excited for when it came to the multiplayer aspect of Advanced Warfare. While previous iterations following COD4: Modern Warfare haven’t been stellar, they’ve been “good enough” for console players (because the PC ports generally haven’t been very good). The overall variety in weapons and gadgets, and the wide range of customization to both your weapons and your character, which have been an ever expanding staple of Call of Duty for several years now, remains.

Honestly, there’s a lot to love about the multiplayer of Advanced Warfare. Due to the exo-suits allowing for quick bursts of high speed player movement in every direction imaginable, and the usual high time to kill and damage-to-health ratio COD has always known, the game plays at an incredibly fast pace. You’re still getting the usual COD experience you expect, with a few new added twists that makes it feel different. The multiplayer has moved forward enough to point to progress, without becoming too unfamiliar. Sadly, there’s still one archaic aspect that people are very familiar with, that remains from the very early days of online multiplayer gaming: peer to peer connections.

There’s a lot to be said for continuity and familiarity, especially within a game franchise. Players become fans of a certain game because of specific features, and continuing with at least some of those features throughout future iterations keeps fans coming back. Call of Duty does an excellent job of this in some facets, but unfortunately, there’s one area where they should have given up on this long ago: basing their online multiplayer on peer to peer connections. The method in which you connect to a game with other players online varies, but the two most well known and commonly used methods are peer to peer connections, and dedicated servers. Leading up to (and even beyond) the release, developers at Sledgehammer had made a promise that Advanced Warfare would finally be forsaking the archaic form of a peer to peer based structure for multiplayer, and would finally be moving to dedicated servers.

What was promised is not what was delivered, thanks to a little creative stretching of the truth. Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer uses what they call Listen Servers. A Listen Server is essentially still a peer to peer based connection structure, it’s just trying to lie to itself, pretending to be a dedicated server. While you are technically playing on a dedicated server, that “server” is based off of the host players internet connection. Being the host on a game that utilizes Listen Servers gives you an advantage because you play with a little less latency compared to everyone  else playing on that server. An added bonus (see: flaw) to utilizing Listen Servers is that if the host leaves at any point, the game crashes and everyone is kicked.

Why is this all relevant? The very foundation for which an online multiplayer shooter should be built, is on the hit detection. Every single thing that is done in these games, by every player, all comes down to the same core function: you are trying to kill another player by putting damage on their character until their health runs out. If the system in which this function relies on, is not reliable itself, then the experience will be flawed, inconsistent, and down right unenjoyable, because the game will never accurately process the information your player, or other players, are sending out. The end result? One hit kills, kill trades, shots that don’t register, deaths that don’t make sense, and overall, a relatively shitty online gaming experience. This is Call of Duty in a nutshell. This is what COD has had since day one, and while we were promised that Advanced Warfare would be different, the fact of the matter is that it isn’t.

Sadly, there’s still one archaic aspect that people are very familiar with, that remains from the very early days of online multiplayer gaming: peer to peer connections.

I haven’t even touched upon the matchmaking structure of the multiplayer but to do so would just be throwing gas onto a dumpster fire. To wrap it all up, while there is certainly some aspects of the multiplayer that are downright fun, and could be very exciting, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have a good connection at any point when playing Advanced Warfare. The hit detection is so ridiculously inconsistent, that I cannot in good conscience recommend this game to anyone when there are so many other games out there with a far more consistent online gaming experience. Buying this game would be the equivalent of buying a Porsche and putting a set of bald tires on it that you found half buried in the woods. It sure does look really nice, but your driving experience is going to suck.

With a final parting thought, the most frustrating thing about all of this, is that players are left with game that will never meets its potential due to greed from Activision, and the complacency from those that continue to support this franchise.  If enough people raised their voices and called for dedicated servers, that would drastically change the quality and enjoyment of this game. But so long as people don’t raise their voices, Activision won’t spend any profits from one of the most profitable game franchises in history, to make the experience better. It’s very disappointing that a franchise that has surpassed $10 BILLION in sales still doesn’t have dedicated servers, something that games with a fraction of Call of Duty’s annual advertising budget can manage.


The Rundown

6 word story

Amazing Visuals, Poor Plot, Broken Multiplayer

Strength

Amazing graphics and audio quality

Weakness

Story lacks continuity and a sense of immersion

PLATFORM

PC

Pick it up

Wait until it’s $15 or less


For details on release dates and other related info, head to COD: Advanced Warfare’s game page.

** When is it worth the price? — In lieu of review scores, we opt to give our opinion on whether the game is worthy of it’s release day price, or if you should wait for a patch or a sale. **

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In lieu of review scores, we opt to give our opinion on whether the product is worth it's release day price, or if you should wait for a sale.

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