My re-acquaintance with Call of Duty took me through the singleplayer campaign of Advanced Warfare this weekend after finishing Ghosts and rather enjoying it despite what a lot of people think about Infinity Ward these days. Seeing as Sledgehammer Games worked with IW on Modern Warfare 3, I guess I should have expected Advanced Warfare — Sledgehammer’s first lead project, to mostly glean from IW’s design playbook.
I’ll start with what I heard pretty much everyone said when Advanced Warfare came out in 2014 — that the exoskeleton really does bring a lot of change to COD gameplay. The fact that you can now bring up cover wherever you want, double jump two stories onto a balcony, or slow down your time perception brings a bit of freshness to the foundation of the whole game. New weapons like smart grenades or X-ray weapon sights add to that feeling, though maybe it’s because I skipped Black Ops II thus making Advanced Warfare the first overtly futuristic COD I’ve played.
Sledgehammer didn’t lean entirely on the exosuit despite how much it defines the image of the game. Like the IW games Advanced Warfare tries to present players with a wide variety of challenges and situations throughout the campaign. From driving cars, diving with motorboats, fighting with tanks, dodging traffic while in a gunfight, or hopping on top of traffic, Advanced Warfare rarely has you just shooting dudes from behind cover. Indeed, many of the regular shooting scenarios offer some pretty wide level design to accommodate the opportunities the exosuit gives you.
Even if some of these situations aren’t entirely original to COD, some of them work on a new level simply because of how beautiful Advanced Warfare looks. I’m coming at this game almost two years later and after I’ve been running PC games on a GTX 1070, but as probably the first COD built specifically for current-generation hardware, Advanced Warfare looks amazing on PS4 if you ask me. The framerate isn’t perfectly consistent but the scenes that are supposed to look like interactive action movie scenes come closer than ever before.
Like the IW games, Advanced Warafre plays out all these Michael Bay-esque scenes in an at least partially interactive way, but it also tries to push those same storytelling techniques a bit further than IW likes to. Advanced Warfare has a lot of playable scenes in-between the fighting where you’re just taking in the environment or watching some people talk. To compare, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare only really did this a couple times, both to great effect. Whether that kind of stuff works in favor of Advanced Warfare probably depends on your preference for parts in video games where you’re forced to walk really slowly in one direction.
Of course this does include the infamous “Press F to Pay Respects” part. I think that pretty much encapsulates the problem: that Sledgehammer tried to fit COD’s established storytelling tools into situations they don’t quite support. This is ironic because Advanced Warfare also employs traditional pre-rendered cut scenes where you can actually see the main character’s face and he talks. Maybe they should have thought more about which scenes would be pre-rendered and which scenes would be playable.
Another interesting thing about how Advanced Warfare uses COD’s narrative techniques is that it actually uses them to try to say something at times. The stories COD games try to tell while you’re in combat usually boil down to “holy crap this is intense!” or “well this is new.” They’re theme park rides pretty much. Advanced Warfare has a lot of sections though that are basically meant to say “You have all the coolest technology. These other guys don’t stand a chance against you,” as you use magnetic climbing gloves, bombs that block sound, x-ray grenades, or even jet packs. And I almost forgot about the Batman grapple hook. Many of these sections don’t even feel like they’re meant to be enjoyed as actual challenging gameplay, but rather scripted interactive fiction (except the grapple hook). I think I’m fine with that. One thing that kind of took me out of the experience of the story though was the upgrade system for the exosuit. Seeing it and the rewards and XP I gained in each level reminded me more than anything else that this was a video game.
Taking a step back from it all though, I realize that COD4 back in 2007 still managed to do all these things more effectively than any of its successors. It managed to deliver a story that was genuinely thought-provoking and did it in an interactive way without holding the player’s hand too much. I’m not sure there was ever any way any the developers working on the franchise could have improved upon it. With Advanced Warfare and Black Ops III, COD has shown that it can definitively push its fundamental combat systems forward, but their campaign structure still follows in COD4’s footsteps. That path might occasionally produce games that feel nearly as good, but it’ll never let new COD campaigns actually surpass the original Modern Warfare.
- This wired article uses the Super NES’s 25th anniversary to make a good comparison between the first modern game console transition and what we’re about to go through with the PlayStation Neo and Xbox Scorpio: https://t.co/zMHgdU4Zr5
- Some spin-off for Starr Mazer is out on Early Access: https://t.co/lNTtWvNdKw