Set around 40 years from now, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare attempts to show us a world that's more reliant on technology than ever. It's a fictional period that has its roots in reality, and it's a premise that's relatively believable. While armies and private military corporations with access to walking tanks and hulking mech suits isn't a shocking departure from the franchise's norm, there's a definite sense that developer Sledgehammer Games is trying to shake things up a little. The question is: does the studio succeed?
As is customary by this point, Call of Duty is usually analysed over two separate components: the single player campaign, and the multiplayer. That said, there's still a glut of players who don't so much as touch the solo offering, although this time around, it's safe to say that they'd be missing out.
You play as Mitchell, a soldier who's somehow stolen Troy Baker's face and voice. He's a bit gruff, and a bit generic, but he's a decent protagonist as the rest of the cast tend to bounce off his somewhat empty personality quite well. And, while the other characters aren't going to win any awards for originality, there are a couple of standout personalities who inject some life into the plot, namely the rough, ready, and reckless Gideon, and Kevin Spacey's Jonathan Irons, who proves to be a charismatic and endearing antagonist.
Meanwhile, the story itself, rather unsurprisingly, sees you jet off all around the world, tackling missions of all shapes and sizes. There are a wealth of locations to run and gun around, and a decent amount of variety. Along with your typical 'shoot your way from point A to point B' objectives, there are a couple of stealth sections and vehicular based tasks involved as well, and, although some players will no doubt get annoyed when they're forced out of the action to do some sneaking, the campaign remains well paced throughout, and features several memorable, thoroughly enjoyable scenarios.
As far as Call of Duty campaigns go, it's arguably the best that the series has seen in years. Sitting at around six hours, the single player offering isn't quite enough to warrant a purchase alone, but it does throw in a few incentives to tempt you into playing it more than once. Along with difficulty options, there are challenges to complete that track your headshots, kills, grenade kills, and how many enemy intelligence consoles you've found. Each time that you reach a certain threshold in these categories, you acquire upgrade points, which can then be used to power up your exo suit, improving things like damage resistance, recoil control, and the amount of grenades that you can hold. While the skill trees aren't very big, or even that interesting, they do add a little more flesh to the campaign, although having said that, it's a shame that your loadout and exo type are fixed for each mission – some options here could have really added a thoughtful layer of customisation to proceedings.
Speaking of exos, these mechanical contraptions are at the core of what Sledgehammer Games is attempting to achieve with Advanced Warfare. Depending on your equipped type, your exo can allow you to boost jump, bring up a riot shield, or let off a deafening sonic pulse, among many other abilities. As you can imagine, additions like the boost jump give the release a slightly different feel, allowing you to leap across large distances and get to higher ground in a flash. Ultimately, exos end up being just enough to make the title seem fresh, if still familiar, and in that sense, the developer has succeeded in adding to the traditional formula without compromising the gameplay that fans have come to adore.
Outside of exos, grenades have seen a rather large overhaul. Split into two categories – combat and tactical – you're able to carry four of each, and you can switch their effect before throwing. For example, holding L1 pulls out a tactical grenade, and then tapping square cycles through different effects, such as unleashing an EMP blast perfect for taking out robotic drones, or highlighting enemies through walls upon detonation. The system can take some getting used to at first – especially when you're too busy cycling through options to realise that the grenade is about to go off in your hand – but it provides a wealth of enjoyable options that can help you to control the battlefield.
These new additions to combat bleed into the multiplayer as well, where exo abilities add a dynamic new layer to encounters. The franchise has always been about fast, intense, and deadly exchanges in relatively close-quarters maps, and even though that formula hasn't been directly tampered with, you're forced to think a little more tactically as you sprint around the map looking for your next opponent, as you're never quite sure what sort of equipment they'll be packing.
Perhaps as you'd expect, boost jumps appear to be a favourite in these early days of competitive play. Many of the game's arenas allow for some verticality, and after a few matches, it's surprisingly easy to get into the new flow of sprinting, jumping through a building's window, dashing out of the front door, and doing it all again. Call of Duty's multiplayer built its name on being fast paced, but this is faster still, with the addition of exos giving players a lot more mobility to play around with.
And that's a good thing, since it promotes thinking on your feet. Where players would learn distinct patterns of sprinting around the map in the same way in almost every single match, more mobility means that there are a lot more options to consider, not to mention that it feels fantastic to boost up to an open window and shotgun an enemy in the face just as they're about to dive out into the fray.
This new agility is perhaps most noticeable in Uplink, a new mode that sees teams battling over a data-filled sphere. It sounds like a strange inclusion, but it's a brilliant new addition to the series' already impressively robust roster of multiplayer game modes. Here, once you've nabbed the sphere, you'll need to take it to the goal, and either toss it or dunk it inside. Essentially, it's an incredibly twisted version of basketball, and it's just the sort of fun, creative, and accessible new mode that the game needs.
Elsewhere, things aren't quite as imaginative, but there's still more than enough content to sink your teeth into when you're up for some player versus player action. Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Capture the Flag, Free-for-All, and others all line up for duty, and, in truth, it's very difficult to get bored when there's so much to try your hand at. Sure, there's not that much variety in gunning people down, but when coupled with a massive amount of upgrades, weapons, and unlocks to explore, as well as some great character customisation, Advanced Warfare provides what is easily the most fleshed out and complete multiplayer suite that the franchise has seen in a long time.
To top it all off is the addictive co-op mode, Exo Survival. As its name suggests, you're tasked with holding off waves of foes with up to three other players. It's definitely a shame that the character and loadout customisation found in multiplayer doesn't show up here, but the co-op offering is all about upgrading your gear on the go. Between rounds, you'll need to run to an upgrade station and power up your equipment. Again, it's all very fast paced, and there's plenty of fun to be had with a good group of friends, but it's a component that really would have shined had it featured the same depth as what's on show elsewhere. As such, it's unlikely to hold your attention as long as the equally addictive but much more robust competitive multiplayer.
Of course, we can't possibly review a PlayStation 4 game without mentioning the graphics, and, thankfully, Advanced Warfare looks great a lot of the time. Character models are consistently detailed, and facial animations look impressively lifelike, especially during cutscenes, which, while not rendered in-game, look stunning, and really help to push the high quality of the campaign. However, disappointment sets in when you notice that many of the environments throughout the release look decidedly last-gen, with some blurry textures and jagged models combining to create some jarringly poor visuals. Fortunately, the game maintains a solid 60 frames-per-second, and, despite reports that Sony's console is the cause of some slight dips, we'd be surprised if most players even notice them – especially since they only seem to occur when the title's busy autosaving and loading a new area at the same time.
Punchy, futuristic weapons, even faster gameplay, and additional agility make Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare a joy to play, both offline and online. With a campaign that features several spectacular scenarios and a brilliantly robust and incredibly moreish multiplayer offering, Sledgehammer Games has succeeded in crafting a title that feels fresh but familiar, and does just enough to put the franchise back on track after the disappointing Call of Duty: Ghosts.