Call Of Duty: Ad­vanced War­fare

EDGE - - PLAY - Pub­lisher Ac­tivi­sion De­vel­oper Sledge­ham­mer Games For­mat 360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One (ver­sion tested) Out now

Call Of Duty never felt like it was lack­ing a loot sys­tem. You won’t no­tice an op­po­nent’s hot-pink gauntlets in the sec­ond and a half be­tween lay­ing eyes on each other and one of you dy­ing, after all, and you can’t give out pow­er­ful weaponry through ran­dom drops in a game whose play­ers ob­sess over bal­ance. So it proves: all 350 of Ad­vanced War­fare’s cus­tom guns are vari­a­tions on the base weapon­set, trad­ing off a small in­crease in rate of fire, for in­stance, for a re­duc­tion in dam­age. Sin­gle-use items might boost XP gain for the next match, or drop a Score­streak re­ward a few min­utes in, but there is none of the tan­gi­ble sense of pro­gres­sion that the best loot games of­fer. It’s all a bit dull.

Hap­pily, there are plenty of thrills to be found else­where. Sledge­ham­mer may have run support on pre­vi­ous CODs, but this is its first crack at the many lit­tle prob­lems to which Tre­yarch and In­fin­ity Ward put for­ward so­lu­tions bian­nu­ally. For the mul­ti­player’s in­tim­i­dat­ing learn­ing curve, it of­fers the Com­bat Readi­ness Pro­gram, which re­moves kill­cams, doles out Score­streak re­wards for free, and re­places the match score­board with a tally of your kills, but not deaths. It’s not for us, ad­mit­tedly, but it’s clearly a more ef­fec­tive on-ramp to com­pet­i­tive play. The loot sys­tem ad­dresses the op­po­site prob­lem, en­cour­ag­ing those who only play mul­ti­player into other modes for ex­clu­sive drops.

Yet COD’s mul­ti­player for­mula is too suc­cess­ful to need much tin­ker­ing. The big­ger chal­lenge for Sledge­ham­mer was surely how to make a sin­gle­player cam­paign that ad­heres to the se­ries’ tem­plate with­out be­ing too ob­vi­ous about it. Ad­vanced War­fare’s is, like its pre­de­ces­sors, a blend of follow mis­sions, shootouts, set­pieces and ve­hi­cle es­capes. It hits all the right beats in the right or­der, and as such should be bor­ing. In­stead, this is the best sin­gle­player COD’s been in years.

Forty years in the fu­ture, a pri­vate mil­i­tary company, At­las, has amassed an arse­nal of re­mark­able tech­ni­cal com­plex­ity and su­pe­ri­or­ity. CEO Jonathan Irons, played by Kevin Spacey, is a head of state’s first port of call when things get sticky. The open­ing mis­sion puts this into stark re­lief as you strut through trenches be­neath a pass­ing walk­ing tank; take cover from a swarm of drones, then let off an EMP to take them down; and use your Exo suit’s jet­pack-like booster to dodge, dou­ble jump, cross large gaps and break long falls. Throw a grenade and it hangs in the air at the peak of its arc be­fore hom­ing in on a group of en­e­mies. This is clearly still Call Of Duty, yet things are de­light­fully dif­fer­ent.

Then it very nearly goes hor­ri­bly wrong. The start of the sec­ond mis­sion fol­lows the well-thumbed COD de­sign doc­u­ment to the let­ter, with a dreary mid­night res­cue mis­sion that cul­mi­nates in a slow-mo­tion breach-and-clear sec­tion. Then the tech in your left arm goes on the fritz, the lights come up, and you re­alise you’ve been had. It’s a sim­u­la­tion. After a tour of the sprawl­ing At­las cam­pus, you run the mis­sion again, this time with your new toys. It is a plea­sure.

It’s a fine metaphor for the hours to follow, too. COD sta­ples play out in new ways, the an­nual sneak­ing level re­plac­ing the ghillie suit with a cloak­ing de­vice, then in­tro­duc­ing a scan­ner that can see through it. You es­cape trou­ble across a down­town river in a craft that can avoid oth­er­wise fa­tal col­li­sions with other boats by div­ing be­low the sur­face. Sledge­ham­mer has ideas of its own, too. A grap­pling hook pow­ers a freeform base in­fil­tra­tion that feels more like an Arkham game than a COD one, and the stu­dio nods to its past, too, with one tense, del­i­cately paced sec­tion a call­back to Dead Space. Tech can’t fix ev­ery­thing, how­ever. The story is stock-in-trade COD fare, and even more pre­dictable than usual, though Sledge­ham­mer at least has the de­cency to get the non-twist out of the way early. It’s dis­ap­point­ing, too, that after set­ting up its an­tag­o­nist as the en­emy within – a re­fresh­ing change after so many years of Is­lamic and com­mu­nist threats – the stu­dio has Irons go to ground late on in New Bagh­dad. And for all that the new gad­gets en­thrall, there are sim­ply too many of them. Sledge­ham­mer de­cides what you take into each mis­sion, and you’ll fall in love with some­thing only to have it promptly taken away.

Many giz­mos are con­stants in mul­ti­player, but have been toned down to en­sure bal­ance. Cloaked en­e­mies are still easy to spot, say, while de­ploy­able tech only lasts seconds. The dou­ble jump is un­changed, though, and has a huge ef­fect, help­ing you es­cape dan­ger or quickly reach high ground. There’s a greater em­pha­sis on ver­ti­cal space, and it takes some get­ting used to; you not only need to worry about what’s around the next cor­ner, but what might be about to jump over the wall.

Mul­ti­player spans the usual as­sort­ment of modes, most of which will be ig­nored as the player­base sticks to its an­nual com­fort zones. Yet it is a new­comer, Up­link, that best re­flects Sledge­ham­mer’s ap­proach to old COD prob­lems. Two teams seek to gain con­trol of a satel­lite dropped into the mid­dle of a map and guide it through a goal at the en­emy spawn point. You can pass it to a team­mate, throw it, or sim­ply run with it, hurl­ing your­self at the glim­mer­ing por­tal while your op­po­nents try to trace the arc of your dou­ble jump with their guns. It is a game of con­stant, quiet hero­ism – the un­seen air­borne shot­gun blast to pre­vent a goal, the silent charge for the match-win­ning points – and when the round ends, win­ners and losers alike will be laugh­ing. COD’s been silly for years, re­ally, but it’s never been made by a stu­dio so pre­pared to cel­e­brate it. The re­sult is a much-needed me­chan­i­cal shot in the arm for the most rigidly de­fined se­ries on the mar­ket. Ad­vanced War­fare is still Call Of Duty, but it’s more play­ful, know­ing and re­fresh­ing than COD’s been in years.

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