The lid has finally come off of "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare." After three years of story and gameplay development, contract negotiations with major actors, and reconsidering multiplayer modes, Activision intended to release a masterpiece. The only way to see if they succeeded is to play it – for about a week – then break it into its constituent parts.
Advanced or not, “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” is still firmly part of the “Call of Duty” canon so it’s no surprise that the game has tight and fast controls. What sets Advanced Warfare apart from the rest of the franchise is the way it embraces a sci-fi slant while staying true to its roots. On the one hand, you’re now equipped with an exo-skeleton that gives you superhuman agility, cloaking and various weapons that would make a DARPA engineer weak in the knees. On the other, the game requires a grounded, consistent strategy. Ignoring fundamental tactics like a Quanticoflunkie will make you cannon fodder faster than you can say, “World Domination.” The balance between the two feels seamless and that’s a feat that really impressed us since Advanced Warfare could have easily left all reality behind with its future-looking plot. Wisely, they chose the not-too-distant mid-21st Century, which makes the set up seem more plausible. In fact, it’s so plausible it’s uncomfortable.
There’s little subjectivity in the category of graphics. Tests have proven that the Xbox One handles the game less optimally than the PS4, dropping below full 1080p fairly frequently. Both systems manage 50-60 frames per second but, while we’d prefer a steady (and ideal) 60fps, it still enhances this Call of Duty to a noticeable degree. The end result is a hyper-real experience, one that keeps distant enemies easily in sight but also impresses with lifelike cut-scenes and story exposition. That’s a damn good thing because the story in Advanced Warfare is more complex than almost all the other components of the game.
In the past, complaints have arisen about the brevity of “Call of Duty’”s campaigns. We look at it differently. More than most other video games, “Call Of Duty” has seemingly modeled itself on the action classics of the eighties and nineties, when 90 minutes of chaos guaranteed box office success. If you’re working off that model, a 20-hour campaign just doesn’t make sense. Instead, “Advanced Warfare” does the logical thing, keeping it short, sweet and story-centric. That the story is driven forward by Kevin Spacey, who appears in the game as villain Jonathan Irons, makes a major difference. Spacey clearly realized that “Advanced Warfare” exists as an advanced form of entertainment. Logical, considering Spacey’s involvement in “House of Cards,” which is helping Netflix muscle in on HBO’s territory. Spacey’s Irons is a well-rounded character who we see rise from a private military company to a nemesis with a completely possible plan to overtake world governments and install himself as a supreme global warlord. While world leaders speak in polite observances of other cultures and conflicts, Spacey’s Irons climbs the power ladder with brute military force. While he’s doing that, you’re along for the ride, trotting the globe to do his bidding or, ultimately, trying to derail his master plan.
“Call of Duty’”s campaigns are obligatory to play through, but what keeps all COD games in your rotation months after launch is the multiplayer - specifically, the online multiplayer where gamers have found an outlet for their bloodlusts for a decade. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also one of the most competitive communities in all of gaming and acts as a backdrop for the ever-growing popularity of E-Sports. Activision apparently subscribes to the idea that anything that isn’t broke doesn’t need fixing; Advanced Warfare feels like an advancement, but not an exo-suit leap from its predecessors. Pinpoint accuracy is still the key to success when squaring off against other players, but not having that accuracy is no longer a guaranteed tie for your toe tag. Instead, you’ll actually have a fighting chance of playing a more defensive role until you get some target practice under your belt.
Perhaps the best way to get that target practice in is the co-operative survival mode. Harkening back to the Nazi Zombie hoard mode of “Black Ops,” Survival teams you up with other players to take on wave after wave of enemies. This is, hands down, the most ho-hum mode, but it does provide a stomping ground for you to hone your skills, getting plenty of practice on cannon fodder. Running through Survival’s slew of maps may feel a bit like work, but that work pays off. And keep an eye out for Easter eggs, especially in Round 11 on the Riot level. Just saying.
Debates will always rage about the best “Call of Duty.” Whether you’re a nostalgic for the early WWII days of the series or a purist who believes the “COD: Modern Warfare” trilogy was the pinnacle of first-person shooting, there’s a case to be made that “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” is the best we’ve seen from Activision in a while. If this is what happens when a studio takes three years to develop a COD game, we’ll happily wait until 2017 to play the next one. There’s enough to accomplish in “Advanced Warfare” to keep us busy until then anyway.