By this point, you've probably seen the announcement trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. If you haven't, allow me to paint a picture: Kevin Spacey is a futuristic business tycoon who enjoys launching into extended soliloquies about the viability of imposed democracy, and interspersed between his political musings are a number of scenes involving explosions, gunfire, and one very unfortunate Golden Gate Bridge.
I'll admit it's a pretty exciting trailer as far as pure spectacle goes. But the more I watch it, the more questions I have about Advanced Warfare. It's not exactly a teaser trailer, but as a longtime Call of Duty player, I can't help but look at this footage within the context of the overall series. Here's what I've been asking myself for the past few days...
How often can we use that cool tech?
The Advanced Warfare trailer is absolutely packed with sci-fi gadgetry. Throughout these brief snippets of gameplay you see characters using invisibility cloaks, wall-climbing gloves, hoverbikes, and exo suits that provide some truly impressive leaping abilities. And that's just the stuff that I actually understand. (Were those...infrared grenades?)
There's a lot of stuff there--a collection of tech that looks poised to add some much-needed diversity to the series' trademark run-and-gun gameplay. But will those gadgets be a consistent part of your arsenal, or specific moments in a campaign that maintains strict control over when and where you're allowed to use them?
See, Call of Duty has this little habit of giving you access to fun toys, but only for a few fleeting moments. Remember the wing suit in Black Ops II? That was pretty fun! For the one level you had access to it. Even the canine companion in Ghosts made for an interesting change of pace up until the point the game forgot he existed.
Sure, that roller coaster of unpredictability has always been a hallmark of Call of Duty campaigns. But there are ways to maintain the excitement of a blockbuster action movie while giving players access to a broader selection of tools and weapons. I'd love to see all that tech from the trailer generously interspersed throughout the campaign, resulting in myriad options for how to approach each battle instead of using wall-climbing gloves because you happen to be in the wall-climbing glove level.
Considering how well established the Call of Duty formula is, that might be asking for a lot. This has never been a weapon wheel kind of shooter, one of those games where you can carry a small military's worth of supplies at any given moment. But if the 11th game in a series isn't the right time for reinvention, I don't know what is.
Will Kevin Spacey be a memorable villain?
One thing the Call of Duty franchise has always lacked is a memorable villain. Sure, the Modern Warfare games had Makarov, and he was a pretty awful guy. But I can't for the life of me recall a single character detail about him. I think he was in Spetsnaz? Then again, he was a Russian video game character and every Russian video game character was in Spetsnaz at one point or another. How do you think Zangief learned all those sick moves?
Then there was Black Ops II, which was probably the clearest example of a Call of Duty game trying to establish a villain's motivations. Treyarch did a commendable job explaining why Raul Menendez turned into such a villainous creature, but once he crossed that threshold, there wasn't much to him as a character as the story progressed. Like Makarov, Menendez was perfectly functional as a catalyst for the overall plot and a means to explain why you're being thrown into one crazy situation after the next. But how often have you thought about these characters once you finished those campaigns?
That's precisely why I'm so intrigued by the appearance of Kevin Spacey. Anyone who has seen Spacey's recent work on House of Cards knows that he's got a knack for playing the scheming, power-hungry tyrant. But more importantly, Spacey is an actor who can chew up the scenery and leave a lasting impression in the viewers' minds.
Will that translate into a video game where (A) Spacey's likeness has been filtered through the nascent art of computerized performance capture, and (B) the vast majority of screen time will be spent not on him, but on the player dispensing enough bullet shells to fill the entirety of the Grand Canyon?
I just hope there's a scene of him eating ribs.
What will Sledgehammer's contribution to the series be?
Remember when Treyarch was considered the Call of Duty B team? The studio that Activision had filling those off years when Infinity Ward was busy working on its next entry in the series? Well, a lot has changed since Call of Duty 3.
Treyarch has now established itself as a studio capable of making some truly great shooters, serving as the experimental yin to Infinity Ward's more predictable yang. While Infinity Ward was wrapping up the Modern Warfare trilogy, Treyarch was throwing all kinds of crazy new ingredients into the pot.
Black Ops introduced the COD points system that reshuffled the way new equipment was unlocked in multiplayer, and its sequel brought in those strike force missions that almost felt like a tactical strategy game. Oh, and let's not forget the plot that spanned four decades while simultaneously introducing branching story decisions. You can certainly argue how well those additions worked out, but it's hard to make the case that Treyarch hasn't been willing to mix things up.
Now we have Sledgehammer Games, the third major studio in Activision's stable of Call of Duty teams. How will Sledgehammer shape its own identity apart from Treyarch and Infinity Ward? Will there ever be a point when we play a Call of Duty game and think, that's so Sledgehammer? In other words, can it pull a Treyarch?
Maybe that will happen right out of the gate with Advanced Warfare, but more likely than not it will take a couple of games before Sledgehammer carves out its own niche within this trio of teams. Maybe it will be the studio that broadens the series' rigid shooter formula with all those gadgets, or perhaps it will be the studio that focuses on characters and narrative, beginning with the performance of Kevin Spacey in Advanced Warfare.
Yes, those are pretty huge maybes. But hopefully we'll get some answers to these questions when the Electronic Entertainment Expo rolls around next month. Until then, we'll have to wait and see.