It's safe to say that I'm not what you'd call a dedicated Call of Duty player. Don't get me wrong, I work my way through the single-player each year, dabble in the multiplayer, and marvel at the sheer big-budget audaciousness of it all. But could I tell you about the intricate tweaks made to the latest map designs, or the minute differences in the recoil of an assault rifle? Sadly not. What I can tell you, though, is that having not really enjoyed or played the heck out of a Call Of Duty game as much as I did the original Modern Warfare, I was pleasantly surprised by Advanced Warfare. The fun, it seems, is back in COD.
Fiction Over Fact
But then, how could a game featuring jetpacks and laser-guided smart grenades possibly not be fun? I mean, if you don't get a jolly from jetpack jumping off of a 10-storey building, guns blazing and smart grenades exploding as you pick off hapless soldiers on the ground below, it's time to have a long hard look about your video game priorities. Purists might baulk at the jet pack, but the freedom of movement it gives you is incredibly liberating after being bound by gravity in multiplayer shooters for so long. Well, except for Titanfall.
But I'll leave the arguments about who might have copied whom to the comments. Increasing verticality and freedom of movement always seemed like the wise forwards step for shooters, and Advanced Warfare does it very well indeed. Perhaps that why I found it so much fun; Advanced Warfare is as far removed from the harsh realities of actual war as a COD has ever been. Its futuristic tech may be based on some real-world visions of the future, but no matter how much it tries to instill some realism to proceedings, I'm still leapfrogging around a city while strapped into an exo-skeleton; it's the stuff sci-fi dreams are made of.
Granted, some of that fun probably came from playing a group of games writers, rather than the sharp-shooters of the online COD community. But even when I've been sandboxed away with a group of friends online, none of the recent CODs have managed to capture the magic of those late night Modern Warfare sessions of old. There are enough new additions and tweaks to the classic COD formula to get interested again. More importantly, those changes might just level the playing field enough for me to actually compete online. Wishful thinking, I know.
Like That 1974 Film Rollerball, Only, With More Guns
Still, modes like Uplink ease some of the pressure of online combat. Here, in a strangely endearing cross between basketball and classic team deathmatch, your team is tasked with grabbing a satellite (handily in the shape of a ball) and placing it in the opposition's uplink to score points. Yes, where we were all once debating the moral implications of Modern Warfare 2's No Russian level, and being pelted with Churchill quotes upon death, now you're doing something as daft as having to throw or slam dunk a satellite ball into floating orb of light while trying to avoid being shot. I can't imagine it being taken too seriously online--which is just the approach one should take with something as silly as this.
One of the latest additions to the map roster, Retreat, seemed ideally laid out for Uplink. Set in a hilltop resort, Retreat is a small, fully enclosed map, somewhat reminiscent of fan favourite Nuketown. While I don't have the reaction times of a teenager these days, it didn't matter nearly as much playing Uplink. If someone grabs the satellite, they are marked on screen, causing a mad dash of soldiers either trying to steal the satellite or protect the person holding it. On smaller maps like Retreat, having that many soldiers all bunched up in one place results in quite a massacre, but I found getting up high and picking people off amongst the madness worked wonders for netting a few easy kills.
Getting hold of the satellite was even better. You can't use weapons while in possession, but what you can do is throw the ball around to other members of your team to take the heat off. More fun is throwing the ball to the opposition, which results in an instant catch, giving you ample opportunity to waste them before picking up the ball and running off again. It's a ripe mechanic for trolling, but there's also plenty of scope for skilful one-man runs towards the uplink, followed by an epic slam-dunk: expect YouTube to be flooded with videos of this after launch.
Upgrading For Dummies
The other modes I played--Hardpoint and Kill Confirmed--didn't have quite the same absurd appeal as Uplink, although Kill Confirmed certainly had its moments. More impressive was the upgrade system Pick 13, which takes its inspiration from Black Ops' Pick 10 mechanic. I've always found the upgrade systems in COD games a little chaotic, so the simplicity of Pick 13 is appealing. You're given 13 points to spend on your avatar's loadout, selecting things like primary weapons, weapon attachments, wildcards, scorestreaks, and exo abilities.
Having everything in one place, including upgradable scorestreaks, just makes the whole system that much easier to understand and tweak. Having a standard 13 points across the board is a great leveller, but the system is still quite flexible thanks to there being so many options on board. I could load up a character with new weapons, red dot sights, and an exo-shield (a fast-action shield that emerges from your arm) with plenty of time to spare in the waiting time between matches.
Loot drops, earned by completing challenges, made playing the game that little bit sweeter. Sure, I might not have been top of the leaderboard, but thanks to loot drops, I still got some cool gear, including a neat, almost recoil-free IMR lightweight rifle that seemed perfect for those with a less than steady hand. Loot was split into three categories, Enlisted, Professional, and Elite, designating whether it was a common, good, or rare item. I did get one rare item, a snazzy pair of shoes for my avatar, but not all are purely cosmetic additions: the player sat next to me nabbed a wonderfully outlandish golden shotgun.
What About the Story?
While Advanced Warfare's multiplayer impressed, its single-player--or at least what I saw of it--did not. I'm sure those same exo-skeleton additions that made the multiplayer such a joy will help the single-player along, but if you're expecting some sort of grand re-invention of the clichéd COD campaign, I think you'll be out of luck. The mission I saw, Traffic, focused on the rescue of the president of Nigeria: cue the now standard suite of slow-motion breaches, helicopter crashes, and ludicrous set pieces--this time taking place atop a speeding bus on a highway--and you've got yourself a COD campaign.
There is, supposedly, a renewed focus on character development this time around, and one hopes the inclusion of the mighty Kevin Spacey has resulted in a deeper narrative. Then again, what would the holiday season be without a stream of brainless one-liners and an unbelievable amount of close shaves with a crashing helicopter? For the first time in a long while, I think I'm actually looking forward to it.