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Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Review: Flawed Future

Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: November 4, 2014
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Shooter, Action
MSRP: $59.99

With Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, the mantle of gaming’s FPS juggernaut was passed on to Sledgehammer Games. For three years the developers crafted their shooter, filling it with exosuits, futuristic high-tech weaponry, and a tailor-made campaign centered around an engaging techno-industrial war plot.

To prepare their multi-platform hit, the team built a new in-house graphics engine from the ground up, secured Academy Award winning actor Kevin Spacey for a lead role, and positioned Advanced Warfare as one of the year’s most attractive shooters with its high-octane action-packed content.

But like most dev teams who take on massive high-profile projects, Sledgehammer’s efforts fell short.

Instead of a revolution for the series, Advanced Warfare feels like a pretty big step back in terms of its campaign. This could be attributed to the studio’s inexperience–the team hasn’t worked on a game outside of a co-developer role alongside Infinity Ward for Modern Warfare 3–and the pressure to create a fresh new mega-hit with innovative features.

Whatever the reason, this new entry feels hollow and ultimately fails to live up to its potential. This is a trend we’ve seen all too often in the industry as of late, and it’s even more obvious with Activision’s newest annual shooter.

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Campaign: Devolving the FPS formula

In an attempt to reinvent the formula, Sledgehammer actually pulls out key pieces of the FPS dynamic. This makes an awkward and ungraceful shooter experience, breaking down hallmarks of any truly memorable experience.

Advanced Warfare has the air of a brief blockbuster action flick with all of the explosions and he-man bravado of a Michael Bay film.

Much like an action film, the game considerably lacks substance. The plot is a thin veil for blind shoot-em-up madness wherein players are walking Terminators that annihilate all on-screen baddies. As empowering as this sounds, the experience is actually jading and provides a rather serious case of disillusionment for players, who are led to believe they are nigh-invincible future soldiers.

Gameplay takes players on a different war; a war that pits you against the game’s badly designed mechanics.

This war is tedious and needlessly frustrating to gamers. It’s composed of many smaller-scaled battles, and every single mission or multiplayer map presents its own unique challenges that take skill to navigate. But you’re not just fighting teeming hordes of gun-toting baddies, you’re fighting the game’s maddening controls, lack of on-screen indicators, abysmal HUD and truly terrible vehicle controls.

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One of the most prominent annoyances that Advanced Warfare presents is the lack of an on-screen HUD. Instead players are met with an extremely minimal holographic display that shows your tactical grenades, offensive grenades, and one of the most asinine indicators of your exosuit class I’ve ever seen.

And there’s no radar. Yes, Sledgehammer has somehow gotten away with breaking one of the most holy rules of any shooter, making for large-scale firefights things of confusion, annoyance and tedium.

What happened to good old-fashioned futuristic HUD’s? Halo‘s classic heads-up-display comes to mind as the quintessential future soldier setup. But instead players are met with anything that feels futuristic. The game takes place halfway through the 21st Century, and you’d think by now there’d be some creative mix of Killzone‘s enemy scans and the classic mo-tracker.

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Instead of a radar, Sledgehammer arms players with threat grenades. These effectively do what Killzone: Shadow Fall’s scanner does, but there’s one problem: they only last a brief amount of time, and you have a limited supply of them.

AND enemies don’t stay marked once you scan them.

But it gets even worse: threat grenades are only one of the three subtypes of tactical grenade, and all of them are limited. Other types include EMP and Flashbang. Switching through grenade types is also something that is needlessly tedious–instead of just being able to easily cycle through with a button press, you have to hold L1 and press Square to select what type you want.

This is an incredibly bad design, and only adds to the awkward setup.

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Despite grenades and the lack of a HUD, players can’t always make out what exosuit they have equipped. There’s two main variants in the campaign–Specialist and Assault, both of which have specific goodies like a grapple hook (think Link’s hookshot), mag-gloves for scaling up skyscrapers, stim packs to temporarily boost life, double boost jumps, and a handy riot shield.

Before any mission the game tells you what exo class you have equipped. Lest you should forget, you’d think the game would remind you so that you can adequately facilitate what actions you can take in a firefight, right? Wrong.

Pausing the game doesn’t show you anything, and of course there’s no HUD, so there’s no way of telling what suit you have on without just knowing beforehand.

How hard would it have been to have an on-screen indicator reminding you what class you are? This is quite important as it basically determines what you can and can’t do.

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It’s also worth mentioning that the game takes out and throws in random exo class abilities on a whim, as certain missions call for certain gear, and at no time lets players choose what kind of role they’d like to take in battle.

This is a big mistake.

I can’t be alone in wanting to be able to choose my own customized exo-suit loadout, making it a sort of role-playing adventure within the campaign. Sledgehammer failed in this regard, and in so many others, and I have to wonder why it took three years to build this game when it feels so minimalistic in terms of mechanics.

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The lack of a HUD doesn’t just hamper combat, but it serves as a massive roadblock to progression itself. What little on-screen indicators the game has are not obvious at all, and the objectives are vague and unclear. Often you’ll find yourself lost in a sea of enemies amid a beautifully rendered city, wandering around and blasting Atlas foes at whim.

This is disorienting and isn’t something that any shooter should ever have to contend with. You should always know where to go and be on-point, and the game should always keep you in the know and arm you with the information to make informed decisions.

Sledgehammer takes all the strategy out of any given segment simply because you have no idea where to go, and often don’t know how many baddies are out there–or where they are–until you get shot to hell and back.

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Apart from the annoying factors, Advanced Warfare does have some innovative features.

The exosuit’s pneumatic jumps are quite handy in campaign and multiplayer, even if they are a bit clunky and awkward. You can juke and dash in all directions by pressing L3–a poor button map for this function if there ever was one–which is immensely useful after double jumps.

But even this has its downfalls. The novelty can wear off fast, and it lacks the fluid grace that Destiny‘s boost-jumps bring. All in all it’s hard to compare Advanced Warfare to a refined breed of shooter like Destiny or Halo simply because it neglects so many of the important aspects.

A good shooter doesn’t start players off at a disadvantage due to its awkward control scheme, nor does it rob them of important mechanics right out of the gates.