Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Release Date: Nov. 4, 2014


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Xbox One Review - 'Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare'

by Adam Pavlacka on Nov. 13, 2014 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare envisions battlegrounds of the future, where both technology and tactic have evolved to usher in a new era of combat for the franchise.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the first game in the series to benefit from a full three-year development cycle, so we expected big things. With Kevin Spacey on board as one of the lead characters and plenty of visual spectacle, the game was set up for success, but it ended up being more flash than substance.

Set in the near future, Advanced Warfare tells the story of Jonathan Irons (Spacey), the CEO of a successful private military corporation. After losing his son to war, Irons becomes disillusioned, and an evil megalomaniac bent on world domination is born — albeit one with a lot of cool toys.

The story is less convoluted than in prior Call of Duty games, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's good. The plot is just there to drive the single-player experience and get you from point A to point B, so you can blow stuff up in a new level. While the supporting voice actors all seem to put a great deal of effort into their roles, Spacey sounds like he's phoning it in the entire time. There is no hint of Frank Underwood's devious subtlety here. Irons is simply a caricature that fills a need, and Spacey is an actor reading lines off a script. Activision could have gotten anyone for the role, and it wouldn't have made a difference.

Playing through the campaign has a similar amount of depth. There are a total of 15 campaign levels on offer, and they all drive you down a very specific, preset path. So long as you go where the game wants you to go, Advanced Warfare presents an impressive experience. Much like a summer action film, however, the facade quickly falls apart once you start poking around a bit and realize how little depth there is.

Breaking down any of the single-player missions to their basics, what you're left with is a tightly scripted corridor shooter. You'll start with a narrative section where you walk along while an AI character relates some story. Then you run down a narrow corridor where some enemy soldiers attack from surprise areas (a level design trick that dates back to the original Doom). At some point, there will be an action set piece that requires a QTE to progress. Rinse and repeat for the campaign.

At certain points, there are tantalizing hints that the game once offered much more, such as a stealth level that has you sneaking around freely. One of the later levels allows you to take out an aircraft by grappling onto it, zipping onboard, and shooting the crew before grappling back out. All of that happens in real time, not a QTE, which makes it all the more impressive. Sadly, these teasers are all the depth the campaign offers, with everything else feeling like it was designed by committee.

AI chatter is also tightly scripted, typing what they say to a specific location in the game. If you get out ahead of the AI character you're supposed to be following, the AI has no clue. It keeps speaking to you as if you are dutifully following. If you are taking a detour to search for collectibles and the AI wants you to do something (e.g., open a door), it simply repeats the line over and over, essentially nagging you into doing what it wants. Given that the collectible laptops are the only real freedom you have in the campaign, the nagging quickly becomes noticeable.

The one part of the title where the AI could be useful, is ironically, the one part where it is the most useless, and that is in combat. You're supposed to be fighting alongside an elite team of soldiers, but they fight like rookies. Instead of staying in formation, your AI partners have no qualms about moving in front of you during an active firefight and blocking your line of sight. They also have no idea about how to watch your back, since they're always pushing forward. To survive, you pretty much need to play as though you're going solo at all times.

Multiplayer fares better than the single-player portion of the game, and the increased maneuverability of the exo-suits brings some fast action to the forefront. Unfortunately, a handful of serious issues prevents Advanced Warfare's online component from really shining.

First and foremost is how Advanced Warfare deals with lag. The game has some rather obvious lag compensation routines, which are normal for online games. The problem is that the lag compensation is tuned to favor those with poor connections rather than those with excellent connections, as it seems to be granting precedence to the slowest client. In practice, this plays out by increasing hit detection on players with good connections and making players with poor connections jump around more.

To test the lag issue, I played a series of online games using both a wired, 100 Mbit Internet connection (approx 20ms ping) and a mobile hotspot, which was configured to run on Verizon's old EVDO CDMA network (the LTE option was disabled). The hotspot was getting just over 0.5 Mbit megabit, with around 125ms ping. I died quite often while playing on the network connection, but once I switched to the hotspot, my K/D ratio instantly doubled or tripled. I also noticed that I was staying alive much longer when shot at, since bullets don't hit as accurately.

As you might expect, this has negative implications for anyone who is playing ranked matches. Hopefully, Sledgehammer can resolve the lag issue with a patch; otherwise, the competitive side of multiplayer will quickly be overwhelmed by players purposefully limiting their connection speed in order to gain an advantage.

Speaking of gaining an advantage, Advanced Warfare also has a major map exploit on at least one of the MP maps. Playing Horizon, there is an elevator in one of the buildings. Normally, this is inaccessible, but due to an issue with the map geometry, it's possible to enter the closed doors by going prone and crawling in. Once inside, you can shoot out, but no one can shoot in.

Advanced Warfare's multiplayer mode may have some serious issues for the competitively inclined, but for the casual players, it shines. So long as you care more about having fun than your K/D ratio, running around and shooting at other players is a blast. There is even a mode, the Combat Readiness Program, specially designed for this.

When you load up the Combat Readiness Program, voice chat is disabled (no worries about a 12-year-old screaming obscenities), missing spaces on the teams are filled with bots, and the after-action report only highlights positive statistics. Orbital drops and other power-ups happen with ease here, ensuing that even the most casual players get a chance to play with all the cool toys in the game.

Exo Survival is the co-op mode in Advanced Warfare, and it's the equivalent to horde or zombie mode. You and your teammates have to face off against wave after wave of enemies. It's a neat challenge (as long as no one is using the Horizon map exploit), but it lacks the character of Treyarch's zombies since there aren't any real characters or backstory here. You're playing solely for the challenge.

When stacked up against the past few Call of Duty releases, Advanced Warfare holds its own. The game is a step up from Call of Duty: Ghosts but can't quite compare to Call of Duty: Black Ops II. The latter is still a better game, both in single-player and multiplayer. If you're looking to play competitively, stay with Black Ops II for now.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the video game equivalent of a Michael Bay movie. There's a lot of flash and not much substance. If you just want explosions and spectacle (and don't mind being penalized in multiplayer for having a fast connection), then grab the disc and pop it into your console because Advanced Warfare delivers those in spades.

Score: 6.8/10

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