From CO to EXO
The world’s desire for destruction seemingly never ends and Activision and Call of Duty have yet to shy away from meeting the fire with style. That’s truer now that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has given everyone an exoskeleton suit that adds to mobility, destruction, and overall game speed. It seems like the franchise’s modus operandi as nearly every game has added to the player’s ability to jaunt around the battlefield, blow away enemies, and generally die over and over again. At least, the continuation of that design trend became apparent at a multiplayer reveal event in an upscale San Francisco club last week.
Even after a lengthy briefing on the game where many journalists and enthusiast players serving video content to their Youtube channels shouted and applauded new guns, new character customization options, and more it was funny to me that millions of people sitting at home in their own privacy would like to hop online to engage in the kind of warfare many older Americans run from. Here it is again, folks. While I’m always interested to hear about the work done on the single-player campaign, this event focused solely on multiplayer and in that I left just a little disappointed considering the spacey direction the franchise appears to be headed in.
At this point, more could be done to set each yearly Call of Duty apart. I’m always excited to hear about new modes given that they change rule sets in dynamic ways. There are considered mechanical differences in pushing key areas or defending objectives and the new exoskeletons do change the competitive mentality surrounding those actions. If a flag is sitting in one point of the map, you have to definitively change your tactics to keep a dominant angle on others. Specifically, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will not go without comparisons to Titanfall in that increased mobility and height make the game feel like it pushes players to mark territory that they don’t want others in. Just leaving a trail of exhaust from a quick boost left or right seemed to warn people away, but I had much more success when I treated large sections of a map as if I were chasing cats off my front yard.
In one level filled with biohazardous material and shipping containers, players could leap from warehouse iron workings to rooftops and beyond. Wrist-mounted grenade launchers will give you the kind of inaccurate fire you need to blow back at enemies during a retreat from these vantage points, but it was really easy to feel more out of control at first. The exoskeleton itself offers two customizable slots that give you more mobility or more explosives but it’s the left analog stick that might offer the most challenge, even for longtime fans accustomed to diving to prone (dropshotting) and the like.
With increased speed, comes an even bigger tug-of-war between your own control and what someone else has in map dominance or weaponry. Call of Duty has had a horrifying time maintaining a balance between newcomers and long-time fans who carry the multiplayer community throughout the year. This has mostly to do with terrible spawns. I have retained a novice status over the years as nothing I do will compare to the multiple prestige levels that others have achieved in the past. The three Advanced Warfare maps I played on looked and felt interesting, but they didn’t ultimately push the action in an organized way. I’d often spawn on top of another player or someone would appear right behind me.
In the end, that places even further reliance on small jumps and dashes. You’ll likely come to mash the left analog stick anytime you move about the map, just to feel like you’re getting this extra boost but remaining steady on your feet will allow for straighter shooting in nearly every situation. I felt like SMGs and Assault Rifles had even greater variation in spray when moving, much less super-jumping from point to point, so you can imagine that firing your weapon while leaping from point to point would result in a lot of wasted ammunition.
It won’t stop the gameplay from feeling just different enough for a longtime investor. Instead of picking 10 items for your soldier, you pick 13. Instead of choosing between a few dozen perk abilities, you add abilities to your exoskeleton and possibly take a second primary weapon into battle with you. I dropped all of my extra weapons and focused on a single assault rifle or SMG set up to get a feel for the different exo abilities in the short time available to play.
Call of Duty games are designed from the ground up for hours and hours of entertainment, but the event didn’t really represent the kind of hardcore attitude that drives so many people to play the game in competition or online with friends and in front of audiences. I haven’t really seen the spark that I saw in Call of Duty: Ghosts (particularly because that multiplayer reveal had a larger focus on new game modes) though I’m more than ready to write the campaign off for the cheese we've seen thus far. There’s obviously a paramilitary corporation driving the action and pushing wars into different locations, but multiplayer offers no basis for that. In the end I focused more on getting a feel for the way Advanced Warfare adds and changes movement mechanics.
I must have done pretty well given repeated first-place finishes. Diehard fans will no doubt find a lot to love but I couldn't leave the event feeling anything but slightly discouraged. Some of the locomotion mechanics feel too similar to Titanfall to feel like a mistake, especially as players boost back and forth or strafe boost out of fire or behind cover. Unfortunately, without the dual-front gameplay that allowed Titanfall to present players with multiple threats requiring very different responses, Advanced Warfare still feels like Ghosts in many ways.
We don't often write negative previews, given the nature of game development and the way projects come together in the final months leading up to launch and even at this early stage, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare seems just as polished and playable as you may expect. Unfortunately, it just doesn't feel as inspired as I would have hoped and while the exoskelton-equipped bodies stacked up during my playtime, the game stayed the same.
The title will certainly do well on next-generation consoles and no one can deny the lasting brand appeal on legacy hardware with massive install bases. Look for more coverage of Advanced Warfare in the coming weeks. Activision has revealed a variety of collector’s editions, though you should definitely check out the campaign preview in this video.