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Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare review

Our Verdict

The campaign is predictable, dumb fun, and the multiplayer is some of Call of Dutys bestbut still subject to every existing criticism of CoD.

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need to know

What is it? A first-person military shooter set in the future.
Copy protection: Steam
Price: $60/£40
Release date: Out now
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Sledgehammer Games, Raven Software
Multiplayer: 4-12 online competitive and co-op
Website: Steam store page

The Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare campaign is a first-person shooting gallery smattered with nearly-on-rails vehicle segments, quicktime events, and slightly interactive storytelling. So, it’s a lot like the last seven Call of Duty games. It sure is a lot better than Ghosts, though, and it introduces some neat near-future gadgets. The most interesting are the Exo suits, which imbue their wearers with double-jumps, strafe dashes, and other special abilities.

Guns are littered everywhere and they’re fun to shoot: big, powerful, varied, some punching single shots through armor, others spraying corridors with death. The ballistics aren’t very interesting (put mouse over head, tap left mouse button to make dead) but the animations and sounds and dramatic death animations are addictive feedback. There’s even a beam weapon—it’s like a Ghostbusters proton pack, only it extracts ghosts from the living—and heaving its energy stream between targets, watching them drop and die, is disgustingly satisfying.

I’m a walking, running, jet-jumping massacre, but all that power is constricted by a greater power: the script. There are moments when Advanced Warfare snaps the rigidity typical of Call of Duty campaigns—a brief, unguided stealth section and a fantastic grappling hook which I was allowed to use freely a couple times—but outside of those bits I’m rarely asked to solve any problem other than who to shoot first.

At one point, for instance, my squad and I were pinned down by a turret and I was told to flank it. I thought there might be a clever solution. Should I use my Exo suit's shield to approach it without taking damage? No, I'm out of battery because they told me to use it earlier. So, maybe I need to backtrack, and find a way around the turret? Nope. What I needed to do was run really fast past the turret and kill a few guys. Call of Duty says to me, “Hey, don’t think so hard!” I didn’t even need to aim frag grenades, which rocket toward threats all on their own. Because it’s the future.

Pretty warfare

So I crouched behind cover, played with different weapons, aimed for heads or maybe crotches, depending on my mood. I couldn’t stray too far ahead (though I was constantly told to move up) or I’d die, but I could bash around just enough to feel like I had some freedom, jet hopping up to ledges and punching dudes into next week. That’s fun. All my terribly critical bones want to shout at it for being so restrictive, but Advanced Warfare’s eight hour campaign was actually really hard to put down.

With the help of Kevin Spacey in a lead role, it tells an enjoyably simple, predictable story of power and corruption. I didn’t care a whole lot about the potboiler plot, but it was an effective way to push me into increasingly improbable scenarios: hopping between busses on a freeway, clinging to a jet with magnetic gloves as it flies over Antarctica, speeding away from assailants on a hover bike. It was impossible to be bored when I was doing something new every ten minutes, and always something spectacular and extravagant.

Despite a few ugly textures, this is by far the best looking Call of Duty. The Antarctica level in particular is gorgeous, with glowing ice caves and great windy plains of snow. And though my input felt predetermined—doing what the script says I do is mandatory—the scenarios it presents are some of the series’ most thrilling. Flying a drone around a compound sniping bad guys through the windows is just great, dumb fun. I find systems-driven moments much more rewarding, but I’ve come to understand and enjoy Call of Duty campaigns for what they are: modern arcade run-and-guns. This is what Contra looks like in 2014, like it or not.

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This is Call of Duty.

My biggest complaint is that Advanced Warfare slacks on some of the basics. I was always faster than the squadmates I was supposed to follow, for instance, constantly bumping into them as they slowed to deliver dialogue, and always reaching our destination first. They even gestured to me over their shoulders while I was standing in front of them, and then barked at me to open the door I’d been standing next to the whole time. Other minor gripes: some objects have physics while others don’t, I got stuck in the geometry once while under attack from a sniper, and the audio kept desynchronizing from the video in cutscenes, so Kevin Spacey’s mouth moved a good second after he was done saying something Very Serious.

Worst of all, I had to restart the game twice to finish the final mission because a bug prevented me from sliding under a closing door. That’s really frustrating, and I don’t know what made it work in the end, but when it did, the conclusion didn’t even feel worth it. I enjoyed Kevin Spacey’s performance (like, who doesn’t love Kevin Spacey?) and the between-mission cutscenes, which can look nearly photorealistic. But I didn’t grow attached to any of the characters, or really give a damn about who lived and died. Advanced Warfare whimpered into the credits.

But hell, I did have fun, even if it was shallow. I do have one final complaint, though: Call of Duty has no place trying to express the terrifying realities of war like it does, showing rows of coffins as American soldiers return from battle, a mass grave in a concentration camp, and telling me to press ‘F’ to pay my respects to a fallen friend. A game which judges me by my bodycount, on the number of men whose heads I shot—no, it’s terribly heavy handed. I’d rather CoD just embrace fantasy and leave tragedy for something more thoughtful.

The real reason people buy CoD

multiplayer modes

The new Uplink mode sounds neat: two teams fight for control of a ball which they can throw or run through their goal for points. It’s like quidditch with guns, and I played a few rounds and enjoyed it. That said, it took me ages to get into those rounds, because no one is playing it. I'm having better luck now, but returning staples such as Free-For-All, Team Deathmatch, Hardcore Team Deathmatch, and Domination are where most of the players seem to be.

I think this is the fourth Call of Duty I’ve reviewed, and we all know the drill here: this is the part where I leave the campaign behind (as I expect everyone will do after one playthrough) and move on to the multiplayer. It’s good news: Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer is much better than Ghosts’. The weapons are more fun to handle, the maps are more colorful and interesting and better designed, and the progression system is far superior.

The campaign’s Exo suits show up here, along with their jet-assisted double jump. They’re useful in two scenarios: getting to the first or second tier of high ground to camp or move across the map faster, and praying that a high jump will take me out of fire long enough to survive for an extra few seconds. Bluntly, movement in Advanced Warfare is less fun than movement in Titanfall, which has more liberal jetpack jumps, bigger, taller maps, and wall-running chains. Even so, the Exo suits do make for occasionally fun cat-and-mouse chases as we hop around all over the place.

Exo suits also have special abilities; one or two depending on how you customize your loadout. The cloak ability is the one I most often see used, and it’s like Titanfall’s cloak ability, briefly turning you into a shimmering wraith. It’s probably the most effective ability, but even so I forget to use it. Matches just move too fast to worry myself with extras, like holding out an energy shield or muting my footsteps. I do like the hover ability, though. When I remember to use it, it lets me hold position in the air for long enough to confuse the hell out of everyone below.

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These abilities, as well as perks (move faster, be invisible to sensors, take less explosive damage, that kind of thing), special grenades, and weapon attachments, are unlocked as you earn experience and ranks, as usual. New equipment, however, is also unlocked in ‘supply drops’ which are acquired during matches. Opening one is like opening a Team Fortress 2 crate, gifting me surprise new guns and gear.

First of all, I really like that I can customize the look of my soldier: male or female, with multiple faces to choose, and a ton of gear. I like looking cool. More importantly, though, there are now weapon variants to collect, so while there are only six assault rifles, for instance, there are multiple versions of each. I like it! I try out every new variant I get—do I like better handling or a higher rate of fire?—and a new shooting range lets me play with my toys between matches. It loads up really fast, and disappears just as quickly when it’s time for the match to start. It’s slick.

Though I’ve criticized games like Borderlands for loading me up with guns that have negligible stat differences, CoD multiplayer is such a rigorous test of speed and accuracy that, yeah, I think one point to range does matter. It could be the difference between winning or losing a two second shootout, and in Advanced Warfare, that’s about as long as any shootout takes.

Quick eye

Extended stand-offs are rare, because even if the guy in front of you doesn’t score the three-or-so chest shots needed to kill you, there is always someone behind you. They’re there, waiting to slap the back of your neck with a combat knife, and they’ll always be there. If you’re behind someone, and you kill them, you’d better turn around, because there’s someone behind you, too. And there’s someone behind them! And we all turn around and around and around.

I mostly play Team Deathmatch and Domination, and there are moments when I feel like two sides exist, especially on the Greenband skyscraper map, which reminds me of the Highrise map in Modern Warfare 2. Mostly, though, spawn points circle the map to keep you guessing. Stay still too long, and an enemy is likely to spawn ten feet behind you—I hate that. It’s dizzying and stressful.

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The guns are fun to use and there’s a nice variety, though some feel superfluous. I find that the best players in any given round stick to the basics: assault rifles and submachine guns. I never see anyone from far enough away, for instance, for a sniper rifle to better than a long-range assault rifle, though I guess some players have success with them.

Among the especially superfluous guns are the beam weapons from the campaign. I’ve heard players complain that they’re overpowered, but I think it just seems that way because they’re loud and bright and obnoxious. I’ve found them plainly less effective than regular bullets. Some of the other guns feel like vestiges of long lost war metaphors from Call of Duty 3 and earlier. I had no luck with a clunky heavy machine gun, because what on earth is the point of a support class in a game with no suppression mechanism, no destruction, and not much distance? Call of Duty multiplayer isn’t a representation of war at all—it’s an abstract game with a war skin on it.

My go-to gun is the Bal-27, a no-frills automatic assault rifle good at medium range. The balanced, basic approach just seems best. I use the Tactical variant for slightly better range, a laser sight for better hip fire accuracy, and a nifty sight that zooms in a bit when I stand still. On some maps, I like to experiment with the ARX-160, which fires in three-round bursts at longer ranges; two bursts to the chest or one to the head for a kill. It makes me play very differently, and I like that. My biggest complaint about all these guns is that, while getting used to their stats and bullet spread is interesting, their animations are dull and simple, and there aren’t many moving parts. They have distinct personalities, it’s just hard to see it.

Dew the Duty

Performance and settings

Reviewed on: Core i7-4770K,16GB RAM, GeForce GTX Titan Black
Play it on: Core i5-2500K, 8GB RAM, GTX 760
Variable framerate: Yes
Anti-aliasing: FXAA, SMAA, Supersampling
FOV: 65-90
Misc. gfx options: There are lots, including post-processing, texture, and shadow options.
Remappable controls: Yes
Gamepad support: Yes
Call of Duty ran well on a high-end machine, often reaching over 100 FPS. On my mid-range PC at home (Core i5, 8GB RAM, GeForce GTX 560 ti) it fared OK, but I had to turn some settings down. Sometimes the framerate plummeted briefly, and that happened a lot more in multiplayer than single-player. I also experienced a few crashes in multiplayer.

I have a few technical complaints, and they are serious. I’ve crashed out of matches three times, and though I haven’t had too many major performance problems, I’m seeing a lot of ugly reports as I scan forums. I have experienced irritating framerate drops in many matches—and that means death—and sometimes it seems like I’m being melee killed from ten feet away. Poof! He was over there, but now he’s standing over my body. I expected dedicated servers at launch, and there are none. Apparently they’re on the way. I’d wait for that before buying.

I’m used to these kinds of problems in Call of Duty, but that doesn’t make them OK. And while Advanced Warfare is much better than Ghosts, that only affects its placement of the scale of Call of Dutys. I’m afraid it still doesn’t rank highly for me among other multiplayer shooters. Rising Storm goes for fidelity and long, multi-stage battles, and it generates some of the most exciting stories in a multiplayer shooter. Though I’m not great at it, I love the tension and nuanced tactics of CS:GO. Titanfall is great, casual fun, with liberating movement. Team Fortress 2 has the best community.

Call of Duty remains a churning sea of adolescent sharks for whom new players are chum. The first several hours of learning are frustrating as hell, so thank goodness for the new Combat Readiness Program, which is a dumb but sweet way to play anonymously with beginners while you learn (if you can find a match, which I found difficult).

After eight hours I have some teeth of my own, but chomping down is really more instinct than fun. I’ll play round after round after round, hoping for little moments of victorious slaughter and the next set of unlocks, but I’m never really sure why I let the intermission timer tick down to the next round. The past week doesn’t feel enriched by all the CoD I’ve been playing. I don’t have any exciting stories or fun anecdotes. I ran and shot and got shot. I could have spent the week getting smashed at a bar and I’d feel pretty much the same about how I spent my time.

Call of Duty remains comparable to the carbonated corn syrup it partners with every year: it’s the Mountain Dew of shooters. I start drinking it and I’m not really sure I like it, but I just keep drinking and drinking until I’m all jittery and agitated. Then I can’t sleep, so screw it, I just drink some more and see if I won something under the cap.

The Verdict
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

The campaign is predictable, dumb fun, and the multiplayer is some of Call of Dutys bestbut still subject to every existing criticism of CoD.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.