Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC
When a publisher decides to annualize a game series, the biggest hurdle it inevitably faces is having to balance the old with the new. With each new entry, the core premise of what makes the series so popular has to be tweaked just enough to keep it feeling fresh but not so much that it alienates the core audience. I doubt any publisher feels this burden more so than Activision whose venerable Call of Duty series has had to constantly reinvent itself for over a decade now. The latest entry in the series, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, offers a comprehensive multiplayer experience that utilizes the game’s new future-war elements in order to change up the field of play. Aside from fun new toys like exo-suits and laser guns however, it’s still very much the same old Call of Duty multiplayer experience.
The More Things Change….
Developer Sledgehammer Games didn’t stray too far from the core formula that keeps fans buying new Call of Duty games year after year but it did give Advanced Warfare a fun new futuristic coat of paint. The exo-suits which are so prominently displayed in the game’s single-player mode are also featured in the multiplayer and add several new wrinkles to a standard multiplayer match. Being able to perform maneuvers such as double-jumps and boost-dashes adds a heightened sense of momentum and verticality as players can scale vantage points and dash around obstacles with ease. New exo abilities such as cloaking, speed boosts, health regenerating stims, and personal shields also allow players to customize their exo-suit to their playstyle.
As players win matches and complete in-game challenges, they unlock new cosmetic items that allow them to customize their multiplayer character, choosing not only their character’s face and gender but also several elements of their outfit such as their exo-suit, their headwear, and even more minute options such as their kneepads or footwear. Players can also naturally customize their character’s loadout using Advanced Warfare’s new “Pick 13” system, creating their preferred balance of weapons, attachments, perks, auxiliary equipment, and scorestreak rewards. New “Wildcard” modifiers can also be chosen, allowing players to more deeply customize their preferred weapons, perks, scorestreaks, or exo abilities.
Advanced Warfare comes with a long list of returning multiplayer modes including classics such as Team Deathmatch, Hardpoint, Kill Confirmed, and Domination. Two brand new modes join the list as well, Momentum tasks players with capturing a series of sequential flags with kills speeding up the rate at which flags can be captured. Uplink meanwhile plays out like a deadly futuristic game of basketball. Two teams vie for control of a satellite drone which they must then bring to the opposing team’s goal area in order to score points. In addition to standard multiplayer playlists, Advanced Warfare also includes a “Classic” (exo abilities are disabled) playlist for purists and an “eSports” playlist for those who want to play only modes featured in competitive Call of Duty tournaments.
…The More They Stay The Same
As fun as the new exo abilities and game modes are, once the novelty of getting to boost around maps and customize your multiplayer character wears off, Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer feels like more of the same, which can be good or bad depending on how big a fan of the core experience you are. The innovation that Sledgehammer Games touted during Advanced Warfare’s pre-release marketing run definitely isn’t as all-encompassing as it first appeared (though it is ever?) and the mileage you get out of Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer will be directly tied to how much you’re already fatigued with the same basic multiplayer concept.
The new exo abilities do obviously make standard matches more engaging no matter which mode you’re playing but most matches still tend to boil down to run-and-gun affairs that have you constantly getting killed by enemies you barely register before they put a bullet between your eyes. I also kept forgetting about my exo abilities in the middle of combat and when I did remember to use them, they didn’t tend to make much of a difference, though I can likely attribute most of that to my somewhat mediocre competitive skills.
Unlike past Call of Duty games, there is no fun bonus co-op mode like Zombies or Call of Duty: Ghosts’ excellent “Extinction” mode (at least in the base game). Instead, Advanced Warfare has an “Exo Survival” co-op mode which is sadly once again largely inferior to the core multiplayer experience. All of the fun customization and progression systems from the standard competitive multiplayer aren’t present in Exo Survival outside of a few arbitrary in-game choices that don’t last beyond the match in which they’re selected. I really have no idea why Call of Duty developers constantly insist on locking co-op players out of all the fun meta systems present in the competitive experience but Advanced Warfare follows suit like the rest.
Old Car, New Engine
Advanced Warfare’s atypical setup of competitive multiplayer is certainly benefited by the inclusion of new exo abilities and customization options but it is also hamstrung by its tendency to cling to the tired old sameness of many Call of Duty games before it. If you still feel that competitive itch pushing you to be at the forefront of the latest and greatest Call of Duty experience, Advanced Warfare will scratch that itch for sure. If, however, you were hoping for a deeper co-op experience or at least any experience that didn’t focus 99.9% of its effort on putting you through the same competitive paces as it has many, many times before, you should steer clear.
Here are the criteria I feel are most important when judging Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer:
New customization options, game modes, and exo-suit abilities help to freshen things up but they’re about all that makes Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer any different from past Call of Duty multiplayer experiences.
The new exo moves and abilities are easy to perform and can be used to deadly effect by seasoned players. The basic controls come naturally to shooter vets though the new focus on exo abilities can take a little getting used to.
In-game matches run smooth as silk and many maps come with fun transitions that never sacrifice framerates. The limited character customization options can sometimes make it hard to differentiate between friends and foes from far away but lag and sever disconnects are pretty much non-existent.
While the list of total game modes is quite long, only two completely original modes have been added. Co-op is once again treated as the ugly step-child to its competitive sibling and the base game has no fun extras like Zombies or Extinction.
Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer does just enough to make it feel like a somewhat new experience but I doubt it will be enough to sway the opinions of players who have already grown tired of the franchise. Shooter fans who don’t mind fragging their enemies ad nauseam will feel right at home in Advanced Warfare’s futuristic arena. Those who are looking for anything more than that need not apply.