Jump Jets, Juggernauts, Drones and a Megalomaniac
- Call of Duty does it again!!!
It’s November, which means time for the latest release in the Call of Duty franchise. Release day has become an annual event for me. I take a day of vacation, pick up my game at midnight, and then spend the next 18 hours or so blowing things up and escaping reality. This year was no different.
I picked up Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – Day Zero edition on Sunday night Nov 3rd. The owner of my local Gamestop is a friend and I actually walked out the door, game in hand at 12:01 AM ET. Ten minutes later the disc is in my Xbox One and the install has begun. I fix a stiff drink, make some snacks, take care of the dogs and within 20 minutes I’m told the game is ‘ready to play. The install wasn’t completed yet, but I could already start which is a GREAT function of the new generation of consoles.
As usual I always play through the campaign first, so let’s get started there.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – Campaign
With Call of Duty 1, 2, 3, World at War, Modern Warfare (MW), MW2 and MW3 the world was a familiar place. It was the US, UK and Russian military for the most part, typical ‘real world’ type enemies and recognizable military hardware. It was easy to understand and be comfortable with from the beginning.
Call of Duty: Black Ops continued this format albeit with flashbacks from the present day to the 1960s and Vietnam. But again the players and equipment were familiar.
The COD franchise changed direction with Black Ops 2. Like its predecessor flashbacks were used, as well as familiar names, places and equipment from the past. But this time they moved primary game play to the future. To bridge the gap characters from Black Ops 1 were included, the US military was the primary ‘good’ guy and the bad guy was a typical commie, drug lord, tin pot dictator wannabe. Not too much of a stretch. Overall the story was much weaker than its predecessors and a disappointment to many, myself included.
In November 2013 though, the COD franchise took the full leap into ‘what the heck?” with Ghosts. With an impossible to follow storyline taking place in the future, the US was attacked by a South American cartel of sorts who basically took over the world with a spaced based weapon. The weapons and hardware were futuristic but familiar. The game play was solid, but the story was laughable. Especially the completely unrealistic ending. The only redeeming quality of Ghosts was the introduction of the Extinction game mode, where we could blow up aliens.
Based on this ‘horrible’ campaign story and sales far below those for MW3 and Black Ops 2, many people were predicting the end of the COD franchise. Many articles leading up to the release claimed that ‘franchise fatigue’ had set in for the most popular video game in history. I’m sure many COD haters were anxiously preparing posts to slam the game in forums far and wide. Based on released game information and trailers it was being slammed as a Titanfall copy and unimaginative. It was being called a failure before the first copy was ever sold.
But something happened on release night the ‘haters’ did not expect. COD: Advanced Warfare released with a campaign story line that was strong, well-written, well-acted and entertaining. Yes, the jump jets are similar to Titanfall, but also very different. Yes, it’s in the future and there are plenty of new weapons, gadgets and abilities we’ve never had before. But, unlike the previous two games, COD: AW’s campaign was well written and FUN!
I’ve played through the Campaign twice now. First on normal difficulty and second on Veteran difficulty and here are my thoughts:
- Story – feasible, plausible, entertaining. Yes it’s in the future, but there is no element where I thought ‘this is just goofy’ or ‘unrealistic’. Could the US military be so gutted by politicians that in 50 years they’re dependent on a private company for tactical and operational support? Not beyond the scope of possibilities. Kevin Spacey was fantastic as the bad guy. Gideon Emery was great as ‘Gideon’. (yes, he has the same name as his character). He was just as good a side kick as Price or Reznov. Although Reznov was more entertaining.
And it was nice to finally have a female character in the story. Of course, they had to give her a sexy, eastern European accent, but hey, not going to complain. My daughter's first question was – ‘Can we play as her?”
To the creators and writers of this story my hat is off to you. If this had been a ‘dud’ like Ghosts or weak like Black Ops 2, I think the franchise would have some lean years ahead of it.
- Graphics – stellar, detailed, awesome. The players look almost as good in-game as they do in the Blur produced cut-scenes. (In case you didn’t now Blur is a company that does CGI animation and the BEST video game cut-scene / trailer work. The whole opening segment of Thor-Dark World was pretty much Blur CGI)
- Gameplay / Mechanics – with only one exception, I felt the mechanics of playing AW was perfect. COD games have always had, in my opinion, the perfect button layout for First Person Shooters (FPS). Even better than Halo. However, the mechanics for handling grenades with multiple capabilities was slow and awkward.
- Weapons – A decent selection of new weapons in AW as usual. However, the notable standout for me was the Optics available. For most of the campaign it is nearly impossible to distinguish friend from foe. Especially where there is no clear line separating sides like the Aircraft Carrier mission. The Target Enhancer Optic for Assault Weapons was clearly the winner for me. Allowing you, when looking through the optic, to see enemies glowing Red. Nice!
- Grappling Gadget – LOVED this new device in COD. They’ve played with the concept in previous games, but never this versatile and mobile.
- It’s similar to the grappling device in the Lost Planet franchise, but much more limited. You can’t use it ‘anywhere’. Only in certain areas of a map ‘and’ if you’re wearing the correct Exo suit.
- It provides the ability to perform Stealth Kills, much like Assassins Creed Rope Dart, but this is much more effective.
- Heavy Armor – what modern FPS is complete without some heavy armor? COD got away from this element for a few games, but is making the right call by bringing it back in AW. LOVED the Hover Tank and the heavy armored AST suit you can wear.
- Too short: The one thing Activision, Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer games always seem to do is make their campaigns TOO SHORT. It should take 20-30 hours to complete the campaign minimum, on Normal difficulty. Perhaps even longer. When there are games out there like Skyrim, Destiny, Red Dead Redemption which can take over 100 hours or more to get thru all the content, having a 5 hour campaign is a waste.
- Grenades: COD: AW introduces multi-function grenades to the franchise, which allows a single grenade to serve as a Flash, EMP device or Threat illuminator support weapon. The mechanism they chose to utilize these grenades though is problematic. You can’t ‘pre-select’ a grenade type without throwing a grenade and selecting a grenade type during a firefight is slow and dangerous.
For example: To throw a Flash grenade.
- Depress Left Bumper button and ‘hold’
- Press ‘X’ to cycle through the options Threat, EMP or Flash
- Once desired option is displayed ‘release’ the Left Bumper button to throw the grenade.
In a firefight where you need to flash your enemies or EMP Drones as you are being overwhelmed, speed is paramount. Unfortunately, speed is not possible. You must not only press 2 buttons to make the right selection, but must also take your eyes off the battlefield to make the correct choice.
In most instances I KNEW which grenade I was going to need beforehand. However, there is NO way to pre-select the desired grenade without actually tossing one. In Campaign mode this is irritating, in Co-Op/Survivor mode it was maddening, but in Multiplayer it is RAGE worthy.
- Foe Identification
Due to the lighting, graphics and uniform selections made for the game, good guys and bad guys all look the exact same on the battlefield. Especially in low light areas or missions with tight spaces.
Additionally, the graphic detail now presented allows foes mid-range and beyond to easily disappear in the clutter. Whether it’s in the forest, jungle or wrecked deck of an aircraft carrier, it’s very difficult to ‘spot’ the enemy. This is actually quite realistic and a nice element to have in the game, but ONLY IF the same difficulty is experienced by the enemy. As it is, they can easily spot me from 200 yards away crouched behind bushes and rain fire down upon me.
- Exo Choice:
One of the MAIN selling and marketing points for COD: AW was the use of exoskeleton suits for the soldiers. Giving them near super human abilities. Invisibility, jumping, falling gracefully, strength, armor etc. Yet we, the player, have NO CHOCE in what suit to wear during the Campaign.
One of my favorite aspects of Black Ops 2 was the ability to select my weapon load out for the Campaign. That was an awesome feature. COD: AW should have allowed the player to configure his own Exo. If he wants Stealth Mode and Grappling hook, he selects prior to the mission. If he wants jump jets, he selects prior to the mission.
Very poor decision by Sledgehammer on this aspect of the game.
- Campaign Difficulty
I try to play through all games at their highest difficulty. I do this for fun, the achievements and sometimes for the hidden Easter Eggs only available on the highest difficulty. For the COD franchise this has been Veteran Difficulty.
This setting has caused me to replay portions of mission’s dozens of times, if not more, to finally get through it alive. In Black Ops 2 under Veteran I probably died 20 times during the final chase alone.
The Veteran Difficulty for COD: AW was sadly pathetic. On Normal difficulty, for the whole campaign I may have died 5 times. On Veteran difficulty I counted 6 times. VERY much a letdown.
Campaign - Final Score
Nothing will ever top the exhilaration and enjoyment I experienced playing World at War the first time. Or Modern Warfare 1 2 and 3. I loved those campaigns. They were truly classics which cemented this franchise as the leader of FPS games. However, COD: AW was highly enjoyable and the best thing they have released since MW3.
For the COD: AW Campaign – I give a score of 7.5 out of 10.
It would be higher, but the brevity of the Campaign was just too much for me to give an 8 or higher.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – Exo - Survival Mode
Modern Warfare 3 introduced the Survival mode with its release. I absolutely LOVED this mode of play. It was competitive, increasingly difficult, gave you a chance to learn the maps and weapons and was a LOT of fun. At one point I was ranked in the top 1% for kills, scores etc. for nearly every map on MW3. COD: AW brings us Exo-Survival mode, which is pretty much the same thing.
For those unfamiliar – Survival mode is basically this.
- You’re placed on one of the multiplayer maps with a set load-out to start with.
- Waves (or Rounds) of enemy’s attack you. There is a set number of bad guys each round.
- Each subsequent round the enemy is harder to kill and new weapons/enemy types are introduced.
- By round 20 or so you’re struggling to survive
- You can chose to play solo, in a private match with friends or find a public match
- You earn points each round by killing bad guys and completing small tasks, such as disarming bombs (without dying of course)
- Points are used to upgrade armor, special abilities, buy new weapons/attachments and refill ammo. You go through a LOT of ammo.
My best score was 49 rounds solo on the HORIZON map. I could’ve gone further but one of my kids distracted me and I was wasted. Takes over an hour or more to get this far, so haven’t been back yet.
There is NO pausing of this mode, even in solo mode. So no trips to the restroom or fridge.
Rumor has it there will be Zombies in DLC updates for the Exo-Survival mode. So this should be fun!
The basic way to succeed in this game type is to:
- Choose ‘Heavy’ as your Exo choice at the beginning of the game. You’ll be slower and less agile, but you’ll have better armor and the EM1 Laser weapon which needs NO AMMO.
- Find a Defensible Location (DL) AND STAY THERE. Moving around in this mode will get you killed. Even if in co-op mode. Mobility and agility are NOT important thru 20-50 rounds.
- Survive as long as you can without spending upgrade points. This prepares you better for later rounds from a skill stand-point and also lets you buy the more expensive items.
- Upon reaching Round 10 – upgrade armor as much as you can.
- As soon as possible, purchase the Enemy Locator optic for the EM1 energy rifle.
- Stay in your DL shoot and cover for as long as you can.
Like Zombies, unless you’re in co-op or multiplayer mode, if you die the game is pretty much over. There is ONE revive you get in solo, but when you respawn it will NOT be in your DL. You’ll have to fight your way through hordes of enemy to get back there and most likely will die again.
During the game there are tasks you will be assigned to earn more XP.
- Recover Intel – killed bad guys drop intel. Hint – kill the guys as close to your DL as possible. That way the intel is easy to pick-up and return to DL.
- Disarm Bombs – unless in Co-Op mode ONLY go for bombs close to your DL. It takes 15 seconds or more to disarm the bomb, during that time you WILL be killed unless you have cover. I ignore this task unless the bomb appears right next to my DL.
- Retrieve Dog Tags – like Kill Confirmed – dog tags are spawned all over the map. You must collect 10 to complete the task. Unless in co-op where you can be revived, ignore. There are too many bad guys to complete without dying.
IF you do not complete the tasks YOU ARE PUNISHED. 3 types of punishment for failure to complete a task.
- Remote turrets spread around the map to kill you. Stay in your DL and these are not a problem.
- LOSS of primary weapons for 60 seconds. This is BAD. You are only given a pistol with which to defend yourself.
- Electronics Hacked – loss of all electrical items, such as mini-map, cloaking etc. As long as you are in your DL this one isn’t so bad.
There are Perks you are given as you earn XP during the game as well as Kill streak items, such as remote turrets, War Bird and Goliath.
Goliath sounds nice, but warning. It only lasts so long. When it ends you are spawned far away from your DL. NOT where you died.
Bombing Run – I got killed almost every time I tried this item. It takes several seconds to set-up. During that time, the enemy will KILL you if in solo mode. Only use in Co-op when you have someone to cover you.
Finally, not all maps are unlocked at the beginning. You’re given 4 to start with in Tier 1. To earn the Tier 2 maps you must survive X number of rounds in Tier 1 maps. The process repeats with each tier except the number of rounds required increases. For Tier 3 maps you must survive like 40 rounds on Tier maps. To get to the final map you must survive 100 rounds on Tier 4 maps.
Difficulty supposedly increases with each Tier, but I have not figured out ‘how’ as yet.
Exo-Survival - Final Score
As I said previously, I love this game mode. Works well with solo, co-op and public matches.
For the COD: AW Exo-Survival Mode – I give a score of 9.0 out of 10.
It would be a 10 but for the following items.
- You can only upgrade armor and weapon damage to a certain point. However, enemy damage increases with each round,,, forever. Enemy armor increases with each round,,, forever. When I finally died on Round 49 I had ~40 points earned and NOTHING to purchase.
- Zombies – they should’ve released with Zombies, not require purchase of a DLC to get Zombies.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – Multiplayer
It’s a COD multiplayer. Game play and mechanics is pretty much IDENTICAL to every other COD game since MW2. I didn’t play every game type, just Team Deathmatch and Kill Confirmed. But it was enough to see the same Run and Gun play all COD matches have morphed into since MW3.
- Maps – great graphics and detail
- Jump Jets adds a great dimension to the matches, but also leave you very vulnerable. They make noise and you can be very exposed while airborne.
- Weapon Optics – as in the campaign, the Auto Tracking optics allow much faster enemy identification. This is great for hardcore mode since all players look alike now and you don’t want to shoot your team mate.
- Flow – I found the overall flow of game play to be much smoother than COD: Ghosts. It’s still run and gun, but the maps seem to be laid out better with fewer choke points.
- Jump jets make too much noise. Approaching someone on a roof couldn’t be more apparent than if you called or texted before your arrival.
- Still TOO many areas of the map which are off limits.
- Maps TOO small. Since MW3 the focus has become more and more small, confined, tight cornered maps. No long line of sights, no open areas. There are NO areas where a real sniper rifle could be used. In Ghosts there was Stonehaven, the map which they claimed was large and had long sight lines for sniping. Unfortunately, there were so many hills, ditches and culverts it was in effect no different than a small map with tight corners.
- Verticality – with the addition of the jump jets, the tops of buildings, obstacles etc. should be fair game.
- IFF – the ability to distinguish enemies is worse in COD: AW than with Ghosts. All players look alike, especially in Hardcore where there is not indicators. However, this does add an aspect of realism to the game.
- Kill Streaks – too many ‘manually’ controlled kill streaks, where you ARE killed while flying the aircraft or operating the turret. Bring back the automatic weapons so we can defend ourselves.
- Lag – I’ve heard of people experiencing Lag in matches, but I’ve not seen it firsthand. I suspect this will be an issue we must deal with forever.
Multiplayer - Final Score
Typical COD multiplayer – most of the good from prior games with only a few changes I think they could make to improve.
For the COD: AW Multiplayer Mode – I give a score of 8.5 out of 10.
It would be higher, but to get there Activision, Infinityward and Sledgehammer need to:
- Provide LARGER maps with more open areas. LONG sight lines for sniping.
- Remove restrictions on verticality. Allow every door, room or closed off area of today’s maps to be accessible.
I will update the Multiplayer portion of this review over time. In my experience it can take hundreds of hours in matches to really flesh out the good and bad in PvP. For now all the players are new to the maps and capabilities. Over the next few months strategies and styles of play for each map will develop. Also Clan Wars will allow us to play together as a group and learn from each other.
Additionally, the future DLCs for COD: AW may add more than just maps to the game. We’ll have to wait and see.
Overall, I am very pleased with COD: AW. It’s entertaining and fun to play. The campaign was on target. The Survival Mode is boss. And the multiplayer is on par with COD PvP we’ve all come to expect with some welcome new additions.
COD: Ghosts would be gathering dust on my shelf had it not been for the Extinction Mode. I really felt it was that bad. COD: AW though has much better replay value. A good game I’ll be playing till next November and the next release.
Overall Score for COD: AW – 8.5 of 10
Critical Areas to improve:
- Increase length of the campaign. Should take at least 20-30 hours to complete any campaign.
- Larger maps in multi-player. Too focused on small, confined maps with tight corners.
- Verticality – we have jump jets now. Open up the maps and let us go everywhere.
Now, I just have to wait for Zombies!!!!