Call of Duty Advanced Warfare needs little introduction bearing the face of Kevin Spacey with numerous years and titles behind it. It does however deserve a note as being the first title led by Sledgehammer Games, and is arguably the first Call of Duty to undergo more than two years of development prior to release. Quite a feat considering Sledgehammer did not act alone, as they were assisted by Raven, Nerve, HighMoon, and Beach Head Studios. With that large a cast of developing characters, expectations could reasonably be set high, but there is always the subject of cook count relative to the kitchen.
Advanced Warfare takes place in the late 2050s and early 2060s, the primary conceit being Private Military Corporations (PMCs) and the growing role of technology in warfare. The story is told from the perspective of an American marine, who loses a friend and gains an honorable discharge, only to join a PMC owned by Jeremy Irons (Kevin Spacey). The plot is thin, but it does serve as a sufficient catalyst for the typical Call of Duty set pieces and changes of environment to justify a rotation of abilities, tools, and toys. The gameplay is highly linear and scripted, with a noteworthy exception of a rather open ended stealth mission where you grappling hook around and above a garden party at night, executing guards with your hook in a manner very akin to Scorpion of Mortal Kombat.
Unfortunately that degree of free agency is anomalous as you continually pursue anyone labeled Follow. Thankfully they do make good use of such a rigid structure with lots of big events, from massive bombardments and high speed chases, to falling into the heart of Antarctica itself. Every mission has some big moment for you to look forward to, however the path there can be a bit plodding with seemingly filler alleyways and standard gun fights. Along the way you will be completing challenges (Kills, Headshots, Grenade Kills, Intel Collected) which will award points to upgrade your Exo Suit with features such as flinch and recoil reduction, increased health, additional grenades, and faster reloading. On the easier difficulties this matters little, but it does enable a slightly more strategic function for Hardened and Veteran, something the franchise as a whole has lacked in since its inception.
Advanced Warfare has lots of ideas fresh to Call of Duty which don’t interfere with the core mechanics, but you will forget about those when the story has annoying hamstringing moments, or idiotic character decisions. In one scene, dozens of drones burst forth and attach themselves to the supports of a bridge. Realizing that they are going to self-detonate and collapse the bridge, characters shout to shoot them, and NPCs open fire. This is great, but why was my character, or his partner who was in perfectly fine form, standing motionless when the drones first appeared in a tight cluster? I had killed several swarms of drones larger than that with single EMP grenades before, I had EMP grenades selected with five available. Both of us were perfectly equipped to wipe out the villain’s terrible plan right then and there, but the script would have nothing of it.
The villain’s plan is terrible as well, a known entity with a recognizable face, a very visible headquarters, and he publicly declares war on the world, and specifically the United States. I will give credit to Sledgehammer for making the first Call of Duty since the WW2 era where America wasn’t painted as blundering incompetents, but they still managed to reduce an interesting character into a meaningless foil, while forcing the protagonists into terrible decision making.
Now I know this isn’t Sledgehammer’s first rodeo, but that isn’t to say they lasted a full eight seconds on this bull either. Advanced Warfare is sloppy. Ghosts as a whole dragged and seemed to move through mud, but Advanced Warfare prefers random hitching for no apparent reason. It doesn’t struggle to get its pants on in the morning, it struggles to reach the bed eight hours prior. I am not running a Recommended machine, but I am above the Minimum requirements, yet the game saw fit to set my resolution to less than half my native display, and disable everything possible, with the rest set to Low.
It still ran like mud, but it also looked it. I don’t mean to imply that the game takes steps downward in visual quality, say resembling Modern Warfare in detail level if you go too far below the higher end. No, it turns into glossy mud. It looks good maxed out, or it looks like abstract art. For a machine that had no issues running Black Ops 2, this is pretty jarring. I can find a happy medium with careful tweaking, but changing anything in video options required a level reload, making the process very painful. I understand when I touch texture or world quality, sure, but not ambient occlusion, motion blur, or depth of field.
The poor performance is not unique to myself or machines of a similar caliber; anything less than seemingly godly rigs have hiccups and issues. Some have claimed precaching of shaders to resolve it at the cost of stuttering cinematics, but I had no such luck and my cinematics still stuttered. Not only did they stutter, when the levels hit 50% loaded, they stopped making progress until the cinematic finished and then resumed loading. Other Call of Duty titles never did this for me, so I’m not sure what makes Advanced Warfare so special. In good news, it quits very quickly when you exit, sometimes because of a crash (a pure virtual function call, usually).
That is a lot of technical issues to put up with, but the game itself is lacking in polish in very weird ways. The sounds are great (really, quite nice) but almost all of the scripted melee encounters are silent. Guys will get slammed into surfaces, damaging the environment, and nothing can be heard from it. Soldiers will spar in an arena, but only a few of the punches have impact sounds. Characters have fluid facial expressions, except for a few times where they stare blankly and their mouths open and close in a strictly vertical motion. Clumps of NPCs can be seen doing this, and sometimes the NPCs don’t even rotate the models used, so you come across clusters of twins.
The levels are nice set pieces, but lack polish regarding world collision: lots of little things you can get caught on, things you can step forward through, but not when backpedaling or items your character will autostep on to, and then need to crouch to get off of. The game has a ″Leaving the combat area″ message to allow the visual of more open areas while constraining your movement, but it isn’t a consistent distance across the maps and if you are Intel hunting, you find yourself often bumping into that invisible marker. It also seems to change, I stumbled into one in a mission right as friendly NPCs headed off into their next script, resulting in me suddenly being ″deep″ inside of the trigger area. This resulted in an automatic failure and a restart at a checkpoint.
Advanced Warfare isn’t riddled with bugs, but there are definite dips in quality that smelled of a cramped schedule, inconsistent expectations, outsourced work, or all of the above. The vehicle sections offer some great moments of cool power, combined with a bizarre mishmash of key bindings and prompts, as not all of them define your controls, and none of them have a unified scheme. One segment suggests you can do an action by pressing ″Unbound″. Thankfully the input needed is obvious (as it concerns stomping from the air) and the default of C works just fine. Some defaults are bizarre however.
You will receive suggestions to press keys such as M and N, in the middle of a large firefight. In the middle of a large firefight, would I rather temporarily lose my ability to look, aim, and fire or my ability to walk around? Whoever chose the layouts never considered a keyboard. On a similar note, whoever played the finale on PC was already familiar with the button prompts and when they occurred. I’m sure the color and shape coded button prompts on consoles rendered just fine on top of the scene bathed in yellow light from the fire, but the unchangeable yellow text callouts on PC are a little hard to spot. I died several times in this sequence because I didn’t see that prompts had appeared.
Is It Worth Your Money?
No. And it should be. It really should be. Sledgehammer has a lot of great elements and ideas, but they couldn’t fully deliver. And then when it seemed like they could, they got nervous and countered themselves. Advanced Warfare is the second fumble in a row for Call of Duty, and this time, it came at the cost of something that could have been quite great. Save your money for another time.