As you may have read in my single player review, the Exo movement is widely limited by the terms of the individual mission and you rarely see the full strength of the new mechanics. In multiplayer, the system opens up, and it feels wonderful. Airdashing, ledge grabbing, boost jumping, ground stomping, and power sliding all over the place. Every player is suddenly much more mobile, on each axis.
You can quickly boost out of a line of fire or away from a grenade, power slide through an area that only offers partial cover, or dash toward an enemy. Battles that aren’t immediately decided quickly turn to the skies, assuming you aren’t in a smaller indoor area, and suddenly the mouse matters for more than twitch shots. The theoretical skill ceiling was certainly raised with the introduction of Exo movement, and it makes for a much more lively game, one that plays very quickly if you embrace the capabilities. And if you don’t, well, it plays like a standard slow Call of Duty. Except your opponents will be literally stomping you.
Advanced Warfare takes a hybrid approach to the class system. Black Ops 2’s Pick 10 is back, as Pick 13, with Scorestreaks (also returning) themselves up on the chopping block of customization. You can forgo having them at all for more perks, equipment, or attachments but if you have them, they can be customized for a wider variety of behaviors.
For example the lowly UAV can be elevated into orbit to avoid being shot down, update more frequently, last longer, provide ″threat detection″ where updates briefly render red dot-matrix forms of enemies through the walls, and other options. All customizations to a Scorestreak make it more expensive, but one of the pricier additions is also a nod to the Support strike package of Modern Warfare 3 and Ghosts: Support. With Support tacked on you won’t lose progress on death, but it takes a good while longer. This enables lower tier players to see at least one or two streak rewards in any given game, especially if they hop on a flag. The net result is a generally more objective oriented playing public.
Which would matter greatly if game modes other than Team Deathmatch were played. The PC player count seems drastically low, and I rarely find a game at all in a mode other than Team Deathmatch or Mosh Pit (a rotation of modes). To double up on the issue, the game uses Score Based Matchmaking to find you games with similarly skilled opponents, but the population density isn’t quite there, so you really see the same players over and over. The standard Call of Duty game modes are there, plus Momentum (previously known as War in World at War), and Uplink (previously known as Bombing Run in Unreal Tournament 2003). I would comment on if they are fun, but I’ve only managed to get into one game apiece. In 23 hours of play time.
Speaking of fun, is it? Well that all depends on how the lag compensation favors you. Networking is not a perfect science, and latency a wicked beast to anticipate but the issue seems to rear its head most often in this release. Where previously you might have hiccups, moments you would decry, and confusing experiences, those are now the norm, and sometimes the game world degenerates into something more akin to parallel universes randomly intersecting. And this is all a tragedy because the game is indeed fun.
Rapid movement, freedom to traverse the map in many ways, unique rewards, highly customizable characters in terms of mechanics and cosmetics, maps with exclusive scorestreaks or events that change their layout, satisfying guns, great sounds and even a slight layer of loot grind to ring the dinner bell at Pavlov’s diner. The time to kill is still crazy fast, but shorter than most in the franchise with the best weapons being on par with an average weapon in another game. But you never know where you will be in the network pecking order for each match, so this increased skill ceiling gets shoved into a more casual environment.
That may sound like an accident of technology, but there are design decisions which suggest they were unsure as to this whole Exo Suit thing. Nearly every weapon has incredible hipfire, and there are now two hipfire only weapons, an akimbo only LMG that lets you anchor to the ground and turn into a human turret, and the akimbo only SMGs (SAC-3)which act as proof that someone at Sledgehammer hates us all and wants to decrease the importance of movement. I haven’t played a game since the beginning of December that didn’t feature at least two SAC-3 users. Where the movement is now a complex series of presses and turns, the shooting can be reduced to literally just holding the left and right mouse buttons.
This is all the more out of character because of how many risks Sledgehammer did take. A shoulder mounted sniper rifle you can’t hipfire? Check. Variable fire rates, damage, or accuracy depending on where you are in the burst or magazine depending on the weapon? Check. A grenade sniper rifle that fires a charge followed by a detonator? Check. Futuristic energy weapons? Check and check. They aren’t afraid to try new things, but they are afraid to commit to them. The energy weapons are visually pleasing to use yet have no special properties (other than overheating versus ammo in two cases). The Tac-19 has a beautiful ripple of displaced air when you fire, but it actually functions exactly like a normal shotgun in mechanics. The EPM-3 releases very cool rail traces, but is just a semi-auto rifle.
The EM-1 is fun like the original Quake’s lightning gun, but it does nothing more than that. None of these have a special relationship with equipment, or other players. No heating up a riot shield to make it dequip temporarily, or being able to punch through otherwise impenetrable surfaces. Just normal damage. For the future, everything sure seems like still another bullet. And yet every fist seems more like a katana. The melee is now by default an Exo Punch, animated as a bit of a direct jab, but the arc is very large, larger than a 90 degree field of view, even just against bots. The panic punch is powerful, and it will kill you around a corner. The only solution is to never enter melee range. A minor bug around this, which might suggest some of the behavior, is that in killcams, it shows the enemy equipment as a knife, rather than their fist. It serves to illustrate how poorly considered on a broad level the setting was, and leaves a sense of a very serious mod, rather than a game unto itself.
This is disappointing, as is the lack of polish in embracing the Exo Suit. Don’t want a player to camp on top of that building in particular? Place an Out of Bounds trigger there, rather than say, making it taller, or putting assets there to block them. Movement is free and easy with the auto-climb until you bump into that, but sometimes the auto-climb can be your ruin. It has a pretty wide trigger berth, resulting in scenarios such as dashing down toward an enemy near another ledge, and your character just grabbing onto the ledge and hoisting you up. One map has two long insta-death pits in it, separated by walls.
If you try to double jump over it from too close, your character will mantle, interrupting the double jump logic, and then the mantle will send you over the wall to your death. I see this happen a lot, it has hit me several times, and I’ve even seen it happen to great YouTubers. I just avoid those sections of the map now. Another irk that interrupts the flow of gameplay is the bizarrely inconsistent penetration value for surfaces. Large rocks can be shot through, but a grass display, or perhaps a metal grating that you can see through are impenetrable objects. Throw in PC only annoyances like the chat area being rendered behind player cards during announcements, and the cobbled together game feel comes with a side of second class citizen. A sensation amplified when the PC received a major patch last, by a two week margin.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
What speaks the most to me is the fact that since I completed this review, I’ve not touched the game. I bought it with my own money, this isn’t a review copy, but I still found myself moving on more quickly than anticipated. Patches continue to come in, the DLC wave is beginning, but even if all of those changes were great, the damage has been done. The game is nearly empty on PC now, and Team Deathmatch is just about the only mode where you won’t spend 10 minutes waiting for a match. Advanced Warfare is the Call of Duty with the greatest legs to stretch, and thus represents the greatest stumble in the franchise as it squandered the strides it could have made.