There are few game franchises with the cultural cachet of “Call of Duty.” It has for years been the first game that comes to mind when first-person shooters are discussed, and remains the standard by which other multiplayer-focused shooters are judged.
It’s hard to complain about being on top, but the franchise’s ubiquity and extremely high standard of quality leave it especially prone to criticism.
Specifically, it’s simply impossible to please everybody. Each new “Call of Duty” game has something players will criticize. Every edition is either too different from the last or not different enough. It is either the best since the last “best version” (often the very first “Modern Warfare”) or just another yearly retread.
When standards and expectations are sky high, there’s no place to go but down.
“Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” ($59.99, rated M) makes an admirable attempt to please everybody. The game is changed enough that you have to think about it in new ways, while the core gameplay remains faithful enough that almost nobody will mistake it for anything other than “Call of Duty.” There is a relatively short, setpiece-heavy campaign; there are plenty of guns that feel good in your virtual hands; and there is a multiplayer scene that remains unrivaled in the console-shooter space.
In short: Once you get past your initial complaints, you’ll enjoy “Advanced Warfare” just fine.
The campaign itself is as necessary as a “Call of Duty” campaign has been since “Modern Warfare.” As usual, it functions as an extended tutorial for the mechanics and gameplay, but the gimmick here is that we’re using the technology of the future. There are instantly deployable riot shields, special grenades that reveal threats behind walls or disable incoming drones, and boosters that can give you a bump up to high ledges or protect you from long falls.
Getting used to all of these new powers and weapons sounds like a daunting task, but the campaign teaches you about them in a gradual manner. Your AI squad mates help you just enough to make you want to tell them to shut up and let you do it yourself by the time the campaign ends.
Oh, did I mention that Kevin Spacey is involved? He plays a major role in the campaign, and even sticks around for some of the voice-over narration. As everyone knows, more Kevin Spacey is never a bad thing.
Game with a solid core
Most of multiplayer’s changes have little to do with the new technology. “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s” multiplayer experience is still about who is most adept at aiming and firing as quickly as possible. That said, knowing the new powers inside and out can be the difference between a mere win and a massive kill streak.
There are some new modes to play, though they typically look like old modes tweaked for futuristic tech. The cooperative mode is typically frenetic and fun, but it doesn’t have the cheeky sense of humor of something like “Zombie Mode.” The team-competitive Uplink mode is a raucous and chaotic good time, but it’s like “capture the flag” where you can throw the flag at the target.
As usual with “Call of Duty,” the more things change, the more they stay the same. What “Advanced Warfare” demonstrates, however, is just how solid the core remains. The formula is still remarkably fun, especially when the player is given a whole pile of new toys to play with. “Advanced Warfare” is just the game to put off mass “Call of Duty” fatigue for a few more years.
“Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” is now available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.
New this week: The holiday push is in full swing! “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” (Multiplatform) brings cooperative campaign multiplayer to the popular series – look for the review in this space next week. “Far Cry 4” (Multiplatform) brings the open-world powerhouse to the Himalayas, and “Halo: The Master Chief Collection” (XOne) collects “Halo” through “Halo 4” (leaving out “ODST” and, sadly, “Reach”) and presents them in a shiny, multiplayer-ready package.