So CoD’s yearly review has come. We’re all very… something. Blasé? We’ve spent more time fighting wars in Call of Duty games now than many countries have spent fighting wars in the real world. Anyway, we’re in the future again but this time instead of Kevin Spacey being the bizarre star power, it’s that bloke from Law and Order with the really serious face.
So as I mentioned before, it’s the future again. As I also mentioned before, it’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare again. There’s wacky technobabble, neat performance-enhancing technology, wall-running, double-jumping, run-and-gunning, and a big-name real world actor who turns evil after 45 minutes of being paraded around to earn his paycheque. Spoilers.
The story was alright, I guess. It wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t great. It was a story. It was the coal in the choo-choo train of linear gameplay that you’d expect. Wacky experiment in the basement of a large corporation, CIA covers it up, someone uncovers it, they go dark and we have to go find them and bring them to justice/demand answers. Someone yells at someone about how many secrets their employers are keeping from them. Y’know.
The best part of the story was actually the plot McGuffin that sends Law and Order: Serious Face Unit evil in the first place, but that’s spoilers for real-real, not for play-play. Very engaging, and enables the most awesome trippy nonsense of any game I’ve played recently (I didn’t play Spec Ops: The Line. Sue me). It was a little predictable at times, but at least it never felt so shark-jumpy that you couldn’t at least go with it.
The nearest thing to an immersion breaker was seeing a popular actor climbing the walls on the near side of the Uncanny Valley. Computer generated people that don’t exist are just, y’know, computer games. Computer generated people that DO exist tend to draw a bit of attention to themselves.
One little aspect that they won’t get credit for: You can pick a girl or a guy character, and it doesn’t change a damn thing except the voice your lines are read in, so when your paranoid coworker is yelling at you for being sweet on a chick from the CIA, and accusing you of wanting a little cottage together, you can be a female character being lectured to by a male character about wanting a relationship with a girl you met and the implied homosexuality is never played for novelty. And later when that same girl is comforting you, it’s still got the same undertones of romantic intent that it’d have with the male character (rather than the boring Girl Power Sisterhood thing you’d normally get), so it’s not just Generic Pretty Plot Girl falls for Generic Male Action Hero. Good on ‘em, eh?
It’s Call of Duty. Come for the grey, stay for the brown. They’re not reeeeaaaally treading new ground here. The upgrade system was pretty generic. They had Unlock Tokens you earned after missions to spend on guns and stuff, but I was never actually forced to make a decision about what I wanted to do, except “wait until level 9 for Gun With Different Stats,” so it stands to reason to me that they could’ve simply given me all the guns and let me go nuts. It’s pretty much what I did, except spending one mission a bit gimped until I’d unlocked everything.
I don’t begrudge them for bringing the Multiplayer “Level up, receive new gun, level up gun, receive new attachment” thing to the Singleplayer. It wasn’t bad. It was just kinda nothing. Maybe I should respect them for letting me pick my own weapon for the missions – although I probably swapped as often as I would have if they were giving me a different loadout at random, simply because I wanted to try out some different play styles instead of picking the UMP .45, putting a silencer on it and going to town.
The powers were interesting, if a bit niche. I never bothered with the blue ones that dealt with robots (electrocute robot, mess with robot, tear out robots heart and throw it like a grenade), considering the red ones would mess up humans and robots alike with no complaints (set one person on fire, set everyone on fire).
The green ones were where the game was supposed to shine, I think. I took one look at them and went, “Yep, this is definitely the direction Call of Duty wants to go.” Run, jump, smoke screen, go invisible, charge, ground slam. Running, gunning, fast-paced, shoot-first-ask-questions-later schoolyard fun. And the level design, from time to time, especially through the Coalescence Corporation Aquarium Fun Park, really strived to make that whole thing viable.
The opening cinematic talks about Megacities, so I had visions of Keith Urban’s Dredd going through my head when I was first moving into the game world. But by the time you’re in game, the set pieces go by more or less the same as they have for the past decade.
It lacked that highrise vertigo/claustrophobia combo. It had both, but at different times. There were slums, but they were just slums. There were towers, but they were just towers. There is one level toward the end that got pretty close, but I never really got the sense that anything drastic had happened except there are cyborgs and robots now. The cars are still cars, the roads are still roads. The guns are still guns.
Where it veers off into oncoming traffic, though, is once the player starts engaging the plot McGuffin I mentioned earlier. Sarah Hill’s scene was absolutely spectacular. Jarring. I was lost in it, completely. Generic WW2 shooter with log stacks and wooden barns, cut with a heaping spoon of PCP. My only regret was that it didn’t spiral any deeper into the madness. No, actually, my only regret was they shoehorned 5 seconds of Zombie Level onto the end that turned it from “surreal” to “ugh, we’re doing nazi zombies? Really? I was having fun.”
It’s Call of Duty. I’m not dignifying this with a response until my Editor makes me… (Yes, Mitchell. Please do!)
Interacting with the world was exactly as functional as it was in every game prior – point at man, click, dead man. The movement was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay smoother than I was expecting it to be, considering the “bionic upgrades” like jetpacks and wall running. This is possibly the most obvious gameplay departure from Advanced Warfare. The jetpacks are arced and smooth, instead of finicky and clunky, and the wall-running mechanic wound up feeling really good, although I literally never used it in a gunfight.
I touched on the run and gun gameplay that I could see they really wanted to make happen earlier, but the reality is, getting shot in the face is pretty debilitating. None of the toys you’re given make you any more durable, and going BDNC with a shotgun and a gung-ho attitude lasts about… 3 seconds. You yeehaw, activate your speed boost, shoot the first robot, bash the second and then get shot in the back for having too much fun with it.
I played on the Realistic mode (one shot kills on the player) for about 20 minutes, then turned down the difficulty to Veteran or whatever so I could take a hit without losing 15 minutes of gameplay. Maybe that run-and-gun fun times is more accessible on the lower difficulties, but for me it turned into Chest High Wall Whack-A-Mole pretty quick.
So to amend my earlier statement – It’s Call of Duty. They wanted to change, they tried to change, it’s Call of Duty.
Outside the reworked perk system, and the loadouts you could customise prior to missions, occasionally you were given toys in missions like rocket launchers and turrets, but aside from boring “RAMIREZ, SHOOT THE WEAK SPOT” button mashing and the occasional Inexorable Wall of Robots to be mowed down by a cluster grenade launcher, they were neither here nor there. Mostly I just dreaded those bloody “no lock on for you, buster! Spray your entire clip into the flashing red light, THEN swap to the rocket launcher!” back and forth ‘mini bosses.’
This new generation of graphics is gorgeous. One more generation and we’re done. I mentioned earlier seeing actors climb up the near side of the Uncanny Valley, which I’ll expand on poorly here because, for a long time, they were climbing down the far side of the Uncanny Valley, shifting into that territory where they’re just creepy. Now they’re actually moving back out in the direction of reality. That’s BIZARRE. Chris Meloni, in-game, with the graphics wound up, sat next to Chris Meloni in real life, would be enough to drive a man insane. Accurate to the last rugged whisker.
The voice acting was, across the board, pretty bloody passable. Chris Meloni did a really good job, especially being called into a video game where he’s motion-captured and voice acting, instead of just being on set as a traditional actor reacting to things. Most of the minor characters were alright, especially the Egyptians. The weakest link might have been your coworker Hendricks, but that could be because I was exposed to him the most and he had the most opportunities to blow it.
I want to make a mention of the prerendered cinematics between missions (like in previous games), because some of the later ones are very nice. Unfortunately, they’re 30 second prerendered cinematics between missions so they mean literally Jack to the grand scheme of the game. But some of the later ones are very nice. Yep.
Let’s be real, guys. It’s Call of Duty. If you enjoyed Call of Duty: The Last One, and feel like you might enjoy Call of Duty: The Next One, this one’s gonna be right up your alley too. Chuck some bonus points on if you think the Zombie Mode is a good idea and you like Treyarch, drop some points off if you think Treyarch is a bunch of hacks and firing West and Zampella was the worst mistake Activision ever made.
I figure most people are gonna be in it for the multiplayer over the campaign, but the reality is that the multiplayer servers have been live for a week at time of writing and are already dead or dying. They’ve found whatever the new Rapid Fire Sprint Akimbo equivalent is, and played it into the dirt. People are bored of Call of Duty multiplayer, and no amount of gimmick suits are really gonna fix that. For whatever reason, CSGO is king of the multiplayer mountain at the moment.
If you’re in it for the story ‘cause you liked BlOps 2, I don’t feel like I missed anything important for not having played the second one, and this one didn’t feel real important either. It ends in a way that leaves open a sequel, but whether or not it’ll get one will depend on whether or not Activision is still beating the Super Suits Will Bring Us Customers drum come 2017.
Ending this review on an awkward fade out of words because there’s nothing left to say, but I feel obligated to go on, is my salute to the downright Sisyphean endurance of the Call of Duty franchise.
Yeah. See ya Christmas next year, I guess?
*scratches back of head uncomfortably*