If you find yourself buying more games than ever before, there’s a very simple reason for this. With budgets as expensive as they are, games nowadays are designed to appeal to the largest possible audience. An easy way to achieve widespread appeal, especially when it comes to first-person shooters, is to add sci-fi elements. Indeed, this is the approach Respawn took with Titanfall by mixing military and mechs. Sledgehammer’s Advanced Warfare follows in its footsteps, with a side order of Kevin Spacey for good measure.
Spacey fills the role of Jonathan Irons, the head of private military corporation Atlas. Refusing to work with governments is one of the key elements to Atlas’ success – with bureaucracy pushed aside they’re able to get things done quickly and efficiently, even helping to turn Baghdad into the technologically advanced New Baghdad. Another reason for Atlas raking in countless contracts is that their soldiers come packing some impressive kit, including armour-coated Exo suits and grenades that automatically home-in on their hapless targets.
After a brief – and predictably explosion filled – opening, a section set inside the Atlas research facility gives the chance to observe firsthand what the Exo-suits are capable of. Skill sets vary depending on mission – a cloaking ability unlocks for stealthy sections, for instance – and all of these skills can be upgraded by meeting the criteria of four ongoing combat-based challenges. The Exo-suits are by far the biggest ‘game changer’ here, making it easier to escape danger while dishing out some serious firepower. As per previous Call of Duty games, enemies throw grenades if you cower behind cover for too long but now grenade blasts can be evaded by dashing out of harm’s way. The double-jump meanwhile not only allows access to higher plains but can be bolstered with a ground smash that knocks enemies for six. As well as EMP grenades, sonic pulse emissions and more, some missions give access to a portable shield offering temporary protection. This becomes a lifesaver when playing on the harder difficulty levels; on the standard difficulty its purpose is negligible. Still, it does look flashy.
Regrettably, style over substance is something of a recurring theme. A lot of Atlas’ tech can only be used in certain instances, and this can at times make the experience feel like a passive one. Imagine owning a high-tech Swiss Army Knife but permission has to be granted every time you wish to use it. That’s how we imagine Atlas’ highly skilled soldiers feel. Magnetic gloves allow buildings to be scaled but can only be used when prompted, while a rather nifty tool that bestows X-Ray vision has its use restricted to a single non-interactive set-piece. This is where Call of Duty would benefit from taking inspiration from the likes of Far Cry 3, Deus Ex and Dishonored. These games give you the tools and let you use them as you please. Here it’s always when instructed. Even stock arsenal such as mines have to be planted in highlighted areas. As such, the majority of Advance Warfare’s highlights are little more than flashy set-pieces which you have no control over.