Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Review: Call of Duty - Advanced Warfare (PS4)

In my many years away from computer games, I'd somehow missed the rise of the Call of Duty series. A victim of Amazon's "Prime Day", I dutifully bought a copy of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare when it appeared to be really cheap. The series has a reputation for having short single-player campaigns, but at half-price, I figured I could resell the disk if I didn't enjoy the multiplayer. (I expect not to play the multi-player game as I'd probably get slaughtered, and as someone who frequently gets interrupted in the middle of a game, I'd probably annoy all the other players by having to bail in the middle of a session)

I will say that I'm impressed. Much like Killzone 3, it's a surprisingly fun and linear first person shooter. But the difficulty setting (especially at "easy") is such that even I could play it through. What's particularly fun is that much as you could imagine it would be, you don't have to kill every enemy while progressing through a level to proceed. The game will proceed anyway if you simply charge forward. In the case of several of the set pieces, the game runs as though it were a Disneyland ride, rolling along at a breakneck pace while you do your best to nail as many enemies as possible, dodge obstacles, or simply keep up.

And just as with the Uncharted series or Killzone, you're never alone: you always have an NPC to guide you. This serves two purposes: in many cases, the NPC's there to tell you where you go. Secondly, the NPC serves as a marker, following you in case of assault, and even occasionally giving you a chance to assist. Unlike certain other games, the NPCs never nag at you, and only occasionally give you orders.

The story is thin, an excuseveneer to have fun. But boy, not having played one of these before, they're incredibly fun. Each segment of the single player campaign is unique, with set pieces that are never repeated in others. Whether it's night vision goggles, mute charges, or some new high tech warfare gadget, you're never given a chance to get sick and tired of the "oh wow" high tech special effects. The price of this of course, is player agency: you get one chance to drive the giant robot, one chance to drive a tank, one chance to drive the hoverbike, but you will never find one to hop on and use where the game designers have not placed it front and center (and an unavoidable part of the story). Nevertheless, when you do get the chance, you'll get a grin on your face and enjoy the heck out of it, because the entire set-piece is designed around the capabilities of your new toy. If this is part of the formula of the Call of Duty series, I can see why people line up for a chance to throw $60 every year to take part in the franchise: it's a heck of a lot more fun than most movies.

Technically, the game's a masterpiece as well. There's slight stuttering in scenes where you're in close quarters with your comrades, but never in combat. Once you're in combat, the game runs (on my PS4 at least) at a full 60fps, and looks gorgeous. The cut-scenes look like they're from a high-budget Hollywood action movie, and the in-game graphics aren't a lot worse. The set pieces have a few annoying QTEs, but no worse than any of the Uncharted games.

I will admit that I bought Wolfenstein: The New Order at half the price I paid for this, but even on the easiest difficulty level I'd get stuck. By contrast, Call of Duty was compellingly playable, had a much lighter story, and I never cared that I didn't find a single piece of Intel that was supposedly scattered throughout the levels of the single-player game: I got too engrossed and caught up in the situation presented, and never gave a thought to rooting around for hidden rewards when I could be off in another fire-fight with my squad-mates.

That speaks volumes as to how playable and how much fun the latest Call of Duty installment is. Wolfenstein, by the way, got much better reviews (and is a dedicated single player game to boot), but I suspect you'd have to be much more jaded (and competent) a FPS player than I am to pass up Call of Duty over the Wolfenstein series.


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