There is a difference between innovation and invention. Both of them are good things, I suppose — unless you’re in Jurassic Park — but they are aiming to achieve two different things. Destiny was a game that angled towards invention. It tried to create something new: a persistent multiplayer sci-fi shooter. It excelled in some places (the gameplay mechanics) and fell short in others (the storytelling). But that happens with invention: occasionally, one’s reach can exceed one’s grasp.
With innovation, you are trying to make something better. Not reinvent the wheel, just make the best wheel you can. That’s what Sledgehammer Games, the team who Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, was after — taking the shooter you’ve been playing for years, bringing it into the shop, and doing a shit-ton of body, chassis and suspension work.
Advanced Warfare, as the title implies, takes place in a future about 40 years from now. And in this future, military hardware has gotten, frankly, kind of insane — and the chief manifestation of that insanity is the exo-suit: a powered armature that makes the player capable of punching through walls, boost-jumping over walls, grappling up mountainsides and making a wonderful soufflé.
But everything else is pretty much like everything you’ve ever done before in a shooter, but future-y. You have grenades, but the grenades are customizable; they can highlight all the hostiles in a room, home in on an enemy, be a flashbang or an EMP. You have guns, but some of them shoot laser beams. You can drive a motorcycle or a tank, but they’re hover-cycles or hover-tanks. The aircraft and jet-skis are still planes and wee boats. As it ever was, but glowy.
If you play shooters anything like how I play shooters, you probably won’t use half of the features you’ve got. Why toss a flashbang when you’ve got rifles that can highlight enemies in the room and shoot them through walls? One of the exo-suit loadouts has a “sonics” feature that I never used once and still don’t really know what it does. You’ve got a “stim” capability, which apparently juices you up to endure more damage…or you could just take cover. More often than not, a bullet will beat a bell or a whistle.
You know how you used to be able to judge the quality of a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie by the excuse they had for his accent? (Lionheart takes it, by the way: French Foreign Legion deserter FTW.) Call of Duty campaigns can be judged on the pretext by which you are getting involved in what can only be described as World War III. Here, it kicks off with North Korea invading South Korea — was bound to happen. The action then revolves around a terrorist named Hades who wants to do those things that terrorists do — blow shit up and make threatening videos.
You play as Jack Mitchell, a Marine who loses an arm in North Korea who then finds purpose and prosthesis in the employ of Atlas, a giant multi-national company run by Jonathan Irons (played with oily relish by Kevin Spacey), which also has the world’s largest standing military. Atlas wants to bring Hades down and they’ve got the tools and the talent to get the job done.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the thing you think is gonna happen after playing the campaign for an hour…happens. The way you think it’s gonna end is pretty much how it ends. But along the way, you will travel the world — Greece, San Francisco, New Baghdad, the Arctic, Detroit — and kill lots of people in pretty entertaining ways. The voice acting is dead on, with Spacey, Troy Baker and Gideon Emery doing excellent work. The game looks as good as a next-gen game should look and the level design is outstanding — you’re on rails, but you don’t care.
(I’ve only dabbled in the multiplayer, but if that’s your bag, methinks you won’t be disappointed. People never seem to be by CoD games.)
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare doesn’t advance the art of video game warfare. It refines it. And there is not a damned thing wrong with that.
Marc Bernardin is the Deputy Editor of Playboy.com. It pleases him to no end that he has to play games like this “for work.”