June 17, 2014 by Vinnie Leduc
Last month, Oscar winner Kevin Spacey helped announce that the era of modern warfare was officially over in the reveal trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the eleventh flagship video game of publisher Activision’s mega-blockbuster FPS franchise.
This week at E3 2014, after unveiling some campaign gameplay footage at Microsoft’s Media Briefing event, Activision and developer Sledgehammer Games gave us another look at Advanced Warfare behind closed doors. This time we were treated to a half-hour presentation that consisted of abridged playthroughs of two new campaign levels.
Bret Robbins, Sledgehammer’s creative director for Modern Warfare 3 as well as this upcoming Call of Duty adventure, reminded us that our session was primarily a showcase of the future soldier’s array of weapons and abilities, many of which are almost too unfair if you’re the enemy (and hence delightfully fun for the player). I’m sure as awesome as these guns and gadgets are, multiplayer will nevertheless be very balanced. However, we only got to see single-player gameplay, which is fine because personally I enjoy the underrated CoD campaigns more.
Before the gameplay demo officially begins, Sergeant Cormack breaks the fourth wall in a little tongue-in-cheek introduction. He leans in toward the camera for a close-up of his mug and makes it a point to mention intricate facial details, such as the dilation of his pupils. This was likely to directly address critics who’ve often complained that the annual progress in the visuals department of each CoD iteration is marginal at best.
While I must admit that the graphics of the series have improved overall here, particularly the photorealistic fire effects, it remains to be seen whether gamers will appreciate any significant step forward as a result of Advanced Warfare using the same facial animation technology and set as the Avatar sequels. For the past decade, the franchise has never looked bad per se, but it’s never looked breakthrough either and has usually been playing some catch-up when compared to other games.
(Warning: spoilers ahead!) The first campaign mission we’re shown is entitled “Collapse.” You can guess why soon enough. As a soldier named Mitchell, the player starts in an armored vehicle in the southern tip of Marin County just north of San Francisco. Mitchell is chasing some targets driving south on the 101 freeway toward the Golden Gate Bridge that separates the bay from the Pacific Ocean and leads straight into the city, which looks magnificent here by the way.
Once Mitchell reaches the famous suspension bridge, all hell breaks loose as enemy forces launch a pandemonium-triggering attack. The sequence that follows had so far only been briefly teased in trailers. What gamers will experience for themselves in “Collapse” is perhaps even more exhilarating than the cinematic Golden Gate action scenes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and last month’s Godzilla remake.
Mitchell’s vehicle flips upside down, so he must proceed by foot. In Advanced Warfare, “by foot” includes whatever bio-robotic enhancements the future soldier is equipped with. Increased strength allows Mitchell to rip the driver’s seat door off an abandoned sedan to use as a shield against a swarm of flying drones. Jump boosters let him gain vantage points on top of buses to rain death from above. He can even slow down time temporarily.
Showing off more of Mitchell’s arsenal, the Sledgehammer dev toggles between different grenade functions and selects “THREAT.” This tactical option highlights all enemies in a definitive red silhouette in the grenade’s range, including those behind cover. Well, that looks to be extremely useful. Pinned down and can’t get those guys hiding or camping out of sight? Mitchell can use a “SMART” grenade that floats above enemies for a moment before homing in for the kill. Other grenade options that could be chosen were “EMP” and “CONTACT.”
Eventually, the sensational “Collapse” mission comes to an end when a suspicious van releases a bunch of drones that attach themselves to the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. They go bang, of course, and the devastation they bring about is jaw-dropping. Call of Duty campaigns are known as much for their epic destruction of international landmarks as their relatively quiet stealth missions, so we were pleased to witness the playthrough of one such level next.
The second part of the demonstration featured Mitchell sneaking through a Bulgarian forest and infiltrating an enemy bio lab. This involved heavy use of cloaking throughout the level, including one instance where he tiptoed past some soldiers walking in powered exoskeletons (alas, this time there would be no sweet mech action à la Edge of Tomorrow). At various parts of the base, the enemy did have a cloak-negating sensor, but Mitchell either timed his movements around them or shot them out entirely.
The mission and demo concluded with Mitchell using a prototype hovertank to escape the base. This is when things get ridiculously chaotic and wonderfully Rambo-esque as he seems to take on an entire army that includes infinite spawns of troops, tanks, and choppers. Mitchell uses the hovertank’s powerful primary cannon to blast away any vehicles, buzzing machine gun to turn any infantry into dust, and very useful EMP cannon to down any birds. It’s just so unfair, yet so awesome.
Many times throughout the half-hour I wondered at what points were actual gameplay ending and cutscenes beginning. This is testimony to the smooth overall campaign presentation, which already looks fantastic and sounds excellent. I walked away very satisfied, but it seems like Advanced Warfare won’t be the first CoD to truly revolutionize a franchise some gamers are tired of. What we do know though is that at the very least, it’ll offer the type of explosive and thrilling campaign that fans have loved, along with some new features and toys they can play with.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is set for release on November 4, 2014.