I love video games, but it’s rare for me to play them right when they are first released. Normally it takes me a somewhere from a few months to a few years to get around to playing to a game. I’ve got a considerable backlog of games that I’ve been meaning to play and it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve had the time to start chipping away at the list. With that in mind, I’ve created a new series of posts called Late to the Party, wherein I discuss the games that came out in the preceding years that I’m finally getting around to experiencing. Today’s entry in the series is Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.

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Before we get started, there are a number of things I need to mention. First, I actually would have had this commentary done sooner, but I got a bad disc from Gamefly for this game and thus had to wait for a replacement. Second, as always with Call of Duty games, I completely skipped the multiplayer to focus solely on the singleplayer campaign, and there will be spoilers for the story in this commentary. Also, I should note that, for those who somehow don’t know, Call of Duty games have a very high body count, so in the videos below you’re going to see me shoot a whole lot of people. Consider this your fair warning if that sort of thing isn’t your style. Lastly, and related to the previous point, I captured the videos below using the PlayStation 4’s built-in game DVR, which records at 30 frames per second. Call of Duty games are fast and run naturally at 60 frames per second, so to anyone who’s played them the videos will look slightly off, and the reason for that is because of how I recorded them.

Opening cutscene and first mission

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare takes place about 40 years in the future. You play as Mitchell, who at the start of the game is a Marine that is being dropped into Seoul, South Korea, along with his friend Will, to help repel a North Korean invasion. Fighting their way through Seoul, Mitchell and Will eventually reach their target, a North Korean missile launcher, and destroy it, but Will is killed in the blast and Mitchell loses his left arm. After returning to the United States, Mitchell is met by Jonathan Irons, Will’s father, who offers him a job at Atlas, a private military corporation that Irons owns. Receiving an advanced prosthetic arm and Atlas’ state of the art exosuit technology, Mitchell becomes one of Atlas’ premier operatives and helps expand its influence around the world. After a group called the KVA carries out a major worldwide terrorist attack, Atlas rises to become the world’s largest corporation, providing security and other services to much of the planet. Several years later, Mitchell’s team first manages to capture one of the KVA’s top lieutenants, and later they successfully kill Hades, the KVA’s mysterious leader. But just when it looks like everything is right in the world, Mitchell learns that Irons actually knew about the terrorist attacks from years ago and let them happen so that Atlas could step into the chaos and become the corporate colossus that it did. Mitchell is detained by Irons, but is rescued by his old Marine Corp sergeant, who is now part of an international organization called Sentinel. With nowhere else to go, Mitchell joins Sentinel and helps them uncover Irons’ plot to develop a biological weapon that can target very specific groups of people with a 100% fatality rate. Although Sentinel destroys a plant where the weapon is being produced, it soon becomes clear that Irons is planning a strike on the United States, the only major country not using Atlas’ services. Atlas units assault San Francisco and destroy the Golden Gate Bridge, sinking several Navy ships and bottling up an American fleet in the bay. Mitchell and Sentinel join an all-out assault by American forces on Atlas’ headquarters, but Irons releases his bioweapon and kills much of the attacking forces. Mitchell is captured but manages to escape, and then mounts a daring raid on the Atlas command center, where he confronts Irons and then, following a struggle, he severs his prosthetic arm so that Irons falls to his presumed death.

Hostage rescue in Lagos

The story of Advanced Warfare is fairly good, for a Call of Duty game, and a lot of that comes down to the game’s villain, Jonathan Irons, who is played by Kevin Spacey. Hollywood actors have been lending their voices to video games for years, but Kevin Spacey supplied his voice, physical likeness, and motion-capture performance, meaning that Kevin Spacey does not merely voice Jonathan Irons, but that Kevin Spacey is Jonathan Irons. I’m not sure how anyone talked such a big-name actor like Kevin Spacey into being in a Call of Duty game, but it paid off because Kevin Spacey brought his full acting chops to the role of Jonathan Irons. In the game, Irons is a villain who genuinely believes he’s making the hard but necessary decisions that others won’t make. His campaign to change the world kicked into high gear after the tragic, and his mind needless, death of his son, and in his own words he is “fighting against cowardice and stupidity.” Though his methods are questionable, when he makes his case for what he’s doing there’s an undeniable charisma to every word he speaks. In so many ways Irons is actually right about the world’s problems and Atlas does a lot of good in the places where it operates, but in the end same willingness to take hard measures that brought him to power also led to his fall from grace. Jonathan Irons is without a doubt the best villain of all the Call of Duty games I’ve played (which at the moment is Call of Duty 4 through this one) and I’d be impressed if anyone else every tops Kevin Spacey’s performance in a Call of Duty Game.

Laser Rifles!

There’s been an undeniable similarity between all the Call of Duty games, in terms of gameplay, since Call of Duty 4 in 2007, but Advanced Warfare shakes up the formula with addition of exosuits and a few other futuristic technologies. The exosuits not only allow you to jump over buses and move very heavy objects, but they also give you the ability to do things like emit a disorienting sonic pulse, deploy a ballistic shield, and go into slow-motion. There is a battery system that limits the number of times you can perform certain exosuit abilities, but even with that constraint the exosuit fundamentally changed the way I played the game by opening up previously unavailable options. Now I could jump up to a balcony for a better shot, rip off a car door to use as a shield, or quickly dodge to the side to get out of the line of fire. The exosuit also does one very fun thing (at least for me) in that when you melee an enemy, instead of knifing them like past games, you punch them really hard. Generally speaking, it’s better to shoot an enemy than take the risk of trying to get close to them for a melee, but sending an enemy flying several yards through the air was undeniably satisfying and while playing through the game I kept a lookout for melee opportunities. Supplementing the exosuit’s abilities is a basic leveling-up system whereby performing specific actions, such as getting headshot and finding intel, earn experience points. These points can be used to improve Mitchell’s attributes, including health, reload speed, and the number grenades that can be carried. Speaking of grenades, in previous Call of Duty games you would normally carry one type of tactical grenade and a basic lethal grenade, but in Advanced Warfare your tactical grenade is three grenades in one. Before throwing your tactical grenade you can set it to mark enemies, deploy a localized EMP, or stun enemies with a flash-bang. As for your lethal grenade, while it still has the same basic function as before, (namely, exploding) it will now hover in the air for a second before flying off in the direction you aimed it and can potentially track targets.

Operating the WASP

Whereas Call of Duty: Ghosts still looked much like a PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 game, Advanced Warfare has taken a step forward graphically and looks much more like it belongs in the PlayStation 4/Xbox One generation. Environments, character models, vehicles, and everything else are noticeably more detailed and better textured than in Ghosts and demonstrate that the Call of Duty game engine still has legs and likely hasn’t yet hit the upper limit of what it can do. A special commendation also needs to be made for the cutscenes, which feature some truly outstanding facial animation and also give a little boost to the storytelling by supplying a few character moments in-between missions. Advanced Warfare could have taken the normal Call of Duty approach of only doing glorified mission briefings between story chapters, and to be sure those mission briefings are still in Advanced Warfare, but the fact at the developer dished out the time, money, and resources for these cutscenes demonstrates a greater commitment to narrative than we’ve seen in some of the preceding Call of Duty games.

Fighting on the Golden Gate Bridge

As for audio, there’s nothing new to say about Advanced Warfare, which is a compliment rather than a criticism. The Call of Duty games have a tradition of great sound production and it certainly continues in Advanced Warfare. Whether you’re shooting a gun, using your exosuit’s abilities, or operating a drone, Advanced Warfare’s audio is a delight for the ears.

Setting up an ambush below the surface of Antarctica

Advanced Warfare, of course, is not flawless, and I could give a several of examples of where the game falls a little short, but there are two things that keep coming to mind. First, at one point in the game I encountered a glitch with the standard warning that appears on the screen if you stray too far from the mission area. Normally this warning disappears once you go back to the mission area, but in my case it was stuck on the screen and disabled my crosshairs when I wasn’t in ADS. Restarting the checkpoint and letting myself get killed didn’t fix the problem, so I had to exit to the main menu and restart the whole mission. Second, with regards to the story, while there’s certainly plot holes you can pick out, for me the one thing that really bugged me was how the character Joker, who is part of Mitchel’s squad at Atlas, completely disappears after Mitchel escapes Atlas. I kept waiting for Joker to come back and I thought he was going to show up again when one of Mitchel’s other former teammates, Gideon, also defects from Atlas, but he remained MIA through the rest of the game. Joker was minor character, so this isn’t that big of a deal, but I always wondered what happened to him.

Assaulting Atlas HQ

If you read my commentary on Call of Duty: Ghosts, you know I liked that Call of Duty game and it’s a fair at the end here to ask how I think Advanced Warfare compares to it. I’ve been thinking this one over, and though I personally liked the story of Ghosts a bit more, as a whole, Advanced Warfare is the better game. Jonathan Irons is certainly a much better villain than Rourke, and Advanced Warfare both plays and looks better than Ghosts, though Ghosts does have Riley, my favorite German Shepherd in any video game. If you like Call of Duty games or similar first-person shooters you can’t go wrong with either, but if you only have time to play one of them then I would suggest going with Advanced Warfare.

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