A special series playthrough review – Part six, Advanced Warfare
In this part of Previous Weapon’s CoD playthrough, FBT finally has some fun.
Ignoring all the work to create a US on the backfoot, a cliff-hanger and a dog sidekick, Ghosts was dumped for a new narrative; because Activision think we’ll play anything with CoD stamped on it. If you played Black Ops III then they’re right.
I feel sorry for AW. After WaW, Black Ops II, Ghosts and Black Ops III I’m so sick of CoD I hate it already and I’ve not even installed it yet. Adding ‘warfare’ into the title seems a cynical marketing ploy at best. I have no idea what AW is, but I suspect I’ve already played it.
Holy crap AW is good. Easily the best CoD since MW2 and Black Ops I; in fact, it’s the bastard child of those two. In other words, awesome. It’s not insanely original, but where AW aces it is the story; it feels ripped from near-future front pages. It might be set 30 years on but the way tech and politics are going, this could be 3 days from now; throw in a three-dimensional villain and some insane shooter set-pieces and you’ve got a cracking game. This is the modern CoD I always wanted. Where did this come from?
It’s the 2050s and we’re Mitchell, a Marine busy repelling an attack by North Korea. His best bud sacrifices himself to save us, although we also lose an arm in the process. At the funeral, stubby Mitchell meets his bud’s dad, Irons, who is a private military contractor; since the best the US Marines can offer is a disability claim, Irons gives him a hand - attached to a robotic arm - and a role in his private army for hire. Mitchell also gets various ‘exo suits’ designed for each kind of mission which centre around private contracts and fighting an anti-tech terror group; which governments pay Irons’ company, Atlas to protect them from.
This is genuinely a great game. Like Black Ops, that’s largely down to the story, but like MW, it’s also a real roller-coaster of a shooter and the combination of dizzying fights and deep story keep you glued to it - we assume it’s the Koreans we’re fighting but no; we then think we’re actually up against a techno-terrorist but no, the real enemy is closer to home, and while it's fairly obvious, the way Atlas grows to become a dominant force is subtle and somehow enticing. Like a Blackwater-style contractor free to act outside government control, Irons ignores the Geneva convention to stop an attack, and when the terrorists are successful it’s Atlas that rolls out aid and support; they become indispensable and eventually a ‘private superpower’, playing a PR battle as much as battling with bullets; they’re friendly, persuasive and have great marketing - you can see why the world loves them more than their own governments, who happily contract them to protect their countries.
Although at times AW feels like it should have come from Ubisoft - we have a grappling hook, stealth around and use a scanner to track people - and it falls into mainstream tropes like skill trees and upgrades, but the missions are never less than insanely good - the pressure is set at MW3-level throughout and at times, the sheer spectacle is exhilarating. We have a running firefight on a freeway - on top of cars like we’re in The Matrix Reloaded; a chase in a submersible speedboat charging through the canals of ‘New Baghdad’ (rebuilt by Atlas…), while even the standard on-foot, close quarter firefights feel fresh and urgent, usually because of the goals; a standout is trying to reach a sniper who has us pinned down. Nothing new there, but it’s done in such an incredibly thrilling way. And part of that is because the future elements are nicely built-in rather than show off; Mitchell’s exo-suits have great backup tech like using a ‘wasp’ drone to cover your pals or Overdrive which gives you a kind of bullet-time edge. I feel like a tech’ed up soldier, the most dangerous dude on the battlefield, not some idiot leaping about like in BOIII.
Of course, Irons is nowhere near as altruistic as he made out and once we suspect, we get fired - and fired at. Hooking up with ‘Sentinels’, a US task force investigating Atlas as their expansion began to worry world leaders, Mitchell and absolute kick-ass side-kick llona look to expose Iron’s end-game, whatever it might be. Controlling the world is not enough?
Irons is arguably the best villain in the entire series. He goes through distinct stages all of which are way better and more refined than all of CoD’s previous gallery of rogues; a grief-driven father angry at government politics and policy; a megalomaniac who positioned himself as a world dictator; and eventually an insane man who has his own idea of how the world should be and who lives in it - he’s a Bond villain, a man with a classically twisted world view who thinks he’s doing the right thing. The scene where he is elected to be on the UN Council and promptly tells them he’s in charge - and asks what they plan on doing about it - is electrifying. How do you stop someone you hired to stop people like him?
The final third, as what’s left of the united nations declares war on Atlas - which is futile since most of the armies are now Atlas armies, is good and just keeps getting better; a fight across the Golden Gate Bridge - as it explodes; fights across sinking battleships, an assault on New Baghdad as Irons demonstrates his final plan - they're each bigger and better than most CoD endings, but then it switches to a tense corridor-shooter as Mitchell loses his Roboarm and can’t reload, forcing you to pick targets and chance which weapons to pick up - it’s fantastic, the first shooter in ages to actually leave me breathless as each stage up-stages the next. It also ends on a Die Hard nod; can’t get better than that.
The only disappointment is the semi-cliff-hanger ending, that the world is now at war with Atlas - since there’s no AWII it’s a let-down, but more of an ending than Ghosts. The next CoD release was the despicably bad BOIII which just reskins this without the story or effort. It’s horrific yet could have worked as AWII - if that game’s daft AI had been an Irons AI built into Atlas’ systems and it was them we were fighting it could have been a killer sequel. Adding insult to missed opportunities, up next was the embarrassing IW. Yet again, CoD snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. Still, AW is a brilliant, brilliant game. For sure, it recycles some elements from what’s gone before, but it’s all so cleverly done. AW proves you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just find a new way to spin it.
Instead of following up the most original and daring CoD in the last 5 years, Activision decided the space missions in Ghost were the future and claimed, this time, Infinite Warfare would be the start of a new CoD franchise. Third time lucky for a new franchise? Let’s find out.
Check out FBT’s next Call of Duty playthrough as he gets lost in space.