In this post about Call of Duty: Ghosts, I mentioned how it "must be frustrating to be a level designer meticulously [creating environments] only for it all to go unnoticed in the blur of a pair of ironsights." For Advanced Warfare, I shared in that frustration. Sledgehammer Games have painstakingly created a futuristic sci-fi world, but it's the kind of world I'd love to thoroughly explore in a game like Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It's difficult to take in the sights when there's constantly someone bellowing in your ear to keep moving. It's a shame, because the craftsmanship that went into Advanced Warfare is staggering. There's enough development diaries that showcase the amount of research that went into the near-future technologies for the game. That research wasn't just aimed at weapons and vehicles, but also at what cities like Seoul, Lagos and San Francisco might look like forty years from now. The soundscape too is excellent, which makes sense considering it comes from the same audio designer who made Dead Space so evocative.
A portion of the money that ensured Advanced Warfare's high production values went to a bit of stunt casting. Kevin Spacey plays the role of Atlas CEO Jonathan Irons and his presence is more a distraction than anything else. There's nothing wrong with his acting prowess and he manages to sell most of his lines, but his visual appearance can be off-putting. Just using his voice and slapping an unknown's face onto the character might've yielded better results. Because we're all so used to seeing Spacey in movies and television series, putting his face in a videogame can't really steer it clear of the uncanny valley. Irons looks fine when he's being quietly menacing, but whenever he shouts or emotes in any way, the artificiality becomes clear.
The Spacey niggle aside, Advanced Warfare has clearly jumped ahead in terms of visual presentation. Conversely, its gameplay model feels like several steps back. The game overindulges in the amount of scripting we've come to expect from Call of Duty and that's most apparent in the volley of futuristic gadgets the player is constantly forced to use. These are never permanent additions to the inventory, but disposable mechanics handed out piecemeal and taken away just as quickly. It's like your dad taking you to a toy store and saying: "Okay, I'm gonna select a few toys you can play with for two minutes each, but then we're leaving without buying anything. And don't wander off again on the way home or I will slap you silly!" That metaphor got away from me there.
For all intents and purposes, the gadgets serve as in-universe gates, little moments to break up the incessant shooting or briefly enhance it in some way. The grappling hook is the only one that comes with a modicum of freedom, which only happens in two specific levels designed to make use of the mobility it adds. These small sandboxes really serve to show how tired and stale the standard formula of a Call of Duty game has become.
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