Friday, November 7, 2014

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Multiplayer

[Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Sledgehammer Games, Activision, 2014]

Wow, that's a long name! 

No wonder people turn to acronyms when talking about most games these days. The names are getting ridiculously long. CoD:AW, tES:S, WoW:WtoLK, FH2, etc. We've even gotten so lazy, or game type titles have gotten so long, that we use acronyms to describe game types like FPS, MMORPG, TPS, and whatever else you can think of. None of this really has much to do with the game itself, it's just an observation I made when I realized it took five seconds every time I typed or spoke the name of this game. It's the same way with movies. The Avengers: Age of Ultron? Seriously? Is that necessary? Wouldn't Avengers 2 suffice? I guess I'm showing my age here by complaining about acronyms, aren't I? I sound like my Grandpa. 


What are you, like forty?

I guess I'm also a hypocrite because I love GRRM's SoIaF:aSoS. Fortunately for me, gaming keeps me young. Without it I'm afraid I'd just be sitting at home, listening to old grunge and indie rock albums from the 90s, complaining about how much better things used to be. Instead, I've managed to retain my sense of childlike wonder as each new generation of console steps up the graphics game and polishes titles to a shiny, impressive state of jaw-dropping wonder. While I've turned into something of a music snob, video games continue to amaze me, and Advanced Warfare is no exception.


Are you ever going to talk about the actual game? 

Yes, eventually. I started writing this week before I had tried out all the multiplayer game types, so that's the place from which those loosely-related opening paragraphs came. I guess I should get to the actual title at some point, though, shouldn't I? Let's start out with the graphics. While Titanfall, Forza Horizon 2, and Destiny have impressive graphics, this is the first game I've played on a next-gen console that really felt like it was starting to maximize the abilities of the console. Take a look at a side-by-side comparison of CoD: Ghosts vs. Advanced Warfare. Even though they're both from an Xbox One, the improvements are starkly evident. 





While the first is an impressive facial re-creation, the second could easily be mistaken for a scene from House of Cards. That's probably due to the programmers using the same facial re-creation technology that James Cameron is using in the second Avatar film. In fact, when I first started the campaign I literally thought that they were using video for the cutscene instead of computer-generated imagery. The facial creases, shadowing, hair, and eyes are the closest thing to actual high definition video that I have ever seen in a game. That fact made the multiplayer take a while to get used to when I first started. Game mechanics aside, and they are deep, the visuals made it so I often found myself so engrossed in the environment that my character ended up suffering the consequences by paying for it with his or her life because I was busy just staring in amazement at the detail in the surrounding area. 

Graphic distractions


The gameplay is some of the most fast-paced I've ever encountered. Some games cause a frantic panic response by simply overwhelming you with an unbeatable number of enemies. While Advanced Warfare has Exo Survival, a style of game that is reminiscent of Gears of War's Horde mode where wave after wave of increasingly large and difficult enemies assault your four-man team, it doesn't rely on such tactics to ratchet up your stress level in the normal multiplayer modes. Instead, it uses a brand-new type of maneuvering to take the game's speed up a notch (or three) over previous iterations of Call of Duty and other similar titles. It takes quite a bit of getting used to, and although I'm not some sort of special forces killing machine, I have played every Call of Duty title since 2, Halos 2-Reach, Titanfall, and (I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit) well over 100 hours of Crucible in Destiny, so I know my way around a multiplayer controller scheme. It's rare that I have to go into an options menu and check out the button scheme in order to figure out how to manipulate a game's protagonist. I can do that on my own 99% of the time. However, I've found myself returning to the Options menu repeatedly because there are so many facets to the character controls that keeping them straight requires more instant recall than any other game I've come across. 


Much of this difficulty is due to the addition of two gameplay mechanics: Exo Abilities and Boost/Dodge jumps. These abilities are both thanks to your Exoskelaton, a sort of super-soldier suit that allows not only special powers like cloaking and extremely fast movement, but also mid-air directional changes that would make Superman jealous. Boost jumps have been oft-maligned as a simple copy of the mechanic in the wildly successful Titanfall title of earlier this year. Although they're probably a bit too similar for me to completely chalk it up to coincidence and ignore the likelihood that Sledgehammer Games didn't, at the very least, have the nearly 1 billion units that the previous blockbuster title's release had cleared in under a month at the forefront of their consciousness when making some of their gameplay mechanic decisions. However, there are some distinct differences between the two. 



First and foremost, Titanfall's boost is about three times more powerful. The boost in Advanced Warfare only adds about six feet to your original jump, whereas the one in Titanfall takes you nearly thirty feet into the air. The other main difference is that there's a secondary boost (called a "dodge") in Call of Duty. It won't add to your altitude, but you can change direction in mid-air. It offers a shorter trajectory correction that pushes you forward, backward, right, or left. This little option has saved my bacon a bunch of times already, not to mention that the two boosts have sped up the overall gameplay in CoD multiplayer considerably. Call of Duty's multiplayers were already a bit above my head in terms of the number of people playing who seem to not only have no need of sleep, but no need of a job, family, or any of the other normal life obligations that should keep any average person from playing the game 24/7. I may not be the best gamer in the world, but my 44,095-point Xbox Live gamer score belies the fact that I'm, at the bare minimum, a competent player. And yet these guys just annihilate me like I'm a blind, deaf, and dumb 2-year-old with no thumbs. It's embarrassing, to be entirely honest. 


The Exo Abilities are basically just bonus effects that slightly aid your character in several different ways. The shield has been pretty useless for me so far. You have to have it aimed directly at an opponent for it to stop their fire, and I have enough trouble just pointing my laser-sighter machine gun at people. I can't be bothered to move a riot shield around 120 degrees to try in vain to save my worthless life. By the time I get it anywhere near the path of the bullets, I'm already dead. Overclock allows you to run at a heightened rate of speed. It's somewhat useful except for the fact that a simple jump and secondary boost does a better job of moving you along and it is more effective at moving you out of the firing line in the process. Exo Stim is supposed to give your character extra health points, but if it does they aren't enough to keep me from inevitable massacre. I'd need at least two or three of these at a time to make a noticeable difference in my kill/death ratio. The cloak is actually fairly useful at distance, but if an enemy is anywhere near you, you just look like translucent rainbow jelly. Exo Mute silences your movements, thereby making you harder to spot on enemy radar. I have yet to open up the Hover, Ping, or Trophy System Exo Abilities, but it's pretty obvious that Hover allows you to remain in the air for a longer period. Ping shows enemy Exo movement like Stim and Hover. The Trophy System is a passive aid that destroys up to two enemy projectiles when they come in close proximity to your character. 


I can't emphasize enough the speed of this game. I've probably been dying every 5-10 seconds on average. That's a bit much, even for an older gentleman like myself. The leaders who come in first place are still posting 10-15 deaths per five-minute match. Everything happens so fast compared to even the quickest of online multiplayers. On the one hand, it's a bit aggravating. On the other, it keeps you on your toes and you certainly don't get bored easily. The addition of the Boost/Dodge abilities can keep you alive when you would have easily been dogmeat in previous iterations of CoD, when used correctly. The Exo Abilities, while not the overpowering advantage that a Titan gives you over a Pilot, add just enough of an edge to help you eek out an extra kill here and there. They did a fantastic job of adding a plethora of new mechanics without completely changing up the basic way the game is played. While Titanfall and Destiny felt like totally new ways to go about the online multiplayer experience, there's something familiar about Advanced Warfare. It's like they just gave Modern Warfare 3 a healthy dose of steroids and some technological doo-dads and sent it on its way. It is certainly quicker and more stressful than any of the previous Modern Warfare games, but it isn't a complete deviation from the formula that has proven so successful over the years. I guess what I'm trying to say is they did just enough tinkering to make it feel fresh without going overboard and turning it into a completely different game. I, for one, am pleased with the outcome. 

Multiplayer Modes


First, let me get my complaints out of the way so we can get to the good stuff. I only have one strong one, and that is the elimination of Squad Modes. I was so glad when Ghosts came up with this co-operative multiplayer mode that allowed you to take on artificial intelligence with your fellow gamers rather than always facing down enemies that seemed to have been trained by R. Lee Ermey himself. I enjoyed being more evenly matched against my foes rather than feeling like I did when I was 12 and that dude who always played as Guile in Street Fighter 2 showed up at the arcade because I knew I wouldn't be winning any more matches after that. Without Squad Mode, it seems like there's always a "Ranger98" or "Seal85" who is obviously current or recently retired special forces member there to take me out from some ridiculously long distance with a shot I couldn't make by accident if I had 100 tries at it. 


Okay, enough complaining. The ability to customize your characters for your specific style of play is unprecedented. You have 13 points to spend on various perks any way you see fit. You can choose to go the Rennaissance Man route like I did and try to get a little of everything, or you can focus solely on your weapons or Exo powers and really max them out. This really is a multiplayer gamer's dream year's cap of perfection so I'll stop ruining it by acting like a baby because I suck at the stuff. Here are the offerings in Advanced Warfare

Same old, same old


Many a CoD veteran will be glad to see that lots of their old favorites have returned to the multiplayer mode list. Standards like Team Deathmatch, Domination, Kill Confirmed, Search and Rescue, and Capture the Flag are back and better than ever. For the uninitiated, Domination requires you to capture and hold one of three points around the map for as long as you can. The team that holds the most points the longest wins. Kill confirmed requires you to pick up a pair of dog tags that appears where a recently dispatched enemy met his or her untimely end. Grab the tags and you will get the full 100 points of XP gained from a normal kill in other games. Allow a member from the other team to beat you to the tags and you only get half the points a kill would normally bring. Search and Rescue is similar except for the not-so-minor detail that if you happen to be the unlucky chump that gets dispatched, you'd better pray one of your teammates gets to your tags first or you'll be watching the rest of the round from the sidelines. I didn't especially care for this game mode because, as I'm sure you've guessed, I spent a LOT of time in "Spectator Mode," watching other gamers run around the map while my sad ghost was powerless to do a thing. Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch are pretty self-explanatory. If you don't know what they are by now, I'm afraid there's nothing I can do for you except hope your mom lets you out of the basement sometime this decade. 

New and unique

Although Advanced Warfare contained a majority of game modes that have been tried and true in everything from Halo 2 to the first Modern Warfare, it was some new twists on old modes and other never-before-seen game types that make this Call of Duty look and feel like something you haven't seen a dozen times before. 

Hardpoint


Although Hardpoint isn't a new game mode, the way it's handled is somewhat of a change from the traditional multiplayer game. As in Domination, your team is required to capture and hold a specific spot or "hardpoint" on the map. However, instead of three there is only a single spot and it is constantly moving. In my short experience with the game, I'd say the hardpoint makes at least five moves throughout the 5-7 minute long game. You can have your entire team strategically placed around a solidly held hardpoint, only to have it disappear and return somewhere completely across the map. This manages to keep complete dominance from occurring as can often happen with 2 of the 3 zones of control in Domination. This seemingly small and obvious shift in the pattern of play makes all the difference in this being just another retread and it being a new and exciting way to approach the game's multiplayer. 

Uplink


This is where the game really shines, in this writer's humble opinion. Among the new types of multiplayer mode is a highly enjoyable game titled Uplink. It's essentially Capture the Flag with some futuristic and sport-like twists in the game mechanic. One of your team members has to grab a module and carry it across the map to a satellite uplink module. It's kind of like a cross between rugby and football with lots of bullets thrown in for good measure. This was clearly the biggest change in the multiplayer game modes and felt at times like more of a sports game than an FPS competition. Of course, the other team is constantly trying to take out your ball carrier with heavy machine guns and energy weapons, but other than that it had all the makings of some sort of future-ball sport match.  

Momentum



I'll be honest. I didn't enjoy this game mode as much as many of the others. It is also similar to Capture the Flag, but in it there are multiple flags and your team gains momentum (and XP) the more flags you carry to their final destination. The problem that I had with it was that I seemed to die with more frequency in this mode than any other, for some reason. I'm guessing it was the close proximity of both teams to the flag points that made that happen, but that's a regular component in most of the games where something needs to be captured and held or delivered. It also could have been that this was the final game mode I attempted and it was after midnight, so all of the kids had gone to bed and the only players that were left online were the hardcores who spend 40-50 hours per week at one online multiplayer title or another. Whatever the reason, I had trouble lasting more than five seconds with any given life and the constancy of my demise was rather frustrating. That said, the idea behind Momentum is a good one and I will definitely be giving it another chance during the light of day when the overall player skill level dips a bit more with a higher population of average FPS gamers like myself online. 

Maps




So far, Advanced Warfare is limited to four maps in its multiplayer modes, but what maps! They're large, contain a plethora of unique elements like sniping spots and close quarters combat areas, and they had sometimes as many as four or five levels on which battle takes place. With the addition of the Exoskelaton suits and their aid in three-dimensional movement, this felt every bit as widely traversable an environment as Titanfall and its parkour-like wall-running warriors. While none of the maps were quite as big as the ones in that other jet-pack toting multiplayer hit, they never felt small or confined due to the wide array of vertically varied areas that you were able to traverse. As I learn the maps more closely, as is inevitable in all multiplayers, they could begin to feel a bit more confining and limited, but in my first few days with the game I never felt like I'd run out of places to go. As a matter of fact, I only ran into the "end" of a map on a few occasions, and even then there were always at least two or three choices of where to head next so I never felt cornered in by limitations in the environment. 


 A brief summation for the gamer nation

I'll admit, I was skeptical about this game when I picked it up. I was actually planning to review Shadow of Mordor this week but it turned out to be too long to finish (as many RPGs do), so I made the decision on-the-fly to cover the multiplayer aspects of the latest in this, the most popular war simulating FPS in history. Looking back on that decision, I have no regrets. I had enough time to give each game mode its due without selling any of them short on time and I enjoyed the heck out of the experience, to boot! This isn't just the next Call of Duty game. It's a radical shift in how the franchise looks at its most popular of offerings, the multiplayer modes, and Sledgehammer's first foray into the CoD universe has most definitely thrown down the gauntlet to Treyarch and Infiniti Ward, the other two companies in Activision's new three-year development cycle for the series. I look forward to many more hours enjoying this title's unique game modes, including its fascinating take on the not-so-traditional war multiplayer.


The Math

Objective Score: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 for taking some real chances in the way they approached what has become a somewhat formulaic and predictable gaming format with only cosmetic changes being made to what was essentially the same game. Now let's hope they've taken the same approach to the campaign!

Penalties: -1 for all the dying. I mean, come on, every 5-10 seconds? I know I'm not a multiplayer super-hero who spent time in the special forces and uses actual military tactics in the game, but that's still a pretty excessive rate of frequency of death, and I'm not exactly a noob at this sort of thing, either. 

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10. Very high quality. A standout in its category. 

See our scoring system here.  

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