Cart: Call Of Duty Advanced Warfare Cab: PC / PS3 / PS4 / XBox 360 / XBox One Coin: Sledgehammer Games
Have you ever played Space Ace?
See, I’m an old and ugly enough gamer to remember when Space Ace first lunched on home computers back in 1989. I was thirteen and me and the fellow nerds would gather around the TV, slack-jawed in wonder at the graphics, which were quite simply beyond anything we’d seen outside of a film. It was like a movie in motion. Scratch that. It basically was a movie in motion. But the convincing illusion was all too quickly broken when you got your first turn and realised that your role in the process revolved around nothing more than learning a limited sequence of button presses – your only reward being able to watch the next segment of the movie unfold. Sure, it was a memorable experience, but was it really a game?
The Call of Duty series has long toed said line between being game and being interactive art-form. Early titles in the series certainly leaned more towards the former, but as the developers became more ambitious and the horsepower at their fingertips more plentiful, we began to see much more of the latter. But a delicate balance remained. So even though you were bouncing across a space station in orbit or going hell for leather on a motorbike with shotgun in hand, you were still largely in control. Guided down a prescriptive path , sure – but the illusion of independence was basically intact. The overall balance in AW, however, is frankly off. Perhaps the developers thought to make AW worthy of it’s ‘advanced’ title by pushing the experience further to the right but in doing so, what they have made is something that looks great but often plays all by itself with minimal input from the player.
Case in point: I’m flying thousands of feet above Antarctica wearing an exo-suit and a jetpack. I’m chasing down an enemy plane so that I can plant some kind of awesome wing-removing laser-bomb on it before it’s lowered to earth by another cool-looking plane sporting multiple parachutes. So far, so Bond. On the first play-through it’s convincingly impressive; on the second, I realise that all I had to do was push forwards for five seconds, then press a button. Space Ace 2.0. Another sequence sees me mount a Destiny-esque hover bike with anti-grav engines. Cool. And what do I get to do for the next two minutes? Use the right stick too look around as it’s driven on auto-pilot to its destination. The disappointment is palpable.
When the game does give you the reins, it plays as smooth and as fast as you would expect COD to, but these moments are too infrequent. To add insult to injury, too little use is made of the much-trumpeted exo-suits. They feels as flimsy in terms of gameplay improvements as they look, however tough and manly the game keeps trying to tell me they are. COD has, to be blunt, finally run out of ideas.
Even a grapple-hook can’t elevate the gameplay to greater heights …
Glaringly obvious nods are made to recent cultural high points such as The Last Of Us with a level set in a deserted part of Detroit that look and feels remarkably like one of Naughty Dog’s environments. Heck, they even drafted in Troy Baker to voice AW’s protagonist. The bone-headed attempt to build a meaningful atmosphere is there then, even if the execution falls flat without any emotional peg to hang it upon. On the subject of which: whilst the plot is passable and the Kevin Spacey side-show-cut-scenes technologically impressive, you really do stop giving a shit after the opening sequence. Things start off reasonably well as you drop into Korea from low orbit in a high-tech, Willie Wonker-styled glass-ceilinged pod, but it’s all downhill from there. The attempt to create an enemy with a genuinely interesting motive falls flat on its face once again as he turns out to be nothing but another predictable manifestation of greed. It might be a routine that Spacey plays to perfection in film and TV, but here it feels as shallow and uneventful as the script.
I suppose I could venture beyond the confines of the single-player campaign, but in all honesty the thought of sharing this experience with others in co-op or having it rammed down my throat in multi-player isn’t one that I’m particularly drawn to. In fact it would be nice to see future entries split the beast that is COD into its constituent parts and develop and release them separately. Most online-only players wonder why developers waste time bolting-on a single player experience to their online drug of choice. Old farts like me that were already hitting puberty when Space Ace was made wonder why they’ve bolted on a teenage rant-fest to an already gaudy and shallow weekend distraction. It’s a paradox that Activision really should address. Had this been a relatively cheap digital release, I would probably be suitably happy with a mindless action ride.
As it stands, I feel like Jerry Bruckheimer just took a dump on my TV and left me with naught but a faulty mag-glove to wipe it off with.