A massive shock to a dying system is what I consider Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. As much as I was over Call of Duty before with whatever notions of banality and boredom were infused into the franchise by its seventh(!) iteration of the modern era, this latest release has done something significant: it has made the series interesting again.
One of the biggest and most noteworthy games ever released in recent history—and possibly ever—is without a doubt Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the first in the neo age of military shooters. Its campaign not only set a then unbelievable but now unfortunate precedent of storytelling, the multiplayer component of Modern Warfare was the first of its kind.
Well, to be more accurate, it was the best of its kind, which made it the first military shooter to gobble up mass appeal like a Pac-Man dinner. The feel of playing Modern Warfare was and still is a paragon of what it should be to play competitive multiplayer shooters online. It was quick, impactful, and had a constant potential for exciting plays.
And then that carried on for six years. It’s not exactly like Infinity Ward and Treyarch just sat back on their haunches all that time; there were certainly attempts at infusing interesting ideas. Call of Duty: Ghosts, for example, threw in map-centric killstreaks and alterable terrain/events. (It also had the Squads mode, which was novel but ultimately dispensable.) Call of Duty: Black Ops II went hard with switching from killstreaks to scorestreaks.
These integrations clung on with varying degrees of success, mostly depending on public reception as well as a failure to maintain consistency between studios as the annual rotation progressed. But even then, at its core, this was still the same Call of Duty we’ve been playing (by the god damn droves) since 2007.
It wasn’t that it played worse or anything. Far from it, the gameplay was as tight and snappy as it ever was. But after six iterations and six years of overlapping effect on the first-person concept, it became tired simply through the nature of existing. The rhythm of the game’s encounters became so deeply ingrained in the industry that there was an uncanny valley for games that skewed too close to the monolithic franchise.
We felt the granular shift between games, but it didn’t mean much. At least not to the non-professional level of players. It still came down to check the map, sprint a corner, hold down RT just before snapping in with LT, get a kill, and then get shot in the back. That can sum up the vast majority of multiplayer encounters with not just Call of Duty but—because of its influence as a quality game and an enormously successful product—mostly every other online FPS out there.
Now, however, Advanced Warfare has come along. It has, though its nutso future tech, managed to bring about meaningful change. Its heightened focus on mobility is something that I can’t see following Call of Duty games not integrating. With the universal appendage of exoskeletons, we now have the ability to double jump, air dash, dodge, and generally just be more mobile and vertical.
This is extremely important considering that without this narrative conceit of being in the year 2054, we would still be stuck playing in a largely flat, two-dimensional theatre. These additional abilities of locomotion add much needed verticality to the game. The ability and necessity to move up and down quickly and efficiently is what made the multiplayer of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves at all interesting and now the added dimension is doing the same for Advanced Warfare.
Very obviously, this is not the first game to do this in the industry, as evidenced by that first example. But even in the first-person shooter space, we have Titanfall from earlier this year that allowed much of the same to happen in addition to wall running and climbing into massive mechs. And seeing as how that actually came from the former heads of Infinity Ward (now Respawn Entertainment), this development feels all the more inevitable.
It’s not even just about the ability to move up and down in a new way but that in any particular direction, you now have an additional variation to the tired cadence. You can, at any point, change the pace of an encounter. It’s rare you die in Call of Duty totally unaware of your previously impending doom. It’s always the brief but gnawing and knowing sensation of being on the end of your current existence before you hear the snap of a near miss and the subsequent pops of your ongoing demise.
That is because, like most everything else, it is a numbers game. The probability of someone turning this particular corner with their head in this position is, let’s say, only 30%, but the probability of dinging any part of their body from this other angle is up to 60%. And we know the timing that it takes from the kerfuffle you saw on your map to your location is approximately two seconds, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, and…
But now there’s an additional wrinkle to account for. Those percentages drop drastically because now the ability for your enemy to come at you from above or below or in a quarter of the predicted time makes those numbers almost entirely worthless. And once you engage, boosting left or right or towards or away removes the now ingrained ability to make micro-tracking shots across 20-yard encounters.
It makes multiplayer far less of a knee-jerk reaction, twitch shooting (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and adds a level of variance that the series has been missing for far too long. And the fact that the longtime leader in the field of online FPS multiplayer gaming has taken the step to inject some life into its staple, stable, and flowing bloodline is an encouraging notion in the industry.
I’m not looking for more games to once more ape Call of Duty, but I am looking forward to the spread of the idea that change is good.