The last thing you’d expect to be able to compare Call of Duty to is Mario, and it says much for what Advanced Warfare does to disrupt the series’ well-worn ideas that such a comparison is perfectly valid. For the first time in COD’s 11-year history you can leap into the air and – much like the Italian plumber – kill an enemy by stomping on his head.
It’s all thanks to one simple addition. Call of Duty has always taken its cues from near-future tech, but you’ll have seen exo-skeletons in sci-fi movies like Elysium and Edge of Tomorrow. These suits all but give your soldier superhuman abilities, allowing you to dodge, juke and double-jump with empowering ease. You can’t quite leap tall buildings in a single bound, but you might be able to crash through a second-floor window and melee attack a camping sniper.
To some, that might well sound rather a lot like controlling a Pilot in Titanfall – though let’s not forget what a debt Respawn’s debut owes to Call of Duty in the first place. And yet Call of Duty’s execution feels subtly different – and it goes further, too.
It begins with a jump. After the jump, you can hit the same button to grab some extra air via a jet-powered boost. But that’s not the end of it. After the jump, you can hit boost again to shift to either side, push forwards through the air, or even zoom backwards. Or you can use it to jump on people’s heads. The reverse leap is a particular favourite, allowing you to instantly shift from pursued to pursuer as you land behind the soldier on your tail – if only because it’s reminiscent of Amiga classic Turrican’s ‘curly muffin’ manoeuvre.
“The exo suit is slick, responsive and delightfully empowering.”
The exo suit gives the game a different kind of rhythm and flow. It’s strange and oddly hypnotic to watch others do it – suddenly shifting this way and that like a marionette on invisible strings being manipulated by some unseen puppeteer – but when you’re doing it, it feels gloriously right, slick and responsive and delightfully freeing.
It has both offensive and defensive ramifications, of course. Pursuing a sprinter in COD sometimes resembled a weaponised Benny Hill sketch. Now, with the ability to boost forward through the air, it’s far easier to shoot the runner. It’s useful on the ground, too, as you can suddenly burst sideways from cover, an instant strafe to surprise an opponent. Naturally, the reverse is also true – if you’re out in the open you can duck back behind a wall in an instant, jerking sideways as a volley of fire passes harmlessly by. And if a grenade lands at your feet? Zip back until you’re comfortably outside the blast radius.
It is, says developer Sledgehammer Games, a simple coincidence that exo suits are pretty much everywhere now, but if it’s a familiar idea, Call of Duty feels revitalised by it. It’s worth mentioning, too, that you can modify your suit by equipping one of a selection of seven exo perks. Overclocking it makes boosts even quicker, while stim packs boost your health. You can also spawn a shield in front of you, or use a cloaking ability to temporarily render you invisible. Equip the Hover ability and you’ll be able to remain airborne for longer, while Trophy System will get rid of any grenades and rockets heading your way. Finally, the incredibly useful Ping Ping will not only highlight any weapon fire on the map, but any exo use, too, allowing you to closely track the movements of the opposing team.
Naturally, the exo suit has made a difference to the maps – it’s no surprise that they all benefit from increased verticality, and the best ones are those that offer a blend of expansive exterior environments with cramped interiors. Fans of defenestration will love a laboratory facility that has plenty of windows, allowing you to leap from its sterile rooms through to its snowbound surroundings. Meanwhile, a ruined Baghdad prison features external tracking lasers that trace your movements, highlighting your position to other players. Stay inside, however, and you’re forced to fight at close quarters in and among the cells. Elsewhere, there’s a map set near the Golden Gate Bridge which suggests mid-game events may change the course of battle: a tidal wave sweeps in, leaving much of the map underwater, and allowing you to carefully swim up behind opponents for a sneaky stealth kill.
“If you’ve got your hands on a new gun, you can now test it out between matches at a virtual firing range.”
Elsewhere, it’s taken a number of cues from Black Ops 2, notably in its use of scorestreaks, which are now customisable. One allows you to pilot a small mech suit, while another will see you hovering above the battlefield, raining down death from above in the Paladin gunship. If you’ve got a friend playing alongside you, you can even select from a number of co-operative scorestreaks: one can mark rivals from the air for their comrade on the ground to execute, or you can both leap aboard a VTOL aircraft, with one flying the bird, and another blasting goons with a mini gun.
Meanwhile, Black Ops 2’s Pick 10 mechanic has been expanded to Pick 13 allowing you even more freedom to redefine your loadout, choosing from weapons, attachments, scorestreaks and perks. Handily, you’ll be able to see what others have chosen in the virtual lobby which displays each player’s avatar with all the gear and extras they’ve equipped. And if you’ve got hold of a new toy, you can now test it out between matches at a virtual firing range, rather than having to learn its quirks on the fly.
November 4th is the date to scribble in your diaries, though some might want to pencil it in a day earlier. Activision has announced a special Day Zero edition of Advanced Warfare, which will allow anyone who pre-orders it – as well as those who put money down for the Collector’s Edition or the digital version of the game – to play it 24 hours before everyone else. Two custom weapons and an additional exo suit are the sweeteners, as well as being able to earn double the experience points for a day. It’s a fairly brazen attempt on Activision’s part to drum up support for a series that showed its first real signs of fatigue last year, but one wonders whether it’s really necessary. The exo suit and some smart design choices on Sledgehammer’s part are the real reasons to consider returning to Call of Duty this year – for now, it at least looks like making good on the tacit promise of its subtitle, though only time will tell if it can stay a hop, a leap and a boost ahead of the competition.