Power changes everything. That's the tagline for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the next Call of Duty installment and perhaps a sign that the well-established series is finally embracing change.
This is the first full Call of Duty from Sledgehammer Games, who previously co-developed Modern Warfare 3 with Infinity Ward. A heart-stopping demo at Monday's Xbox press event left many of us breathless and curious, as we saw a shooter that appeared familiar and unmistakably Call of Duty -- but it was also different somehow. Hi-tech drones clouded the skies while a futuristic war waged across a bright, colorful urban landscape. The soldiers kept us grounded, but even they looked like characters taken out of movies like Edge of Tomorrow and District 9, with their Exo suits and holographic weapons displays. The future had arrived.
The new visual style is reminiscent of more than just sci-fi flicks though. The tech adopted by Advanced Warfare actually felt like a throwback to Visceral's horror shooter Dead Space, a connection that might seem far-fetched until you realize Sledgehammer co-founders Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield actually worked on Dead Space together while still at EA. Funny how that works.
The Exo suits in particular bring to mind Isaac's iconic attire, but the most apparent similarity (or inspiration) might be the minimalist display, one that's been trimmed down to show only the most essential info. Without the distractions of a cluttered HUD, the player can feel more immersed in whatever they happen to be experiencing.
Not that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare separates itself from recent predecessors. The game remains distinctly Call of Duty, in the pacing and linearity of the missions we've seen. Behind closed doors, we saw two such missions not shown during the public Xbox conference. They served as contrasts, with one being driven by action and the other by stealth, but did an excellent job of demonstrating how these sci-fi tools of the trade can aid the player in two different situations.
The futuristic elements are incredibly prevalent throughout. A new type of grenade that was used frequently during the demos triggered a digital overlay to reveal hidden enemies (like a thermal detector). Holographic projections are everywhere, and drones of all sizes occupy the world, mostly trying to kill you. Fortunately, no one in Call of Duty ever goes wanting, and you'll be given plenty of tools for taking out the opposition. One of my personal favorites is the new mute charge, a mine that cancels out the noise in a small radius when triggered, allowing for some crazy stealth kills in bullet time. What? It's not Call of Duty without bullet time.
So yes, stealth is kind of a thing now, and we observed a mission that sent the protagonists into the deep woods of Bulgaria that utilized the new cloaking feature. Here, the enemy forces were too numerous and entrenched to be directly confronted, so the player character (Mitchell) and an NPC ally had to sneak their way through enemy lines, sometimes stopping for a knife kill. Cloaking allows you to go full-on stealth but only lasts so long before cooldown, and certain enemy drone units called Seekers can actually detect thermal heat signatures. Better think twice before going Rambo. Intimidating units like walking armor suits similar to the Ubersoldat from Wolfenstein.
Vehicles are another big thing now, and if you're at all familiar with how moving objects are typically treated in Call of Duty games, then you'll understand the significance here. Rather than being more fodder to be blown up, vehicles in Advanced Warfare actually play a more integral role in combat, mainly as sources of cover in firefights. Thanks to the Exo suits, soldiers can actually rip car doors free and use them as temporary yet mobile shields. The ridiculously well-armed hover (Walking?) tanks can also be controlled, and the end of that stealth mission I mentioned actually involves piloting one of these juggernauts. Seriously, it fires missiles and EMP shots in addition to the anti-infantry cannon. Welcome to Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, people.
Most of what we've been able to see at E3 this year involves the campaign, but Call of Duty just wouldn't be the same or nearly as popular without its multiplayer. Hard to imagine at this point just how all this new tech will affect the dynamic there. Just imagine cloaked players running around a map, mute charges going off and grenades flushing everyone out of cover.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will be out for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4 and PC on November 4, 2014.
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