Undeniably, the biggest FPS franchise in the history of gaming is the Call of Duty franchise. This juggernaut series has managed to survive potential franchise fatigue and continues to be an absolutely dominate force in the gaming industry and pop culture at large. With the dawn of a new generation of consoles, Call of Duty itself is going through a few changes, and a new studio is getting its chance to create its own unique Call of Duty universe.
Previously, the Call of Duty series worked on a two year development cycle. Infinity Ward, and then the remnants of Infinity Ward (in collaboration with a few other Activision owned studios), are mainly known for at first creating the franchise itself, bringing it to the seventh generation successfully with the console exclusive Xbox 360 game Call of Duty 2, and then revolutionizing online multiplayer with the Modern Warfare series. They are also responsible for the most recent entry in the series, which I believe is the worst Call of Duty game to date, Call of Duty: Ghosts.
The studio that would fill in for Infinity Ward’s off year was Treyarch. Treyarch started it being known as the studio that put out the weaker iteration of Call of Duty, with Call of Duty 3 and World at War being largely derivative of the titles that preceded them. However, starting with Black Ops, Treyarch suddenly became known for the great innovation that they brought to the series, with a number of groundbreaking additions to the formula that paid huge dividends.
Call of Duty is now on a three year development cycle, with three studios working on a Call of Duty game at one time, with one entry in the series planned for release every November probably until the end of times, or until the Call of Duty games stop selling. Infinity Ward’s turn was last year with the disappointing Call of Duty: Ghosts. Treyarch will be throwing their hat in the ring next year, with rumors pointing to the possibility of Black Ops 3 or a game set in World War I or II. The third studio? A studio that hasn’t had a lot of games under to its name known as Sledgehammer Games. Even though the studio is virtually unknown, the people working there are proven talents, and it gives me high hopes that the Call of Duty series could be seeing a return to form when Advanced Warfare releases this November.
Before you read this preview, check out the reveal trailer right here:
Who is Sledgehammer Games?
Sledgehammer Games is a studio that was formed by a group of key members from Visceral that worked on the first Dead Space game with Electronic Arts. After they finished with Dead Space, they left Visceral and formed Sledgehammer, which has been funded by Activision pretty much since its inception.
Originally, Sledgehammer was tasked with creating a Call of Duty spinoff game that would take a third-person viewpoint and have more of a horror vibe reminiscent of Dead Space. This game would’ve taken place during the Vietnam War, and honestly, it sounds extremely exciting. Hopefully the concept of a third-person survival horror Call of Duty game with a Vietnamese settings is revisited in the future. Unfortunately, Sledgehammer was unable to complete their original vision.
As has been well documented, the original Infinity Ward was basically eradicated once all of the key members there jumped ship from Activision to EA to form Respawn Studios, now famous for creating the highly original FPS Titanfall. Since Infinity Ward was basically gutted, Activision had to make some of its other studios, such as Raven Software (known for the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance games and the hidden gem Singularity), help with the development cycle. Sledgehammer Games played an especially important role in the development of Modern Warfare 3, and actively aided what remained of Infinity Ward throughout the rest of the development process to ensure that Modern Warfare 3 could be released at its planned time. They continued to support Modern Warfare 3 post-release by developing DLC for the title.
Since development on Modern Warfare 3 and its DLC has wrapped, Sledgehammer has been hard at work on creating their own Call of Duty universe with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. While a lot is going to remain the same, there’s also plenty of changes and additions coming to this entry that makes it a very exciting prospect. One thing’s for sure, if there’s one way to help offset franchise fatigue from an annual release franchise like Call of Duty, it’s by having a different studio develop each game in the series.
Survival horror flavor
The ex-Visceral guys that comprise Sledgehammer Games are most known for the survival horror game that they developed called Dead Space, which has in turn spawned a franchise all its own. They are bringing their experiences from working on Dead Space along with them in this new venture to help create a Call of Duty game that should at least have some differences to help it stand apart from the other entries in the series.
One thing that Dead Space is renowned for is its incredible atmosphere, which is developed using a combination of choice visuals and a haunting soundtrack. Since they know how to develop quality game audio, special attention has been paid to the audio design for Advanced Warfare. In fact, the exact audio team that worked on Dead Space has been retained in the transition from Visceral to Sledgehammer, so the game is basically guaranteed to have excellent sound design.
In addition to great sound effects, the game will also most likely have a great soundtrack as well. A composer that is most known in the gaming industry for his work on the Metal Gear Solid franchise is trying his hand at scoring this latest Call of Duty game.
A game’s presentation is nothing without its visuals as well, and Advanced Warfare will be succeeding in this department, too. Unlike Call of Duty: Ghosts, which was initially built for seventh generation consoles and then upgraded to be compatible with the eighth gen systems, Advanced Warfare is being created for the eighth generation first and then the installments that come out on PS3 and Xbox 360 will simply be downgrades that are being handled by High Moon Studios, the studio most known recently for their string of critically acclaimed licensed Transformers games.
Thanks to a brand new game engine and the power of eighth generation consoles, Advanced Warfare will probably be the best looking Call of Duty game to date. The environments are going to be more detailed, more characters and objects will be on screen at once than ever before, and the detail in the characters will be greatly increased as well. It’s possible to see this from a few of the screenshots that have been released of the game, but the detail goes further than what is possible to see in screenshots. According to issue 254 of Game Informer, it will be possible to see pupils of characters dilate when they are exposed to light sources. This is an extremely impressive level of attention to detail, basically unprecedented in game development up to this point.
But going back to that survival horror flavor, the audio and visual presentation will be combined, much like Dead Space, to create a genuinely creepy and realistic atmosphere. There are moments in the campaign where the is no action, rather just slow sequences that are meant to create tension, not unlike a survival horror game.
Welcome to the future
Over the years, we’ve seen Call of Duty games set in all sorts of different time periods. Of course, we’ve seen the ones set during World War II, and we’ve seen others set during the Cold War era, modern times, and the very near future in Ghosts. Advanced Warfare is set much farther in the future. The story of the game begins in the year 2025, and as the plot progresses, many more years will pass.
In this game, players will control a soldier named Mitchell, voiced by acclaimed veteran voice actor Troy Baker (BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us). At the start of the game, Mitchell is in the US Marines, serving alongside a man named Will Irons. Will Irons is the son of Jonathan Irons, the CEO of a private military corporation called Atlas. Atlas is the largest PMC on the globe, and its clout is so strong that it even has influence within the United Nations.
Whereas the player character is played by an actor with extensive gaming credits, the character of Jonathan Irons is being played by the award winning and brilliant actor Kevin Spacey. Spacey, known for his roles in films like American Beauty and arguably Netflix’s biggest original series hit House of Cards (in which his character Frank Underwood has an interest in video games and is even spotted playing Call of Duty online on some occasions in the show), is bringing a hell of a pedigree to Advanced Warfare.
Not only will Spacey be providing the voice work, which is basically all Hollywood actors that have come to gaming have done in the past, but he is also providing full motion capture animation. If that weren’t enough, the technology that is being used to capture Spacey’s movements and likeness is the same tech that is being used to film the Avatar sequel by James Cameron.
With a new studio comes changes to the way Call of Duty tells a story. I’ve already mentioned the more horror-esque atmosphere that Sledgehammer is shooting for, but in addition to that, the story in Advanced Warfare is meant to be more personal. The plot is going to be simpler than in the past, with clearer objectives and story development. Instead of taking control of a bunch of different soldiers across the globe, players will only control Mitchell. Mitchell will only speak during cut-scenes, so he is completely silent during all of the gameplay segments, which was a deliberate choice in order to make the players able to immerse themselves better within the character.
Of course, what gets the ball rolling in terms of story is a global threat, like is the norm for these games, regardless of the more personal story that’s being told here. This time the bad guys are a group of terrorists called the KVA that have caused acts of terror so horrific that one of the designers for the game has described it as a “global 9/11″. There’s another mysterious group at work besides Atlas that is fighting against the KVA as well, but no more information about them has been revealed beyond the fact that they are on the side of the player.
With its futuristic setting, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has a lot of potential in terms of new possible story developments. Sledgehammer is striving for authenticity in creating this fictional future, and so they have done an extensive amount of research, talked to numerous individuals that are involved with the development of military equipment and weapons, and have also done research on weapons and prototypes that are in development at this very moment.
Just like how the futuristic setting provides a new way to experience the Call of Duty story, the setting also provides a new way to play the game. The main gameplay hook is the exo suit, which seems directly inspired by the pilots of Titanfall, though since Advanced Warfare has been in development for the better part of three years now, this seems more like an unfortunate coincidence.
At any rate, the exo suit will provide players with abilities that they’ve never had in Call of Duty games of the past. They’ll be able to dash around with added boosts or climb walls with magnetic gloves. Invisibility is in the cards, as well as spontaneous zipline placement, super jumps, hovering, and more. It seems that almost all of the new gameplay additions in Advanced Warfare hinge on the new capabilities provided by the exo suit.
The exo suit will also provide the player with increased melee damage and the ability to rip doors off of cars and use them as shields.
Vehicles will also play role in the game, as they have in the campaigns of the past. Hover vehicles will be the main attraction this time around.
In addition to all of these exo suit abilities and vehicles, the grenade is being revamped for Advanced Warfare. Not only will the classic grenade types like frag, smoke, and EMP make a return, but they have added functionality. Now there are even grenades that can detect enemy placement and movement.
A world in ruins
Advanced Warfare will take players across a variety of different areas on the globe that will host a variety of different missions. There have been two missions talked about so far, one mission that is set in Detroit and the other that is set in San Francisco. The mission set in Detroit contains a lot of those horror moments that I mentioned earlier, whereas the San Francisco mission will possess the more traditional Call of Duty vibe.
During the course of the San Francisco mission, Mitchell spots a potential KVA terrorist and pursues him to the Golden Gate Bridge. He shows up just in time for the terrorist attack, in which drones blow up the cables on the bridge, causing the cable to collapse onto a boat full of tourists that were unfortunate enough to be sailing directly underneath the bridge during the attack.
This scene includes set pieces, QTEs, and more, all staples of the series so far. Overall, the campaign, despite the gameplay benefits that will come from the exo suit, sounds like it will be very similar to Call of Duty games of the past in a number of ways, even though it is also creating a name for itself in a variety of ways as well.
Wait for E3
Activision chose to officially unveil Advanced Warfare a full month before E3 2014. This was a wise choice, as it ensures that the game will receive more attention than if it was simply revealed at E3. However, E3 and Call of Duty go together very well, and it’s not farfetched to expect big things from the franchise at E3 this year. The only question is if Activision will show off the game during Microsoft’s presentation or Sony’s presentation, as Activision doesn’t usually host their own press conference?
The smart money is on Microsoft. Activision has had a great relationship with Microsoft over the years, especially when Call of Duty is concerned. Microsoft has continuously paid for the right to have timed exclusivity for all Call of Duty DLC packs, meaning people that play Call of Duty on Xbox systems will always have access to the DLC a full month or more before PC or PlayStation users can get access to it.
So, what we can expect to learn about at E3? Well, expect to see more campaign information. They will probably show close to an entire mission of gameplay, so that hardcore fans will be reassured that is still the same Call of Duty, and the haters can complain about it on the Internet for still being the same Call of Duty.
However, we already know a lot about the campaign thanks to Activision’s reveal of the game itself. There are plenty of juicy details yet to be unveiled to the public, however, and E3 is the mostly likely place when that information will come to light.
For one, we haven’t heard how Advanced Warfare will support eSports. We know that it will in fact support eSports in some form, but will it be with as much dedication as Ghosts and Black Ops II? In what other ways will the Call of Duty community be engaged by the title?
Another big unanswered question at this stage is what the multiplayer looks like. Since Call of Duty 4, the multiplayer component in the franchise has been its bread and butter. Making changes to the multiplayer is risky business, but the series desperately needs change if it hopes to continue to prosper in the eighth generation as it did in the seventh one.
It has been strongly hinted at by Sledgehammer that the exo suit will be coming to the multiplayer, but it has yet to be outright confirmed. We know that the multiplayer modes will feature a similar vibe as the single player campaign, so hopefully that vibe includes access to the exo suit. The comparisons to Titanfall will be unavoidable, and it might be wise for Activision to try to show up Titanfall and Respawn as best as they can, even if the multiplayer in Advanced Warfare ends up playing eerily similarly to the multiplayer that we’ve seen in Titanfall.
Another aspect about the game that we don’t know a whole lot about beyond the fact that it exists is the mysterious co-op mode. Co-op has been an important factor in the series since World at War had a fully co-op campaign and the famous Nazi Zombies mode. Since then, we’ve seen the “Spec Ops” co-op missions, more Nazi Zombies, Horde mode esque co-op missions, and most recently a co-op mode where players battle alien creatures in a Tower Defense sort of way.
There’s no telling what form the co-op in Advanced Warfare will take, but Call of Duty has a pretty great track record when it comes to co-op game modes. It will be interesting to see how these developers, who haven’t worked on multiplayer and co-op in the past nearly as much as the single player experience, will handle these other game modes that are more or less a requirement for a Call of Duty game.
E3 kicks off June 9th, so just a couple of weeks from now. Those that are interested in learning even more about Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare from the information that is released following E3 should stay tuned to Cheat Masters, as we will have full coverage of all the E3 events as they unfold, with editorialized opinions, recaps, and more. Hopefully we find out all there is to know about the multiplayer and co-op modes of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare during gaming’s biggest event of the year.
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Most of the time, Call of Duty impresses me. I’m not one of those people that hates on it just for the sake of hating on it. I’ve thoroughly played every single main entry in the series so far, and even a lot of the spinoffs as well, and there’s almost no such thing as a “bad” Call of Duty game. I think Call of Duty: Ghosts holds the dishonorable distinction of being the first Call of Duty game that I consider to be a truly bad disappointment.
However, I have face in Sledgehammer Games to revitalize the series, at least long enough for Treyarch tor release their game next year and still have there be a considerable amount of hype behind it. The studio that Sledgehammer Games is made up of a lot of talented people that have had a hand in creating one of my favorite game franchises of the seventh generations, and one of my favorite games period, the original Dead Space. If anyone can breathe a much needed breath of fresh air into the Call of Duty franchise, it is the talented people at Sledgehammer Games.
Right now a lot of people are viewing Sledgehammer Games as the “C team” when it comes to Call of Duty Development, with Treyarch being the “A team” and the remnants of Infinity Ward being the “B team”. I think by the time Advance Warfare releases this November that we will be seeing things differently. Treyarch will still be the king of Call of Duty games for the foreseeable future, but I think Sledgehammer Games will take over Infinity Ward’s spot over the next couple of Call of Duty cycles.