This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
And so we return once again to another instalment of the series that beats its chest like a pirate with anger management issues: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, or CODAW. I'm sure there's a joke in there relating that one character from Game of Thrones, but nah, how can a huge retrograde lumbering idiot capable only of constantly spouting the same phrase possibly relate to Game of Thrones? Ha ha ha ha.
If it seems like I can't take Call of Duty seriously, it's because I bloody well can't. How did we get from World War II shooters to the sci-fi future again? 'cos this is exactly what happened to the Jason films. Next it will be Call of Duty vs. Pinhead or something.
CODAW starts off on the right foot when we're introduced to our hero taking off his helmet to reveal that he's a white dude with awful facial hair. We then turn to his best friend who takes off his helmet to reveal that he's the exact same identical white dude with awful facial hair. Then they start talking about their dads, because it's always dads, isn't it? There are no mothers in Call of Duty's world. Soldiers are birthed fully-formed from the tail pipes of their father's restored Cadillacs.
Shortly, our friend who's identical to ourselves dies in a very heroic and insecure way, and at the funeral, we are introduced to his father, Kevin Spacey, who is the only white guy in the plot who doesn't have atrocious facial hair which I suppose means he's the baddie. I'd spoiler that since he doesn't properly villain it up until a ways in the game, but come on, it's Kevin Spacey, of course he's the villain. He's got two faces - "smartarse" and "recently punched for being a smartarse". His character looks over the soldiers at the funeral and picks you off the shelf as his new surrogate son, hiring you for his company, which is of course a PMC. And you know, PMCs being the main villain in a modern war game feels like slipping back into an old comfortable sweater. The whole Call of Duty title speaks to a sort of inherent righteousness of fighting for one's country, and that sentiment loses something when the enemy is a real life foreign power, presumably motivated by the exact same Call of Duty as you, white boy. But PMCs? Fuck those war-profiteering assholes! Call of Looty, more like!
I know you're probably here to watch me give the bullying jock of the AAA games industry playground another well-deserved spanking, but I find I'm considerably better disposed towards CODAW than I was towards Ghosts, say. The plot moves at the usual breakneck pace like it's speed-reading the back of a Tom Clancy book. We go from funeral to joining the PMC to destroying all the terrorism in the world to the PMC becoming evil with scarcely a pause for a piss break, but it's almost lovable for that. And Kevin Spacey essentially becomes a G.I. Joe villain. The usual anomalously-organized terrorist strike cripples most of the world, so Kevin Spacey rolls in, takes the credit for ending terrorism and becomes the most powerful corporation on Earth. And then, having essentially conquered the world with money and minimal force, Kevin Spacey decides his next course of action will be to invade the United States. Yeah, this is where I sort of lose his train of logic. I mean, he practically runs the world already at that point. But I guess conquest just doesn't feel like conquest 'til you've stuck a flag in someone else's shit. And he openly announces his intention to take over the world in a speech to the United Nations, after which the world turns against him, and I want to know what the fuck he was expecting would happen after he stopped talking. Pyjama party?
I'm focusing on the story a lot, because I might as well. It's not like anyone expects the gameplay to do much more than connect the dots, and by "dots", I mean bullets being connected to faces with considerable force. You've probably seen a screenshot of the "Press F to Pay Respects" moment from the funeral scene; I shouldn't have to explain why that's hilarious. It might as well have said "Press F to Be Sad". And this sort of thing needs a name, so I'm gonna call it a "slow-time event". They don't even have the quick-time event's anorexically-slim justification of being a reflex challenge, they're just, "Would you like us to continue this glorified cutscene?" prompts to make sure you're still awake.
As is usually the case with COD, the whole campaign is like being herded along a little path to the sheep dip. There's almost always an NPC support character whose actions we are instructed to mimic exactly, always fun when you're crawling and getting a faceful of flexing mud-spattered bum cheek. And what would modern warfare be without tech-wank? Using new vehicles and gadgets precisely once before they're forgotten about or more likely crashed just as you're achieving something important, like Windows Movie Maker.
But while CODAW isn't above making us fly a jet along a linear canyon for one brief mission because apparently we've officially regressed as far back as Space Harrier, there are some game mechanics we can go hog wild with, like the jet thrusters we've got strapped to our body we can use to double-jump and slow-fall and with which I see no safety issues whatsoever, as long as we're not carrying anything flammable or explosive- oh wait! Or the grappling hook launcher that shifts us slightly closer to the Batman singularity, the hypothetical point at which all characters in every video game are Batman. These can be used to speed around somewhat open-ended areas for the combat advantage and actually adds something to the game. Kind of arbitrary which missions we're allowed to use them in, but it's something. Probably make the multiplayer interesting, not that I'd know. And there's a section towards the end that I quite enjoyed where your arm's broken and you have to get by with one-handed guns without reloading, 'cos it's a twist on established mechanics that raises the stakes and makes you vulnerable. Although the game continues to handhold like a creepy prom date and your support character insists on pointing out every single spare gun that are always lying around like cigarette butts.
So just to reiterate, I did like CODAW more than Ghosts. In other news, I also enjoy Chinese water torture more than the hobbling wheel. At the very end, we and a support character resolve things by showing up at the enemy stronghold in matching power armour and wrecking up the place, and my first thought was, "Didn't Modern Warfare 3 end this exact same way?" Yes, I remember, because it also made me wonder why we didn't just do this in the first place. All these CoD story campaigns feel like they're running through the same checklist: Here's the bit where you snipe. Here's the bit where you use a drone. Here's the grizzled morally flexible frequently British commander. It's like what I said about Assassin's Creed turning into a line graph. Call of Duty can now be considered a contemporary of FIFA and Madden; same shit once a year, different hat. With a "Press F to Pay Respects" qualifier implying the narrow possibility that the series has started to consciously take the piss out of itself. But if you have, Call of Duty, then don't take a great big gulp on that piss and then try to give me a snog!
- Staying frosty: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Sadly UN pyjama parties have fallen out of favour after that one time Kofi Annan rented Mamma Mia
- Press F to have very much enjoyed this video