Power changes everything” is Sledgehammer and Activision’s boast for the cybernetic exoskeleton at the heart of Advanced Warfare, but doesn't power also corrupt ? On paper, the suit sounds like creeping poison for Call of Duty multiplayer as we know it, a technological leap that will surely wash away all the design wisdom accumulated since the franchise moved to the modern era. In practice, though, the advances feel complementary rather than corrosive, taking the Call of Duty formula onward and upward rather than back to square one.


Strip away the trappings of a predictably wartorn 2054 and this is the same shooter you know and... well, if not ‘love’, then look upon with a certain fascinated hate: unbearably nippy, claustrophobic, laden with stat augmenting perks, stuffed with modes and obsessed with killstreaks. There are plenty of direct nods to the other games. Most notably, Black Ops 2’s Pick 10 system (now ‘Pick 13’) returns, enabling players to create any mixture of perks, accessories, streak rewards, guns and
whatnot rather than being limited to one or two choices per category. So yes, you can still build yourself a class that’s pretty much all perks and augmentations, then scavenge weapons in the field.

Veterans shouldn't have too much trouble finding their feet. Dropped into a round of Team Deathmatch, I scored big using the tried-and-tested combination of an assault rifle optimized for speed of target acquisition, a UAV streak reward and a radar jamming gadget. Newbies get a helping hand in the shape of the new Firing Range, a small VR environment with pop-up targets that can be loaded up instantaneously from the multiplayer customization screen, so you can try a new weapon out as the seconds tick down to kick off. It’s a smart, considerate addition that says more about Sledgehammer’s dedication to the franchise and its players than any amount of PR sabre rattling.

So when does all the vaunted New Stuff kick in? Most obviously, when you leap. The exosuit’s wheezy jumpjets (an innate ability, to which you might add exo perks such as an anti-grenade zapper) force players to think much harder about the play of sightlines and ranges at different map elevations. Take Riot, for example, a map set in and around a gutted prison. Chasing a foe around a corner, I try to cut him off via the roof and are drawn into a mid-range gunfight with a third player across the courtyard a battle for which our hitherto devastating, reverb bloated shotgun proves hopelessly unsuited.

Of the four new maps that we currently know about, Riot leans on the risks and rewards of height most dramatically: busting through a skylight to ambush a player equipped with dual Gatling arm attachments may be safer than taking the front door, but what happens when somebody activates the map’s bespoke streak reward, a holographic inmate tagging system that makes high fliers even harder to miss?

The coastal Defender map creates similar checks and balances by way of periodic tsunamis, which flood the lower third of the area. Fleeing to dry ground is the obvious course of action, as you certainly can’t fire your weapon while swimming, but what if there’s a cloaked adversary lying in wait?

Tactical considerations aside, the suit’s appeal is simply that it makes moving around much more fun so it’s nice that there’s a mode that plays directly to your newfound maneuverability. Uplink is Advanced Warfare’s contribution to the subgenre of ball sports in FPS titles, made famous by Halo’s Grifball: teams fight to convey a ‘satellite node’ to the other side’s goal. You can’t fire a weapon while carrying the ball, so teamwork is essential allies must defend the route to the goal and be ready to intercept a pass.

There is scope for a bit of solo showboating, though, as when you toss the ball to an enemy player to disarm them, then scoop it back up after blowing the poor soul away. Another tactic is using the suit’s dash jets to change direction in midair, faking a defender out in much the same way that a pro English footballer slips around a tackle. It’s spirited in a way last year’s tale of post-apocalyptic doggy heroism never threatened to become, although Sledgehammer does seem to have learned from the absurdity of Call of Duty: Ghosts’ DLC packs, especially regarding those map specific streak rewards.

In general, Advanced Warfare feels like it’s straining at the last few checks imposed by the franchise’s dwindling affection for realism: the gadgets may be grounded in sober research, but it’s easy to forget this when you’re using an optional Hover ability to line up a laser blast against a player equipped with the torn-off head of a rocket turret. After the cautious iterations of recent incitements, the playfulness of Advanced Warfare is very welcome. Power doesn’t change everything, but this game appears to be change for the better.