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    Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Full Metal Jacket, Preview

     How Advanced Warfare’s futuristic exoskeletons change everything  you know about  multiplayer and how Sledgehammer Games went above and beyond the ahem call of duty
    What was the most important thing Sledgehammer Games learned from its time working alongside Infinity Ward on Modern Warfare 3? “That for many people, Call of Duty is their main form of entertainment” answers Sledgehammer studio head Glen Schofield, after a brief period of repose. “Our fans want and deserve change. But there are some fundamental things you just don’t mess with”.


    Yet we initially had a hard time reconciling that answer with the steel-grinding, physics bending, sci-fi skirmishes that we’d been party to during our massive playtest of Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer component earlier that afternoon. Call of Duty’s call sign has always been fast and frenetic gunplay, it’s true, but it’s always tried to tie itself to reality no matter how frayed and stretched the tether. Advanced Warfare sees that tether finally snap, and as a result, the trademark run-and-gun Call of Duty action is free to float off to the rooftops “Science, not science-fiction,” is
    Schofield’s succinct summary of how his studio approached the task of re-imagining warfare in the year 2055. The technology that fuels Advanced Warfare’s fanciful fighting is simply an extension of the tech that is beginning to emerge in the real world today. A brain-controlled exoskeleton, as an example, was paraded prior to this year’s World Cup, allowing a paralysed man the honour of making the first kick of the competition. Fast forward 40 years, according to Advanced Warfare’s calculations, and these robotic shells will become standard military issue. Bad news for terrorists or people who fancy a quiet night out in Aldershot, perhaps, but great news for Call of Duty fans whose mantra is that the best defence is a good offence.

    With each soldier stuffed into a huge metallic sweatsuit, the impossible becomes routine. Ambushers pop in and out of cover faster than the eye can see, using booster jets affixed to their exosuit. Players attempting to hold down an area in, say, Hardpoint can activate a one-use cloaking device to temporarily disappear from view, leaving opportunistic snipers lining up the perfect kill to shoot at the wind. Another add-on keeps a watchful eye on inbound enemy projectiles, and harmlessly swats them out of the sky before you even know they’re there. As puny human flesh and tough computerised metalmesh and becomes one, so too do science and science fiction.

    Lucky 13
    Many of these powers cloaks, electrified shields, the ability to hover in mid air are optional bolt ons for your exosuit. Opting to take them into battle will mean having to make bold sacrifices across the rest of your loadout, via the ‘Pick 13’ system a refinement of Treyarch’s ‘Pick 10’ which gives you the option of playing to your strengths by reallocating limited resources across your weaponry, attachments, perks and streaks to suit your playing style. Under the Pick 13 system, as many as two Exo bolt-ons can be taken into battle, so long as you’re happy that the rest of your loadout consists of a pea-shooter and an ‘IOU one grenade’ credit note.

    With these abilities thrown into the melting pot, there are more tactical possibilities than ever before Schofield estimates there are over 20 million permutations. Knowing us, we’ll just stick to the assault rifle with the red-dot sight, but if you're feeling adventurous you can try out exotic weaponry in a pre-round shooting gallery, to get a feel for the weapon and how the various perks affect its handling .

    The Scorestreak system from Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops II also returns a reward system we've always preferred over the more traditional Killstreaks as it encourages XP-hungry players to stop spraying bullets like they’re going out of fashion and actually engage with objective-led game modes.
    “SCHOFIELD ESTIMATES THERE ARE OVER 20 MILLION PERMUTATIONS OF ABILITIES AVAILABLE TO YOU”
    Aside from minor balancing tweaks, the big change this year is the dawn of co-operative Scorestreaks that allow two members of the same team to rack up XP in tandem. When a co-operative Scorestreak is activated such as, for example, the Warbird VTOL aircraft the other members of your team are prompted to join. The one who’s quickest on the draw gets the pleasure of controlling an additional
    machine-gun turret, allowing the pair of you to rat-ta-tat-tat up the kills in blissful harmony (or at least until a member of the opposing team finds your earthly body on the ground and shoves a grenade down your pants as ever, it’s important to hide yourself well before hopping off for an out-of-body experience with a remote-controlled aircraft).

    Co-operative Scorestreaks come at a price, however. For the co-op ability to unlock for the Warbird Scorestreak, you need to equip the Warbird Wingman module which means you have to rack up an additional 300 points atop the existing 800 point threshold to unlock it.

    With so many combinations available, Sledgehammer has opted for transparency peruse the lobby and you can see down to the finest detail what cards the other players are holding. Fine in principle, but in practice we found we were better off focusing on our own battle plan. In any case, the offensive ability that sucked up most of our attention wasn't a perk, Scorestreak or attachment, but something built into every exoskeleton as standard the ability to double-jump.

    ‘Verticality’ is very much on-trend for first-person shooters at the moment, thanks to the efforts of Titanfall and Destiny. But while double-jumps aren’t a mind-blowing innovation in the general scheme of things, when transplanted into the COD bubble they provide an enticing twist to old favourites such as Domination or Search and Destroy.

    Something that becomes immediately obvious is that it halves journey times from one end of the map to the other. You’re not necessarily a sitting duck when bounding across the rooftops, either. Pack in an ability such as Overclock, which increases your foot speed, and you can literally run rings around hesitant defenders.

    You're jumpy
    The double-jump and the rise in air traffic that it creates effectively open up a whole new dimension to worry about. Consider those tense Domination moments when you slink behind enemy lines and gingerly attempt to reclaim their base. Paranoia reigns supreme during these tense few seconds, as you swivel on the spot, aiming your sights from window to window in the hunt for snipers. Except now, the sky also demands your attention, lest a lurking defender spring into action, hover in place directly above your location and then crash their fists down onto your unsuspecting skull with such force that the impact could have resolved the ‘should Scotland stay in the United Kingdom?’ debate with one sudden fissure across Hadrian’s Wall.

    The 13 maps play up to the metallic mischief, offering vertical, towering designs rich with untapped tactical opportunity. Of the six that have been shown, Biolab is the best demonstration of how naturally moments of exoskeleton-powered chicanery can segue in classic CoD action. It chains together tight, claustrophobic mazes of corridor with wide open areas connected by gently moving platforms at rooftop level. With a fair wind, players who find themselves boxed in among the intense interior firefights can retreat into fresh air and use their mobility to plot a rapid counter-attack from another angle.
    “THE EXTRA MOBILITY BECOMES A BLESSING WHEN DISASTERS STRIKE”
    Wider maps, such as Defender, set around San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and Recovery a Hawaiian volcano observatory turned wartorn playground gift you the elbow room to properly explore and experiment with the new found kineticism the exosuits afford. And in both cases, the extra mobility becomes a blessing when natural disasters strike as the round nears its climax. In Defender, a tidal wave lashes the shore, changing the lay of the land and forcing you to scramble for
    higher ground. In Recovery, on the other hand,any murmurs that an edge of a volcano is a stupid place to wage war prove prophetic, as a sudden eruption forces friends and foes alike to sprint through hangar doors in a mad clamber to reach the other side of the map.

    In the balance
    All these various additions build towards a high octane brand of combat that is more instant and lethal than Call of Duty veterans will be used to. But once you familiarise yourself with the powers and limitations of the exosuits, you begin to realise that for all the changes, Advanced Warfare retains the same beat-to-beat flow of classic CoD multiplayer, thanks to some ingenious balancing mechanisms. Firstly, the bolt-on Exo powers are strictly rationed to one use per life, and even when activated the battery life only lasts for a few seconds, so learning to conserve these powers until the time is right is vital to success. Secondly, the increased agility of the field is counteracted to some extent by a new weapon class the directed-energy guns. These emit a beam of light that carries on as far as the eye can see, making them a great equaliser on maps with long sightlines, where they can be used as suppressive tools.
    “EXO POWERS ARE STRICTLY RATIONED, AND ONLY LAST A FEW SECONDS”
    But of course, sometimes a little imbalance goes a long way, which is what makes the new Supply Drop feature so enticing. These are rewards for fulfilling set objectives such as completing a challenge, killing a certain number of people or simply playing the game for long enough. Inside each Supply Drop are three cards, each offering either customisable gear for your character, attachments or modifiers for your weapons (which are locked to the gun you choose and cannot be transferred) or ‘Reinforcements’ rare items that appear during your next game in the form of a care package, and contain a mix of Scorestreaks and perks. These cards appear in three different varieties Enlisted (common), Professional (uncommon) and Elite (the sticker-album equivalent of a shiny).

    Supply Drops massage the same obsessive part of the brain that’s responsible for getting FIFA 15 Ultimate Team players kicked out of their homes by the bailiffs, but when we asked Activision representatives whether there were plans to enable players to buy supply drops with cold, hard cash, they did their best ‘Zippy from Rainbow’ impression. They wouldn’t, would they?

    New inventions
    Considering that Sledgehammer is the first new team in almost a decade to take the reins of a mainline Call of Duty title, this is a bold offering that draws intelligently from other contemporary shooters such as Destiny and Titanfall, but at a glance it seems to make a mockery of Schofield’s statement that the fundamentals of Call of Duty are sacred.

    However, Advanced Warfare, for all its jetpacks and cloaking devices and boost slides, is simply the latest evolution of a series whose in-game fiction now spans over 120 years. The fates of war and technology have always been deeply entwined, but until we revisited the older Call of Duty games for the purpose of this feature, we didn't fully appreciate how much of an impact technology’s end less march has had on the flow of the world’s favourite first-person shooter series. Go back to 2003’s Call of Duty and the series’ World War II roots, for example, where war was waged with rusty Mosin-Nagant rifles and foggy binoculars and you’ll rediscover a game almost unrecognisable from what we know today. The guns suffer from appalling recoil, the iron sights are unreliable, and grenades take an eternity to explode.

    lo-fi weaponry is jarring for those weaned on the modern tech of later games in the series you have to approach firefights in an entirely different way, engaging the enemy at close quarters to compensate for the undependable weaponry.

    As Call of Duty has marched through time, the tools at our disposal have grown ever more reliable, more finessed, more accurate, more deadly. Chart the history of the series from the Battle of Normandy through the Cold War towards fictionalised warfare on artificial islands that haven’t even been built yet, and you’ll see that the series has always had exoskeletons in its closet, itching to come outside. Advanced Warfare marks the first time that the series has really tinkered with player locomotion  one of the series’ core fundamentals. But history shows us that Call of Duty’s community are more adaptable and resilient than they're given credit for, and if our playtime was anything to go by, they’ll tackle this latest shake-up with relish.

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