McMillan’s Codex #48 by C.T. McMillan
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Call of Duty is the mascot of missed opportunity. Modern Warfare 2 had decent stealth mechanics that should have been used more often, Black Ops 2 had drones that were not incorporated enough, and Ghosts was a total mess. Not until Black Ops 3 did the series give players full control of the cool stuff whenever they wanted. The last game to restrict players was Advanced Warfare (AW), which should have been more accessible as a revitalization of the series with so many new things.
AW was a paradigm shift. Improved graphics aside, the game marked the core Call of Duty titles’ transition into the future. Exoskeletons, power armor, and walking tanks have become the norm in the game’s fiction. AW stays grounded in relative reality where nothing is too shiny or impossible to conceive in speculation. What you see is still conceptual today.
One interesting aspect of AW is the examination of private military corporations (PMCs). The game images a world where one such corporation has become a monolithic entity with influence and resources to rival the world’s militaries. The fictional Atlas Corporation (how original) is the Disney of private security. They have the power to end wars, rebuild whole countries, and provide humanitarian assistance in the wake of disaster.
What AW tries to convey with Atlas is that contemporary PMCs have the capacity to grow bigger than conventional government forces. Imagine China or the US being outmanned and outgunned by a body that does not answer to a country or set ideology. This entity is a superpower that does not operate by constitution, but by committee. The presence of such a corporation creates a massive moral grey area where anyone with enough money can pay them to do whatever they want. You could order the genocide of a whole ethnic group and the PMC will do so as long as you have the cash.
With this moral ambiguity the motives of this corporation are nebulous, yet AW explores this idea in the most run of the mill way possible. Atlas is just an evil corporation bent on world domination and the fact that Kevin Spacey was the CEO did not help. Instead of exploring the ambiguity of PMCs, AW postulates that absolute power corrupts absolutely without trying to broach the central idea that makes PMCs controversial. In the end, the game is trying to say that if you are Keyser Soze with a giant army, you are bad.
Oh, and there is a story about the main character having daddy issues, but this plot was so trite there is no point in explaining why.
The trend of missed opportunities continues in the gameplay. With the introduction of EXO Abilities you can jump higher, quick dodge, and scale walls, but only when the game lets you. Each level restricts you to a set number of abilities and weapons when they could have been useful. Access to accelerated movements, micro drones, and gloves that let you climb walls would have helped you out in a number of situations. At one point you can bounce from side to side avoiding incoming fire and then you cannot come the next level because I guess the developers did not want players to have fun.
The futuristic side of the game is realized less so in the overall world. On the first mission you are shot out of an airship in a drop-pod like a soldier in the Mobile Infantry. You land in a skyscraper and make your way down to the street where a full-blown war is in progress, walking tanks and all. Later there are hover bikes, an experimental hover tank, and power armored heavy troopers with Gatling-gun arms. There is so much cool stuff in AW that I do not understand why the developers chose not to exploit such content.
Advanced Warfare is everything Call of Duty has been for years: A set piece simulator. You have all these things you get to experience only once before they are gone completely. There is no meaning behind what you do because they are so superficially included just to break up the monotony of the gameplay. If the set pieces were better applied, then the gameplay would not be monotonous. While space dogfights and the ability to choose your missions in the upcoming Infinite Warfare seems great, I have been tricked one too many times to believe such a paradigm shift will happen. Maybe the developers have learned to have fun, but after all this time I am not holding my breath.
C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer. He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.