A warm critical reception for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare signals a return to form for the 11-year-old series.
That rejuvenation, after Black Ops II and Call of Duty: Ghosts floundered, arrives at a time when Destiny, subject to so much pre-release anticipation, did not quite scale the heights that were hoped for.
2014's other huge shooter launch, Titanfall, was critically acclaimed but limited to Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Windows PC.
By contrast, reviews for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One editions of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare hail it as successful innovation on a traditional formula, adding new elements while retaining a recognisable core.
"An expert distillation of Call of Duty's core appeals, made fresh again thanks to excellent level design and the inclusion of game-changing exosuits," writes VideoGamer. "Advanced Warfare is a return to form for a franchise on the slide."
Another element rescued from Call of Duty past is a sense of real urgency and escalation as the storyline develops.
"You get a constant feeling of 'out of the frying pan, into the fire,'" says GamesBeat, while drawing attention to some of the game's more unexpected and subversive elements, questioning the role of technology in a society that prizes it above all else.
Elsewhere, the new game delivers by way of "story, great acting, dialogue, the realistic facial animations, cool weapons of the future, and the welcome change in pacing from combat missions to stealth missions," while Kevin Spacey's contribution as antagonist Jeremy Irons is welcomed: "I look forward to future versions of the game that marry Hollywood blockbuster actors with the blockbuster-style game play."
Polygon, too, notes a willingness to question narrative conventions, even when maximum bombast is order of the day.
"Advanced Warfare isn't predicated on killing some evil invading force that seems primed on capitalising on border paranoia, and the enemy isn't composed of third world canon fodder," it observes. "There's concern shown for civilians. There is a somewhat sophisticated view of geopolitics and America's place in it."
And when it comes to multiplayer, other changes are similarly refreshing. "There's less safety, less predictability, and it combines with some of the best map design the series has seen."
For as the Call of Duty franchise has proven in the past, a strong multiplayer element can keep players entertained for inordinate amounts of time.
Here, it's where "the real fun begins," according to Game Informer, which reserves particular praise for a multitude of customisation options that "should have players coming back for game after game."
For Giant Bomb, too, multiplayer is a real strong suit. "It's the best multiplayer the game has seen in some time and the whole thing totals up to a satisfying, if familiar experience" is the positive judgement.
Despite all this praise, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is, of course, not without some weaknesses. The developer "seems reluctant to really cut loose and push the setting to its fullest potential," laments USgamer, "making Advanced Warfare a solid but ultimately unexciting entry" in its estimation.
But for others, there's a huge amount of life left in the long-running franchise. It's "one of the best solo campaigns of the series thanks to an incredible atmosphere, well-crafted narrative and all-star cast," concludes French outlet JeuxActu; "the multiplayer is simply the best out of all the Call of Duty games." — AFP/Relaxnews 2014
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