The queue to play Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was about two hours long. On the first day of EGX, I walked past it, saw the signs that said "90 minutes from here", "45 minutes from here", etcetera - and thought "no, forget it."
I mean, this game is out in about six weeks anyway. And it's CoD, right? We all know what this is. I'm not sure what people - what I was expecting, when I got to the end up that queue. It was like climbing the "escalator to nowhere" in The Simpsons.
With that in mind, yes, this new Call of Duty is another pretty rote affair:Aa perfectly functioning but ultimately hollow first-person shooter with pretensions of maturity.
After playing the multiplayer and watching those trailers starring digital Kevin Spacey, it already seems that this is a game at odds with itself. On the one hand you have an Academy Award winner discussing the ethics and implications of imposed democracy, on the other you have me, leaping up and down using a jetpack, murdering teenagers with a laser gun.
I praised Black Ops 2 because it was the first Call of Duty game to really embrace the franchise's absurdity. The plot was knowingly preposterous, some hyper-bunkum about computers and space, and it matched perfectly with the loud, stylised version of warfare that CoD has long prided itself on. That game was consistently entertaining. It played to all of the strengths of what is clearly a very talented, good-natured design team.
Advanced Warfare by contrast seems divided; uneven. I got excited by the first trailers because it looked like, maybe for once, there was going to be a CoD with some heavyweight political themes behind it, or at least some questions, some inquiry into whether the Western way was always right. But now I have to wonder, because the multiplayer is berserk, far more kinetic and out there than anything I've seen in CoD to date. It reminded me a lot of Crysis 2.
You're carrying God knows how many power-ups – knives, lasers, dart guns, satellite link-ups – and everyone is dressed in these futuristic armour suits. It's incredibly fast-paced. If I think back to Call of Duty 4, and a map like Crossfire, there was a tremendous sense of space. Each team would occupy one end of the arena and the game would play out in the style of trench warfare – a lot of waiting around, taking your time, peering down the sights.
Now, in this latest CoD, it's more like TimeSplitters, or maybe Titanfall, if you want a comparison you can read into. That game, helmed by Jason West and Vince Zampella, who acrimoniously left the Call of Duty series after a fall out with Activision, is fast and colourful. Likewise, Advanced Warfare practically bullies your eyes with all the pop-ups, flashing numbers and brightly sprayed online environments. A grey-brown war shooter this most certainly is not.
But it's fun. Of course it's fun. I expect in my review of Advanced Warfare I'll bemoan it's political leanings, probably have something to say about "originality," but I'll still play and play this online mode. The people behind CoD's multiplayer are real craft workers – you have to hand it to them.
I just wish they'd go the whole hog. Already I can tell that Advanced Warfare would be better if it was some ludicrous fantasy game about a war between robots. First, that would let the developers create even more ridiculous gadgets for players to use, without being choked by the leash of "plausible fiction."
Second, it would free the game of any troubling sociopolitical context. In issue 3 of the webzine It's Just a Game, Samantha Allen opined that videogames should dispense with human characters altogether, since they seem incapable of properly and suitably dealing with real-world issues. That's an article the creators of Call of Duty should read. If this was a game starring robots, in some distant, Terminator-style future, not only would the tone and entertainment value be much more consistent, there'd be no queasy political insensitivity.
At the very least, it'd be less visible - we wouldn't end up with something like Call of Duty: Ghosts, where a cabal of South American nations conspires to destroy and invade the US.
So, my first impressions of Advanced Warfare are thus: it's competent, it's bound to be lucrative and I'm going to play it just to see how badly – or not – the writers have hashed it up. If I'm completely wrong and the single-player acknowledges itself just as much as this online demo, then great – this should be a game that's joyful and silly and willingly over-the-top.
But if it doesn't, if those Kevin Spacey soliloquies are anything to go by, then I guess this will be just another Call of Duty game, and nothing will change.