Sledgehammer Games disrupted the Call of Duty franchise with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare back in 2014. As a series that has largely seen incremental improvements and, at times, odd detours within its highly established framework, Advance Warfare was precisely the shot in the arm that Call of Duty needed. An inarguably more focused story in its single player and more robust customization options in online play were certainly welcome changes to the franchise, but the introduction of the exosuit made Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare the best multiplayer instalment in the franchise since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
The comparisons to Titanfall, a game that came from Call of Duty’s original creators, were understandable, but inaccurate. Although Advanced Warfare also featured jetpack boosting, Sledgehammer’s methodology differed in that it didn’t just liberate your movement so that you can make it from ground, to windowsill, to roof top within seconds. Advanced Warfare granted the player with positional offensive and defensive options that allowed the player to pilot their avatar like a mech, where you could dash in and out of cover or close gaps between yourself and the enemy.
When used for defence, the exosuit’s capabilities changed Call of Duty in a big way more than anything else. Historically, the franchise has been all about lining up your crosshairs and pulling the trigger quicker than your opponent. But with boosting incorporated into the combat loop, it granted the target a split second opportunity to respond to getting shot, and forced the gunner to always keep in mind the target’s option to flee, thus reading the entire level design differently. Titanfall might have taken away the need to use stairs, but Advanced Warfare empowered the player with more fundamental options in the heat of a firefight.
After Sledgehammer’s acclaimed departure within the Call of Duty ethos, the bar seemed to be set so high to the point that sceptical fans wondered if the next title would build upon Advanced Warfare. While Black Ops 3 has in no way reverted back to vanilla Call of Duty, much of what made Advanced Warfare control so well is gone, namely the lateral boosting. You can no longer side dash into cover or around a corner, or boost backwards if you’ve walked into the line of fire. When facing such situations in Black Ops 3, the game almost makes you feel like the sitting duck you once were in all instalments prior to and including Call of Duty: Ghosts.
Of course, Black Ops 3 comes with its own bag of tricks, many in which make it feel all too familiar to Titanfall. Yes, as I’m sure you’ve heard, Black Ops 3 has its own jetpack mechanic, but it is governed by fuel that can be exhausted all at once for a higher jump, or feathered for elongated air time. Even more reminiscent of Titanfall, Black Ops 3 also has its own wall running mechanic which, interestingly enough, players can also use to change direction midstream. Both systems preserve the notion of Call of Duty being a more mobile shooter, however the combat itself is, yet again, about who pulls the trigger first… except when you factor in the new knee slide.
Performing a knee slide is the closest Black Ops 3 will ever feel to Advanced Warfare. What’s interesting about Black Ops 3’s knee slides is that they are not just used for getting one up on an enemy. This is thanks to the added ability to rotate in any direction while pulling one off. The use of a knee slide can generally be applied to situations where your opponent’s location is somewhat perpendicular to where you’re facing. For example: I’ve ran into a room blindly not noticing an enemy to my left or right. After getting shot, I dived into a knee slide before facing them directly and gunned them down. Other times, while being chased, I would knee-slide into a doorway just before rotating a full 180 degrees and then crouching with my weapon at the ready, awaiting my pursuer to rush in after me. It’s a cool ass mechanic that’ll likely be useful in more moments than I can think of once the e-Sports community spends some quality time with the game. But it also makes me wish that Treyarch had more development time, or would have been a bit more thoughtful in carrying over all of Advanced Warfare’s mechanics to Black Ops 3.
Black Ops 3’s Specialist system can open up your options in ways that allow you to act and react at a moment’s notice, somewhat similar to how it was done in Advanced Warfare. Prophet’s “Glitch” is easily the best example, which allows you to teleport to a previous position instantly. Ruin’s “Overdrive” may also replicate some strategies from Advanced Warfare where once triggered, he’ll get a massive speed boost. But even if there was a character that could magically sprout an exosuit from their back and start dashing in all directions, it doesn’t change the fact that these abilities are Specialist exclusive. Because of this, Black Ops 3’s balancing incorporates all types of abilities, whether they’re based on movement or not.
Treyarch looks as if they’re going to keep the franchise relevant within the new growing trend of highly mobile and fast paced shooters. However, after following the welcome disruption that was Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Black Ops 3 seems to take a step back from the fundamentals that Sledgehammer introduced. Fancy tricks packaged within the new suite of specialists aren’t enough to make up for what was once a universal toolset for combat. Advanced Warfare, you will be missed (not that I can’t pop the ol’ disc in and play it anyway).
Be sure to check out our Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 review later this year.