Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare multiplayer preview and screens: A whole new ball game
Activision chose to unveil its latest Call of Duty's multiplayer talents in Cologne prior to the opening of Gamescom and that allowed us to get a thoroughly decent slice of action free from time and schedule constraints.
It was a wise move as we needed a couple of hours to play Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare for us to really get to grips with the wide scope of modes and maps on offer.
For a start, the game takes the franchise in a very different direction this year. And because of its science fiction, near future theme, multiplayer this time out feels different to almost every other CoD game before it.
That's not to say it is totally alien. Some of the modes are very familiar, such as Team Deathmatch, Hardpoint and Capture the Flag, which we played during the dedicated Activision event. They are the meat and potatoes of all FPS games, not just CoD. Uplink, however, is new and it was quickly entrenched after a few minutes of play as one of our favourites.
Uplink is effectively a sports match dressed in science fiction clothing. A spherical drone appears on the map, equidistant to the players of each of the two teams – six versus six in our sessions – and the first player to grab it must try to get it to an uplink point, of which there is one either end of the map representing each team.
The drone (which we may as call a ball) can be thrown between players and when a team member is holding it, they cannot use any weapons. Think American football with guns and you're halfway there.
Not only did we seem to be better on average at this mode than the others played on the day, its rules were easy to grasp from the off, being similar to many team sports. It was also the easiest, considering that team members couldn't chat to each other at this stage, to slip into strategies and tactics.
It was also situated on, what we feel, is the most visually impressive of the maps on offer. Set in and around a disused bunker underneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the surroundings were suitably distressed and graffiti covered. However, the most impressive element comes halfway through the match when sirens ring out and alerts warn all of an incoming tsunami wave. When it hits, it fills half the level with water and therefore changes the playing field dramatically. And you certainly don't want to be stood there when it arrives.
Other maps we played on included Riot, which is based in a deserted prison in Baghdad, Ascend, in a space elevator station, and our Team Deathmatch round was in a Biolab, where experiments float in giant vats that, when exploded, release poisonous gas into the air – much to the displeasure of players in the vicinity.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Advanced Warfare's multiplayer though is that it never felt too restrictive, quite the opposite. Developer Sledgehammer Games has gone to some effort to make this outing the most customisable CoD multiplayer experience yet and it shows.
For example, the amount of customisation available for weapons means that players have access to an arsenal that contains nearly 350 items of destruction. Plus, it has introduced the concept of Supple Drops, that either reward great play or help balance the game for players that find themselves hopelessly outclassed.
These appear between rounds and once opened offer a vast array of add-ons, weapons and bonuses, even new clothing items that are more aesthetic than functional. It certainly gives, even in our relatively brief play, an impression of uniqueness to in-game characters. So many permutations for physical appearance and load outs are possible that it would be a miracle if you encountered the exact same type of character twice.
Adding Boost to tbe game is also a great move in our opinion. Like with Titanfall and several other games that have appeared lately, Call of Duty has a form of double jump jetpack boost available to players. In CoD Advanced Warfare's case, that comes in the form of an exo-skeleton that all combatants wear. It provides a character the means to perform feats beyond normal human ability, and Sledgehammer the tools to offer some madcap and crazy action.
As well as Boost Jump, which helps players reach higher vantage points and use vertical motion to great effect, there is Boost Dodge, Boost Slam and Boost Slide. Slam is the hardest to pull off, we found, but when cracked can dispatch opponents in the most satisfying way possible.
The Exo also offers a stack of extra abilities that can be activated during play, with one assignable per load out. There are features such as a brief bout of invisibility, super speed, and even the ability to prevent any enemy grenade or rocket hitting you. None of them last long, but can make a difference in a tight fight.
Ultimately, what our hands-on session with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare proved is just how fun Sledgehammer has made its multiplayer modes. And we've only touched on some of them. There will be 12 different multiplayer game modes available from launch, including another two that have been announced, but not available to play yet: Search and Destroy and Momentum.
There are some that will initially see similarities in themes, both visual and in gameplay, with other titles - certainly Titanfall and halo have been mentioned in the past - but a good hour or so of play and those feelings evaporate.
Instead, while it is the annual Call of Duty game and will happily sate the appetite of CoD die-hards, it feels fresh, new and a well-received shot in the arm for a franchise that has sometimes favoured the spectacular. This will no doubt have the grand single-player set pieces too, but even at this stage we can tell that its heart is in the right place.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will be available for PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC from 4 November.