Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Why I Am (Tentatively) Excited About Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Robert Rath | 28 Aug 2014 16:00
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They're Stealing, And That's A Good Thing

Advanced Warfare's rocket-powered jump sure looks a lot like the jetpacks in Titanfall - and as far as I'm concerned that's great. The lack of free movement strangled all the life out of Ghosts, and hopefully a little verticality, preferably married with larger environments, will give the series a little more momentum. Add in the tsunami-pounded multiplayer map that looks a bit like Battlefield 4's Levolution feature and it seems like Sledgehammer's at least altering the formula enough to play catch-up. I'm all for it.

Innovation's great and keeps genres fresh over multiple installments, but it's not the only way to differentiate a game. Look at Dishonored. That game stole mechanics and ideas from a half-dozen other games and put its own thematic stamp on them, and as a result it was amazing. If Sledgehammer proves even half as shameless at pillaging the best parts of other games, it could give the series the blood transfusion it desperately needs.

Female Soldiers In the Campaign

If you put CoD's not-great treatment of Middle Easterners to the side, the series has a pretty good history of representation. Back in the World War II days you'd play as Russians, Brits, and even Polish soldiers. The American Missions in MW2 centered around a black Sergeant Foley and the hilariously put-upon player character, Private Ramirez. Black Ops II had you play as a Middle Eastern undercover agent and tech expert. But apart from multiplayer and a jet pilot, CoD has generally stuck with the (now ended) U.S. military policy of not putting women in combat roles.

But what's that at 2:04 of the gameplay trailer? It looks like an exoskeleton-wearing woman knife fighting an enemy. It's a minor detail, but I liked seeing it - it's another symbol that the series is evolving and taking risks.

They're Talking to the Right People

Peter Singer is a political scientist, international relations scholar, and basically the go-to guy for anything involving emerging trends in 21st century warfare. He has a Ph.D. from Harvard, served on the Balkans Task Force at the Department of Defense, at the International Peace Academy, and on the Obama campaign's Defense Policy Task Force. Currently a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Singer heads the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence.

And he's a consultant on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, a role he also took on for Black Ops II and MGS4.

Singer's research interests make him the perfect consultant for CoD:AW. His book, Corporate Warriors was the first to study the increasing use of military contractors in modern conflict. He's also written books on child soldiers, a New York Times bestseller on drone warfare, and most recently co-authored Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know with Allan Friedman.

COD Advanced Warfare 3

So what will Singer's contribution be like?

Singer's theory is that the new battlefields of the 21st century will be filled with technological threats such as drones and cyberwarfare - a marriage of counterinsurgency, high technology and information warfare wielded by both state and non-state actors. Since Advanced Warfare begins with the world's first simultaneous international terror attack and the trailers include "drone swarms," it's safe to say Sledgehammer's been listening to him - and that bodes well for the game.

Another safe bet is that Advanced Warfare will draw on questions the Pentagon's been kicking around for the last year - namely how to fight wars in mega-cities of 10-20 million people. Operating in such an environment could pose digital challenges beyond the traditional meat grinder nature of urban warfare. Consider a future where hostile locals post troop movements to Twitter or even manufacture suicide drones via 3D printing. The possibility concerns the U.S. Army and Marine Corps enough that several think tanks are puzzling out the details and this month the Army War College hosted a "deep future wargame" set in a coastal megacity.

One of the hotspots cropping up on the Pentagon's list of possible battlefields is Lagos, Nigeria, a city of 21 million people. Lagos is also riven by conflict with the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, which tried to bomb the city's international airport last week.

Lagos, incidentally, appears as a mission location in Advanced Warfare.

So the question is, will these predictions turn out to be true? And even if they do, will they break up the flagging Modern Warfare formula and give us something different enough to hold our interest?

We can only wait and see, and hope that in this instance, having is better than wanting.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher based in Hong Kong. His articles have appeared in The Escapist and Slate. You can follow his exploits at RobWritesPulp.com or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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