Going into the future with 'Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare'

"Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare." (Supplied)

, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:31 PM ET

LOS ANGELES – It may be the most dangerous mission in Call of Duty history.

Namely, how do you rejuvenate a multibillion-dollar video game franchise in a way that makes it feel fresh and exciting, but without alienating its passionate, vocal and often unforgiving fanbase?

Slowly and carefully. That’s how.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, hitting stores Nov. 4, marks a variety of firsts for the long-running military combat series, which has sold more than 140 million copies since the original Call of Duty debuted in 2003.

It will be the first Call of Duty set decades in the future (specifically, the action begins in 2054), the first to tell a story from a single character’s perspective, the first to give players a slew of high-tech, Iron Man-like powers and the first to star an actor as renowned as two-time Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey.

It’s also the first Call of Duty wholly designed by Sledgehammer Games, co-creators of 2011’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and the first game in the series to be granted a three-year development cycle by publishing giant Activision.

“This game is almost like a new IP (intellectual property),” Sledgehammer’s general manager and co-founder Glen Schofield said in an interview at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, where Advanced Warfare had its public unveiling.

“It’s 50 years in the future, it’s next-gen, everything has to be from scratch,” said Schofield. “It also allowed us time to experiment, to iterate, to fail if we had to, then reboot and do it again.”

In the game’s futuristic, yet familiar, setting, private military companies have become so powerful that they rival the military might of the world’s developed nations. The largest of these PMCs, Atlas, is headed by Jonathan Irons (Spacey), who has grown tired of America’s weakness on the world stage. Ultimately, Irons takes on the U.S. government with an array of high-tech toys, from sophisticated attack drones to soldiers wearing powered exoskeletons similar to the contraption grafted to Matt Damon in Elysium.

Players assume the role of a former U.S. Marine named Mitchell (voiced by The Last of Us actor Troy Baker) who signs up with Atlas. While plot details are still under wraps, it’s a pretty safe bet Mitchell will clash with his power-hungry boss.

Although a version of the game will be released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Advanced Warfare is being designed primarily for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows PCs. “It was time to innovate the franchise,” said Michael Condrey, Sledgehammer’s co-founder and head of development. “And so we spent the last three years focusing on the first really radical redesign of player mechanics in a decade.

“It’s kind of new at every corner, but it’s Call of Duty.”

As Mitchell, players will have access to a variety of high-tech gear and abilities, from energy rifles to a cloaking device to the ability to jump great heights and distances. While it feels a bit sci-fi, everything in the game is based on research into cutting-edge military hardware. Well, almost everything.

“We pushed a little too far in certain areas,” said Condrey. “We had a teleportation grenade that we prototyped. It was fun, but it was too science fiction.”

What they didn’t hesitate to push for was Kevin Spacey himself. The role of Jonathan Irons was written with Spacey in mind, and when the actor was finally approached for the part – which would involve spending long days in a performance-capture suit similar to the ones used in Avatar – he was completely on board.

“He was excited because he saw 40 million passionate fans of Call of Duty on a medium he could access in a new way,” Condrey said of Spacey, who lately has been drawing raves as Frank Underwood on the Netflix series House of Cards. (A character who, serendipitously enough, plays first-person shooters to unwind.)

“He’s an iconic part of the game, and his performance has elevated the entire narrative,” said Condrey. “We’ve never had performances like this in the past.”


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