Kevin Spacey can't save "Call of Duty" from itself. But perhaps an Iron Man-like "exoskeleton" can.
Spacey plays the egomaniacal leader of a private military corporation in the single-player story mode of "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare" (Activision, for the PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One). Despite often choppy animation of his performance capture acting, Spacey lends smarmy gravitas to his character, the highlight of an otherwise rote, self-serious, globe-trotting campaign.
Longtime "CoD" fans may find themselves yawning as various commanders guide player-controlled soldier Jack Mitchell on an overly familiar series of missions revolving around multiple terror attacks and shifting allegiances.
The levels are built with immense graphical polish and meticulous attention to detail, but too often feel like they're simply ticking boxes required for a modern first-person shooter. You'll snipe from afar, get a "sitrep" (situation report) and be advised to "let them pass." You'll fight on a bridge, on an aircraft carrier, in a forest, at a fancy resort. You'll fly a plane, rappel and zip line into battle, and command a turret gun.
Despite the futuristic setting — the plot kicks off in 2054 — players still get only minor iterations on core game mechanics that have changed little since 2007's "Modern Warfare." I had hoped for more from new lead developer Sledgehammer Games.
The key innovation — an "exoskeleton" armored suit — is woefully underutilized in the single-player story. Fortunately, it's indispensable and highly customizable in the online multiplayer mode, where most people spend the vast majority of their time.
Movement through maps is fundamentally changed by the exo-suit's ability to swiftly double-jump and dodge, both accompanied by a satisfying pneumatic whoosh sound and cool on-screen blur effects. Unlockable perks now include temporary cloaking, health or speed boosts. You can toss out floating enemy-tracking robots like grenades.
On the surface, it's stuff that space shooters like "Halo" have been doing for years, but there's a weightiness and sheen to the execution here that more than makes up for the less-than-stellar single-player mode.
Another interesting graphical change stemming from the exo-suit: Multiplayer is refreshingly bloodless, with the bonus option of spattering walls and other players with paintball effects.
New colorful clothing choices and random loot drops of modified weapons also show developers playing catch up to games like "Borderlands," but are welcome tweaks for "CoD" loyalists. "Advanced Warfare" is a big step up from last year's undercooked, muddled "Ghosts." Here's hoping for more innovation next time around.
Three stars out of four.