Call of Duty shines in Cologne as Activision bids to boost pre-orders

In Activision’s recent financials, CEO Eric Hirshberg revealed a worrying statistic.

He said that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is ‘not immune’ to the downturn in pre-order numbers impacting the entire industry.

He is right, this is not an exclusive trend that’s hurting just Activision’s market leading shooter. And let’s not forget that this game is being pushed as a next-gen release, and the install bases for Xbox One and PS4 – although good – are not as high as its predecessors (yet).

Nevertheless, pre-orders remain a significant barometer to the eventual performance of an upcoming title, and early signs suggest that Advanced Warfare might mark another sales dip for the Call of Duty brand.

So the publisher rocked up in style in Cologne this week for pre-Gamescom reveal of Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer mode, with the intention of giving Call of Duty a big shot in the arm. And it’s been a successful 24 hours for the IP.

Visually the game is a noticeable and significant step-up over last year’s Call of Duty: Ghosts. But the real changes in Advanced Warfare is in its gameplay.

Granted, the Exo-suit experience (where players can leap around the maps) is akin to Titanfall, but there are a few other neat twists here that brings to mind the likes of Crysis and Battlefield. One journalist even compared the game’s feel to Unreal Tournament.

It is, at its heart, Call of Duty. Frenetic, fast-paced, twitch-based gunplay. And for those that are not a fan of the series, you won’t be converted by what Sledgehammer has put together.

But the major additions to the gameplay, from customising your character, to Supply Drops and, of course, the ability to jump and dash around the landscape, offers something genuinely new. And for fans that may have grown bored or tired of the Call of Duty formulae in the past, there’s now a good reason to return.

So the game is looking good. The general consensus, at least amongst the journalists we spoke to at the event, is that developer Sledgehammer is delivering the goods. And we loved what we played, too.

But is it enough to significantly turn around the sluggish pre-order momentum, and give Advanced Warfare the start in life it looks like it will deserve?

Possibly not on its own, which is why Activision has announced a Day Zero edition of the game to try and entice customers to put their money down. At no extra cost, this version of the title lets gamers play the title an entire day early.

It’s actually a significant move that poses a few questions and challenges of retail. For instance, online retailers will face the difficulty of trying to get two versions of the game out at the right time.

And a legitimate question over how midnight launches will work is also being asked (is it Sunday night now? Monday night? Both?). Although you can guarantee Activision will ensure the game arrives in style on the High Street.

Advanced Warfare finds itself in somewhat of a privileged position this Christmas. GTA V will make its mark, but Call of Duty has no real direct shooter rival this year, what with both Battlefield and Evolve being pushed into 2015.

Which means there’s never been a better opportunity for Call of Duty to reclaim its place as the world’s biggest entertainment brand.

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