Wage war across the Solar System with space-age tools of combat.
PC Release: November 4, 2016
By Ian Coppock
Oorah! The battle of hyper-masculine, low-innovation shooters continues with Call of Duty stepping into the ring against Battlefield. Never before has the contrast between the two series been as stark as in 2016; while Battlefield 1 takes shooters back to World War I, Call of Duty takes them into the future… where…
Wait a minute. Hasn’t Call of Duty done this five times in a row now? Oh Lord. For better and for worse, Call of Duty is extremely consistent. This year’s Call of Duty release has been particularly contentious, for reasons that we’ll discuss in a moment. For now, it’s time to dive into the spanking new Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare to see what it has to offer to the world of gaming in general and shooters in particular.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is a first-person military shooter developed by Infinity Ward (one of three studios licensed to create Call of Duty games) and published by video game mega-label Activision. Each studio produces a new Call of Duty game on a rotational basis, and this year marks Infinity Ward’s first step into the spotlight since 2013’s Call of Duty: Ghosts. Infinity Ward prides itself as the studio behind 2007’s critically acclaimed Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, but that claim is a bit misleading. The studio’s original founders were fired by Activision in 2010 under murky circumstances, and when they left, almost all of Modern Warfare‘s developers went with them. So while it’s technically true that this studio made Modern Warfare, the actual people behind that game have since moved on to found Respawn Entertainment and make the critically acclaimed Titanfall games.
Infinity Ward has struggled to find its footing since the exodus of its original team. 2011’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was… passable, but 2013’s Call of Duty: Ghosts is by far the worst Call of Duty game ever made, and that’s not exactly a high bar to clear. When Infinity Ward unveiled Infinite Warfare earlier this year, the game’s first trailer became one of the most disliked videos on YouTube. Consumers and critics unfavorably compared the game to Halo and pointed out that this is the fifth Call of Duty game in as many years to use a futuristic sci-fi motif. Again, Call of Duty is nothing if not consistent, but Infinity Ward’s latest effort does deserve a fair evaluation.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare takes place far into the future, a future in which mankind has achieved advanced spaceflight and colonized other planets in the Solar System. Humanity’s interests in space and on earth are governed by the United Nations Space Alliance (UNSA) and protected by the Solar Associated Treaty Organization, or SATO. Decades before the start of the game, an authoritarian separatist group called the Settlement Defense Front wrests control of Mars from the UNSA and declares its independence, leading to a tense stalemate between the two worlds. Each one makes grabs for different planets in the Solar System, building fleets and fortifying space stations.
After a bombastic but ultimately anticlimactic prologue, Infinite Warfare‘s narrative kicks off with the arrival of Nick Reyes, a special forces space pilot and the game’s main protagonist. Reyes and his partner Nora “Salt” Salter arrive to Geneva just in time for the Settlement Defense Front to launch a surprise attack on earth, knocking out most of the UNSA’s space fleet. Reyes is promoted to captain of the starship Retribution and given one mission: stop the SDF. Reyes is voiced by inveterate games voice actor Brian Bloom, while Kit Harington of Game of Thrones fame provides his voice and likeness to Admiral Salen Kotch, leader of the SDF and the game’s main antagonist.
From the bridge of the Retribution, Reyes assembles an elite team of pilots and space marines to defeat the SDF. It’s at this point that Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare surprises with something that’s been missing in the entire Call of Duty series up to this point: diversity. Reyes not only has a female deuteragonist on his crew; he also counts two Asian-Americans, a female Gabonese navigator, a black Brit, and basically every other demographic and minority that Call of Duty has omitted from its previous games. The sudden shift to a diverse cast is a welcome change of pace for a series that built itself up on the backs of gritty, stone-faced white dudes. At the very least, it makes Infinite Warfare easier to take seriously.
What makes Infinite Warfare difficult to take seriously is how cartoonishly evil the Settlement Defense Front is. Its animosity toward earth is never clearly explained and basically boils down to “we want to kill you because we’re evil”. SDF mantras will pop up on the screen when Reyes dies, containing such hilariously overkill notions as “freedom is evil” and “war is amazing, everyone should want war all the time because drinking blood is great”. The exposition in Infinite Warfare reads like a script by a preteen Michael Bay, and somehow it’s twice as incoherent.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare contains the exact same running and gunning that we’ve all come to expect of Call of Duty games over the years. Reyes finds a gun, points it at a bad guy, and squeezes the trigger until the bad guy’s blood and organs have been sufficiently evacuated from his body. The gunplay in this game is absolutely nothing that shooter fans in general and CoD fans in particular haven’t already seen literally ten times before now. Infinite Warfare sprinkles a few little novelties over the generic shooter pie, like a spider grenade that hops onto enemies and a hacking tool for taking over enemy robots, but the heart of the game is the same heart that’s pumped for every other CoD game.
Slightly more novel and a lot more fun are the game’s flying sections. Though he spends plenty of time with his boots on the ground, Reyes’s pilot training means that he also spends at least some of each mission in the cockpit of his Jackal starfighter. Players can engage the SDF in large-scale dogfights across space, with lots of enemy fighters and big capital ships for good measure. Console gamers have complained of this mode’s clunky controls, but flying a Jackal on PC is not only smooth, but quite fun. Like the first-person shooting, it’s hardly anything complicated, but it feels like a meaty enough morsel of novelty to make Infinite Warfare stand further apart from its peers.
Infinite Warfare‘s visuals are also much better than expected. The aging IW engine that’s been in use since Modern Warfare can still pull a few tricks, resulting in diverse, well-lit environments on par with those of Battlefield 1. Infinity Ward also avoided its past mistakes of making environments look too glossy, spritzing every space fight and every planetary landing with plenty of dirt and mud. Infinite Warfare has more lens flares than a J.J. Abrams film, but it’s an impressive lighting setup. Textures and character details are similarly crisp and clearly defined.
Another nice thing about Infinite Warfare? It runs well- that is, after having to validate 10 files that didn’t download from Steam properly, but after that, it’s virtually bug-free on decent machines. Not every gamer has been this lucky, but Infinite Warfare‘s build is head and shoulders more stable than Ghosts or Advanced Warfare. For anything else that can be said about this game, it has the fundamentals down pretty tight.
So, Infinite Warfare runs well, looks good, and introduces at least one novel gameplay element. Is the larger game any good? Well… yes and no. It’s not as bad as the number of dislikes on its YouTube trailer imply, but it’s certainly not good enough to advance the Call of Duty series in a meaningful way. For a start, the single-player narrative of Infinite Warfare is flatly written and has the pacing of a drunkard. The game’s dialogue and exposition contain the same old platitudes about the nature of war and standing up for loved ones and all that well-meaning-but-derivative psychobabble we’ve already heard in 10 CoD games before this one.
The game’s story starts out at a strong clip but quickly collapses into some of the worst pacing of any modern video game. Instead of ending the story on a nice, climactic confrontation with Salen Kotch, Infinite Warfare forces players through an awkwardly slapdash boss “battle” and then 40 more minutes of blowing stuff up before abruptly cutting to black. None of the characters are written to be interesting or endearing, which makes it hard to care when they die, and even the robot written in for comedic effect gets old pretty fast. For any relief afforded by its smooth running and fun to be had with its flying, Infinite Warfare has one of the clumsiest Call of Duty narratives ever penned. It’s not the worst, but it sure ain’t no Modern Warfare.
As with other Call of Duty games of the past 5-6 years, Infinite Warfare seems deathly afraid of doing something different. The missions in the single-player campaign are some of the most pedestrian first-person shooting imaginable. Ironically, the real fun of the campaign is sequestered away in optional side missions, where Reyes can hit side targets to expedite his battle against the SDF. These missions feature much more novel situations and gameplay than the mainline missions, like hopping between asteroids on route to a big spaceship, dogfighting in the clouds of Venus… one mission even contains stealth gameplay. Stealth gameplay! In a freaking Call of Duty game!
Are these innovations featured in the main missions, though? No, of course not. The main missions are in the same stream of running and gunning that, again, we’ve already seen nearly a dozen times. Any gimmicks or novelties that Call of Duty presents are available for one mission, maybe one moment, before being tucked back into the ether by Activision’s commitment to homogeneous gameplay. It’s remarkable that a Call of Duty game even features side missions, though, and it is fun to roam the halls of the Retribution and fly to other worlds. It’s like Infinite Warfare is trying to be a diet Mass Effect.
Okay, so not everyone buys Call of Duty for its story, right? Right. How is the multiplayer, the main meat of the game? The multiplayer is the exact. Same. Freaking. Mode. That we have seen in 10. Other. Call of Duty. Games. Tiny maps, senseless shooting, instant respawns. No tactics, no strategy, just DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE. The fact that Call of Duty‘s multiplayer hasn’t changed one iota since the previous game is unsurprising, but still disappointing. It’s a massive disservice to fans of the series to churn out the same mode year after year and charge sixty dollars for it. Inveterate Call of Duty fans will blaze no new trails in Infinite Warfare‘s multiplayer mode, and PC shooter fans are better off playing something with bigger, more epic battles and dynamic environments (something like Battlefield 1, for instance).
Okay, so single-player is mediocre and multiplayer is a total wash. What about zombies, the third gameplay mode that’s become endemic to the Call of Duty series? The zombies mode is, again, a clone of every zombie mode in every Call of Duty game since the mode debuted in Call of Duty: World at War. Players shoot zombies and board up the windows between rounds. The 1980’s spaceland carnival park setting bears some novelty, but said novelty is never really capitalized upon.
In closing, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare starts out on a strong note, but its pitiful writing, reluctance to innovate, and cloned multiplayer make it just as tired and rehashed as we all expected of the newest installment of the Call of Duty franchise. Its gameplay has some moments of fun, but those moments aren’t worth suffering through a sixty dollar purchase and hours of poorly paced narrative to experience. Battlefield 1 is the clear winner of this year’s shooter tussle; not because it did anything particularly great, but because Infinite Warfare did so many things wrong.
To be fair, though, Activision wouldn’t keep churning out these crappy games if customers didn’t keep buying them. So vote with your money. Don’t buy Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. When a series has reached its breaking point, it collapses, and the developer has a chance to innovate and re-introduce it down the road. That’s what Ubisoft did with the Assassin’s Creed series, and it’s what Activision should do with Call of Duty. The series, and its customers, will be much better off in the long run.
But Activision will only do it if you tell them to.
You can buy Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.