At a certain point, we have to resign ourselves to the eventual and inescapable fate of the Call of Duty franchise. We have realize that it can only become the same thing it fought so hard to disrupt: a standard—if solid—shooter. And that’s not to take anything away from its current Infinite Warfare iteration as it still does the same things well it has always handled nicely, but it has become so monolithic that the trends it once bucked are now an anchor.
It has, however, reinvigorated a great amount of intrigue in its campaign, which is about seven hours of intense, overwhelming, exciting spectacle that’s hard to forget. And it does so while crafting the first in a long time a set of characters that is worth caring about inside of a story that is actually gripping. Combined, it does something that only Black Ops managed, which is a single-player that is as impressive as the series has ever had.
Set in the far distant future, the planet has reformed into a singular United Nations Space Alliance with the aim to facilitate and organize human space colonization. Earth itself has become barren of resources, so anyone left behind has become dependent on these colonies to ship them in, which in turn has transformed these outposts into prime targets for space pirates and space extremists.
The culminating effect is basically the threat of an American Revolution in space, except the revolutionists are categorical and unreserved assholes. You take part as Nick Reyes (Brian Bloom) in the military organization Solar Associated Treaty Organization protecting UNSA endeavours (where apparently the concept of Tier 1 Operators still exists), but you aren’t doing do good since the secession-focused Settlement Defense Front threw a surprise attack party on your front doorstep.
It’s a familiar premise, but the way it plays out is at least interesting. Reyes is thrown almost haphazardly into a role of leadership, commanding an entire warship and its denizens. As you hop around an incredible number of stunning setpieces, a full and complete cast of characters emerge, least of all Reyes revealing an impressive depth. He embodies the idea of growing into command, bolstering false confidence and stepping over his gaps of anxiety and apprehension.
Ancillary characters are just as unique and interesting. Chief Engineer Audrey MaCallum is especially good, using her fall from captainhood as a foil for the overarching themes of morality and sacrifice. And then there’s easily the best character in ETH.3n, a robot naval officer that goes by Ethan, who is stunningly insightful yet funny regarding human nature and conflict. Seeing him set against Staff Sergeant Omar (David Harewood) and his…predilections is especially fun.
Granted, there’s a good amount of problems with consistency and logic in both the characters and the overall plot (along with the noncommittal sci in the sci-fi and inconsequential stunt casting of Game of Throne‘s Kit Harrington), but the gestalt effect in the end is something that works, not least of all because of how it all plays out. True to the series, it’s all about terrifically exciting, pulse-pounding one-off experiences that are guaranteed to leave an impression.
There’s one level that takes place on an asteroid that more or less operates like an even more hyperactive Armageddon mission, spinning at such a rapid rate that you experience multiple day-night cycles in as many minutes. The sheer number of possibilities the game explores through the futuristic space setting makes the game truly tick. Did you want to go to the Moon? Done and done, my friend, and then some.
Fighting in space opens the gameplay up to a wealth of shenanigans that the game fully supports. Shoot out a window and you can see a bunch of untethered, unprotected enemies zip right out into the cold, callous vacuum. Crack off a shot into a helmet and watch them suffocate. Or just give them a solid boot to the chest and off they go, floating into wherever Sandra Bullock awaits stranded astronauts.
And you can’t talk about the gameplay without mentioning the single biggest addition in the Jackals, spaceships made for intimate dogfighting encounters. It’s not all that involved if you’re familiar with the likes of TIE Fighter, but those battles are sufficiently engaging enough to shake things up drastically and often enough to work. Using them to blast from station to ship and engaging in the most hostile of takeovers is the best kind of fun.
The more traditional, rote gameplay of running and shooting, however, is at a series-defining standstill. It’s not that it feels bad, locking in the same sort of silky smooth and responsive 60fps running and shooting it always has, but given the immense leaps and bounds other games like Titanfall 2 have taken, it’s feeling borderline archaic. It’s stiff and unaccommodating despite being totally acceptable.
It’s not helped by the fact that much of what you can do in this game can also be done in Titanfall 2 and it’s all done much better there. Case in point: wall running. In this, you just sort of jump up and stick to a wall and it goes, whereas in Respawn Entertainment’s future shooter, it angles you towards building speed. Everything about that game is about cooking to your next destination while this is more about making sure nothing goes wrong while you do.
It’s hard to draw up any amount of blame to assign to anyone in particular; this set of movement dynamics and mechanics has served Call of Duty just fine—even superbly—for the past nine years. But in the ever-evolving climate of figuring out how to make games feel good, it’s now fallen behind. The once exciting sliding and boosting and blasting of Advanced Warfare has become, well, not so advanced. (And it’s not just about speed. It’s about depth.)
That sentiment carries over to the multiplayer, though for different (and similar) reasons. It has remained largely unchanged from recent entries, especially Black Ops III. The Pick 10 system makes a welcome return, eschewing the unnecessary complications of Ghosts, and Rigs take the place of Specialists, which in turn are the game’s version of character classes.
But maps are unimaginative, skewing towards numbing simplicity over gimmicks and intrigue. Even all the tremendously fun and relatively innovative space stuff has been unceremoniously excised from the multiplayer. It’s back to vanilla Call of Duty, just boots and guns and a shit ton of grenades, which is fine, but that’s all it is.
Mission Teams, however, are a saving grace. By picking one from a set, you are also given a bonus objective to complete during the match. It’s a fantastic way to create a sense of accomplishment even during an overwhelming loss, something the series has been missing for years and years. Earning special skins and guns for being a focused player is a great way to bait even bad player into keep on trucking.
The Zombies mode is, well, still just zombies, so you know what you’re in for. It’s remarkable that they haven’t extracted that out into a separate, sellable title and series, though I’m not complaining about getting more game for the buck. It’s just that it’s an incredibly divisive mode, and one that hasn’t really changed since its inception, so if you weren’t interested before, then you won’t be interested now. Even the colorful and amusing 80s retro vibe won’t be pulling in new players.
It at least offers more guidance than Treyarch’s Zombies modes, providing some insight into the traditionally esoteric (read: fucking indecipherable) methods to achieve full enlightenment, but it’s unchanged enough to be a known quantity. But at least that is only true of the multiplayer side of things. The campaign is simply fantastic despite being built on an aging foundation of mechanics. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s worth playing irrespective of the multiplayer.
+ An amenable but flawed story with great characters
+ Wildly varied and interesting settings with each mission
+ Dogfighting and the other side missions are tons of fun
+ Unwavering commitment to 60 frames per second
– Stagnant movement and shooting mechanics and aesthetics
– Unflinching insistence that people play Zombies
Final Score: 8 out of 10
Game Review: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Release: November 4, 2016
Genre: First-person shooter
Developer: Infinity Ward
Available Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Players: Single-player, multiplayer online