Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare PC, PS4, Xbox One
Infinity Ward fights gravity and the past
Before they could discover new worlds, the first astronauts had to rediscover movement, adjusting to an environment in which the only meaningful prepositions are ‘towards’ and ‘away’. In transporting players to Earth’s orbit and beyond, Call Of Duty: Infinite
Warfare is attempting its own reinvention, but the shift is, so far, oddly lacking in drama – grounded, as ever, by the pressures of balancing the gunplay for returning players and the fawning yet selective consultation with real-life military authorities.
During the campaign’s handful of zero-G sections, there’s a grappling harpoon you can use to ping between chunks of free-floating debris, an acceleration of flanking that’s exhilarating but not transformative. You’ll also board a starfighter that uses roughly the same control scheme as on-foot combat, allowing you to aim down the sights and strafe as you unleash missiles and cannons against kilometre-long capital ships. “We have US Navy Seal consultants and we asked, ‘If you were going to fight in a zero-gravity environment, how would that play out in your mind?’” narrative director Taylor
Kurosaki explains. “And they all said, over and over again: ‘You need to be in cover, just like on the ground’.”
It’s a dispiritingly mundane vision of space conflict, following the wide-eyed naivete of games such as No Man’s Sky, though Infinity Ward does share with Hello Games a hatred of rough edges. The plot might take you from Mars to Europa, but where previous
CODs are all rapid perspective shifts, this iteration’s transitions have been carefully smoothed down. A breakneck descent from a cruiser’s bridge to a moon’s congealed and winding crust is fluidly delivered as a mix of firstperson storytelling and prerendered cutscene, with no loading pauses. “The game is effectively in realtime,” Kurosaki says. The plot also aims to unify what Kurosaki (a veteran of Sony’s Uncharted series) terms the two poles of the COD- brand war story – the tale of the grunt in the trenches versus that of the unit commander, bowed by responsibility. As by-the-numbers Caucasian protagonist Nick Reyes, you’ll ultimately take charge of a capital ship, the Retribution, to pursue a war against the Settlement Defense Front, a group of colonial revolutionaries led by Game Of Thrones star Kit Harington.
Multiplayer, meanwhile, disregards
the possibilities and challenges of zero-G traversal almost entirely in favour of Infinity Ward’s own spin on Black Ops 3’ s engagingly hefty boost-jumping and wall-running, whose grandest additions, the RIGS, are essentially more focused, impersonal versions of Black
Ops 3’ s MOBA-esque Specialists. There are six in all, each encompassing a choice of three super abilities that are charged up during the match like killstreaks, plus one of three passive traits. If the abilities and traits themselves are familiar, there’s a pleasing precision to how they interlock and complement the game’s brashly restyled mix of weapon classes, grenades, deployables and streak rewards.
The robotic Synaptics RIG, for example, has the ability to transform into a four-legged mech that’s controlled in thirdperson, lowering your hitbox and boosting your melee attack – a party trick that chimes nicely with a trait that briefly increases your speed for every enemy downed. A more calculating Stryker player might opt for a turret that can be placed on walls and floors, plus a trait whereby placed equipment and throwables mark targets on the HUD. It’s both a deepening of COD’s class elements and, in narrowing down the cast after Black Ops 3, an acknowledgement that the diversity of roles offered by MOBAs doesn’t work for a shooter in which, to quote multiplayer designer Joe
Cecot, “Every player wants to be a rockstar.” The multiplayer also takes a page from Bungie’s Destiny in the form of new weapon prototypes, crafted using salvage that’s gathered in-game (Activision has yet to say whether you can also buy prototypes via microtransactions, but we’ll be surprised if this isn’t the case). There are four grades of each weapon model, distinguished by garish decals and arcane perks – a weapon-specific streak that calls in a tactical nuke after 25 kills, for example, or a viewfinder that highlights wounded opponents. “One of the things Call Of Duty has been really successful with in the past is taking things from other genres,” Cecot notes. “Player progression, the XP bar, levelling up – you could even look at scorestreaks as filling up your super meter and calling in something epic in a fighting game. So I would say, yes, Destiny had some influence.” It’s unlikely that Infinite Warfare’s rarer guns will exert the same appeal of a Gjallarhorn – Call Of Duty is too well-known a property to generate that kind of mystique
– but they’re certainly more engaging incentives for long-term play than Prestiging a character for the 11th time over.
Infinite Warfare is hardly unique in subordinating a vivid setting to the needs of a proven combat loop, and nor is it alone in posing a future that bleakly and complacently slops Earth’s wars for resources across the galaxy. But there’s something arresting about how Infinity Ward’s approach cuts against that of Treyarch, the studio’s oldest internal rival. Black Ops 3 was an untidy punk remix for Call Of Duty, its chapters playable in any order, its well-worn design elements made visible to the player as holographic projections, its plot a clumsy meditation on the bankruptcy of its own geopolitics. Infinite
Warfare craves that availability to player choice, but seems unwilling to risk any fragmentation or self-referentiality. Its campaign occasionally lets you choose which missions to play first, for example, but represents this as Reyes deciding where to continue the fight for the solar system – there’s no sense, as in Black Ops 3, that the ability to rearrange the narrative might be a commentary on COD’s lack of real cohesion.
Only in the returning wave-based Zombies mode does the developer really permit itself the luxury of a little fourth-wall theatre. As associate project director Lee Ross puts it, “If you look at the rest of the game you’re in Kansas, and when you step into Zombies you’re in Oz.” This instalment of the cherished mode is set in an ’80s theme-park with ridable rollercoasters. Held together by the usual rhythm of slaying waves of undead and spending the rewards on gear and unlockable paths, it seems as much a colourful staging ground for anxieties about artificial-feeling COD scenario elements as it is a throwback to Flynn’s Arcade and Captain EO.
Infinity Ward’s latest project is, above all, caught in the gravity well of two games: the developer’s previous Call Of Duty: Ghosts, a traumatic cross-generation game that was completed following an exodus of staff to Respawn Entertainment, and the original, trend-setting Modern Warfare, which has been (perhaps counter-productively) remastered to accompany Infinite Warfare as a special edition. The turmoil of the former explains this iteration’s obsession with smoothness and polish; the presence of the latter its reluctance to stray too far from formula. The results are robust enough to entice but, so far, neither the existential challenge posed by
Black Ops 3 nor the possibilities of the premise feel like they’re being fully embraced.
Infinity Ward’s latest project is, above all, caught in the gravity well of two games
Call Of Duty’s real classes are its weapons, not its characters. Imposing though they are, the new RIGS are auxiliary systems
FROM TOP Associate project director Lee Ross; narrative director Taylor Kurosaki; multiplayer designer Joe Cecot
Reyes’ ship, the Retribution, is Mass Effect’s Normandy without the soap opera subplots, a hub space where you’ll rearm and plot out your next adventure
TOP LEFT Cameos for this year’s Zombies mode include Seth Green and The Hoff. It’s more accessible than BlackOps3’ s puzzledriven offering, but theme-park rides pose bespoke challenges.
ABOVE The weapon streaks mix old standbys such as the UAV and Care Package with slight innovations such as a mech that can be set to autopilot – a nod to Titanfall
LEFT The game’s capital ships are a fusion of NASA space station and US Navy carrier, flat-topped with retractable Faster Than Light drives and swivelling deck guns