Call Of Duty: In­fi­nite War­fare

De­vel­oper In­fin­ity Ward Pub­lisher Ac­tivi­sion For­mat PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

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PC, PS4, Xbox One

That you will spend much of In­fi­nite War­fare think­ing of other games says a lot about the cur­rent state of Call Of Duty. With each pass­ing year, it drifts fur­ther away from the game that won hearts, minds and a vast au­di­ence al­most a decade ago, when it was ac­ces­si­ble, flex­i­ble, and for every­one who was ever in­ter­ested in shoot­ing a videogame sol­dier in the head. As the years roll by, the series heads fur­ther from its con­tem­po­rary set­ting, and af­ter a cou­ple of years of half-ar­s­ing it, here fully em­braces sci-fi.

And so 2016’s Call Of Duty will re­mind you, with its space­bound dog­fights, of EVE Valkyrie. On the deck of the Ret­ri­bu­tion star­ship, the story’s fo­cus on hu­man­ity and ca­ma­raderie will evoke mem­o­ries of Mass Ef­fect. The painted-look­ing ’70s sci-fi aes­thetic of its starscapes re­calls No Man’s Sky. In­fi­nite War­fare’s cam­paign is still a COD game, cer­tainly, a five-hour, largely lin­ear romp along the most spec­tac­u­larly dec­o­rated cor­ri­dor of the year. But as we empty an en­ergy weapon into the umpteenth ro­bot en­emy we’ve smashed to pieces, we don’t feel this is the lat­est game in the series that gave us COD2’ s Omaha Beach land­ing or Modern War­fare’s All Ghillied Up. In­stead it feels like a hugely over­funded se­quel to Sega’s 2012 B-game Bi­nary Domain.

The cru­cial dif­fer­ence be­ing that Sega’s ro­bots were ac­tu­ally fun to fight: limbs would splin­ter and break off, af­fect­ing their move­ment. Here, they just keep com­ing. Put them down, pre­sum­ing them dead, and they’ll just get up again. Some­times, at the brink of death, they’ll ac­ti­vate their self-de­struct mech­a­nisms and rush you. There’s an ir­ri­tat­ing lack of feed­back to things dy­ing, a prob­lem com­pounded by the ag­gres­sive flinch when you take a hit and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing jam-slathered screen that has long been this series’ call­ing card, but feels es­pe­cially un­suit­able in a game set al­most ex­clu­sively in the dark and that takes place over longer ranges than ever, its scale widened out by the black­ness of space.

Thank­fully, the ar­se­nal makes up for it, with a broad range of en­ergy and bal­lis­tic weapons, many of which have two modes of fire – an as­sault ri­fle be­com­ing a shot­gun, for in­stance – and a range of gad­gets that go far be­yond the usual frags and flash­bangs. Anti-grav­ity grenades fling en­e­mies into the air; a shield that springs out of your fore­arm lets you close dis­tance on those hard-to-see en­e­mies; a drone zips about gun­ning down grunts, help­fully mark­ing tar­gets on your HUD. There’s even a so­lu­tion to the ro­bot prob­lem with a re­mote­hack tool that lets you as­sume con­trol of one in first­per­son, run­ning around and punch­ing things be­fore hit­ting the self-de­struct. While its style and set­ting are worlds apart from early CODs, In­fi­nite War­fare is, like its pre­de­ces­sors, ul­ti­mately a cel­e­bra­tion of toys.

Com­bat can be irk­some, then, but only in the con­text of a sin­gle­player cam­paign that feels like a step for­ward for its host series in nearly ev­ery other re­spect. The of­ten break­neck pace of a COD game has a lit­tle more breath­ing room here with en­forced down­time be­tween mis­sions, as you freely walk the halls of the Ret­ri­bu­tion, af­ter be­ing made cap­tain of it early on. Re­la­tion­ships de­velop with – get this – be­liev­ably writ­ten char­ac­ters. Grunts chat about the pre­vi­ous mis­sion, or veg out in front of TV news re­ports and be­moan ob­vi­ous pro­pa­ganda. It’s hardly rev­o­lu­tion­ary – the story it­self is stan­dard good-vs-evil stuff, al­beit in space this time – and an­tag­o­nist Kit Har­ring­ton is de­nied the role (or screen time) to show his best.

And then there is space. Gun­fights are strange, feel­ing as much un­der­wa­ter as they do in plan­e­tary or­bit, al­beit with a grap­pling hook that lets you flit speed­ily be­tween pieces of cover. Dog­fights, how­ever, are a joy, giv­ing you full con­trol over your ship but hav­ing au­topi­lot kick in when you lock onto an en­emy, boost­ing to top speed and bank­ing el­e­gantly to keep the tar­get roughly in your sights. Af­ter 12 games of mov­ing largely from cover to cover down elab­o­rate cor­ri­dors, hav­ing such el­e­gantly con­trolled free­dom is like a dream, and In­fin­ity Ward fills all that empty space with, es­sen­tially, a load of big things blow­ing up spec­tac­u­larly. All told, this is the most re­fresh­ing COD cam­paign in years, even if that’s damn­ing with faint praise.

Faint praise would be a bless­ing for the mul­ti­player mode, how­ever. The se­cret to COD’s world-beat­ing suc­cess was that it was a shooter any­one could play, with a gun for ev­ery oc­ca­sion and perks to help atone for a given player’s short­com­ings. Yet as the years roll by it’s now a mode built specif­i­cally for a core au­di­ence of, we as­sume, very young men with cat­like re­ac­tions. There are some well-mean­ing ad­di­tions – chal­lenges styled on Destiny’s boun­ties that sweeten the pill of an­other loss with a dol­lop of XP, for in­stance. But the ac­tion is so fast, and the time to kill so low, that any­one out­side of the hard­core Call Of Duty au­di­ence is in for a rough ride, es­pe­cially on maps that seem to have been de­signed from schemat­ics for round­abouts.

Suf­fice it to say that it’s no longer our thing: the su­per­sol­dier fan­tasy should make you feel pow­er­ful, not an­cient. Oth­ers in the same po­si­tion may find more to like in Zom­bies mode (see ‘Day of the daft’), which this time de­camps – em­pha­sis on ‘camp’ – to the ’80s. Its in­clu­sion in ev­ery new Call Of Duty, rather than just those made by Tre­yarch, sug­gests that Ac­tivi­sion un­der­stands that com­pet­i­tive mul­ti­player isn’t the univer­sal draw it used to be. The re­sult is a game that seems un­cer­tain of its place in the world: a smart cam­paign that is at its best when it’s not be­ing Call Of Duty, a mul­ti­player mode that seems to get dumber ev­ery year, and an un­dead-in­fested side-mode that rev­els in its silli­ness. No won­der In­fi­nite War­fare re­minds us of other games: it has too much of an iden­tity cri­sis to stand on its own.

The ac­tion is so fast, and the time to kill so low, that any­one out­side of the hard­core COD au­di­ence is in for a rough ride

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