Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Developer Infinity Ward Publisher Activision Format PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Release Out now
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