The Call of Duty franchise has acquired a substantially large and rabid fanbase following a decade of annual releases. It’s become the de facto first-person shooter not only due to its industry-leading sales, but because so many other developers have tried to emulate the series' mechanics, motifs and success — both critically and commercially — over the years. #CallofDuty has been king for quite some time now, but unfortunately, with success comes complacency. Each new entry has been met with increasing cynicism from enthusiasts and detractors alike because the franchise more adequately represents Activision’s business model as a whole, rather than Call of Duty's rich legacy.
As a result, Infinite Warfare has felt more like the last straw than any previous release in the franchise. Its future-centric space aesthetic turned off quite a few fans with the game's debut trailer — especially those who still remembered the series’ World War roots. It’s a fantasy. A Michael Bay flick. It’s… Halo? Regardless of first impressions, confusion typically brings with it controversy, and no other Call of Duty has endured more skepticism than Infinity Ward’s latest. And that’s truly unfortunate.
You Know Nothing...
It’s unfortunate because Infinite Warfare is the most inspired Call of Duty game to come along in quite a while. The single-player campaign in particular has gotten a lot of Infinity Ward's attention. Set pieces are more bombastic than ever, characters are more memorable, and themes are more present. It’s genuinely exciting to play a Call of Duty game that has narrative through lines, imperfect as they may be.
The sci-fi story at the campaign's core is nothing new. Earth has been stripped of its resources, the planet is overpopulated, and so humans begin terraforming, colonizing, mining new planets. Go figure. Odd that Kara Thrace was in last year's game and not this one, but never mind that. What's important to know is that in Infinite Warfare, one of these colonizing factions, known as the Settlement Defense Force (SDF), secedes from the UNSA — a.k.a. the good guys, a.k.a. the UNSC from Halo — and eventually declares war on Earth and its inhabitants for reasons unknown.
The SDF is led by the bastard of #Winterfell himself, Jon Snow (actor Kit Harington), or as he’s known in the game, Admiral Salen Kotch. Kotch and the SDF are evil — like, comically evil. They say and do things that would make He Who Must Not Be Named giggle. Take a look at any of the quotes from the SDF on loading screens and you’ll see the lack of subtlety for yourself.
It's unclear why anyone would take up arms and fight on the SDF's behalf, considering their utter and complete lack of human decency. They kill indiscriminately, as seen in the game's prologue where Kotch decides to shoot one of his own men to prove to the others he's about to kill how bad of a dude he is. Maybe they're the precursor to Firefly's Reavers. Point is, they're really really bad, and that's probably all the motivation you'll need to try to stop them.
So Say We All
What makes up for our rather blunt bad guys is a varied group up protagonists, led by Captain Nick Reyes. Nick gets a quick promotion to ship commander following a surprise attack during an elaborate military celebration, weakening the UNSA’s defenses and causing thousands of casualties. What follows are several missions tasking Reyes and his right-hand woman Lieutenant Nora Salter with restoring the noble balance of power to our solar system.
The missions give players a reasonable amount of freedom to tackle tasks as they see fit (à la the Mass Effect series, but not as robust or expansive), and with the UNSA’s back pressed against the wall, there’s a sense of urgency moving your ship forward, much like Battlestar Galactica.
The narrative hits a lot of good notes overall. Nick is a pretty generic hero, but he has more personality than most as far as player characters go. That’s thanks to his relationship with Nora and the rest of his crew, which focuses on deepening relationships between everyone. Whether it's the, “Ooh rah!” Marine staff sergeant, the remorseful commander-turned-engineer or the sarcastic robot, characters are pushed beyond their archetypes through their interactions with one another. As a result, these are some of the most memorable Call of Duty characters since Modern Warfare.
In fact, if E3N (Ethan) wasn't tasked with following up the performance by BT-7274 in last week’s #Titanfall2, he'd be one of the standout characters of the year. The wise-cracking robot is a little bit #R2D2 and a lot Chappie, which makes him a pretty entertaining and reliable copilot.
Turn It Down From Eleven
The main problem with the story is that along the way, most of Infinite Warfare’s characters are drowned out by the nonstop action. The game starts strong, and ends even stronger with a conclusion consisting of actual stakes, but most everything in the middle culminates with a series of indiscernible explosions — laughably loud explosions considering you're in space half the time where no one should hear you 'splode.
It's like Call of Duty's version of the laugh track, so it's expected, but it would be nice if the developers trusted their audience enough to sometimes not include the rudimentary orange fireball, or at least the accompanying sound effect each time a climactic moment was called for. When all moments are grand moments, everything just starts to feel monotonous, so says Dalton Trumbo (paraphrasing).
And that's really too bad because Infinity Ward does a decent job of changing up the moment-to-moment gameplay. The Jackal space combat is a welcome new addition to the mix, and so are some of the stealth and ship-boarding missions. The game could have benefited by removing side missions entirely and incorporating these mechanics into the main story, since they often come at the expense of the story's pacing. It's a small gripe considering there are a handful of standout moments along the way, but still, some of these supplementary missions to acquire new ship and weapons upgrades do end up feeling a bit like padding. Padding in a roughly six-hour game, which is concerning.
What really hurts Infinite Warfare's gameplay more than anything else, though, is that Titanfall 2 was just released a week ago. It’s a comparison worth noting not only because many of the developers of Titanfall were responsible for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare — which changed the entire genre — but because they’re doing everything Infinite Warfare does, only better.
For instance, there are elements of traversal in both games, but only Titanfall 2 incentivizes players to wall run, double jump and grapple by increasing character speed, which makes platforming rather exhilarating. Infinite Warfare mostly just leaves players exposed to gunfire after their boots leave the ground, which makes using parkour mechanics on higher difficulties suicide. Levels are also designed completely around traversal in Titanfall 2, further improving upon its variety. In Infinite Warfare, these abilities are rarely required to succeed, if at all, making them wholly unnecessary. Both games also offer precision gun control, however, Titanfall 2 is not only the more snappy of the two, but it also has the advantage in time-to-kill (TTK) averages against humanoid enemies. So if someone has to choose between the two games, there's a clear recommendation to make here.
A Complete Package
Despite its comparative shortcomings, there’s still plenty of other reasons why Infinite Warfare is still worth its price tag if you need another shooter in your life right now. In addition to a strong single-player story, which is the best in the series since the first Black Ops, there’s, of course, the multiplayer.
Putting personal preferences aside (buy Titanfall 2), Infinite Warfare still makes a solid showing in the competitive arena. Anyone that loved last year’s offering from Treyarch should feel right at home here, since map design and traversal remain largely unchanged. Actually, Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer feels more like an elaborate map pack for Black Ops 3 than it’s own unique thing. Specialists have been replaced by combat rigs, but that's pretty much the gist for all the changes — they're incremental at best. This is by no means a bad thing, but if you weren’t a fan of the last Call of Duty’s multiplayer, nothing here will change your mind.
This same sentiment can also be applied to the cooperative zombies mode as well. Zombies really hasn’t changed since World at War, as a matter of fact. The only thing that’s been altered is the motif, and Infinite Warfare’s might be the best one to date. The one and only map at the moment has an ‘80s science-fiction, horror aesthetic and is set in a theme park. It’s fun, but for those still not interested in exploring the rather obtuse challenges around the park, reading guides, or coordinating with other people, it will probably only serve as a minor distraction.
Too Big To Fail?
If you are a die-hard Call of Duty fan, then Infinite Warfare is an attractive collection of multiplayer modes alongside a strong single player story. It's difficult to say anything bad about it, other than to acknowledge that a recommendation should also come with a disclaimer. Have you tried Titanfall 2? If not, maybe check it out and come back later. If yes, then how are you bored of it already? What is wrong with you? Joking aside, Infinite Warfare, while a good game, is a clear runner-up this year, which is too bad given that it's most definitely better than its predecessor. It'll likely succeed based upon brand recognition alone, but the franchise will have to start playing catch-up really soon if it wants to stay relevant among increasingly stiff competition.