The latest in Activision’s shooter franchise aims for the stars, with high hopes and ambitions.
Developer: Infinity Ward
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Version reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: November 4th, 2016
Late last week, on the eve of the release of the latest annual Call of Duty, Waypoint published an article on the “Uphill battle of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.” While the article highlighted the struggle of the latest title in the franchise appealing to the core audience, I personally experienced another struggle with the game: actually finishing it.
Although developer Infinity Ward may have changed almost everything with regard to the aesthetic of the franchise through taking Infinite Warfare into space, the game struggles to pull away from long-established tropes within the military shooter genre. There’s the hesitant Captain, the battle-scarred sidekick, the comically-underutilized villain, and the heroic sacrifice, smothered all throughout the campaign of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
As with the tropes of the genre being present in the game despite the different setting, the same could also be said of the general plot of Infinite Warfare. Leading a small squad against seemingly-insurmountable odds, you battle tooth and nail to take out the commandeering officer of the enemy force, which in this case happens to be Salen Kotch, played with all the mannerisms of a bulldozer by Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington.
If the general description of that plot sounds familiar at all, it’s because that’s the same plot that Call of Duty games have always featured. Although where previous entries in the franchise may have had the player character opposed with a slightly comical numbers of troops, Infinite Warfare takes this a step further, going so far as to state that the Settlement Defense Force under the command of Kotch has approximately 900% more soldiers than the UNSC. Exactly how the SDF managed to recruit more soldiers in the outer reaches of the solar system than the united government of Earth did will forever remain a mystery.
That a robot manages to distinguish himself from the likes of Kit Harrington and David Harewood should tell you all you need to know about Infinite Warfare‘s ultimately forgettable cast of characters.
What will unfortunately also remain a mystery are the personalities of the various soldiers that accompany player character Nick Reyes through Infinite Warfare. The game is set on featuring incredibly loud, brash characters, as the Call of Duty franchise has collectively done now for years, where smaller, quieter characters would actually be a welcome addition to the cast. Somewhat amazingly, the standout character might be Ethan, the robotic accomplice of Reyes’ squad, who features a noticeably more relaxed personality, and uses far less of the generic ‘military chatter’ we’ve become so accustomed to from Call of Duty over the years.
That a robot manages to distinguish himself from the likes of Kit Harrington and David Harewood should tell you all you need to know about Infinite Warfare‘s ultimately forgettable cast of characters. Perhaps a character like Ethan resembles exactly what the Call of Duty franchise needs as a whole – a lot more subtlety, and a whole lot more personality to complement all the action.
Speaking of the action, which is undoubtedly what just about every consumer of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is coming for, there’s not a great deal of variety or flavor to be found within the minute-to-minute gunplay of the game. Taking a page out of Titanfall‘s book with wall-running, Infinite Warfare has attempted to speed up the gameplay loop, with environments built for a more fluid, fast-moving experience.
However, the result is largely a mixed bag, as although some of the level design and the mechanics are built around player movement, the enemy AI and other environment areas are incredibly suppressing. On one hand, where there can be large, open spaces with plenty of walls for the player to run around on, the majority of Infinite Warfare takes place along corridors, with the player being physically unable to wall-run or change the vertical level that they are on. On top of this, the aforementioned enemy AI is extremely accurate even on the lower difficulty modes, meaning the chances of successfully wall-running or playing without cover without subsequently dying are very low indeed.
But whereas the regular gunplay of Infinite Warfare is somewhat dull, the combat involving the ‘Jackal’ space fighters is undoubtedly more entertaining. Armed to the teeth with machine guns, cannons and missiles, you can become optionally embroiled with SDF space fleets in dogfights throughout Infinite Warfare‘s campaign, the majority of which unfortunately takes place in side missions dispersed throughout the solar system.
In what I regard as the highlight of Infinite Warfare‘s campaign, the Jackal missions breathe life into the story mode, giving the gameplay of the campaign an entirely new level. The combat is fast and generally furious, as the player is tasked with taking down a specific number of enemy fighters, while also tackling some of the bigger, bulkier ships within the SDF fleet. There’s not really a whole lot of variety to the Jackal mode, as the player will largely find themselves guided around once they’ve locked on to an enemy space ship, but it’s an entertaining, and a different mode for Call of Duty nonetheless.
While the Jackal mode provides something new for the Infinite Warfare campaign, there has been absolutely nothing whatsoever new added to the online multiplayer portion of the game that makes it distinguishable from previous entires in the Call of Duty franchise. Players still zip around the map at a near-inhuman speed, which is only heeded by the fact that around a third of each map is specifically built around the wall-running mechanic. Whereas Infinity Ward would have wanted the game to have a flow to it, this map design means there are specific ‘hot points’ of combat for each map, while there are also entirely empty, desolate areas in which encountering any players is extremely rare.
The variety of weapons also isn’t something particularly impressive about Infinite Warfare. Whereas the setting of the game is propelled through the atmosphere and into the outer reaches of the solar system, the game itself remains incredibly grounded in the variety of weapons that the player can choose to embark on each mission with. Sure, there are ‘energy’ based weapons to be found within the game, but these don’t dramatically change the way the player approaches any given combat situation, nor do they function at all differently from weapons that support regular ammunition.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare reportedly features over 30 weapons, which I find slightly hard to believe, given the fact that I’ve repeatedly encountered the same five weapons both in the main campaign, and in the online multiplayer portion. It would appear the community has already figured out which weapons are the best to use in any situation, as less than an hour into playing the multiplayer, I was beset by players using the same three weapons repeatedly, with barely any variety to their gameplay style whatsoever.
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Just as Call of Duty has become an annual franchise, so has the inclusion of the zombies mode within each yearly title. While ‘Zombies in Spaceland’ doesn’t dramatically mix up the established formula of ‘shoot, run, survive’ in Infinite Warfare, it has unfortunately changed what was a team-based game into something that actually doesn’t require a whole lot of teamwork in order to survive. Whereas the maps for the zombies mode were once structured around a single open area with branching paths, the map for Spaceland is instead constructed as a series of corridors with no main area designed to keep the players on their feet more, instead of fortifying a single position.
This sense of survival through fortification brought a natural sense of teamwork to the zombies mode, and Spaceland ditches that entirely in favor of attempting to make the gameplay more fluid, except without the wall-running and boost mechanics found within the main game. The result is that teamwork is barely necessary in order to survive, and there’s even a roller coaster that can only be used by one player at a time, further adding to the sense of isolation through Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare‘s zombies mode.
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