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Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review: Space Oddity

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Call of Duty isn’t exactly renowned for having heart. It’s the epitome of “video games” Hollywood uses as a stereotype of the medium: loud, explosions, shouting. It’s Michael Bay from a first person perspective, except sometimes shorter. But, with Infinite Warfare, there’s a little more added to the campaign mode I found pleasantly surprising – even if, at the end, the game still seems forgettable.

Setting

Infinite Warfare takes place in a far future, where Jon Snow (Kit Harington) – scars and all – is in charge of an army of fantastical men and giant beasts, walking around in icy lands and monologuing about standing up to forces he believes threaten his people.

OK, Harington is not Jon Snow, he’s Salen Blotch, Kotch, Cloth? Something. He’s remarkable for being unremarkable. He’s the big bad, which – after Kevin Spacey’s performance in Advanced Warfare – should rather be called the boring bad. Or the confused bad. I could not tell you the name of his army, because it’s another one of those three letter abbreviations military shooters love for some reason. I can’t tell you his motivations other than he wants to destroy... humanity? Even though he is… human? There’s a grievance he seems to hold that offered no empathy: not because it’s poorly written, but because it’s non-existent. Indeed, you barely see Harington’s villain except in short bursts, so don’t get too excited (also, come on, Jon Snow is the worst).

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It seems that in the future, Earth managed to colonise other planets but then some part split off and hated… Earth? I don’t know. It’s never developed far. The opposing army just serve as cannon fodder and that’s about it. They also have big ships and robots and weapons but they’re not even unique in terms of style. Indeed, during firefights I could not tell the difference between the enemy and my allies.

You play Nick Reyes, a generic military bro. You become a commander of a space battleships. In fact, it’s one of the the last such ships since almost all the others are destroyed during a public parade celebrating the military. If you’ve heard that story before, congratulations for remembering 2004.

War buddies

Reyes and Nora Salter, his friend and right hand, end up in command, despite their relative lack of experience. True: Reyes is in charge of some kind of elite dogfighting unit and Salter the best pilot, but it’s hinted that neither is prepared for their sudden promotions.

However, little is played off this as Reyes seems to easily slip into his new role. More interesting are those around Reyes: Salter, for example, must be celebrated as an amazing female lead, since she’s the character you see and hear most of throughout the game. Yes, she’s a badass pilot and soldier, but also cares for Reyes and puts him in his place when he needs to be. Jamie Gray Hyder, who plays Salter, deserves special mention for the range of emotions, reactions and performance she gives in the game. However, there’s little that’s interesting in terms of character conflict. Everyone gets along and it’s a bit boring that characters face few personal challenges.

There’s one minor personal character are, a lovely little B-plot, involving David Harewood’s Sgt. Omar and his hatred of robots. This hatred falls away as he comes to care for the robot companion E3N (pronounced “Ethan”).

The game provides a range of characters, of different races and genders, in varying roles. The devs must be congratulated for not centering it only on one kind of identity, but showing the range that actually exists in the world. (The game passes Bechdel-Wallace numerous times.)

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If I’m focused on the characters more than the world and story, that’s because the game is, too. There’s so little provided about the universe these characters occupy, it’s a wonder there’s still opportunities for characters to shine. That speaks both to the actors’ performances and, in a sense, what the creators felt mattered more. Indeed, this is the first Call of Duty game that made me laugh – intentionally – numerous times. There’s even hugs! And women are treated as soldiers, not damsels in distress. I think that’s a wonderful sign of progress. (Also, to the franchise’s credit, you could play as a female character in Black Ops 3.)

Shoot All The Things

This is Call of Duty, so shooting remains central. Follow a character, wait, shoot, proceed. Rinse and repeat.

As with all Call of Duty games, I often felt more like a cameraman with a gun than an actual participant. There’s always been something ethereal about Call of Duty games. I suspect it’s due to relying more on NPC’s progressing the story than you. Oh sure they don’t open doors until you’re nearby – but Infinite Warfare’s changed things up! Now you open doors (but can’t go back through them and levels are only occasionally large battlefields).

There’s double-jump, wall-run and slides but they never felt particularly freeing. (For the best “Feel” that makes all the difference, nothing beats Titanfall 2.) There are times where you can sneak, but this basically only happened once. (It reminded me of that stage in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, where you had to show your papers to German officers while sneaking around a Nazi base.)

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One new dynamic to Call of Duty is incredible space battles. These felt far more crunchy than the ground assaults. Locking on is easy, fighting is rapid but a lot of the power is given to automatic controls dodging debris, other ships and so on. Also the animation to get into the ship is one of my favourites.

The game for the first time features side-missions, which provide great variety in terms of place. This was the only time I really felt in charge of where the game was going, since Reyes gets to decide where to take the Battleship.

The game provides plenty of phenomenal setpieces that, as always, will make you gasp – but tend to blend into a ceaseless cacophony of explosions and bright lights. You do end up fighting in space in spacesuits, zip-lining to different objects, including soldiers. This was by far the best kind of person-to-person shooting in the game and I wish more was done with it.

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The sound and the fury

Given the production values, you’re guaranteed stunning visuals and amazing sound. Expect it to run smoothly on PS4, with little to no slowing down. The music is… OK. I never felt particularly pumped – as was done with, say, the Doom soundtrack.

There are stunning vistas of planets and space, seas rising and crashing airships. Characters barely comment on what they see, since they appear far too busy trying to accomplish their goals. I quite liked this, though, since it helps solidify them as experienced soldiers who are no longer amazed at suns and planets a few clicks away.

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A few thoughts about multiplayer

Multiplayer returns, of course, along with co-operative zombies mode.

The PVP section is fast, furious and satisfying. However, the connection seemed wonky, probably due to playing in South Africa. I’m not a multiplayer person, so I can’t give you very detailed explanations of whether these modes are worth playing – I have a deep dislike for multiplayer. I barely last five minutes in any match and find them consistently unsatisfying. Experienced COD veterans can expect modes to return from Black Ops 3, progression and the return of some popular maps. Naturally, there’s an expensive Season Pass, which remains constantly horrible considering you’re already paying for an expensive game. Keep an eye on GameZone for a more in-depth look at multiplayer by a 'real' fan of the genre.

The co-operative zombies mode is a fantastic little side activity. It’s fun with friends, brilliantly makes no sense and has great performances from Seth Green, David Hasselhoff and others. It’s set in the 80’s, in a spooky theme park and plays a lot like Left 4 Dead (this is the first Zombies mode I’d played and didn’t expect it to be so similar). It’s challenging and weird and nonsensical, which is refreshing after the very serious nature of the campaign (and even the multiplayer).

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Conclusion

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare wants space and robots and double-jumps and slides. After the refinement, charm and variety of Titanfall 2, I saw a lot of similarity here: A very boring lead with two inches of depth, a robot buddy, a weird villain with motives never expressed, a game world and universe explained poorly and, of course, those double-jumps and slides. However, Infinite Warfare does little that’s particularly interesting in its campaign. It’s longer by probably two hours than Titanfall 2, but still remains short as always (Black Op 3’s campaign was apparently twice or three times as long).

Infinite Warfare stands out from previous Call of Duty by adding some great writing, wonderful performances, space dogfighting and control of a large battleship. Yet, nothing is really developed. You can’t explore the battleship, you can’t really customise your own dogfighting spacejet or even Reyes and his guns. There are no decisions to make aside from where to go and who to shoot first. Intense action scenes play out more as QTE’s than participation, and other characters seem far more involved than Reyes in progressing the story. Yes, it’s sometimes charming and consistently beautiful, but the campaign is ultimately forgettable. Salter is the best part of the whole game, as well as the general diversity and quality of performances.

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The point being, if you want those experiences I mentioned (double-jump, sliding, robots, etc.) but done well and with charm – and where you get to command a giant robot – Titanfall 2 is what you want, not Infinite Warfare. I usually don’t like comparing games like this, but considering the timing, genre and themes of both, I feel it necessary to highlight this for the interested consumer.

Infinite Warfare is enjoyable, but not necessary and will go down as another forgettable Call of Duty campaign. I wanted to like it more, but simply found it wanting in too many areas. While I’m glad the franchise is improving and progressing, it still needs a radical shake-up. It’s still playing everything too safe and, in that way, means it’s playing things too similar.

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"Infinite Warfare is enjoyable, but not necessary"

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