There are dangers both distinct and obvious to annualized games like Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, and any sport franchise, but of these only Ubisoft has come to an understanding with these dangers and opted for a more quality-focused approach. The most profound danger with annualization—and this is truer this year than before—is not idle sameness but the obviousness of duplication. Simply put, originality is replaced with copying former successes; and while the Call of Duty franchise has had mountains of historical success from which Infinite Warfare has pulled inspiration, a fair amount came from this year’s competition, and the payoff is not strong enough to justify the risk.
The opening moments of the campaign have three shoulders drop onto the surface of Europa, Jupiter’s ice moon. The scene is gorgeous, freshly cracked ice in all its glory showcased by Jupiter’s red eye in the background, a strong beginning to a graphically impressive title all around. Soon after insertion however, the three soldiers are caught by antagonist Admiral Kotch and are soon dispatched by his henchmen. The player dying in the opener is a direct pull from Modern Warfare 2, and while advanced technology helps to justify this choice—well, I might add—the general lack of personality and hutzpah put into each part of the game’s narrative makes all its choices and narrative devices far too obvious.
From there Commander Reyes takes the reigns of the story and soon thereafter his own ship in the fleet. Both he and Salter are of the same rank, but he is appointed “highest ranking officer” by a random member of the crew. As things move along, Reyes both accompanies teams on missions AND dictates actions on the ship, all the while playing the “Everyman” as he accepts the criticism of lowly officers while fielding all the work himself. Tropes aside, Reyes is far from unlikeable, but as is customary in military narratives, the only evoked emotions are anger, sadness, and snark, all sprinkled into dry, monotone dialogue and high-adrenaline action scenes. Sure, this is Call of Duty, so these things are to be expected, right? High action scenes with Michael Bay explosions.
With this being a futuristic setting caught in war, context is key. Infinite Warfare sought the help of celebrity Kit Harington to bring the role some Hollywood potency. Kit falls flat of a dictator. In fact, he comes across more like a bipolar mannequin. The mishap that is Admiral Kotch, head of opposing Mars faction SDF, is that SDF’s looming takeover is indeed much greater than a seizure of Earth: It’s for the whole nine Milky Way Galaxy yards, and Kotch as a detached figurehead spewing nonsensical philosophies makes no sense while his armies seem to act on their own. This could have been a terrific character flow, but it resulted in a subpar delivery filled with missteps and uninspired combination of cookie-cutter influences, all saved ever so slightly by characterization of the main crew to grease the rest of the narrative along.
The same lack of inspiration goes into the gameplay as well. Space combat has its appeal—the fighter combat is quite welcome—but it never extends further than a basic shooter with more fanciful and pretty antics. They even eliminate load times and open the mission-based delivery to more of a Mass Effect style, where missions can be chosen in any order. Mechanics are as smooth and accessible as they’ve ever been, but this when compared to other shooters released this holiday season pales in comparison. The wonderful balance of gameplay elements with likeable characters in Titanfall 2 make Infinite Warfare look simple, even if Infinite Warfare is graphically superior.