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.
Missed opportunities continue with this year’s multiplayer. Risks, albeit small ones, were taken in this year’s campaign, leaving multiplayer feeling even more recycled. Gamers know what to expect when it comes to this online gameplay scheme; there are benefits to this for both gamer and developer, but when looking at this year’s sales, the formula does seem as lucrative for either gamer or developer.
Maps are, as expected, well-constructed, thought out, and gorgeous—even if campers are still rampant—showcasing a good variety of venues in which to play. However, one massive venue, this being a significant miss, is the lack of use of outer space for anything outside of the campaign. Jumping around in space would perpetuate the basic modes into relevance again, changing how each mode is approached. Some of the most fun I had in my time with IW was had in the campaign’s space missions. The coolest implementation to multiplayer would have been the hook shot. Skill shots in online games are so fulfilling, no matter the game, and having that to both use and counter (think Killzone 3 with melee kills) on top of Zero-G has me chomping at the bit for something more than we’ve gotten before.
A couple changes of do surface, the first being the way classes are organized: Rigs. With each comes an implied role, be it support, damage, or range. There are six different ones, but most serve similar purposes. All in all, they bring a slight Destiny element to CoD without the overpower feeling. This could be more fleshed out, considering the common publisher between the two titles, but putting a focus on abilities would deject focus from the pristine gunplay that this franchise has held dear for nearly a decade.
The other addition is Mission Teams, which helps make losing easier to handle. Missions are chosen at the beginning of each match, and doing so yields upgrades and skins. For veterans and newcomers alike, this feature is the most welcoming in another samey year of multiplayer because it justifies staying through an entire match, even if slaughter is the final score. Years of being abandoned by teammates mid-match just because the opposing team was a premade aren’t necessarily a thing of the past just yet; but enhancements like this, no matter how small they may be in comparison to the standard formula itself, will make the end product much more worthwhile in the end.
Destiny has been under fire numerous times for introducing microtransactions with “pay to win” chides when Bungie’s shooter, like Overwatch and many other major titles on the market, provides customization options at the cost of either real coin or mountains of playtime. The latter notion of cost is present in IW, but the microtransactions cover much more than player appearance. Closer to pay-to-win, having supply drops available for purchase overpowers those willing to play the roulette for the rewards that come from supply drops, giving them a better chance at nabbing more powerful guns with minimal effort. This cheapens an acclaimed game mode founded on investing time for hand-earned progression.
While still as entertaining and engaging as ever, Zombies is a mirror image of what has come from previous years, now under an 80s aesthetic and nuance; the latter of which is refreshing enough to constitute merit. It’s as comical as it is both vivacious in its bright colors as well as its same level of gratuitous mayhem and zombie slaying. Even though Zombies has brought all the boys to the yard for years, another interstellar opportunity was missed here: In a game located in space, why not aliens? Extinction mode from CoD: Ghosts had its own appeal, though it was somewhat out of context in Ghosts. Why not branch off that here? Unless Infinity Ward intends to maintain a story arch within the confines of futuristic space, then why not offer something from beyond the stars instead of digging up old, dead success?
The want to purchase Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is undoubtedly relative to each consumer’s love for the franchise: Those who love it got it and those more recreational players sought other options; a conjecture reflected on sales figures. I reiterate, because I feel I need to, it’s not all bad—in fact, a lot of characters are fleshed out nicely—but for a game that asks us to shell out $60 each and every year, do we not deserve more than a fresh coat of paint and some shiny rims?