Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare – Review in Progress
This is part one of PowerUp!’s review of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. This part focuses solely on the single player campaign. Once we’ve had more time with the multiplayer and Zombies we’ll report back and give our final score.
Infinite Warfare is really…weird. It’s great, but it’s weird. CoD is most well-known for its pace, its corridors, monster closets and kill chambers. Infinite Warfare tries to do away with these, to a certain extent and only somewhat succeeds. I imagine the mandate to continue to innovate while staying true to the CoD formula is a bit like cognitive dissonance.
And that’s kind of what Infinite Warfare feels like. There’s an underlying identity crisis at play. Is it an action shooter? A stealth shooter? A space shooter? A walking simulator? All of the above? It’s like there’s no real sense of identity until late in the game and when something resembling one appears it’s too late.
The campaign is short and disjointed, which is especially not helped by the ability to choose which missions you tackle and when. Main story missions are played in order, but being able to choose to fly Jackal missions or take part in ship sieges absolutely kills any pace or sense or urgency. You can choose to totally avoid any and all side missions, but that would make the campaign even shorter and take away some of the most interesting and different sections.
Let’s back-up shall we and provide some context. In Infinite Warfare’s future, Earth sent out colonies at some point in the future and those colonies (especially the one on Mars) decided to become separate from the rule of Earth and formed the Settlement Defense Front or SDF. The SDF (Space Nazis) have decided that the United Nations Space Alliance or UNSA (‘MURICA obvs) are unworthy to live and must be eradicated.
Like other CoD titles, every time you die quotes appear on-screen, only in Infinite Warfare they’re quotes from the SDF. Judging by the quotes, the SDF are all emo, wannabe black metal singers. Quotes like, “Death is no disgrace” and “Freedom is a fundamental Earth born flaw” wouldn’t be too out-of-place in any Cradle of Filth track and instead of making the SDF frightening, it makes them cartoonish. Caricatures of evil.
The worst offender is
Jon Snow’s Kit Harrington’s Salen Kotch. Leader of the Helghast, I mean, SDF.
He’s the kind of leader who shoots his own men, just to show you how serious he is about winning. Not to disparage Harrington’s performance. It’s suitably scenery chewing and he’s obviously having a lot of fun, but there’s really not all that much for him to work with. And for all of its hype, Conor McGregor’s appearance is little more than a cameo, literally blink and you’ll miss it. It’s hard to take any of the enemy forces seriously and it reminds me of a clip from That Mitchell and Webb Look in which two Nazi officers realise that they’re the baddies.
Without any proper context other than SDF bad, UNSA good, it’s hard to care. That being said, the campaign is actually a really good time. If you just give over to the fact that Infinite Warfare is big, dumb and loud there’s plenty to like. Especially when it comes to the heroes. They’re all well drawn and although they each definitely embody a pretty paint by numbers trope they fare much better than the enemies. Time is given to each character, enabling the player to connect with them on a more personal level. While the enemies are abstract and unreachable, the heroes are human. None more so than the robot E3N or Ethan.
Ethan is a classic robot with a heart of gold. More Bicentennial Man than Bender, Ethan provides much of the heart in the narrative. And although players fill the ample boots of Reyes, I felt myself identifying much more with Ethan. He’s an outsider and although he’s been programmed to fight for the UNSA, he doesn’t really have any skin in the fight. Literally. While I was battling for the future of humanity and the UNSA, a lot of the time I couldn’t really care less because while the SDF were an ever-present force, they never felt all that threatening.
When I said Infinite Warfare was weird, I wasn’t referring to the narrative or the setting. Being set in the far future, in space and on different planets isn’t the biggest of Infinite Warfare’s sins. For the most part it’s barely noticeable. Until you jump on-board your Jackal or take a space walk it’s not a fundamental change. What is a fundamental change and its biggest sin, is Infinite Warfare’s changes to enemies, their time to kill and the overall pace of the shooting.
Armoured enemies, robots, laser guns and futuristic tech mean that instead of the one or two shots it usually takes to down an enemy in CoD, the SDF take three or four and even more on higher difficulties. The breakneck pace and moment to moment killing that usually accompanies Call of Duty has been thrown out the window. It’s not just the space setting, space Nazis and lasers that give Infinite Warfare more in common with Killzone than CoD. It’s the gameplay.
It oddly feels more plodding and deliberate, yet tries to push you forward. One foot is on the gas and one is on the break, giving you the feeling if whiplash. So many moments are played against the clock or with an over developed sense of urgency, but it’s impossible to go as fast as the game wants you to. It’s frustrating to say the least. Worse still are the interludes between missions. You’ll slowly wander around your ship, watch a news reel about your last mission, check out upgrades and look out the window. It’s ‘nice’ I guess, to be able to feel more connected to the story through exploration, but I would have preferred menus.
Strolling around the UNSA’s Retribution was dead boring. It was so dead boring it managed to kill any pace I’d gradually accumulated. That being said, jumping into a Jackal and taking on space dogfights is awesome. The controls are really simple and even on the harder difficulties it’s a breeze to take down enemies, but it doesn’t even matter. It takes me back to Rogue Squadron on Gamecube (we seriously need a new one of those) and the sense of freedom and movement in three-dimensional space might be the best new thing in CoD. While some of the main missions have mandatory Jackal sequences, you’ll get the most out of it in the side missions. Though, like I mentioned, it will muddy the waters of the narrative a bit.
Let’s recap. Infinite Warfare is weird and it includes a lot of fundamental changes to the formula that really move it away from what CoD is. Enemies take far too long to kill and kill chambers are often more annoying than fun as a result. The narrative tries to push a sense of urgency, but the gameplay doesn’t quite gel and while the tale of goodies versus baddies is tried and true, the baddies are so ridiculously bad they’re laughable. That doesn’t mean Infinite Warfare is bad.
On the contrary, for all its flaws and faults, I couldn’t stop playing. Maybe it’s my love of sci-fi and the absolutely gorgeously rendered environments. Maybe it’s the likable, if a little predictable cast or maybe it’s just that it’s something different. Whatever it is, even though it’s got as many problems as it does, Infinite Warfare is pretty great. Not really great. Not excellent. Just really pretty good and great. I honestly would have preferred Infinity Ward to have created an all new IP instead of slapping the Call of Duty logo on this, but the name sells. It’s a shame because I can only imagine how much better Infinite Warfare would have been with a little more creative freedom.
Stay tuned for part two of our review which covers multiplayer and Zombies.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was reviewed using a retail disc on PS4, provided to PowerUp! by Activision.