Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Sticking with tradition despite a planet-hopping sci-fi setting, the latest Call of Duty is a rather conservative addition to the annual first-person shooter franchise, offering safe, market-tested upgrades, including a wisecracking robot, spaceship dogfights, ray guns – and a scarred Kit Harington.
While Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare includes moments of gaming grandeur, it fails to surprise, shock, or deliver any major new ideas in a year that has delivered heavy competition in this ever-popular genre, including new versions of Titanfall, Doom and Battlefield.
You play as captain Nick Reye who leads a UN Space Alliance team into battle against the Mars-based Settlement Defense Front.
The straightforward war narrative hits you over the space helmet with its message of military sacrifice, but is elevated by sharp – even heartfelt, sometimes – dialogue and strong acting from Homeland’s David Harewood, among others.
However, a jokey robot companion makes more of a lasting impression than Game of Thrones star Harington’s character, an evil space admiral.
As usual in CoD, several set pieces shine. A giddy firefight outside a space warship sends players spinning upside down and sideways, while a confrontation with solar-powered robo-warriors on a rapidly spinning asteroid is grimly intense.
Gestures toward player choice – perks, side missions, a more realistic and challenging “specialist mode” – offer minor variations from the familiar on-rails gameplay. Also helping to shake up the shooting-gallery monotony are creepy-crawly exploding “seeker bots” and zero-gravity grenades that send enemies floating up into your crosshairs.
Multiplayer matches, where most players will spend their time, have been tweaked, with a rudimentary weapon-crafting system and “combat rigs”, featuring perks that replace last year’s “specialist” characters. Boost jumping and wall-running allow for innovative map design, and the overall gameplay is slightly less frantic than last year’s Black Ops III.
I’ve never been much of a fan of the “zombies” mode, which blends puzzle elements with survival-type combat. But an aggressively silly 1980s amusement-park setting – with David Hasselhoff playing a DJ – is worth repeat visits to uncover its loopy secrets.
For longtime CoD fans, though, a sense of “been there, shot that” lingers. Infinite Warfare is polished and shiny – but doesn’t justify its existence in the way 2009’s Modern Warfare 2 or 2012’s Black Ops 2 did. Perhaps a hard reboot is in order. Here’s hoping Activision stops promising CoD sequels every year so its developers have time to innovate and make the franchise feel vital again.
* Associated Press