Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review fun, fast, but a wasted opportunity

The latest instalment in the shooter series tries out some new ideas, including zero gravity combat, but it is held back by well-worn conventions

In the moments that Infinite Warfare has the courage of its convictions, when its various systems sync-up sufficiently, we get a tantalising taste of its true potential.

These moments usually come when the protagonist, Nick Reyes, leaves terra firma and zips about in zero-gravity, course-correcting with boosters and engaging enemy soldiers against the backdrop of gargantuan spaceships smashing into one another. In between precision shots from his Ghostbusters-like energy weapon, he grapples on to a grunt and pulls the pin on his grenade before kicking him towards two buddies, who look on helplessly as he greets them with an explosion. That taken care of, Reyes grapples to his waiting Jackal space fighter and boosts off to begin dogfighting with enemy craft.

Needless to say, Call of Dutys production values ensure such episodes look spectacular. They may not be perfect in execution rotation can become disorientating and enemy AI remains erratic but they at least attempt to jolt this long-running series off its sometimes derided rails. Disappointingly though, Infinity Wards latest offering is mostly the familiar CoD routine of boots-on-the-ground combat in long corridors of choreographed action. Its just that here, those boots are rocket-boosted and wall-run-capable. Even this concept is a pale imitation of Titanfall at its finest, boasting similar fundamentals but not the conviction to make them integral. While traversing these familiar sci-fi environments futuristic cityscape, ice planet, rock planet, space station parkour is mostly unnecessary.

Developer
Developer Infinity Ward really wants us to care about its characters but doesnt give us enough narrative ammo Photograph: Activision

The old problem of this games key narrative delivery technique remains: you have to follow computer-controlled characters who yell orders and exposition at you, but often they move too slow and it gets frustrating like attempting to navigate Oxford Street on a particularly chaotic festive shopping day. The sheer number of times the game strips control away from you remains extraordinary after a while, even the most impressive cinematic moments become a deadening intrusion. The first time youre blasted out of an airlock its inarguably impressive and it even feels appropriate that youre helpless. The second time is simply irritating. The third time, you just want to drift away forever like Frank Poole in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But even in space, you lack freedom. Attempts to flank the enemy are thwarted by a curt prompt to return to the combat zone or be booted. The space craft combat sequences are a mess. The physics lack heft and movement feels erratic. Opposing fighters are simple to lock on to but the game then wrests control away to track them. Occasionally, when you kill an enemy, a playing card will pop up to tell you he was a big cheese (in an imitation of the American ploy towards rogue Baathists in 2003), but since you only find this out after killing them it renders the whole scheme somewhat pointless. You shot them just the same as all the others; thats all you do in CoD.

Much is made of the fact youre a captain but you cant issue orders in the field and, despite a Mass Effect-like galaxy map to navigate on your ships bridge, you cannot shape the campaigns outcome. You can select two types of side-mission ship-infiltration or ship-to-ship combat but the benefit of them is merely upgraded equipment. Its certainly no Mass Effect in this respect and while that comparison is harsh, its conditioned by the developers flagrant desire for you to care about your mission and crew; the message about prioritising one over the other crowbarred into every conversation.

The setting at least allows the game to sidestep CoDs traditionally problematic politics, even if the opening sneak-attack on Geneva subtly nods towards Pearl Harbour and 9/11. Not being offensive shouldnt be praiseworthy, however, and the Martian secessionists led by Salen Kotch (a space-scenery-chewing Kit Harington) are so comically evil, and your means for defeating them so silly, they undermine any questions about military service the game attempts to tackle.

The defeat of the villain is woefully anticlimactic, whereas the finale has dramatic deaths for minor crew members youd barely noticed hitherto. While the credits roll you can listen to letters from the fallen, meant to sum up the series earnest move away from press x to show respects miss-steps. Instead, they bring to mind the deliberately ridiculous barbecue dream of BJ Blazkowicz in the last Wolfenstein. The characters here lack the script to justify you caring. The damning irony is only wisecracking robot Ethan sounds remotely human.

For all these flaws, CoDs core shooting mechanics, refined over countless iterations, still make for a fine corridor and multiplayer shooter. Every weapon comes with alternative fire modes and being creative in your kills is part of the appeal. Innovations such as anti-grav grenades and spider bots (which scuttle over to enemies before discharging) spice things up, not least when theyre deployed against you. One of the most enjoyable new tactics in the campaign is the ability to take direct control of enemy bots by hacking them, unleashing rounds on their bewildered allies before detonating to take as many with you as you can.

After completing the game, you can replay the whole thing in modes like Yolo, which offers a challenging permadeath mechanic that encourages a whole different approach (ie a lot of hiding).

Infinite
Infinite Warfare really comes into its own as a multiplayer experience Photograph: Activision

The online multiplayer modes are the best thing. The campaigns traversal mechanics come out of hiding and the wealth of options become apparent. Whether youre angling for nuts and bolts deathmatch on a lunch break, or something more substantial, CoD remains a silly, slick and intuitive shooter that sucks you in and keeps you there. The ready-built combat rigs cater to different play styles so you can instantly pick the right loadout, whether you like to snipe or stab.

For the first time theres weapon crafting, too, and a conscious effort to reward players for attempting different match-types, not to mention a neat 1980s theme park reboot of zombie survival. Prototype weapons are the strongest in the game graded common to epic and you obtain them by earning salvage as you play or completing challenges with one of four mission teams. The holy grail is a gun that provides a nuclear blast if you can string together 25 kills.

Crucially, such objectives are optional and theres no chance of the camera being yanked-away as you complete them. Infinite Warfare improves online because the game doesnt dictate your experiences precisely as the developers intended. In many ways the campaign feels like a wrestling match between your game and theirs, perhaps a mirroring of their attempt to innovate within the constraints of the CoD franchise behemoth. But this doesnt excuse a forgettable plot or inferior fighting to its triple-A peers. Infinite Warfare could have been much more than a passable single-player movie attached to a super fast, super confident multiplayer infrastructure. As such, and with those moments of tantalising potential in mind, it feels like a wasted opportunity.

Activision; PC/PS4/Xbox One (version tested); 50; Pegi rating: 18+

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Related posts:

COMMENTS