‘Infinite’ warfare. All of the warfare, Like, all of it. There’s no end to the warfare.
Game: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Developer: Infinity Ward
(Review copy provided by publisher)
As I frequently told my ex, sometimes it’s good when things are early. People use the phrase ‘Christmas has come early’ to mean something wonderful has happened, rather than its literal interpretation which would be having to sit with your extended family watching every Shrek film for an entire day in July. Similarly, game reviews are a thing best served premature. No one wants a late review of the new Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare because they’ve already read about it and made a decision on whether it is the space shooter for them or not.
But there are some benefits to being behind the curve, as you’re granted the luxury of adding in the extra context that arises following release. NGB is not one of the bigger sites, so we do sometimes get review copies of games through later than other places. This isn’t ideal for generating hits and views, but to be frank as a gamer it’s nice to have such a wealth of things to play anyway, regardless of what time they show up. Enter the newest Call of Duty: All of the Warfare (or something along those lines). I decided to avoid other reviews of this game for a while until I had time to form my own opinion. Despite this, anyone who’s watched The Walking Dead a few days late will know it’s quite hard to avoid information you’d rather not see on social media, and I was aware of some negative opinion forming around the new ‘Cod’, and considerably reduced sales on previous releases in the series.
This was somewhat surprising to me, as I found a well-crafted game franchise at its peak, in both the single player and online modes. It’s easy to ignore the concept of ‘Call of Duty but IN SPACE!’ as a last-ditch effort to do something interesting with a tired idea, but the extra mechanics and opportunities it opens up can’t be faulted. At the games’ core it’s still the solid FPS experience that CoD has been for some time now, albeit with the occasional misstep; a mostly po-faced, gritty shooter with options for customisation and levelling up all over the shop. I don’t need to tell you what Call of Duty is; the title alone has become a by-word for so many things, from juggernaut franchises of the industry to the go-to game for sweary teenagers whose blood has been replaced by energy drinks. The shooting feels convincing and chunky, based on the template that basically reinvented shooters with Modern Warfare. Coincidentally, if you ‘shell out’ (geddit?) for the Legacy edition of IW and you get a remastered version of aforementioned FPS template, and judging by Activision’s increasing backtracking if you hold out long enough you’ll probably be able to download it separately soon, anyway.
No longer putting all their chips on big names following the underwhelming Advanced Warfare (which was admittedly a Sledgehammer title, but still the obvious comparison for the future setting here), time has been taken to create an involving story with identifiable characters. Whereas AW felt like a parade of interchangeable, beefed-up military types, IW is far broader and convincing from the start. Of particular note is the excellent British staff sergeant, and your robot sidekick Ethan, who is a bit too ‘Pixar’ but nevertheless works to add some levity in the beginning, eventually becoming a rounded character in his own right to form an attachment to as the game goes on.
There are indeed a few big names in the cast, however. Romancer of wildlings Kit Harrington throws in a competent, but not scene-stealing, performance as the main villain Kotch, head of the Settlement Defence Force. It may be a result of having so much screen time as everyone’s favourite bastard Jon Snow, but he does seem a bit too earnest to play the villain. You’ll also spot angry, Irish UFC champion Connor McGregor and Lewis Hamilton in the game, the latter something of a mystery considering his constant battle to win the title of The Least Charismatic Man Alive. Either way, the SDF are space pirates bent on nicking all earth’s resources from other planets and generally being comic-book villains. Aside from venturing through the plot, you’re able to select side missions from the bridge of your ship, allowing you to plough through or spread things out as you wish.
This isn’t the only addition of note to spice things up. The usual slew of gameplay adjustments this year sees us presented with spinny, floaty space battles, grappling hooks, and dog fights in spacecraft. And fine additions they are too, presenting a slowing down and quickening of the games’ pace at the right times; drifting around in zero gravity lends things a far more relaxed feel, even if you are sniping cannon fodder still. Airborne battles are just about as hectic as the ground-borne firefights, with the ships piloting more like a jet pack than the sort of barrel-rolling ship controls you find in something like motion-sickness simulator Eve: Valkyrie. These sections provide a nice bookend to the main on-foot missions, as you frequently need to pilot your Arc ship down to whichever planet is due for a kicking this time, or occasionally space-walk to it, and then return afterwards.
These new additions to the move list make movement flow very nicely, especially alongside others from instalments such as wall-running and floor slides, to provide a way of getting around the environments that is rarely essential but a good deal of fun if you fancy throwing them in. While these moves make IW pretty comparable to TitanFall 2, the fact that you don’t really need to use them here does make them seem more of an afterthought than in Respawn’s newest effort.
There’s been much talk of what games will support improved graphics recently with the launch of the PS4 Pro. I don’t have a PS4 Pro, so frankly who knows what this looks like on that? It could look like a tie-dye nightmare for all I know. But I suspect I’m in the majority here, for the time being anyway. And that’s fine, because IW looks incredible running on a regular PS4. The planets are impeccably detailed and oppressive-looking; I was never quite aware of the multitude of colours a sunset could produce until I toured the galaxy fighting Jon Snow, and the textures and effects are second to none (except, possibly, the same game on PS4 Pro).
It’s not all campaigning, and of course the multiplayer is very much a Call of Duty multiplayer. The series is perhaps at risk of eating itself any day now as it becomes denser and more complex by the year, harbouring far more award and upgrade mechanics than are ever necessary. But the addition of the acrobatics mentioned above do wonders for the pace and possibilities for surprising opponents and escaping from difficult situations. There’s no great leaps and bounds from previous instalments here, but it’s arguable they don’t really need to anymore. With Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1 putting in strong showings for FPS multiplayers, however, it’s hard to say whether resting on their laurels will do Activision and it’s trinity of developers any favours in the future.
And finally, like the last item on the news, it’s time to deal with the usual horror-creature survival mode. Seemingly rolling dice to decide the setting and enemies, you now have zombies in an 80s theme park to deal with, wave after wave battering down your newly constructed barriers and being a general nuisance. And once again, it’s great; the perfect throwaway, free extra mode to a FPS that could add hours and hours to the game depending on how you feel about staying in one small area and popping zombies. The styling of it is nothing special, but juxtaposed to the main game it is incredibly effective, designed as a Scooby-Doo esque cartoon, complete with voice acting from Seth Green and David Hasslehoff; it does much to alleviate the seriousness of the campaign.
There’s really not a lot wrong with Infinite Warfare, and nor should there be. As a franchise they have the luxury of all the time and money they could wish for, and if they hadn’t perfected it by now it would be something of a worry. However, it’s debatable whether perfection can become boring, and those reduced sales figures could be due to this. If you produce something too regularly it does detract from it’s importance, rather than giving a little more time between instalments and making it feel like a special event. But devoid of this context (and something being too good to often is not really a complaint), Infinite Warfare is excellent, and only likely to be blighted by whether you feel you’ve had your fill of a franchise that may have run out of places to go from now on.