Arts & CultureVideo Games

Review: ‘Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’ can’t escape its infinite familiarity

When video game mega-publisher Activision announced its intention to release a Call of Duty game every year (between a rotation of three development studios), it was easy to be apprehensive. While some installments made decent attempts to shake up the series’ formula, it was still hard to see how Infinity Ward, Treyarch and Sledgehammer Games were going to keep interest at a fever pitch year after year. 2014’s Advanced Warfare and last year’s Black Ops III were at least decently successful in this regard, but uncertainty still remained.

With Infinity Ward’s Infinite Warfare, it appears those doubts were unfortunately deserved. By moving the game’s setting into the distant future, the Call of Duty franchise now rests in science fiction. The developer clearly hoped to breathe some fresh air into the shooter franchise and revitalize its fans. But despite mechanically sound gameplay and a decent attempt at a coherent narrative, Infinite Warfare can’t escape its own unoriginality.

At least the setting is new. The game’s storyline follows Captain Nick Reyes of the Special Combat Air Recon (SCAR) who uses the soldiers and pilots under his command to fight against the sinister Rear Admiral Salen Koch (Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington) of the fanatical Settlement Defense Front (SDF) separatist group. At the game’s start, the SDF launches an all-out assault on Earth, leading to a violent and intense battle for the solar system. Once the player gains control of their own warship, the Redemption, it is up to them how to fight the good fight.

That all sounds perfectly fine for a shooter’s narrative, even if the sci-fi action gets unnecessarily frenetic during some segments. But even by Call of Duty standards, the campaign is severely lackluster. Part of the problem lies in the expectations surrounding the franchise’s single-player experiences. While the series focuses on firefights, immersive blockbuster set pieces have always been a highlight, especially in early installments like the original Modern Warfare. Infinite Warfare is no exception, offering a variety of first-person chase sequences and close calls that are clearly intended to accelerate the player’s heart rate.

But when you’ve avoided three or four burning spaceships and berserk robotic fiends in a row, the repetition of these moments becomes unavoidably distracting. At some points, the simple act of walking around a corner becomes a countdown to yet another jump scare or on-rails “Hollywood” sequence. It would be fine, but these sequences prevent the player from actually controlling the game. It’s hard to truly praise the gameplay when the actual shooting only occurs for five or ten minutes at a time.

The multiplayer, while mostly sound, doesn’t do much to offset the campaign’s disappointment. Most of the classic Call of Duty modes are there, and Infinity Ward does a decent job of overhauling the tried-and-true class system in place since the franchise’s early days. But the game still suffers from an overwhelming familiarity, to the point of boredom at the very prospect of playing it. It’s hard to have much fun when even the multiplayer matches can be boiled down to a by-the-numbers formula.

And while some of Infinity Ward’s changes are admirable and laudable, Infinite Warfare is still at its best when it just allows its players to shoot bad guys. So maybe the problem with Call of Duty isn’t overfamiliarity with the series’ gameplay formulas, but that the franchise itself is overcrowded. Time will tell if Activision’s one-game-per-year schedule will make or break the CoD brand. For now, all we get is more of the same.

Watch the trailer below:

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Dana Alston

Dana Alston

Dana Alston is an Associate Arts & Culture Editor from San Jose, CA. He writes about film, music, and television. Paul Thomas Anderson is his one true god.

You can follow his meme-endorsed social media ramblings @AlstonDalston on Twitter or Letterboxd, or shoot him some eloquent hate mail at [email protected]