I think it’s fair to say that the Call of Duty games are something of a divisive element in the Gaming community nowadays. For some, the annual installment of Activision’s First Person Shooter – by whatever Developer – represents the very pinnacle of Gaming, what with their huge budgets, A-list casts and frenetic, non-stop action; and they are, as sales figures would strongly suggest, pounced upon by plenty of Gamers who can’t wait to test themselves in the Alpha, ubertwitch-ey arena of the world’s most pre-eminent Shooter. For others, however, they represent something close to an annual nadir – and for pretty much the same exact reasons – and for these people, CoD games are to be avoided like the plague; becoming something akin to a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the Gaming Industry.
There are yet others though, who kinda see both sides, indeed sometimes fluctuate between the two opposing viewpoints, but who will neither commit to – nor rule out – picking up a given installment a priori; choosing instead to see how shit plays out and whatnot.
I include myself in that last group for the record, and whilst I’ve been disparaging of the franchise at times, I also see that the games have a place in this broad Church we call Gaming, and if you’re in the mood for a little of what they’re offering, I think they can be considered a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a few hours. My main complaint – at least in recent years – has been that the “campaigns” have been laughably short, often woefully uninspired and that, given Activision’s penchant for charging additional cash-money for anything outside of a decidedly Vanilla experience, they’ve increasingly represented poor value for money and/or have been taking the fucking piss. These last two factors were uppermost in my mind as I began the Infinite Warfare Campaign, and whilst I wasn’t overly optimistic, I was reasonably open minded…..
From the very outset, Infinite Warfare will take all the CoDeyness in the world, lay it thickly onto a big budget slice of FPS bread, and ram it down your throat in an Open Club Sandwich of Triple-A Interactive Action. Or, in other words, from the start of Infinite Warfare you’ll likely be really rather aware of the fact that you are playing a Call of Duty game, actually. Bombast: check. Big Explosions: you betcha. Square-jawed Soldier being all they can be: of course. Impossibly Black and White scenario requiring you to single-handedly save all life as we know it: like, duh!!
I’m being glib, but not that glib, because (as is now par for the course) Infinite Warfare starts like you’d expect it to, with everything turned up to eleventy-twelve, no space for grey areas, and a mahoosive amount of cinematic action served up with all the subtlety of a punch in the fucking face. For sure this isn’t a slow-burner, and if you’re not ready and willing to get your killing on from the get-go, you’ll be in for a pretty rude awakening. For me, this didn’t exactly do much to dispel my fears about this year’s campaign to be honest – and precisely because I think CoD’s tendency to ramp up an (artificial) sense of adrenaline, and then keep it ludicrously high for the duration has become tired, and has ultimately existed to cover up a lack of depth and originality in its gameplay.
And for a while after it just got worse too, because I also feel that the more recent CoD games have become waaaay too gimmicky – and as I feared, I spent a chunk of time dying as I failed to properly hear the explanation for some gadget or gizmo I was being forced to use. Battlefield 1 had chosen to do away with such things this year – mostly because of the whole 100 years ago thing, admittedly – but I’d been impressed with how refreshing and liberating that had actually felt, and it merely compounded my sense of frustration at its inclusion here.
In short, I spent my first hour-or-so of Infinite Warfare with a distinctly unpleasant feeling of déjà vu, and I was just starting to feel like a bit of an eejit for giving it the benefit of the doubt when, much to my surprise (and relief), it all started to get better. At first it was little things; an NPC veering away from standard CoD script, perhaps, or a little snippet of backstory on the Captain’s terminal that seemed to be surprisingly subtle for an FPS. Then it was the things that may (or may not) have been references to Sci-Fi classics (e.g. Gator/Gaeta, I mean, that has to be, right!?) that had a distinct by-geeks-for-geeks flavour, before, finally, the whole of Infinite Warfare seemed to be intrinsically headed in a different direction. And – perhaps more importantly – one that was decidedly more profound than a simple mix things up for the sake of it kinda way.
Once you’ve finished the initially quite linear campaign elements, the most obvious example of this will be that Infinite Warfare employs a more Hub-like approach and, for the first time, introduces side-missions to the Single Player Campaign. Whilst this isn’t necessarily an “improvement” in and of itself, when taken together with some of the aforementioned changes, I think it does give the Narrative a bit more weight, whilst also adding a much needed sense of variety to the whole experience. To be sure, it’s not a huge amount of variety – there are three types of mission altogether; Main, Flight Combat, and Boarding missions – but each has its own challenges and offers something at least a little different, I think. And moreover, I think they’re elevated above “Tacked on” because, whilst you don’t have to play them, they do flesh out the story in pleasing, interesting ways if you do. And not least because – for the first time in a long time – I actually gave a shit about the supporting cast in a CoD game, and a lot of that was precisely because I felt the side missions had allowed me to (and I appreciate this sounds daft….) get to know them, bond with them even, and that was a nice change from the fake, Alpha-male type camaraderie that is often squished into the more recent CoD campaigns.
Likewise, the Hub approach – i.e. returning to the ship between campaigns – also helped to create a sense of the bigger picture, of my efforts involving a lot more than the ‘one group of dudes zipping around the globe saving the world’ type stuff that’s become a hallmark of the franchise. I mean, even the ship’s grunts became an integral part of my journey, and not just because one of them was Lewis Hamilton either, and – as we’ll see later – that subtly worked its way into my overall mindset as the campaign progressed.
There’s even a half-decent attempt at approaching the philosophical conundrums of Artificial Intelligence, and whilst we’ll never know if androids do indeed dream of electric sheep purely because of Infinite Warfare, it is a reasonably well handled sub-plot in the game, I think. Perhaps I’m getting old, but I actually liked the downtime between missions, and contrary to the CoD school of high, unrelenting adrenaline fuelled action throughout, I actually thought it made the main missions more thrilling; precisely because you’ve got to “gear up” for them, and because there’s a definite contrast between the mission and the relative tranquility of what immediately preceded it. Once more into the fray and all that….
And, to be clear, the main campaign does still feature all the kind of things you’d expect from a CoD, so if you’re not dead bothered about Narrative nuance, you’ll still find plenty of action and a-killing to get your teeth into. As you’d expect, Infinite Warfare is still very much a shooter at heart, and it still excels where that’s concerned. Outside of the story elements, you’ll find yourself happily engaging in some epic gun fights, ably assisted by some suitably polished and smooth mechanics, which makes it a thrilling, yet almost zen-like journey as you hit that sweetspot of aim-shoot-kill-repeat like a goddam boss. You can say what you like about CoDs, but they’ve got this shit nailed down, and Infinite Warfare provides a masterclass in FPS action. There’s the usual array of weaponry, with each and every one offering you a satisfying, uber-responsive experience – and, thanks to the Hub thing, you even get to choose which ones you’ll take out on missions with you, once you’ve unlocked ’em, obviously.
Also, because Infinite Warfare is largely set in spa(aaaaaaaaaaa)ce, you’ll get to do some Zero G killing too – which is a bit gimmicky, but still quite enjoyable anyway. There’s quite a cool little som’thin-som’thin whereby you get to effectively harpoon enemies floating around in space, reel the poor bastards in, and then finish them off all up close and personal like. I mean, it’s not worth the cost of admission, but all the Gravity-less action is a pleasing addition to your kill-ey shenanigans regardless.
It also helps highlight just how great Infinite Warfare is in terms of Graphics and Cinematics too, because it’s really quite spectacular dodging about amongst the asteroids and enemy spaceships, with the infinity of space providing a stunning and at times mesmerising backdrop. Obviously, given their budgets and such, you expect CoD games to look great, but Infinite Warfare is really rather superb, and in both Gameplay and cutscenes there’s a genuine beauty and cinematic shine to it – and it’s undoubtedly one of the better looking games I’ve played this year.
What’s different this year, though – and in my humble opinion, obviously – is that there’s a definite (or at least relative) substance underpinning that style; with every element actually working together to mutually benefit each other and not, say, with one or two super shiny elements covering up certain deficiencies elsewhere. A common refrain regarding any given CoD game has often been (e.g.) ‘it’s as shallow as fuck, but it sure looks puuuuurty‘ but whilst Infinite Warfare isn’t profound per se, I think it’s certainly more substantial than the franchise has been recently. The combination of Variety, decent characters, genuine ups and downs in pacing, as well as it looking and feeling great all left me feeling a shedload more satisfied with Infinite Warfare than with the largely forgettable campaigns of recent years.
I’d mostly reached this conclusion before arriving at the end of the campaign, but as I did so, it actually reinforced it – rather than, say, going and fucking everything up. Not unlike Battlefield 1, Infinite Warfare (mostly) eschews the standard “Good guys save the day and head off into the sunset” ending, and instead offers up something slightly more nuanced and affecting. Without wanting to spoil anything, it was here that all the other subtleties in the game – the genuine attempts at Narrative Depth – really came into play, and as the end credits rolled, there was an altogether more contemplative vibe than I’d expected to find. Rather than simply glorifying conflict, or offering up a post hoc rationalisation of all that had preceded it, Infinite Warfare actually left me with a sense of loss; a keen realisation of the costs of my “victory”. There’s a surprising element of pathos in Infinite Warfare – which is impressive anyways – but it was made more so by the fact that I honestly wasn’t expecting it.
And, in CONCLUSION, that just about sums up my experience of Infinite Warfare’s Campaign. I wasn’t expecting to dislike it necessarily, but I certainly didn’t think I’d come out of it feeling as impressed and satisfied as I did. I’ve mentioned Battlefield 1 a few times, but actually, in the end I found the general feel of Infinite Warfare to be reminiscent of Wolfenstein: The New Order – and that’s high praise indeed. There’s a similar sense of sacrifice, loss, and of fleshed-out NPCs in Infinite Warfare, and much like Wolfenstein, that creates a more rounded and compelling experience.
The campaign’s not necessarily “long” – probably about 10-15 hours depending on how much you play the side missions and such – but it does feel like it’s worth bothering with this year, and not just as a way to get a bit of practice in before jumping into Multiplayer. And given there is the Multiplayer, and Zombies, the whole Infinite Warfare package represents decent value for money if you intend to play all modes which, going back to the stuff I said at the outset, was also something of a nice surprise. Perhaps liking a game because it wasn’t as shit – or poor value – as you expected it to be isn’t an objectively great thing, but it’s nevertheless a thing anyways. That said though, if I’d have picked up Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare in a world where all the CoD/Activision baggage didn’t exist, I honestly think I would’ve still really rather enjoyed it, so that’s undoubtedly a good thing too, all things considered.
I mean, it’s still an FPS, and it’s still the kind of game where you’ll be expected to shoot a lot of people in their stupid fucking faces; so if you’re not into that, Infinite Warfare’s unlikely to win you over. But if you are into that kind of thing, but you also quite like a bit of context to all the shooting, a decent story to go along with the carnage, and, ultimately, for the whole package to be slightly less dumb, it might just be that Infinite Warfare offers you a surprisingly solid and successful attempt at just that.
And, of course, there’s the whole ‘in spa(aaaaaaaaaaa)ce’ thing too, so, like, bonus Geek points, right there…..