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Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare - Legacy Edition

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Infinity Ward
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2 (Local); 2 - 18 (Online)
Genre: Action/ First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

2016 has turned out to be a red-letter year for first person shooters. Nearly every high-profile release has been met with substantial acclaim from critics and consumers alike. Whatís even more amazing is the sheer diversity on hand; these shooters by no means follow the same formula. From the classic arena stylings of Doom to the measured tactical depth of Battlefield 1; from the hero-driven mayhem of Overwatch to the hyperkinetic euphoria of Titanfall 2, shooter fans have had a lot to be excited about this year. So much, in fact, that sticking to the status quo is perhaps riskier now than itís ever been. While I can certainly praise Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare for being a quality product (and I will), the fact of the matter is itís been preemptively outclassed and outmatched by nearly every one of its competitors this year.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare looks like a Call of Duty game. From the interface to the now-ubiquitous motion capture performances by well-known actors, it doesn't really surprise on the technical front, though it's certainly attractive. Performance never chugs, and the frame rate is, as always, liquid smooth. Artistically, it has a great deal in common with most space operas, particularly those that have a militaristic bent to them. Turns out, the cosmos are a plenty enough attractive backdrop upon which you can introduce your fellow man to his maker. I can't vouch firsthand on planets looking the way they do up close, but without giving anything away, Infinity Ward plays around with some pretty neat ideas. Just don't go expecting Neil deGrasse Tyson's approval.

I suppose it would be unreasonable to expect restraint from a Call of Duty game. Even if all that entailed was a refrain from taking the most basic liberties with physics. Put simply, Infinite Warfare seems to think that space is loud. I mean, allcaps LOUD. Hurtling through vacuum possessive of not even the flimsiest medium for the transit of sound waves apparently results in an experience that would leave Michael Bay in a perpetual afterglow and the rest of us bleeding from our ears. Space battles are full of loud gunfire, loud explosions, and loud everything else. Again, it's probably not fair to take issue with this, but it would have been far more interesting to see it go the route of Alfonso Cuarůn's Gravity; silence (or the nearest thing to it) can be just as (if not more so) intense as nonstop cacophony. Everything else is competent, though not best-in-class. Voice performances are decent. While I would normally hesitate to knock Brian Bloom's performance as hero Nick Reyes and reserve the blame for the writer, I can't exactly do both in this case; you see, Bloom himself wrote Infinite Warfare's story. And, well, I have words on that. Sarah Schachner's score is often upstaged by all the screaming and gunfire, but definitely gets its chance to breathe in one of the game's many, many self-indulgent scenes of military melodrama.


Gameplay:

Earth can no longer sustain its population. We just grew and progressed far too quickly, and the blue planet weíve called home for our entire recorded existence as a species just couldnít keep up. Taking a page from Christopher Nolanís Interstellar, weíve struck out across the solar system, establishing footholds on any rock with the barest promise of viability for human life. But the further we drifted from home, the less in-touch we became with it. And somehow, that gave rise to a group of people who suddenly decided to become genocidal maniacs for no good reason at all. Enter the Settlement Defense Front, led by the certifiably insane Admiral Salen Kotch (a hilariously joyless Kit Harington, Game of Thrones). The mission of these Martian psychopaths? Ostensibly, itís total independence from the authority of their home planet. But in practice, itís just an excuse to become terrorists. So they show up on our doorstep, hack our planetary AA guns, and casually begin murdering civilians. You assume control of Lieutenant Nick Reyes as he and fellow Lieutenant (and sister-in-arms) Nora Salter escape their besieged home, taking to the stars to bring the fight to the SDF.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare seeks to make its military science fiction yarn more about its characters than its plot, and while this approach could have been promising, it ultimately results in the series' second major narrative whiff in as many years. The SDF are poor villains; their leadership is exclusively possessed of the kind of deranged sociopathy that would far more likely result in an ill-advised mutiny, the only logical conclusion of which would involve a quick trip to the airlock. On the friendly side, thereís not much beyond the grim determination, the "oorah"s, and the monotonously delivered military jargon. There are some bright spots, including Reyesí bot companion Ethan, who is unlike any robotic character Iíve seen in recent years. Unfortunately, Infinite Warfare's story is sixish hours of mawkish nonsense that desperately tries to manipulate your emotions at every turn without ever earning that right. It takes itself deathly seriously, to its severe detriment. There are a handful of moments that had me cringing, and the end credits... do not get me started.

So it's a total dud on the narrative front. Forgivable, provided the gameplay can make up for it. Thankfully, it does so with aplomb; the core elements of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfareís single player component judiciously continues the progressive trend that began with Advanced Warfare. For starters, Reyes does not remain Lieutenant for long; a notable casualty and an instance of being in the right place at the right time lands our hero at the head of the UNSA Retribution, a warship capable of near-instantaneous travel across our solar system. This opens the door for something that is virtually unheard of for this series: side missions.

All this is well and good, but how does Infinite Warfare play? Well, at the risk of copping out, it mostly plays like Black Ops III. Emphasis is placed on futuristic weaponry and the expanded tactical perspective that new technology offers. There's a bit of jetpacking and sticky wall-running involved, but level design largely sticks to the same old song and dance. While it certainly features its share of boots-on-the-ground waypoint chasing, the single player dedicates a surprising amount of its run time to Reyesí and Salterís bread-and-butter: dogfighting.

Multiplayer lacks the innovative (slight though it may be) spark of the single player, so as far as competitive play goes, it's more or less a continuation of Black Ops III. Emphasis is on lanes, movement, and smartly-customized loadouts. Even the "Specialist" mechanics make the transition. Here, they're simply called Combat Rigs, but they generally take the same angle as the Specialists. Each has their own particular specialty in terms of battlefield effectiveness, as well as a Payload (Special, Ultimate, whichever term you're used to using) and a passive Trait. Unlocks pour in as always, and submerging yourself under that waterfall, while overwhelming at times, is no less involving and engaging.

I've made no secret of my general apathy towards not only zombies, but Zombies, the ever-present pack-in mode we've seen in some form or another in most entries following World at War. And with this year's Zombies de l'annťe, Zombies in Spaceland, it seems eager to capitalize on the ongoing nostalgic revival of the 1980's. It's as good a year for it as any, I suppose, especially with the runaway success of Netflix's Stranger Things. The map is good; given the fact that I personally love anything theme park related, that's not really a surprise. But the ways in which it incorporates its theme are always surprises best left to the player. If there's one virtue I will extol, it's that it features Paul Reubens in a role that can only be described as the bastard love child of Ed Wood and John Waters.


Difficulty:

Recruit. Regular. Hardened. Veteran. Four difficulty levels that each appropriately describe the experience with a single word. Well, no longer. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare does indeed feature the classic four challenge levels, but throws in an extra two for good measure.

Specialist takes things back to their roots. And by "roots," I mean the original Call of Duty. Not only is the difficulty appropriately ratcheted up, but the regenerating health system we've had in every release since Call of Duty 2 is gone. Instead, you'll have to manage your equipment and tread carefully, as special Nano Shots are all that will bring you back from near-death. It's a brutal experience that should satisfy those who are sick of hitting the ceiling with Veteran. And beyond that, we have the unfortunately-named YOLO. It is exactly what you think it is.


Game Mechanics:

Call of Duty's fundamentals haven't undergone anything even remotely resembling change in well over a decade, and in many ways, that's the secret of its success: it's consistent. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare does nothing to alter that perception, for better or for worse. The shooting action is competent and satisfying enough; the "kill em all and advance" formula is time-tested. It works. I'm still not keen on how it handles enhanced mobility; wallrunning, sliding, and double jumping are far duller mechanics than they should be. But it works, I guess.

Dogfighting has been kind of toyed with in some earlier Call of Duty games, but it's never been looked at as a core gameplay pillar. Until now, that is. There's a hefty portion of it in Infinite Warfare, and it's a mostly satisfying experiment that delivers on both the sense of spectacle and the sense of agency. The Jackal is a fine piece of work, and generally a pleasure to control. That being said, there are countless assists under the hood; you'll instantly know when the game restricts you to rails. Locking on to enemies more or less puts you on your quarry's flight path and nudges you away from obstacles and towards the computer's firing solutions. As a potential future staple of the series, Infinite Warfare puts its best foot forward. I'd love to see more of this kind of stuff.

Lots of people have been excited about the announcement of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered. Itís a well-founded enthusiasm; the original release was a watershed moment for the competitive shooter genre and arguably the most important game of the last generation. As of this writing, those who wish to purchase it have only one option: the $80 Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare - Legacy Edition. While Modern Warfare is still a great game, its relevance in the current landscape is a giant question mark. And the fact that it isnít being sold separately seems mighty cynical.

Thatís really a shame, because Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is a fine game thatís worthy of its series. But in 2016, that ultimately isnít enough to warrant an unqualified recommendation. If you consider yourself overwhelmed by the wealth of riches that constitutes 2016ís shooter scene and you count yourself among the many who can only afford one game at a time, this should not be your first pick. But you should absolutely keep it on your radar, especially if youíre a fan of the series.

Activision provided me with a copy of the game to review. The opinions I share are my own.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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