Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare: Australian Review

Infinite Warfare might be the best Call of Duty in years, and it will doubtless outsell all other 2016 shooters by virtue of the series’ heritage alone, but playing it immediately after Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 shows Activision’s cash-cow is not the bleeding edge of cinematic thrills it once was.

Set in an interstellar future where a separatist military force from Mars has pitted itself against Earth and its colonies, the game’s single-player campaign is predictably polished and exciting. It is, however, familiar to a fault. Despite the futuristic setting and top-notch graphics, the same old morose heaviness and “brilliant soldier fights against fate as cog in machine” narrative really weighs the whole thing down.

Too divorced from our current understanding of technology to be interesting from a sci-fi or historical point of view, yet not fun enough to be a total space fantasy, the narrative-focused mode is enjoyable pulp, but feels a lot like previous entries with anti-grav grenades thrown in. Brief moments — such as a look at future human history via a museum on the moon — show how interesting the game’s world could have been. But a protracted introduction and constant push to keep running and shooting means most of it passes in a blur.

This is peak AAA military shooter campaign. The graphics are amazing, the mechanics are incredibly solid but very familiar, and the acting performances — including a token celebrity appearance from Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington — are stilted but fine. Many have called the CoD franchise out for being tired and — while the truth is there’s no other franchise that does popcorn blockbuster shooters quite as confidently — the formula is showing its age.

As if to acknowledge how far Call of Duty’s campaign has fallen – at least in terms of moving the needle – since 2007’s Modern Warfare, a freshly remastered version of that game is included with the expensive “Legacy Edition” of IW.

For many players, the multiplayer will be the meat of the testosterone-filled meal. The good news, for those people, is that it’s very similar to the celebrated Black Ops 3. The bad news is that the game is still incredibly unfriendly to new or less-experienced players.

From the flamboyant move-set of wall-running and slides to the cacophony of classes, perks and match types, the series continues to cater to the audience that moves from game to game yearly, with newcomers likely to be demolished unless they do a lot of homework.

In fact which each passing entry in the series it’s getting increasingly hard to recommend Call of Duty to anyone looking for a multiplayer shooter experience that hasn’t already played the game extensively. That’s not to say it will be impossible, but next to just about every other shooter on the market Infinite Warfare’s online component is unforgiving and impenetrable to non-experts.

Not for the first time, the weird co-operative “Zombies” mode is actually the freshest, least complicated and most enjoyable part of the new Call of Duty. With you and your friends taking the roles of washed-up actors at a hellish theme park, the whimsical shooting gallery has an emphasis on exploration and collaboration.

As an overall package Infinite Warfare is probably exactly what fans of the series are looking for from developer Infinity Ward, after the last entry from that team — 2013’s Ghosts — fell so flat. (But then series fans don’t need to be told this).

Taking some inspiration from fellow CoD developer Treyarch with its familiar multiplayer and really committing to its war-in-space theme throughout, Infinity Ward presents an enjoyable, if not surprising, take on the same Call of Duty fans have loved for the past 10 years.

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald’s home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.