'Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare' review: The future is dated

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Yahoo Finance

Space battles, interstellar conflict and wisecracking robots — three things I never expected to see in a “Call of Duty” game.

And yet, Activision’s “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,” the latest installment in the long running  (and incredibly lucrative) franchise, offers up all that and lots more in big, meaty helpings.

For better or worse, “Infinite Warfare” is still very much a “Call of Duty” game. It’s packed with massive, exploding set pieces, fast-paced multiplayer and, of course, a new Zombies mode. But developer Infinity Ward has attempted to brought just enough changes to the “Call of Duty” formula to make the series, which has struggled to reinvent itself over the years, interesting again.

The trouble is, other shooters have done more. “Infinite Warfare” has two major competitors to contend with this season in EA’s “Battlefield 1” and “Titanfall 2,” both of which have received high praise from critics and gamers alike. So should you once again heed the call?

Space, the newest frontier

It’s clear from the start that Infinity Ward wanted “Infinite Warfare” to feel like a different kind of “Call of Duty.” The first mission in the game’s solo campaign sees you jump from a drop ship onto Jupiter’s icy moon of Europa. As you make your way across the moon’s frozen surface, Jupiter looms large above you. It’s an incredibly strange sight for anyone who’s played a “Call of Duty” game before.

The franchise, which originally put players in the boots of World War II soldiers, moved to the present day with “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” and then the not-so-distant future with “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,” has officially entered full-blown sci-fi territory with “Infinite Warfare.”

Mankind has depleted Earth’s resources and colonized the solar system to harvest the other planets’ treasures. A splinter group from the Mars colony rises up against the Earth, and all-out interplanetary war ensues.

You play Lieutenant Nick Reyes of the United Nations Space Alliance (UNSA). You’re quickly promoted to captain of your own ship, the carrier Retribution, and tasked with helping to defeat the terrorist group, the Settlement Defense Front (SDF), and protect the Earth from annihilation.  It’s all pretty standard sci-fi trope fare, but it’s executed with Call of Duty’s typically impressive polish and quality.

Though Reyes isn’t particularly interesting and the villainous Salen Koch (played by “Game of Thrones” star Kit Harrington’s)  is about as one-dimensional they come, your new sidekick, the witty robot Ethan, makes up for it with genuinely amusing interjections. More importantly, the campaign’s ridiculous, over-the-top gameplay ensures you’ll have a blast. From a zero-G gunfight on the exterior of a skyscraper-sized spaceship to enormous bipedal battle tanks, “Infinite Warfare” is over the top in all the right ways.

Of course, the usual “Call of Duty” hallmarks are still there. Gunplay is incredibly fluid, especially when compared to “Battlefield 1” and “Titanfall 2,” and the action constantly pushes you forward. None of the guns you pick up stand out much, however; the game throws so many at you, you quickly lose track of what you’ve already used and what’s new.

A few new weapons will get your attention, though. Spider-like seeker grenades attach themselves to your nearest enemy and detonate, while anti-gravity grenades leave your foes floating helplessly in the air. A trusty hacking tool lets you remotely take control of enemy robots, dropping you behind enemy lines where you can dispatch SDF troops without putting yourself in danger. To be honest, you actually feel a bit overpowered at times.

Also new to the series are interstellar dogfights. Flying is fairly straightforward, though not exactly deep. You basically chase enemy ships, lock on and fire your guns. It’s a fun break from the standard boots on the ground combat, but it doesn’t exactly get your heart pounding.

More of the same multiplayer

You’ll zip through “Infinite Warfare’s” campaign in about 6 hours — a little longer if you opt to play through available side missions — but few will be buying this for its single-player. Unfortunately, where Infinity Ward seems to have go out of its way to create a new and interesting single-player, the multiplayer game feels like a copy and paste job of “Infinite Warfare’s” predecessor, “Call of Duty: Black Ops III.”

All of the classic multiplayer game modes are here, including Domination, Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch. The new Mission Teams mode lets you choose one of four teams to join in order to complete specific objectives. Completing your objective means more experience and a greater chance to receive customization skins for your weapons and special items.

You also get new Combat rigs, essentially six different classes. Warfighter is largely an assault rig, Synaptic is a close-quarters quick hitter, and Merc is meant for more defensive players. Each rig gets its own set of special abilities, ranging from energy weapons to miniature drones.

Like in “Black Ops III,” you get a booster that lets you double-jump and run along walls. While the Rigs and hundreds of guns you can collect add more customization to the game, it never feels quite new.

And these days, that’s something of a problem. Coming off “Battlefield 1” and “Tintanfall 2,” I was let down by “Infinite Warfare’s” uninventive multiplayer. It just doesn’t feel fresh — a common refrain considering we get a new Call of Duty game every year — and with other games taking bigger risks, “Infinite Warfare’s” lack of creativity in its multiplayer hurts twice as much.  I just wish Infinity Ward tried something different this time around. Heck, throwing in some of the space battles from the campaign would have at least broken up a bit of the monotony.

Zombies in Spaceland

What would a modern “Call of Duty” title be without a Zombies multiplayer game? This time around, you and four friends play as quintessential 80’s movie stereotypes (the nerd, the jock, the valley girl, and the, rapper?) as you fight the undead in a labyrinthine amusement park.

Like past Zombies games, you have to take out wave after wave of zombies while boarding up windows and doorways to collect money to buy new, more powerful guns so you can take out even more zombies. And, as always, finding your way through will require the help of more experienced players.

Adding to the 80’s party are the voices of David Hasselhoff and Pee-wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens. Both actors sound fantastically ridiculous and improve the game’s zany feel.

It’s all well and good, but again, it’s not particularly new. Then again, you’re not going to spend months playing Zombies, and it’s not the main reason you’d buy “Infinite Warfare,” so the lack of substantial changes to the gameplay can be forgiven.

Call waiting

“Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare” is a solid first-person shooter. Its campaign is playful and fun and, as always, it delivers smooth, high-speed action. But the game’s multiplayer isn’t quite up to the task, lacking the creativity of recent entries in the franchise.

Compared to EA’s recent duo of exemplary shooters, it feels like a game spinning its wheels. Of course, that’s bound to happen: “Call of Duty” is the “Madden” of first-person shooters. We get a new one every year, and often the improvements are incremental. “Infinite Warfare” has its eyes on the future, but it’s overly safe gameplay is stuck very much in the present.

What’s hot: Entertaining, high-energy campaign; wisecracking robot sidekick; slick new sci-fi setting

What’s not: Multiplayer feels stale; short-lived campaign; lacks the creativity found in fellow seasonal shooters

Reviewed on PlayStation 4

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.