Early on in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, the latest and most futuristic entry in the Call of Duty franchise, players are introduced to the villainous Admiral Salen Kotch (Kit Harrington) of the Mars-based secessionist Settlement Defense Front. In order to demonstrate firsthand just how far he’s willing to go to defeat Earth, he shoots one of his own men. The point is clear: Only those who can freely dispense with their ties, their emotions, are capable of winning. So far as its story goes, then, Infinite Warfare satisfies by following that declaration to its bitter conclusion. But in terms of gameplay, the game’s developer, Infinity Ward, is so tethered to the familiar Call of Duty formula that Infinite Warfare never manages to go far enough.
Infinite Warfare’s best moments use the story’s futuristic and space-bound setting to find new dramatic opportunities or simply show off how far video-game graphics have evolved since 2003’s Call of Duty. What could have been a routine infiltration of a water refinery is heightened by the details lavished on the player’s approach, with yellow seams breaking through the rain-slicked rocks of Titan. And that’s just the subtle stuff: The outstanding visuals also serve to make the set pieces all the more explosive and riveting, from a daring skydive to Europa’s icy surface, to the precarious passage through a mining asteroid rapidly cycling through day and night as it careens toward the sun, to a desperate zero-G assault on the hull of a capital ship.
Sadly, such lavishness leaves many of the other missions feeling like the video-game equivalent of bottle episodes: tight, indoor spaceship corridors that all look rather similar. The side missions—which forgo any sense of narrative and stakes—are where players do cool things, using surveillance feeds to stealthily rescue hostages in “Taken Dagger” and chasing a wounded battleship through a nebulous gas cloud in “D-Con.”
With the exception of a timed skirmish in “Trace Kill,” every aerial dogfight plays out the same way, thanks to a severely limited variety of ships to battle. The most stylish, eye-catching moments—like the majority of the game’s zero-G combat—are optional, and this leaves the remainder of the campaign feeling insubstantial. This emptiness is all too apparent each time players return to the United Nations Space Alliance (UNSA) warship Retribution. The ship’s bridge is used as a hub from which players can select their next mission and change their weapon loadouts, but it’s disappointing—especially after the way in which Mass Effect utilized its similar ship-based hub, the Normandy, to fill interstitial moments with relationship-building conversations with the crew. In Infinite Warfare, the various personnel just stand idly at their stations, lifeless outside of an official mission.
This lack of substance extends toward Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer components, particularly the lunatic “Zombies in Spaceland” mode. The largely abandoned theme park of Spaceland is packed full of kitschy signage, outdated renderings of what a “futuristic” rollercoaster might look like, and a medley of classic rock courtesy of DJ David Hasselhoff, all of which feels authentic to the 1980s setting. But no matter how colorfully attired, the zombie hordes are still generic enemies, and the fact that players are meant to play distracting carnival games in the midst of all this zombie slaying only emphasizes how aimless the whole mode remains.
Infinite Warfare’s standard multiplayer modes, like Team Deathmatch, are far more focused on the actual gameplay, but they also feel rather imbalanced toward those players who have unlocked (or bought) better perks and gear. The inclusion of personal Mission Team objectives is smart, because it keeps people from dropping out of a lopsided game, but at the same time also sad, because it implies that the developers chose to work around a chronic problem like matchmaking instead of trying to fix it.
Repetitive gimmicks and visually impressive set pieces aside, Infinite Warfare is still a competent first-person shooter that neatly transplants the core fundamentals of the Call of Duty series into an all too plausible future in which mankind escapes Earth but not its baser instincts. Unfortunately, none of that helps to make what’s essentially one of the oldest war stories in the book any more engaging. To infinity, then, but sadly not beyond.