Early Impressions: CALL OF DUTY: INFINITE WARFARE
In this Crossfader series, our video games staff takes a look at early versions of upcoming releases so that you can know which hype trains to board.
It’s weird to think that just a year ago I was putting the finishing touches on my BLACK OPS III review, and now here we are preparing for yet another Call of Duty release. INFINITE WARFARE takes Activision’s annual shooter even further into the future. In space, Call of Duty can further embrace jetpacks, turbo boosters, and outlandish sci-fi tech and weapons. But the most noteworthy changes lay not in the game, but rather the gaming environment. Many (formerly) devout fans have cried out against INFINITE WARFARE, labelling it trite before launch and boycotting its release. Earlier this year, the game’s announcement trailer jumped to one of the most disliked videos of all time on YouTube.
Simply put, INFINITE WARFARE has a lot to prove to its fans and its thousands of naysayers. But if the recent beta of the game is anything to go by, I don’t think Activision is going to be changing anyone’s opinion.
Available over two weekends, the multiplayer beta of INFINITE WARFARE offered a look at a few of the game’s maps and invited players to test out weapons, gameplay, and other new additions to the game. Right out of the gate, the beta introduced the concept of Combat Rigs. Similar to the Specialists of BLACKS OPS III, these character choices come packaged with specialized superweapons that can be charged midmatch and unleashed to devastating effect (like pocket SMGs that kill in less than a second, or a massive laser gun that hearkens back to a proton pack from GHOSTBUSTERS). Having tried a few of these, I found them to be just as fun and destructive as they should be, but I couldn’t help but notice how horrifically unbalanced they felt in my hands. I could easily clear a dozen enemies in seconds with the SMGs, or by transforming into a robotic dog, bounce around the map climbing on walls like an assassin on steroids, dive tackling enemies and executing them without giving them a chance to fight back.
Nothing’s fair in love or war
These alone wouldn’t be too much of an issue by themselves, but the Rigs come bundled with a choice of Trait, which can be explained as an overpowered Perk. Perks have always been a part of Call of Duty’s multiplayer and have been tweaked to perfection by this point, but some of the new traits just feel overwhelming. These offenders might accelerate health regeneration, speed up Rig weapons and abilities, enable a burst of speed after killing enemies, or even offer invulnerability to melee attacks. There is also no way of determining which of these an enemy player is using. For example, having spotted a teammate lose a gunfight against an opponent, I jump in to finish the job. With no way of telling that he is using the Merc rig and has enhanced health regeneration, I’m caught completely off guard when he zaps back to full health and takes me down. On multiple occasions, my deaths felt cheated, simply because I didn’t have access to all of the important information.
Again, these gaps in awareness only continue when you start to include the countless variations of weapons. Just like the last two Call of Duty titles, INFINITE WARFARE comes with the irritating and frustrating supply drop system, which incentivizes microtransactions for cosmetics and unlockable weapons. But INFINITE WARFARE takes this to a whole new degree: The weapons in the supply drops are variations of existing weapons, but with exclusive perks or attachments. Some of these might stop players from regaining health, while others might give a gun infinite range (yes, you read that right), allowing someone to three-hit you from across the entire map, while even others might unlock the coveted Nuke Killstreak. These are perks that are not accessible outside of these random, pay-to-open boxes, which means that by sheer luck, players will have a complete advantage over the competition. And what’s more, there is no possible way to know what perk the gun has before it kills you. In a gunfight, you’ll duck around a corner to regenerate some health. But for some reason… you aren’t healing, while your enemy is recovering perfectly fine! This is just screams unfair, unbalanced, and verging on the terrifying “pay-to-win” label thrown around in the free-to-play community. But even in this case, when you do pay, you’re not even guaranteed to get one of these overpowered variants.
In terms of map design, gameplay, and artstyle, INFINITE WARFARE is simply bland. The maps feel tiny, claustrophobic, and full of tiny nooks and crannies where campers can hide, the last thing Call of Duty needs more of. Generally, competitive shooter maps focus on lanes, killzones, and positions of contention. But INFINITE WARFARE’s battlefields felt lacking in direction, and in every match I played, newcomers and veterans alike meandered about aimlessly, getting lost in the endless mazes of hallways and doors.
Think THE SHINING but with even more nine-year-olds
My favorite map was a remake of Terminal, a map from MODERN WARFARE 2, and despite my best efforts, I can’t even recall most of the layouts of the new levels. Gameplay-wise, this is standard Call of Duty, almost a carbon copy of BLACK OPS III, jump jets and all, but somehow clunkier. I can’t exactly explain why, but every step and jump felt heavier and sluggish, as if I was carrying a bag of bricks on my pack. Graphically, the game looks no better than last year, and the generic sci-fi decor is uninspired and forgettable. BLACK OPS III was defined by cyberpunk sensibilities and advanced robotics. I have no idea what defines INFINITE WARFARE other than a loose “space” theme.
Sure, this was a beta and there are technical issues that can be fixed like lag, spawn systems, frame drops, and graphical hitches. But most of my complaints with the game are locked into the game’s design. These are fundamental aspects of the multiplayer experience and they severely disrupt the competitive gameplay. Why would I want to test my skill against players that have such blatant advantages over me? The short answer: I wouldn’t.
Having played the beta, I have no drive to go forward and play the multiplayer aspect of INFINITE WARFARE. After every match, I felt frustrated and confused about why things had been designed this way when they worked so great before, and after a single night of gameplay, I had already switched back over to other games. I wanted to play anything else. Maybe the single player campaign and cooperative zombies mode may redeem the package, but INFINITE WARFARE’s multiplayer looks doomed to fail.