Sticking with tradition despite a planet-hopping sci-fi setting, the latest “Call of Duty” is a conservative iteration of the annual first-person shooter franchise with safe, market-tested upgrades: a wisecracking robot, spaceship dogfights, ray guns and a scarred Kit Harington.
While “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare” (Activision, for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, $59.95) includes moments of gaming grandeur, it doesn’t surprise, shock, or deliver any major new ideas in a year that’s seen heavy competition in the ever-popular genre, including new versions of “Titanfall,” ”DOOM” and “Battlefield.”
After a surprise attack on Geneva, you play as the earnest Capt. Nick Reyes, leading a multicultural team representing the United Nations Space Alliance into battle against the Mars-based Settlement Defense Front. The straightforward war narrative hits you over the space helmet with its praise of military sacrifice, but it’s elevated by sharp â sometimes even heartfelt â dialogue and strong acting from “Homeland’s” David Harewood and others. Your jokey robot companion E3N leaves a more lasting impression than Harington’s character, an evil space admiral who makes sporadic appearances.
As usual, several set-pieces shine: A giddy firefight outside a space warship sends players spinning upside down and sideways, and a confrontation with solar-powered robo-warriors on a rapidly spinning asteroid is grimly intense. Gestures toward player choice â perks, side missions, a more realistic and challenging “specialist mode” â allow minor variations from the franchise’s familiar on-the-rails gameplay. Also helping to shake up shooting gallery monotony: creepy-crawly exploding “seeker bots” and zero-gravity grenades that send enemies floating up into your crosshairs.
Multiplayer matches, where most players spend their time, were tweaked with a rudimentary weapon crafting system and “combat rigs” featuring individualized perks that substitute for last year’s “specialist” characters. Boost jumping and wall-running allow for innovative map design, and overall gameplay is slightly less frantic than last year’s “Black Ops III.”
I’ve never been much of a fan of the “zombies” mode, which blends puzzle elements with survival-type combat. But this year’s aggressively silly 1980s amusement park setting â with David Hasselhoff playing a DJ â is worth repeat visits to uncover its loopy secrets.
For longtime “CoD” fans, though, a sense of “been there, shot that” lingers across all three modes. “Infinite Warfare” is polished and shiny, but doesn’t justify its existence like 2009’s “Modern Warfare 2” or 2012’s “Black Ops 2.” Perhaps a hard reboot is in order. Here’s hoping Activision stops promising “CoD” sequels every year so its developers have time to innovate and make the franchise feel vital again. Two and a half stars out of four.
Follow Ryan Pearson on Twitter @ryanwrd
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.