Whoever decided to make Call of Duty into an annual franchise is a madman.
The most interesting thing is how Activision-- in conjunction with three different studios-- has persistantly forced themselves into making the simple art of murder into a new and fresh experience year after year. Considering the rivals they seem to have left in their wake (and the rivals that seem to struggle to compete year after year), it's amazing that we're still here, in the year of our Lord 2016 still talking about these dumb games. Plus, Osama bin Laden has been dead for years, so trying to tap into whatever anxiety college-age males have about society is also an interesting endeavor in amatuer psychiatry.
With that said, I am a madman, as well. I've played through every single one of these games since Modern Warfare in 2007 (in fact, it's the primary reason that I bought an X-Box 360). As often as I say "I think I'm done with these games," November rolls around every year and I find myself with a six pack of Kirin Ichibans staring at a Red Box.
So here we are again. I played through Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. It's pretty good. Here are more thoughts about it-- Then again, maybe I'm not the guy to consult. After all, I'm the idiot that liked Ghosts.
|In space there will be generic white dudes.|
I didn't think that Battlestar Galactica would be the direction Call of Duty would head in, but I'm glad they did. Because Battlestar Galactica is dope as hell.
Instead of ripping off Tom Clancy or the exploits of Richard Marchinko, this time around, they've decided that late 2000's sci-fi is the way to go. It's a good fit. Space is an appropriately dangerous and grim place. It's an environment where a pin-prick hole can kill you just as quick as automatic gunfire. But also there's both. There's no room to fuck around. . . But also space is a really fun place to fuck around in. While BSG was never about the joy of duking it out in space, Infinite Warfare does convey the high-stakes thrills of pulling off something as impossible as not dying from literally everything at once. . . in space.
Unlike BSG, Infinite Warfare actually has a strong ending. A poignant one. Maybe too poignant. I haven't felt this way about the ending of an FPS since Medal of Honor-- Again, that is a distinction that nobody else has probably drawn about this game or any other. There is a grimness to Infinite Warfare that goes beyond the previous CoD games. Yeah, they've nuked you and shot you and shot you and blown you up and shot you again, but there is a diminishing returns to all of that. Infinite Warfare is different. Like BSG, the horror of war in space isn't set dressing, it is a thesis. It says, in a way that needs to be restated, emphatically, ever so often, that war, war is a real son of a bitch.
So say we all.
IS THAT APPLESEED?
Yeah, that's an Appleseed.
Good work, Infinity Ward.
Good work, Ethan.
Anyways, I mention this because the art design of these games has been all over the place. Specifically, Treyarch and their Black Ops series (especially II and III) seem to have all of the wit of a mid-90's CGI football commercial. Everything is all bulk and pads. The few robots that they had in BlOps II and III were ugly, boxy messes in the same vein (personally, I thought the robots in BlOps II looked like the juggernauts from the Warhammer universe, but without being some kind of hell-rhino, which, arguably, is the entire appeal of the Warhammer juggernauts).
Even the knives are needlessly complicated. Just look at how dumb these things look.
Who decided to complicate what knives look like?
|I mean, besides the bad guy from Cobra.|
Also, how come nobody had fucking sleeves in Black Ops II? Ugh . . .
Infinite Warfare* is a break away from that. They went whole hog into the future and they designed a world that both makes sense on an aesthetic level and makes sense on a mythological level. It's a consummate world that looks really neat. It's a world that fits in more alongside something like Deus Ex than it does Modern Warfare.
I'm also glad that I get to talk about Appleseed in public.
Next up: My opinions about Battle Angel Alita.
GHOSTS OF GHOSTS
As I said earlier: I was the guy that liked Ghosts. If anybody ever asks you "What kind of an asshole liked that game" you can tell them "It was James Kislingbury. It was him. Let's go stop him."
I liked it. But, again, see above: I'm a madman. But, before you burn me at the stake, hear me out (I mean, you've come this far)--
There are two main things that I liked about Ghosts. The first is that it took place in Southern California and the American West.
Maybe it's a masochistic kind of narcissism, but it's cool to fight a bunch of enemy militia members in a location that's less than a mile from my work. It's also nice to see Santa Monica get blown up, because fuck Santa Monica. Also, that game had a dog. You had to drag that dog to a medevac. I loved that little guy.
What's interesting is that it presaged the direction that first person shooters. Games have moved on from the "modern warfare" end of things. The market has been saturated for a good ten years and groups like ISIS are too real to have fun with (and, again, we shot UBL years ago and it was awesome). Less successful imitators like Spec Ops: The Line and the Medal of Honor reboot have also probably pushed developers into safer markets.
So, they've gone in two directions: The Future (see Titanfall 1 and 2, Destiny, DOOM) or The Past (Battlefield One, Verdun, Wolfenstein: The New Order) or both at the same time (see: Black Ops II). This isn't a perfect analysis, but you see my point?
Then there was Ghosts. Ghosts came out on current gen and previous gen systems. It was split. So were its themes. It couldn't break away from the series' previous trappings, having neither been futuristic enough or stripped down enough to really matter. It was a game that
Infinite Warfare completes this loop. We're finally in the future. Black Ops II and III didn't quite do it and Ghosts was too trapped in the past. Now here we are: Space ships. Space marines.
It's a really good title**.
SHOOTING PEOPLE IS FUN
Yeah, some ten years since the first Call of Duty, it's still fun to murder fools over the internet. It's also fun to murder robots. And robots pretending to be people. And people pretending to be robots. . . You get the picture. As a shooter, Infinite Warfare comes through and delivers the kind of top notch polish and shine that you expect out of a Call of Duty. While that sounds like damning with faint praise, consider how tight Modern Warfare felt when it first came out. It still feels good.
As much as I love Titanfall 2 (which is my go-to for multiplayer this season), that's a game that just doesn't quite have the fine sheen that this game does. Which doesn't so much ruin one game or make the other as it does make me appreciate just how much money Activision poured into this game. It's there. It looks like it. It feels like it.
If nothing else, the economics of Infinite Warfare should leave an impression.
SO, WHAT ELSE?
What I think is going to be fun is seeing what the hell they're going to do with the next installment (which falls on Treyarch this time around). It isn't like they can go even farther (further?) into the future and any half-steps at this point better be well thought out, because nobody is going to go back to the farm after they've done a double-jump into a wall run.
Personally, I'm hoping for some kind of historical remix weirdness. Sending soldiers through quantum tunnels to fight in alternate historical time lines with modern weapons. Like William Gibson's The Peripheral, but vastly dumber. Or go back to Nam. I'd be okay with that. Or cyberpunk. You know, like those other William Gibson novels. All of this works. I'll even take a game with a difference engine in it.
Gimme that dumb stuff, Treyarch. I know you can do it.
Give me Space Reznov. And, for that matter, Infinity Ward needs to bring back Captain Price. Space Price. Thawed out to beat up the future, because they don't build MEN like they used to. Or mustaches. The aliens took our mustaches and we need 'em back Price.
At least somebody give me that dog from Ghosts back. Can't be that hard. . .
James Kislingbury writes, draws, and makes podcasts. He also hates updating his log line. That's what this is, right? Aw, who cares?
*The more I think about it, the more I realize how cool of a game Advance Warfare was. That game did a lot of really neat things that I don't think people appreciated. At least not that I noticed. I tend to stay off of the internet, because it's a freaking full-time nightmare zone.
**I mean, yeah, it's kind of a "Fuck you" to Sledgehammer and Advance Warfare, but what are you going to do? Infinity Ward was there first and it's a really good title.