The Call of Duty Infinite Warfare trailer was released today. Here are five thoughts about it.
The Call of Duty franchise, once it inched away from World War II, has been bathed in paranoia. It’s all Tom Clancy styled nonsense, but it all goes back to the root of indeterminacy that lives in that kind of military-industrial complex imaginary that’s obsessed with special operations, taskforces, and the CIA’s machinations behind the scenes. You lived that dream in CoD4, saw the most brutal side of it in CoD:MW2‘s “No Russian,” and got the entire lineage in Black Ops. Ghosts doubled down on an ideology of fear with its horrifying fictionalized conglomerate Central and South American anti-American coalition, and Advanced Warfare posited that even capitalism, the shiny wonderful savior of everyone, could be very gross.
So of course Infinite Warfare needs to up the ante. It looks like invasion. Maybe the invaders are from a moon colony, or a generation ship, or an evil place at the north pole. Anywhere but here.
The best moments of Call of Duty have been micro moments. The inspiring videos have always been NPCs running across battlefields, large explosions, and assaults against hordes of enemies, but the special moments of play have never been there. It’s the sniper missions that land. Or it’s the tanker assault. Or its clearing a building during a thunderstorm. The epic setpieces look great on video, but the core loop shines when you’re acting in little moments that line up – plink plink plink – into story revelations.
Space is the final frontier, and it’s where franchises go to die.
I recently tried to play my way through the Modern Warfare trilogy on the hardest difficulty. The first game was Nintendo hard, and many moments of progressing where up to bare luck and my lack of fear when it came to spamming grenades. Sometimes I just pushed up, knowing that I would die over and over again. I can’t say it was enjoyable, and I don’t feel very accomplished, but I just wanted to see what it was like. The second game was slightly harder, but also manageable; it was a time investment, and an hour here and there brute forced me through it. Modern Warfare 3 was impossible for me. It smacked up against the wall three or four days in a row and just quit. It was clear that by this point these runs, and thus the achievements, were points of pride for players, and the developers had to do something so separate the hardcore from the casual players.
This linear progression of winnowing out anyone who might want to stumble into an engaging experience is a metaphor for this franchise.
It’s difficult to overstate how insulting the cover of “Space Oddity” is in the trailer. An icon of pop music, fashion, and general culture over the past forty years died recently, and the trailer is cashing in on that cultural power with a milquetoast rock cover in order to sell a game about grapple murder in space. Even worse is the editing that turns a song about alienation and distance into a show-and-tell session for a very small set of videogame verbs that only afford murder, mayhem, and cheering. I don’t know what it is doing, or why it is doing it, or who it benefits.