Pretty good single-player campaign, mediocre multiplayer, terrible PC port. That’s what critics have to say about Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. What is COD:IW? Take Call of Duty’s tried and true FPS formula. Now, add space marines, robots, Titans (though they’re not called Titans), interplanetary war, “Huah!” machismo, silly space combat physics, and a thousand clichés right out of L. Ron Hubbard’s pre-Dianetics science fiction. That’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
The stars are very different today. (They’re worse.)
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Life on Mars
According to SteamDB, over 100,000 Steam accounts already own Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Not bad for a game with one of the least popular gameplay trailers in YouTube history. Neither the low quality of the port nor the trailer’s poor reception has discouraged immediate digital sales. On the Steam store, its overall rating is Mixed as of November 7, with under 3,000 accounts reporting. Pending refund requests may artificially inflate the numbers. Disappointed Steam users have already requested refunds, citing frame-rate drops, poor performance, and glitches. With Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered on the ticket, preorders for COD:IW went through the roof, further skewing the data.
COD:IW answers a question I never expected a Call of Duty game to address. “Is there life on Mars?” COD:IW’s answer is, “Yes, but it’s not what you think…”
“…It’s evil Kit Harington.”
Jon Snow is from Mars. He kills people for no reason, he bosses around Conor McGregor (also evil), he squints, and he pouts.
Alien Rage’s “Space Oddity” Nod
Early in Alien Rage, 2013’s underrated FPS from Polish studio Ci Games, a scientist muses via audio log that “Not only Major Tom is lonely up in space.” The line can be heard at 1:26 in this video. (Full video contains NSFW language.) Voiced by Courtnee Draper, the talented actress who brought Bioshock Infinite’s Elizabeth to life, the scientist provides character and soul to a competent, by-the-books FPS via optional collectable audio logs. The line about “Major Tom” shows how a little audio detail can change a game’s entire tone. For Bowie fans, it is a respectful nod to the Starman, fan service done right, a satisfying little Easter egg.
What could a David Bowie-themed audio log Easter egg in an indie shooter that nobody played possibly have to do with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare?
The Bowie Connection
Have a look at the widely panned announcement trailer, specifically the portion beginning at 1:50.
That’s David Bowie’s iconic song, 1969’s “Space Oddity,” being butchered by a band called Lady Heroine (oh, that pun again, how cute) for a Call of Duty game. In the COD:IW trailer, Bowie’s lyrics add to the thrill of militarism on an interstellar scale. Nevermind the fact that COD:IW’s chosen Bowie song is about the hubris of space travel and an astronaut dying alone in the hellish seclusion of space.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare made its worst mistake before it was even released.
Jingoistic Militarism: Not Bowie’s Bag
Bowie’s last two albums, The Next Day and Blackstar, reject outright the things that Call of Duty represents. “I’d rather be high… flying… dead or out of my head than training these guns on those men in the sand,” sings Bowie on The Next Day’s “I’d Rather Be High.” If there is a more apt description of every Call of Duty game since the first Modern Warfare than “training these guns on those men in the sand,” I would like to hear it. Later on in the same song, Bowie spells out in unequivocal terms just what he thinks of “generals.” He doesn’t like them. (The embedded radio-edit version bleeps the NSFW line.)
The Blackstar album’s lyrics and rhythms have avant-garde qualities. They ramble. They seem to be unrelated and absurd. When war imagery appears in songs such as “‘Tis A Pity She Was a Whore,” it is a metaphor for turmoil in a failed relationship. “Lazarus” contemplates his impending death. “This way or no way / you know I’ll be free,” he sings. “Oh, I’ll be free / Ain’t that just like me?” It’s not the political “freedom” that Call of Duty’s soldiers defend. In some ways, it’s even more frightening.
If you’re a Bowie fan and you want to play a game that honors his legacy, check out Omikron – The Nomad Soul, one of the first three-dimensional open-world adventure games.
Omikron – The Nomad Soul
David Bowie’s video game, Omikron – The Nomad Soul, has a funky keyboard-based control scheme. It will take some getting used to. If you have audio issues, be sure to disable 3D sound in the Options menu. In addition to providing an awesome soundtrack, Bowie offered creative input on the game’s concept, characters, branching dialogue, and trippy plot. If you can tolerate some retro annoyances, Omikron – The Nomad Soul is a real treat, with some Deus Ex-quality writing and an innovative 2.5-dimensional hand-to-hand combat system.
The soundtrack is all Bowie songs, recorded exclusively for the game.
Interchangeable Identities in Omikron – The Nomad Soul and Call of Duty
Straight away, the game breaks the fourth wall. Kay’l, the protagonist, invites you to possess his body for reasons that become clear later on. “Be careful with my body,” he tells you. “It’s the only one I’ve got!” Of course, Bowie’s game would spend its opening moments deconstructing the conventions of the art form! You are not Kay’l. You are the Nomad Soul in possession of Kay’l’s body. Throughout David Bowie’s career, he played parts — Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane, et cetera. Everything was a performance. Even identity, especially identity, was something to wear.
Call of Duty creates a distance between player and avatar for an altogether different purpose. The single-player campaigns of the Call of Duty franchise have no problem with suddenly killing off a player-controlled character and then picking up the story with another soldier on the same side of the conflict. After all, Call of Duty’s protagonist is not one soldier but, rather, the (typically American-led) militaries of (primarily Western, capitalist) civilization.