Recent Call of Duty games have pitted players against secretive sleeper forces inside existing governments and ethereal terrorist organizations with murky motivations and morals. The next Call of Duty game — Infinite Warfare — changes that. Developer Infinity Ward has moved much of the action to space, setting Infinite Warfare in a sci-fi future where humans have started their own off-world colonies. It's a change that art director Brian Horton says allows Infinity Ward to bring Call of Duty back to the kind of straight up good-versus-evil stories it has veered away from over the past decade.
The SDF are unequivocally evil
"The story we're trying to tell is that there are sides that need to be drawn, and there are some fights that must be fought," Horton says. In Infinite Warfare's case, that fight is against the Settlement Defense Front, a group of unequivocally evil colonists that attack Earth early on in the story. "They are ultimately human but they are not a sympathetic villain," Horton explains. "They have no qualms taking out innocent civilians and basically betraying any kind of laws of war you'd expect."
It's easy to see why Call of Duty's rotating cast of developers has chosen rogue agents and secretive terror cells for its antagonists — the political climate of the modern world makes it difficult to paint entire countries as "goodies" and "baddies" — but it's always felt slightly incongruous that these shadowy figures can field thousands of goons for the player to mow down. The move to the further future also puts distance between the loss of life depicted in the game and terror attacks happening in the real world. Call of Duty games have featured some of the worst real-world atrocities, from dirty bombs to airport massacres, but by setting it in a world more loosely connected to reality, it's theoretically easier to unhook video game spectacle from real-world tragedy.
Previous 'Call of Duty' games have featured real-world atrocities
Horton says this wasn't the specific intention in creating Infinite Warfare's setting, but the SDF is deliberately very separate from any existing group. "We've invented our own off-world colony and organization," Horton says. "and we can put them in this very clear box: they are out there to do terrible things and disrupt our way of life." The SDF runs "contrary to everything we believe as a society," Horton says, and "must be destroyed no matter what." Infinity Ward is drawing clear lines between the sides, creating a conflict that Horton likens to the World Wars. In short, the SDF are space Nazis.
In creating the SDF, Infinite Warfare bypasses these concerns, and means the developer can make a game about mass conflict without indicting a real-world country as a villain. It also can't hurt that the shift to the further future lets players tool around in ludicrously speedy spaceships, fire outlandish laser cannons, and battle humanoid robots, giving Infinity Ward space to make the kind of linear roller-coaster of a game it became famous for on a new scale.