This year’s Call of Duty isn’t the best it has been on modern consoles, that is a slot reserved for Sledgehammer’s Advanced Warfare. Most disappointing of this modern run of Call of Duty games has been with Treyarch’s Black Ops III. But Infinity Ward had a lot to live up when they released Ghosts. It was anything but stellar, but now Infinity Ward returns to reach for the stars with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, which brings the series forward not only in gameplay, but presentation as well. It shows that the series can be more than we’re used to, and introduces systems and mechanics I can only hope get expanded upon.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare takes place in a plausible future. One where humanity has splintered, to further settle and expand the human race throughout the solar system. These space cowboys have formed the Settlement Defense Front (SDF), NATO became SATO, and the world still has the same kind of guns, but now broken out between energy (to kill robots) and ballistic (to kill humans). After sometime, the SDF has grown tired of SATO and launches an all-out attack on Geneva as Earth celebrates fleet week. This devastating attack only leaves a handful of carriers the military has left to handle a response, and what unfolds is nothing but pure blockbuster action movie gameplay. This is the kind of setup that gets you pumped and ready to take action.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare has its share of celebrity appearances, such as one by Connor McGregor from UFC, David Harewood from Supergirl, and Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones as the big bad of the SDF. These recognizable faces provide little distraction. They actually bring themselves into the role and become their roles rather than a disconnection from the role. It’s surprising, but it works with the believable story that’s been outlined.
Infinite Warfare may not play that much different than its predecessors, and is very much the typical “Call of Duty” formula but with a higher quality sheen that we saw in the Modern Warfare series. You can now partake in completely optional, but highly recommended side missions. Yes, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare has a map screen whereby you pick your missions and can take separate loadouts. The side missions feel meaningful, but are a bit repetitive, though the rewards too great too ignore. You earn perks and attachment unlocks for Reyes to use in future missions. Each main and side mission is shown with a probability rating of success, which increases with the more side missions you do. This is emphasized by a deck of cards with 32 individuals from the SDF that need to be taken down to stop the war. You can ignore them entirely, but that may change the ending of the game if you don’t pursue them.
The side missions only consist of two types: ship assaults where you board an SDF ship and destroy it from the inside out, and jackal strikes: where you take your space jet and do dogfighting in space. These missions are generally quick, to the point, but are a great way to break up the on-ground action. The VTOL jackals you fly, are very maneuverable and that translates well to the controls. Perhaps the most memorable is the stealth mission where you disguise yourself as an SDF soldier, and make your way through the ship to steal data back. Other times you’ll be floating among asteroids killing guys with suppressed gunshots or by grappling them and exposing them to the vacuum of space. Infinite Warfare is surprisingly fun when playing this side missions. The way this shakes up the traditional gameplay feels good, but doesn’t lengthen the game beyond the 6 hours it takes to complete it.
You play Nick Reyes, recently promoted to Captain/Commander of the Retribution, but much like Captain Picard of Star Trek: The New Generation, will go out on each and every mission no matter the danger. Commander Reyes does it all: assaults, dogfighting, hacking, infiltration, and covert ops. None of it ever feels like you’re overpowered, the SDF is more than equipped to keep you and your team at bay. Nick Reyes’ is thrown in the deep end, and is interesting to see his character evolve over the course of the game.
Not only does Infinite Warfare have action, but it also has a lot of memorable and interesting characters worth remembering and talking about. There’s a lot to read and hear audio logs about each of the individuals you interact with. Aside from Nick Reyes’ right-hand and seemingly star-crossed lover, Nora Salter, no one stands out more than ETH.3n (pronounced ETHAN). Not only is this robot immediately dismissed and not accepted by the Navy and Marines alike, but there’s seemingly a personality waiting to come out. And over the course of the game, the relationship between ETHAN and Reyes almost tugs at the heartstrings, if only for a moment. This “robromance” is unexpected, but wholeheartedly fun to watch and experience that robots can have and experience feelings while still following a protocol. The Infinite Warfare campaign doesn’t make the game worth buying for this stuff alone, but if you wanted to see Call of Duty finally do something interesting in story and gameplay, this is worth seeing it through.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Infinite Warfare is the multiplayer. While I think the movement of Advanced Warfare made the game more nimble and agile it had been since Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward almost exactly copied the format and systems of Black Ops III‘s multiplayer. The Pick 10 system works as well as ever, but looks and plays better by comparison. The map design leaves something to be desired, as the movement isn’t complimented by the maps themselves. The gameplay is fast and frenetic, as it should be, but often feels like you’re being killed before you’re aware of an enemy’s presence. Another issue is the fact that there are too many modes, and while a lot of them are solid, it splits up the players in ways that makes it hard to get a match going. At least is the case on PC, but props to Infinity Ward for having Gun Game. The multiplayer is much “paint by numbers”, for good and bad. It’s a lot of what you know, but does nothing to make things more exciting like the singleplayer does.
While I haven’t enjoyed this mode since its inception in World at War or its more pronounced status in the first Black Ops, the zombies mode has grown on me this time. Perhaps its endearing nature is wrapped around a neon aesthetic, 80s references and era-appropriate soundtrack. “Zombies in Spaceland” is the first episode to play, and it not taking place in the future makes for a more compelling reason to play it. There are still celebrities lending their voices and likeness to the game, like David Hasselhoff (Michael Knight of Knight Rider) and Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman). “Zombies in Spaceland” seems to follow a more coherent storyline and objective-based gameplay it has been known for. There’s still the risk vs reward gameplay of opening up new areas to gain access to better weapons, but at the risk of making more entrances for the zombies to invade from. This being an Infinity Ward game, I really would have liked to see the return of the “Spec Ops” mode. With a space-faring future from the main story to rely on, there’s a lot that could have been done with that. That said, the 80s themed horror show known as “”Zombies in Spaceland” managed to grab my interest for the first time in years.
Despite my quibbles with the modes surrounding the campaign, this is simply the best Call of Duty has looked and played in quite some time. The theme of the story always circles back to “sacrifice”, a theme very much present in the first and second Call of Duty games that took place in World War II. It’s nice seeing it come back and given meaning within a gameplay context that doesn’t insult that reference. The campaign all congeals the way it should, and while it isn’t revolutionary, it is evolutionary in the way it pushes the sci-fi narrative and series forward that has been needed the past few years. While the other parts of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare are hit and miss, it’s a game that shouldn’t be overlooked. There’s some interesting ideas here, and it is great to see Infinity Ward doing new and exciting things again.
A Steam code for the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Legacy Edition was provided by the publisher for review purposes.