Reviewed on Xbox One
If you had told me a year ago that Infinite Warfare was going to be good, I’d have thought you were crazy. For so many years in a row now the Call of Duty franchise has repeatedly strayed farther from its historical roots, delivering a lackluster futuristic war shooter that couldn’t live up to its critically-acclaimed predecessors. Fans, myself included, began to feel let down by the series and could no longer hold on to the hope that at least one of the three rotating developers could breathe life back into Call of Duty. Fortunately, amidst a sea of fantastic FPS games this holiday season (Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2), Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare shines through and begs for just one chance to prove its worth, after a seemingly endless stream of boring duds.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is developed this time by Infinity Ward, creators of some of the franchise’s most popular installments (Modern Warfare) and arguably its biggest failure, Ghosts. This time around, the US Military heads to outer space, where a destructive regime known as the SDF is led by their maniacal leader Salen Kotch – played expertly by Game of Thrones‘s own Kit Harrington; the one and only Jon Snow. While the game’s story is forgettable for the most part (a problem I’ll address shortly), the characters are the most memorable I’ve encountered since Modern Warfare‘s Soap and Black Ops’s Mason. You play as Nick Reyes, who seems like the standard action-game war hero at first, but quickly becomes a guy whose shoes you care about stepping into. He genuinely respects his squad and takes the lessons he learns to heart. He hates the fact that he’s forced to put his team into danger left and right, and he struggles with making decisions that can sometimes cost him his friends.
As the story progressed, I grew more and more attached to Reyes, as well as the amazing cast of supporting characters. Reyes’s strong-yet-witty female sidekick, Nora Salter, is headstrong and delightful to have around. She cares more about her country than life itself and doesn’t mind running straight into dangerous situations. My favorite thing about Salter is the fact that she never felt like a love interest. I know this may sound odd, but let’s be honest; there are rarely women in Call of Duty. So it’s not outlandish to imagine she’d be thrown in as a love interest for our hero. Fortunately, her existence never felt forced, and I never had to worry about Salt leaning in for a kiss or anything; she’s determined about the mission, and this made for a great supporting character. Other notable characters in Infinite Warfare included Ethan, a robotic android companion not unlike TARS from Interstellar or even Ash from Alien. He’s always quick to make a joke, no matter what the situation at hand is, and he certainly lightens the mood every time he’s on screen. The perfect foil to Ethan comes in the form of Omar, a British Marine who’s surprisingly racist toward Ethan for most of the game. It’s an interesting concept, addressing racism in futuristic space warfare, but it’s handled in a nice way, and reflects the impact of war on friendships; brothers in arms, and all that. Throw in characters like Air Boss, Kashima, and my favorite Griff, the weapons specialist, and there’s no question that Infinite Warfare will be one of the most memorable Call of Duty games for years to come.
Unfortunately, the story of Infinite Warfare is rather forgettable on its own. I barely remember the narrative that had me jumping from planet to stunning planet. Instead, it was the breathtaking visuals and entertaining weapons — which can be helpfully recommended to you by Griff, or you can bring your own loadout into battle — that made the missions memorable. Speaking of weapons, every gun in Infinite Warfare feels different than the last. My personal favorite was the KBAR-32, an automatic assault rifle which is best used against human enemies, while the Volk is the perfect futuristic weapon for tearing robots apart piece by piece. Space-age weapons aside, Reyes’s new abilities in Infinite Warfare bring some added flair to the Call of Duty franchise. The boost jump works better than ever before, as does wall-running, but it all seems very underutilized in the campaign. Also, the new grappling hook is a hassle to use, zipping from asteroid to asteroid, and seems like an unnecessary addition. These grappling hook missions were few and far between, fortunately, as most of the other missions took place in space stations and abandoned ships, which quite frankly got old after a while. Some operations, such as Burn Water and Dark Quarry, stood out from the bunch. But most of the other missions did nothing to leave an impact on me and made the story feel unremarkable overall, with each mission blending into the next. This blending worked in more ways than one, I might add, as the game has barely any loading screens or downtime. There is never a mission briefing akin to previous Call 0f Duty games, and the story progresses through cutscenes that transition quite seamlessly into gameplay. This caught me off guard at first, but I grew to enjoy this film-like pace. Sadly, the blurring together of missions works as much for the game as it does against it, making said missions more forgettable than I would have liked.
It’d be remiss to neglect the side missions, which were fairly enjoyable levels that extended the campaign in short bouts, but this planet-hopping quickly became old hat. The Jackal missions, while thrilling for the first two or three go’s, ended up resorting to the same formula of gunning down Ace pilots and blowing up Destroyers, with nothing changing but the epic background you fly against. The ships are a blast to control, though, and piloting feels as tight as anything you’d find in Battlefield or any other game with air combat. Flying is completely open and free, and while the camera can get wonky at times, especially with the Jackal’s lock-on system, dodging space debris and pursuing your enemies through outer space never gets dull. It’s just a shame these battles weren’t included in a multiplayer mode, nor did they really impact the story at all, considering they all followed the same format every time. Infinite Warfare’s story felt like a bit of a jumbled letdown in the end, but that’s not to say it didn’t have its perks.
Take, for instance, the most captivating yet under-utilized villain, Salen Kotch. Kit Harrington does a great job of portraying an evil mastermind, hell-bent on the world’s destruction. He’s a sadistic joy to have on screen, much like Kevin Spacey was in Advanced Warfare. However, unlike Spacey, my main gripe was Kotch’s lack of screen time, as he is mainly shown in the occasional HUD interruption, patched through to your helmet’s feed. He barely does anything but hype up his army, but there’s just something so terrifying about his appearance. Perhaps it’s just the fact that the kind Jon Snow we all know and love wants nothing more than to see us burn. He’d even die happily for his cause, which relates to certain characters he’s played before, as well as some real-life enemies facing western militaries today. The game’s brutal future parallels our world in a scarily honest way. It’s just a shame that it’s all thrown together so haphazardly, making Reyes and his fellow soldiers more memorable than the task at hand, all the way up to its less-than-gratifying finale. I had a fun time playing Infinite Warfare, but enjoyable seems like a strong word when the story is involved.
Story aside, I was pleasantly surprised to fall in love with Infinite Warfare’s setting. Infinity Ward did an excellent job of creating an atmosphere that kept me hungry for more. Whether I was exploring a derelict space station, or traversing an asteroid field to board an enemy ship, I couldn’t help but lean back and take in the gorgeous visuals of the game. I haven’t been this impressed with a dismal atmosphere since Alien: Isolation and was pleasantly surprised by Infinite Warfare, which may be Call of Duty’s darkest game yet. The steam effects coming from pipes, the tremendous light shining from the sun, the explosions I created when my Jackal’s cannons blew up a Destroyer ship; it’s absolutely stunning. Not to mention the in-game cutscenes; which are noticeably different from the main game’s graphics, but provide such breathtaking motion-captured moments – I was taken aback by how lifelike it all was. A standout moment for me was when I killed an enemy in the campaign, and one of my AI companions tripped over their dead body. This wasn’t a scripted scene; I put that body there, and the computer reacted to my actions. I was blown away by the reality of this. I really hope Call of Duty continues to innovate on graphic capabilities because it is games like these that will shape the way we look at animation for years to come. I wouldn’t mind going back to space again and again if it continues to look like this.
Fortunately, I can return to space as much as I want through Infinite Warfare’s spectacular multiplayer. This year’s multiplayer rivals Titanfall 2’s Pilot vs. Pilot mode, and I think it nearly knocks it out of the park. One major thing I’m impressed by this time around is the inclusion of the combat rig, which allows for wall-running, boost jumps, and rocket slides. I’ve been against these gimmicks for a few years now, as Advanced Warfare just didn’t get it right, and it felt horribly forced in Black Ops 3. Luckily, the need for jet packs in space allows for a more believable experience, and while the campaign rarely implements these tools (even the grappling hook is complicated in single-player), multiplayer is where the combat rig really shines. Nothing beats being able to fly up to a higher vantage point, or rocket sliding right into a checkpoint to capture it. There are some technical hiccups though; Wall-running is certainly not as fluid as Infinite Warfare’s competitor’s, and sometimes leads to the unfortunate scene wherein one may try to jump from wall to wall, only to smash into one and plummet to their doom. It requires some fixing in order to achieve true “parkour”, but for the most part, I had a blast with this new skill set in multiplayer.
While we’re talking new features in multiplayer, the new Quartermaster should be addressed. This robotic salesman, who is like something out of Destiny, offers new weapons for scrap earned in multiplayer matches. Scrap can also be scored through daily visits as a reward, as well as by completing missions for your online team, which you can change starting at level 15. You can even unlock new weapons by leveling up your team score. Another new currency comes in the form of keys, which are automatically unlocked in each multiplayer match you play. 10 keys can unlock a common supply drop, like the ones in Advanced Warfare, and 30 keys can unlock a guaranteed rare weapon, attachment, emblem, or camo. Rest assured, there’s plenty of customization in Infinite Warfare and plenty to keep diehard players busy for a year at the very least! Another bright sign is the fact that I was never offered keys through microtransactions and was actually having fun playing matches to earn keys, all the while anticipating what lay within that sweet supply drop crate. Other new additions brought to Infinite Warfare include two new modes, Defender and Frontline, with the latter being particularly interesting. Frontline plays like an Overwatch map, with one specific team spawn point, forcing you to find your way to the action every time you die. This makes for a more widespread battle and gives you time to plan your attack each try. It also takes away the possibility of being spawn killed while selecting a loadout, which is still a huge problem in Infinite Warfare‘s multiplayer. Another disheartening online flaw was the frequency of error code “Status: BAMBERGA”, which completely kept me from connecting to friends’ parties at times. Hopefully, these issues will be fixed in a patch because they’re just no fun at all. Fortunately, “no fun at all” is something I could hardly find myself saying about multiplayer overall, and I look forward to going back to it again and again.
Finally, there’s Infinite Warfare’s Zombies mode, which is a whole different monster, literally. The changes in “Zombies in Spaceland” from say, “TranZit” zombies, are just large enough to make an impact. But the dedication to the original format is still noticeable, which is nice considering Infinity Ward’s last foray into a secondary multiplayer mode was “Infected” – a very different kind of formula, and a not so welcome one at that. This time around you are cast as one of four stereotypical 80’s teens, complete with fishnet stockings, high tops, and varsity jackets, who try to survive the night in an infected amusement park. The atmosphere is much more vibrant and cheery than the original “Nazi Zombies” locales, and the timely pop soundtrack — which includes the likes of Human League and Europe — makes blowing zombies away even more fun. Other than the inclusion of futuristic weapons, minor challenges supplied by a roaming robot companion, and David freaking Hasselhoff, “Zombies in Spaceland” is typical zombie fare. New enemy types like exploding clowns and alien brutes fill the void of Hellhounds and “Mob of the Dead”‘s Brutus respectively and the new addition of burn cards which allow for power-ups like infinite grenades and faster health regeneration takes the place of cola machines distributing Juggernog and the like. I’m usually not a huge fan of zombies, but I feel I’ll come back to “Zombies in Spaceland” eventually, once the lobbies are less dead, no pun intended. It’s near impossible to find a joinable game as a newbie, as the veteran zombie hunters usually leave when they see your rank. That’s right; Infinite Warfare’s Zombies mode is set up like typical multiplayer, with ranks and custom loadouts. As you progress by leveling up, you unlock new upgrades for weapons, and new Fate and Fortune cards, which grant you the aforementioned perks a la Perk-a-Cola from previous games. Does this take away from the experience; a feeling of hopelessness; the threat of fighting through the night with just your friends and whatever guns you can find along the way? Slightly. But rest assured, if you can break through the BAMBERGA and grab some friends for a night in “Spaceland”, Infinity Ward has made sure it’ll be a good day to die indeed.
Infinite Warfare is more fun than it has any right to be. I thoroughly enjoyed my play-through of the campaign, and I might even have another go at it someday. That being said I’d recommend you stay away from anything higher than Hardened difficulty, as I found the game to be extremely tough in some cases. This is even before trying Specialist mode or, dare I say it, YOLO mode, which offers lifelike injuries (like broken limbs and disembodiments) and permadeath respectively. Infinite Warfare is certainly an experience, whether it’s the absolutely beautiful visuals or the fast-paced antics of multiplayer. After writing an article on my favorite Call of Duty games I feel safe to say Infinite Warfare definitely cracks the top 5. I can also finally rest easy knowing that Infinity Ward may have restored the series to its former glory in terms of impactful character development, and meaningful changes to a tiresome formula. My one suggestion would have been to develop the game under an entirely different banner. Infinite Warfare is an excellent space game, and it could definitely hold its own as a standalone FPS title. I’m afraid that calling this game a Call of Duty title may have damaged its reputation, and its sales will falter this year because of it. But one thing’s for sure, this is a Call of Duty game that should not go untouched. This game has the potential to bring the franchise back from its recent stale state. The other shooters of 2016 have been pretty spectacular, don’t get me wrong, but Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is in a league of its own. It has a reputation to uphold, and a major fanbase to appease, especially after a string of lackluster installments. But in order to win back its spot at the top of the charts, Call of Duty needs to produce a worthy savior, and I believe Infinite Warfare could be just that.