Ah, another holiday season and another Call of Duty game to check out. Activision have perfected the art of releasing a Call of Duty game on a yearly schedule and this year is no different. But, unlike previous year’s entries, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (CoD: IW) comes with a bit of baggage. When the initial trailer was released for the game, the video became one of the most unanimously disliked videos on YouTube and the hate brigade didn’t stop there. Fans didn’t like how the new entry was being set in space and longed for something more unique along the lines of Battlefield 1. The shooter market is extremely crowded this holiday season and CoD: IW has a seemingly uphill battle ahead of them. Did Activision and Infinity Ward create a compelling package with this years release? Well, that’s a multi-part question that depends on what you look for in your CoD games.
Side note before the main review: Depending on what version of Infinite Warfare you purchased, your copy of the game may have come with a remastered version of the original Modern Warfare game. I won’t be talking about that game in this review outside of the fact that it’s a nice romp down memory lane and if you enjoyed it/want to revisit it along with 10 MP maps and original multiplayer setup, then you should spend the extra money and pick up the Legacy edition ($79.99 vs. standard $59.99). If you don’t care about the old shooter or had your fill years ago, then the standard game will be what you should look out for and what we will be reviewing here.
Call of Duty has always been a multiplayer game first, campaign/story second. It seems like over the years, Activision and the three teams they have working on yearly releases have perfected the online component and hit a bit of a brick wall. There really isn’t anything else they can do to the multiplayer without it either A) changing the core mechanics of the game which would upset longtime fans or B) not change enough and run the risk of releasing a game that smells entirely too much like last years release. The latter is true with CoD: IW. As I was playing the online component, I couldn’t help shake the feeling that I had done all of this before. This isn’t to say that the multiplayer isn’t good, it is. There just isn’t enough here to recommend an upgrade if your only interest is with the the multiplayer offerings. Just like Black Ops 3, Infinite Warfare focuses on high mobility but removes the weird character Black Ops 3. You’ll spend your time doing wall runs, double jumps, and flanking routes all while taking on equally mobile opponents clad in futuristic armor. It’s not as fast paced and fluid as this year’s Titanfall 2, but it’s a welcome ability in the Call of Duty universe. If you look closely though, you’ll notice some missteps when it comes to traversals. Some walls may look like they can be wall run on, but end up not being allowed by the game’s coding. This caused some awkward deaths as I thought I was being a stealthy assassin when in reality I was just a bumbling soldier banging his head against a wall that wasn’t designated as wall runnable. This distinction isn’t clear and requires the player to learn the maps before they truly become a mobile killing machine. If you’re a fan of the series though, and you play each year with your friends, there will certainly be enough here to keep you occupied. These are the same game types you know and love along with some truly breathtaking map scenery. The space motif really translates well and you’ll find yourself gawking at some scenery while traversing the maps.
While I am not a die hard fan of Call of Duty’s multiplayer offerings, I still enjoy them year in and year out. I’m sure that distinction fits for a majority of CoD’s playerbase. Where I’m in the minority though, is my enjoyment of the single player campaign. I’ve heard of people buying CoD games and never touching the single player campaign. That is blasphemy in my eyes. While the single player hasn’t been as good as it could have been in recent memory (last year’s Black Ops 3 was a particular low point for me) I always enjoy them. This year’s single player campaign is miles ahead and is arguably one of the best in the series. If you’re the type of gamer who usually skips this mode, you should ignore that urge and dive into the 6-7 hour single player. What makes this campaign better and more memorable than previous games in the series? The characters and their motivations, fears, and interactions with the main character amidst the hopelessness of the overall story.
In Infinite Warfare, you play as Reyes, a Navy captain who is tasked with defending Earth from the cartoonishly nefarious Settlement Defense Force (SDF) that is led by Kit Harrington of Game of Thrones fame. In typical sci-fi story fashion, Earth’s resources are dwindling and colonization has taken front seat which has led to clashes between Earth’s United Nations Space Alliance (UNSA) and the SDF of Mars. The SDF, which are former UNSA members that broke away during a war of succession, want nothing more than to eradicate the Earth’s government and take control of all of their resources and kill all Earth people in the process (seriously, they are cartoonishly evil.) Sounds like a pretty standard MO for a shooter, and it is. The story of the game never really goes above “we must take out the SDF to save Earth.” Looking at the game from a macro level, you won’t find anything special. It’s when you start looking at the characters and their motivations that you see the real story. Reyes, his partner Salter and their robot buddy Ethan have some really good chemistry which presents fun banter during missions as well as some truly comical moments (usually done by Ethan.) You’ll also be introduced to a marine squadron and the flight deck characters of your ship, The Retribution. Each character is an individual and you can see that time was taken to flesh each one out. These characters usually play secondary roles, but in times of crisis, can be counted on to help during the most daring of missions. As you embark on missions, you’ll talk with these characters either over headsets or before heading out on your ship and over time you can see a camaraderie out of respect as well as a friendship blossoming. But be forewarned, the chemistry you’ll see developing between characters is a bit of a double edged sword. Not everyone survives in this game and when they do die, it hits hard. For me, it didn’t come until later in the game where you heard their death messages they send home to loved ones. The dad who talks to his children for the last time via recording or the wife who says a heartfelt goodbye to her family, these are the moments when the full impact of the characters deaths hit me. I can honestly say that a Call of Duty game made me tear up for the first time. I didn’t realize how much I was enjoying these characters until the end of the game. They were so seamlessly intertwined into the narrative, their story arcs so well done, that it almost went over unnoticed. This is the mark of truly great character development. If you sit back and think about a game after finishing it, to just soak in everything that took place, you know you played something special.
While the characters are the best part of the campaign, there is also some truly imaginative and fun gameplay. Since this is a space game, most of the missions take place on other planets or in space above them. This new approach to the series allowed for some truly amazing set pieces that kept the game fresh and interesting throughout. From the space walks where you need to infiltrate a huge capital ship to the mission on an asteroid colony as it hurtles through space and shows the stars and sun barreling past as you spin on it’s surface – all of the levels seemed well thought out and meticulously detailed (outside of a few boring, but necessary military building style levels.) With your squad usually not far behind you, you’ll use a number of futuristic weapons, boosters, and wall jumping running skills (just like multiplayer) to take down whatever the SDF can throw at you. If you’ve been a fan of CoD in the past, but have been a little hesistant to jump back into it’s lackluster campaign, this is the time to do so. The campaign is easily the best offering in this year’s package.
While the campaign does most things right, one thing I wasn’t too thrilled to keep doing were the space missions. New to Call of Duty, are dog fight style space missions that revolve around blowing up ships and other pilots while protecting yourself from enemy combatants. The first couple missions you play are perfectly fine and you’ll appreciate this new mechanic. But, if you decide to do the side quests (which all give achievements and bonuses in game) you’ll quickly find that these missions wear out their welcome incredibly fast. The scenery is beautiful, but it can only do so much to save a mediocre mode that is used way too often to seemingly pad out an otherwise good campaign.
Zombies mode is back as well this year and while it’s not as fleshed out as last year’s version, it’s still a fun co-op experience for those interested. Set in an abandoned theme park, you’ll unlock weapons and areas of the park while working to stave off the zombies coming after you and your friends. It’s extremely colorful and fun, but at the expense of dread you might have experienced playing previously versions. Plus, throw in David Hasselhof and you might have your perfect co-op game experience with friends. It’s not the best mode, but it’s a nice diversion if you need a break from MP or SP.
There is certainly a lot of game that you are getting with your purchase of this year’s Call of Duty. As mentioned above, the multiplayer is more of the same, but solid as always and the zombies is there if that is your thing. I can’t stress enough how good the single player was though. I don’t know if it’s because I came from a place of low expectations or what, but it really did a number on me when I completed it. The characters truly shine through in an otherwise by the book sci-fi story and the overall narrative is all the better for it. If you were on the fence about this year’s Call of Duty, I can say with confidence that this is one of the better iterations in recent memory and deserves your attention this holiday season.
*Review Xbox One copy provided by the publisher