I’m really glad I’m writing this review a week after Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare has been released. As more game developers send review copies within only 24 hours of launch there’s a much tighter time, resulting in a need for a speedy verdict. Some sites have opted for the “review in progress” approach, which we at GameRevolution have done from time to time. Infinity Ward’s latest entry in the Call of Duty series was sent to us the on November 5th. I quickly burned through the campaign over the weekend, but barely played the amazing Zombie mode or the new multiplayer ones. This past week, I had plenty of time to dive deep online and to come to the conclusion that Infinite Warfare’s sci-fi setting is one of the best of the series. So I’m glad I got to mull this over a bit more.
Alongside Titanfall 2, DOOM, and Battlefield 1, Infinite Warfare proves this just might be the best year ever for the first person shooter genre.
A Spaceborne Campaign
This isn’t the first time the series has provided players with high-tech weaponry, but Infinity Ward really went all in with the sci-fi vibe, featuring a story that would feel at home in the universe of Ron Moore’s reboot of Battlestar Galactica. Both the campaign and multiplayer modes are set many years in the future when mankind has finally left Earth to make progress on Mars. Yet, while they might not be little green men, the so-called 'Martians' have every intention of obliterating all life on the third rock from the sun. It’s up to lowly Earthborn soldier Captain Reyes to take out pro-Mars douchebag Admiral Salen Kotch (played by Kit Harington from Game of Thrones). At the story’s opening Kotch has lead a terrorist attack on Earth’s defenses, starting an all-out war between the two planets.
After a few hours, you take command of the not so subtly titled space cruiser: the Retribution. You also have a tiny viper-like ship for dogfights in space called the Jackal. As a result, in a first for the series, you can actually decide how to progress through the story. It’s not Mass Effect epic in scope but come on… spaceships!
Still, like Bioware’s classic trilogy, Infinite Warfare sports the most memorable characters in the series. From the cautious Salter to the headstrong Omar your squad feels much more grounded than in previous CoD entries. They seem like real people or, at the very least, like ‘real people’ a Hollywood movie as opposed to the most forgettable army grunts that liter most videogames.
A terrific contrast to all that realness, is ETH.3N a robot squad member that provides comedy relief with hilarious deadpan delivery. Unlike the perpetually bland Ghost voiced by fellow Game of Thrones alum Peter Dinklage in Activision’s other big shooter Destiny, ETH.3N is full of personality. Take that Chappie!
Plays like Call of Duty but Better
In Infinite Warfare you still have the standard three weapon loadout of a pistol, shotgun, and assault rifle, but the ‘beyond real tech’ makes a real difference. And it’s not just the guns. Tossing a gravity bomb to make enemies float for easy pickings is a treat as well as seeker bots the search and destroy lone baddies like the spider droids in Minority Report. Verticality was introduced in shooters a few years ago, but only now seems to have been perfected in games like Titanfall 2, DOOM, and now here. Bursting up into the air and tapping A to reach a ledge feels fantastic. There’s also wall running. While Infinity Ward's use of this might lack the clever environments Respawn pulled off in Titanfall 2, all the wall runs still feel great and add much-needed alternatives to the endless hallways shooters tend to populate. I also loved the energy bomb that can short circuits bots and kill /wounds nasty human Martians.
Plus, if there’s one thing shooters get criticized for it’s being too on the rails. Infinite Warfare addresses this big time with plenty of skirmishes in outer space. These areas are formless, chaotic. You can use the LB to quickly zip to a surface or grab an enemy. Using the directional buttons helps to quickly orient your sense of up and down if you get confused. For the first time I can remember since maybe the eerie anti-gravity moments in Dead Space, zero gravity is not only fun but wondrous.
In another first for the series, side missions are not an afterthought. Once you obtain control of the Retribution you can choose several side quests, many of which are focused on Reyes piloting his Jackal. Even here the flying moments work better than you might expect. There are tiny tweaks to flying like using the left stick to 'burst' forward that work great for all those hairpin turns or tucking around an enormous satellite among the stars. Even better is when you jump out of your ship for an outer space assault. There's a sense of freedom here that keeps the action engaging.
If there’s a downside to the memorable single player campaign it’s that it barely took me five hours to finish. This is one of the shortest campaigns for Call of Duty, which is saying something.
All of those forward thinking weapons, items, and abilities are in the multiplayer modes too. If there’s a reason I would give the single player campaign the edge to multiplayer it’s because the new modes don’t seem to feel as inventive as all the cool gadgets that this sci-fi setting offers in the single player. There is clearly enough intense firefights in various locations to satisfy fans though so it’s not a huge deal.
The are two new modes in multiplayer. In Defender, you have to hold a drone longer than the other team just as you would in like a typical flag capture scenario. Thus, in that tradition, the person with the drone cannot shoot. What’s odd is that while this mode is fine it sort of breaks the realness that the game is working so hard to maintain. I mean, why can’t you at least use a pistol? You just have to give into this kind if arbitrary notion, I suppose. Frontline is yet another Team Deathmatch mode. As has been noted in many reviews and forums there’s a problem with respawning though. Essentially, you keep coming back at your base so it didn’t take long for opposing players to exploit this. I died like much more than usual. Annoying.
So yeah, the new multiplayer modes are disappointing, but look, if you liked multiplayer in last year’s Black Ops 3, you’ll be fine with Infinite Warfare‘s version. You’ll get the new gadgets of Infinite Warfare, and for the most part, it’s very good at the shooting, boost jumps, and wall-runs. Character abilities are also the same as they were in Black Ops 3, including those specialized rigs, but now rigs have a super ability and passive ones.
Missions Teams lets players before a match select one of three random objectives. As you level up more challenges pop up depending on the team you’re on. I like that players are incentivized into completing a mission even if their team is clearly going to lose. You can then unlock skins and guns that are exclusive to the team.
There are also the supply drops. I love how drops are done while flying your Jackal: you point to an area for the drop, zoom in, and then this robotic device attaches to your ship for a few seconds to resupply. That’s the kind of 'real' vibe that sticks with me. You can also buy more drops with real money or in-game currency for better weapons. All in all, good stuff.
Still, there’s a feeling of… “that’s it?”… to all the nine multiplayer modes that just didn’t stay with me like my time with Captain Reyes and his crew in the single player campaign. For me, Zombies is where it’s at for multiplayer entertainment.
Back to the Future: Undead 80's Style
Zombies in Spaceland is the best Zombie mode I’ve ever played in the series. Like Treyarch’s Zombie ventures there are four randomly generated heroes assembled in a wacky map, the goal is to survive wave after wave of undead mayhem. The hook this time is a fun 80s vibe complete with the Valley girl, the nerd, the jock and a rapper in a run down theme park. Paul Reubens is the host of this fun house, he of Pee Wee Herman fame. He’s note perfect as a kind of Cabin in the Woods-like the puppet master.
The fun cartoon opening might look like sixties Scooby Do. but the synth-pop score is pure eighties. Soon enough you’re doing what you always do, kill zombies, earn cash to buy better weapons and put up planks to keep the monsters at bay. What’s nice is that the level of difficulty is very well-paced for beginners. You can survive easily for like 10 waves no problem. Then it gets hard, but even then never frustrating. One great aspect is that is the weapon experience and attachments from the regular multiplayer carries over to Zombies. So if you got your favorite shotgun it will unlock and with whatever attachment when you purchase it in the theme park.
Some of the other voice actors in Spaceland are SNL‘s Jay Pharoah, Buffy alum Seth Green, and the Knight Rider himself, David Hasselhoff. All do solid work but Reubens is my pick for MVP. He just has a perfect balance of wit and weirdness.
In a way, what makes Call of Duty Infinite Warfare so successful is personality, whether that’s via creative future tech, or the earnest single player story or even the over the top Zombie mode. This has been an incredible year for shooters. Thankfully, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare completes 2016 with a bang.
Xbox One copy provided by publisher. Also available on PS4 and PC.