Back in May of this year Activision and Infinity Ward released the debut trailer for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare to an audience that almost universally rejected the idea of Call of Duty in Space. The trailer quickly became one of the most disliked videos on Youtube, a quick Google search showing it surpassing “Friday” by Rebecca Black but falling short of “Baby” by Justin Bieber.
If you’re keeping score that makes it the most disliked video game trailer of all time based on the Youtube “thumbs down” metric.
Now that the game has been out for about three weeks, did it deserve the scorn it received or did Infinity Ward recapture the magic they once had with Call of Duty 4?
The answer is yes and no, and maybe not in the way you’d expect.
Before I continue I need to mention that I was unfortunately unable to review the remastered version of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, I rented my copy of Infinite Warfare and it was not the $80 version that contained the remaster. That said let’s take a deeper look at what Infinite Warfare brings to the table.
Infinite Warfare takes place in a future where mankind reached the tipping point where the Earth no longer had resources necessary to sustain life leading mankind to reach off-world to colonize the other planets and moons of the solar system. Prior to the start of the game a hostile group calling themselves the Settlement Defense Front has risen to power, attacking colonies loyal to the United Nations Space Alliance (UNSA) and its military the Solar Associated Treaty Organization (SATO), taking territories with violence and seeking dominion of the solar system. The SDF is led by Salen Kotch (Kit Harington of Game of Thrones fame) at the beginning of the game both sides are poised for war.
After a quick introductory level we are introduced to the protagonist Nick Reyes (Brian Bloom), his wingman Nora Salter (Jamie Gray Hyder), a robot sidekick in E3N or Ethan (Jeffery Nordling) and an assortment of SATO military crewmen. The game’s plot kicks off during Fleet Week in Geneva when the SDF forces attack military and civilian alike, crippling the fleet and leaving many of the top officers dead, leading to Captain Reyes’ promotion to the commander of the aptly named warship Retribution as he seeks to take the fight to Kotch and the SDF.
It is extremely easy to dismiss this game the way many did as just Call of Duty in Space especially given that in many ways it is exactly that during the on foot missions. These missions take place in locations ranging from a mining station on an out of control asteroid to Jupiter’s moon Europa to the surface of Mars as well as a few space ships. Those missions play exactly like you’d expect a Call of Duty single player campaign mission to play, hence Call of Duty in Space is far from inaccurate.
Where the game truly shines in my opinion is the addition of aerial/space combat and in the optional sidequests. At several points in the game, the action will have you climb into your personal “Jackal” fighter so as to join the fight in the sky above the planet you’re on or out in space. Many of the optional side missions also focus on the “Jackal” craft, having you fight a number of SDF “aces” or taking down capital ships, while a few have you raiding a facility or enemy ship and fighting on foot as well. The missions while completely optional not only add flavor to a more or less by the numbers CoD campaign but they also unlock perks and customization options for the rest of the campaign. These unlocks include everything from extra ammo and gear, to weapons and paint jobs for your Jackal.
Personally I feel that these aerial/space based and optional missions are where the game truly shines. While I enjoyed the story for the most part, I didn’t feel as if it or the majority of the standard on foot missions were anything to be overly excited about. In both instances Infinity Ward was playing it very safe and not reaching out the way other recent shooter campaigns had. Kit Harington was fine in his role as the militant bad guy but was also fairly one dimensional and not fleshed out beyond “he’s a merciless military leader hungry for power”. In turn the “run here, shoot these guys, defend this point by shooting more guys, run over here and shoot even more guys” game play was satisfying but not exactly ground breaking. The addition of Jackal based combat and optional side missions are what makes this game as good as it is. These missions make the game replayable in a way other CoD games are not, and in a way that arguably this game’s biggest competitor isn’t. In fact I loved the vehicle stuff so much that I sincerely wish IW would make a game that was solely space and aerial combat and leave the on foot stuff to the other CoD studios.
The campaign isn’t exactly perfect though, in addition to Harington’s one note villain there are some characters that I felt were slightly underutilized or flatly written given their intended impact on the story. Ethan is a character whom I enjoyed immensely but felt still could have been on screen more and felt his arc with Sgt. Omar was way too rushed. At the start of the game Sgt. Omar is aggressively “racist” towards the robotic member of the team but in the span of two or three missions he suddenly becomes all but the synthetic soldier’s biggest fan. This glossing over of characters isn’t limited to the good guys either as there are important members of the SDF forces that are pinned to a chart in the Commander’s chambers that have zero development beyond “that ship you destroyed contained this guy”.
Infinity Ward does need to be applauded for their novel use of the post game credits for what is hands down the most unexpectedly emotional storytelling I’ve ever seen them do. Admittedly that stuff may hit me harder as a veteran and a father than the average CoD player but I’ll freely confess that what they did hit home.
All in all, this year Infinity Ward put out one hell of a good campaign, arguably the best they’ve ever done and in my opinion the best in the whole series (from any studio) since the original Black Ops.
Most people I know who play Call of Duty have always played it for the multiplayer, in many cases treating it like the main event with the campaign being an afterthought (if thought of at all).
This year however the multiplayer just isn’t that good.
The whole presentation just feels a little off, especially the movement and traversal controls. Not only does wall running, boost jumping and the like feel slower and more plodding than it should it also lacks a sense of fluidity and feels tacked on. Many of the maps make this feeling worse as many seem to be as if they were fully constructed and then a couple of places had the floors removed to force you to awkwardly stomp your way across. On top of these poor design choices many of the maps simply don’t feel great or impressive, simply not being fun to play on which results in the same four or five maps being voted for when they pop up.
The gun-play is definitely a strong point as it is as solid as you expect, the future weapons all feeling believable and handling well. The new rig system is a little off putting in my opinion if only because most of them look ridiculous. Each rig brings a special attack or ability, some of which like the Robot’s melee attack where it runs around on all fours exploding people with it’s strikes feel very over powered while others feel like just another cool gun to fire (admittedly I immediately fell in love with the FTL Eraser weapon that vaporizes anyone shot by it in a flash of flame). Returning this year is the “pick 10” system, allowing you to customize your loadout in specific ways, most weapons and perks costing a single “point”, letting you tinker with the setup up to ten “points”. I have never really cared for this system though and was disappointed to see its continued existence here.
The standard modes are also all here from deathmatch to kill confirmed with my personal new favorite being the absurd Infected mode. There is something amusing about turning into a deranged robot when you die and hunting down the normal folk with the pack of other knife wielding bots.
I am uncertain of the actual number of people playing but a mere three weeks after release I often found myself in 3v5 and 2v4 matches in spite of the always laughably small 6v6 that the game is built around. It makes me wonder just how much longer the game has in it and how many people are playing the remastered Modern Warfare multiplayer. Is that where everyone is?
I put together a quick Play Test video of the multiplayer mode and you can find it below.
Zombies in Spaceland
New this year to the Infinity Ward Call of Duty games is the inclusion of the Zombies mode. This year instead of Nazi Zombies we are treated to 80s Zombies in a Sci-Fi theme park. The mode starts with an absurd yet excellent animated piece depicting four actors arriving at a theater, having been invited by a legendary director. Upon arrival they sit down in the screening room while the director starts a black magic ritual that results in the actors being sucked into the production, revealing that the director’s body of famed work has had a horrific secret all along.
At this point you are given control of one of the four stereotype characters: a jock, a valley girl, a nerd and a rapper. You fight off waves of stylized 80s zombies, open up new parts of the theme park and generally try to survive as long as you can. I normally don’t enjoy the zombies modes in these games but something about this year really hooked me. I spent quite a bit of time playing it even enjoying it despite not having anyone playing alongside me. I imagine with a group of three or four friends playing together the mode would be an absolute blast to play.
I recorded a quick Play Test of the mode that you can view below.
Final Verdict: Scoring Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is an interesting proposition as it is truly the sum of some very different parts. I loved the single player campaign in a way I never expected and was shocked by how much I enjoyed the zombies mode but was very underwhelmed by the multiplayer in a year where other studios hit with much better competitive experiences. It is a sum of all its parts though and given that even the excellent campaign had some very glaring issues I have to give Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare what it honestly deserves and in my eyes it falls just short of being slightly higher than the respectable 8 out of 10 it is.
In the future I want less standard run and gun gameplay and far more space based shooting. It will likely never happen but if Activision and IW made a game based entirely around the space based combat I would buy it day one, those parts of this game are just that good.