There was a lot of pressure on developer Infinity Ward leading up to this latest Call of Duty. Not only was the studio coming off of what was probably their worst-received game in Ghosts, but this was their first time on the new Call of Duty three-year development cycle—meaning many were expecting the team to pull out all the stops, even more so than usual. This wasn’t necessarily an easy task that could just be solved with more time, however, especially with the fact that Sledgehammer and Treyarch have continued to raise the bar for the series over the past couple of years. Even with taking all that into consideration, it can’t be denied that it seems like Infinity Ward has lost its touch, as Infinite Warfaremarks another down year for Call of Duty.
Set off in a distant, yet unspecified time in the future, humanity has become split into two factions. The United Nations Space Alliance, made up of the nations on Earth, looks to peacefully explore and colonize the cosmos. The Settlement Defense Front, a group of radicals who make their home on Mars and look to consolidate the galaxy under an iron fist, was a militant faction within the UNSA that broke away in the early days of space exploration. Our solar system is now split between the two, with a flimsy peace treaty keeping everything in balance. At least, until the SDF declares war and attacks the UNSA in Geneva during Fleet Week. Now, a rag tag group of remaining soldiers must rally around Captain Nick Reyes, bring the fight to the SDF, and turn the tide of this new war back in Earth’s favor.
I understand that a large section of the Call of Duty community will likely jump right into the multiplayer and never leave it when Infinite Warfaredrops. But for those who will look to play the campaign, at least once, it will be hard not to come away disappointed. Almost everything about the story itself, and some of the new gameplay revolving around space combat, left a sour taste in my mouth.
Admittedly, some of the space sequences are quite good. There are times where you’ll be floating through the void and have to use an asteroid field to sneak up to a capital ship and infiltrate it, or need to use your grappling hook to work your way to space debris as you’re pinned down with few options due to limited cover—all while enemy soldiers swarm your position in zero-g. There are other times, though, where you’ll be absolutely lost as to where you have to go or what your goal is. In those moments you feel completely helpless, dying for a piece of dialogue, cutscene, or new objective marker to guide you since you could theoretically just float off in any direction aimlessly otherwise.
Then there are the sequences where you pilot a Jackal, Call of Duty’s version of a space snubfighter. You’ll have flares, missiles, machine guns, and other armaments that you can customize your own personal Jackal with. You’ll soar into dogfights and fly around space arenas completely off rails, which can also be great fun at times.
Unfortunately, I grew up on games like Wing Commander, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, and the Rogue Squadron series, and while Infinite Warfaregets close to giving me the sort of space flight sim experience I’m always looking for, it never quite lives up to where I needed it to be. Part of that has to do with the fact that the Jackal can turn on a dime, or hover and strafe—almost like a VTOL aircraft—and then switch instantly back into dogfight mode. I understand this was to minimize the learning curve for people and make it feel like it does when you’re running around on foot, but that’s not the experience I want when getting into any sort of airborne vehicle in a game; I want it to feel like I’m flying a damn plane.
In regards to the length of the campaign, a frequent point of contention for Call of Duty titles, if you don’t do any of the optional side missions—which you select by looking at a Mass Effect-esque map and plotting your space course from the bridge of your ship—it’s probably the shortest offering from any Call of Duty yet. You could likely buzz through the experience in about three hours if you pushed it. But you’ll probably wantto rush because Infinite Warfare has one of the worst-written narratives I’ve had to suffer through in quite some time.
Sure, it has its moments, but most of the dialogue is throwaway at best—and due to the short length of actual story-driven events, every character’s arc is rushed to an uncomfortable degree. For example, Staff Sergeant Omar is introduced as a hard-edged Marine who is a bit of a Luddite; he hates robots, and is particularly uncomfortable when Ethan, a fully autonomous robot soldier, joins the group. At least, for the first mission you all take together. By the time you’re ready for the next mission, suddenly Omar loves robots! Ethan is his best friend! The player never sees why this change of heart happens, but we’re just expected to swallow this pill that Omar and Ethan worked things out over lunch or something, as if someone whose beliefs are clearly deeply ingrained in them has had a change of heart over a sandwich and a soda.
The weakest aspect for Infinite Warfare’s story, however, is the villain: Rear Admiral Salen Kotch. I don’t know why Call of Duty can’t produce even passable villains anymore, nevermind good ones. Maybe part of it was Kit Harington’s lifeless acting. Or, maybe, the fact that he—like Omar and every other major character in the story that isn’t the player character, Nick Reyes—really doesn’t have any sort of progression or arc. What a coincidence that the co-lead writer for the game, Brian Bloom, was also the actor for the only character that had any depth in the game. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t like or dislike Kotch as a villain—he was just there. Like a painting hung up in a dentist’s office, he felt completely inconsequential to everything going on around me, and that’s the worst thing you could want from your primary antagonist.
If, somehow, you can look past all this, there are small positives to take away from the campaign. Even with the space setting and combat continuing the general trend of pushing Call of Duty more towards the science fiction realm and making it less relatable to its audience, the game still plays well when its just boots on the ground and you’re running around the beautiful surfaces of far-off worlds. The new futuristic weaponry walk a fine line between the guns of today and how technology might evolve them into the combat tools of tomorrow. You can also fully customize your loadout before each mission, and unlock new items by finding hidden armories around each world you explore. Several other additions—like the aforementioned side missions, and stealth sections—offer up some nice variety when you’re playing, and compliment the ever-present bombastic action sequences we expect from Call of Duty and still receive here in abundance. The side missions, as repetitive as some of them can become, do extend the experience to nearly eight hours if you do all of them. It’s never a good sign, though, when the meat of your single-player mode is found in optional objectives.
There is also replayability in that beating the game unlocks YOLO mode (where, like the acronym suggests, you only live once) and Specialist mode (where your equipment and body can take damage on missions, affecting things like your movement speed or aim stability if you’re not careful). There is also a theme to Infinite Warfarethat I, for one, appreciated: a soldier’s duty and the difficulties that arise from it. Of course, like everything else, it loses some of the punch of its potentially powerfully impact because the short narrative ends up seeing you beaten over the head with it in the last hour or so of game time. Maybe that’s Infinite Warfare’s true theme: a lack of tact and storytelling finesse makes potentially good stories suffer.
While this campaign holds the franchise back in some ways, the multiplayer likewise lifts it up. Call of Duty has always been one of my favorite multiplayer experiences out there, and Infinite Warfareat least lives up to the series’ legacy here. Smaller maps lead to faster confrontations and less camping as a whole, really pushing you to take full advantage of the wall running and double jumping mobility afforded to you. Infinity Ward utilized Treyarch’s Pick-10 system this go around, and it lends itself to a much more balanced experience overall. They also built on Treyarch’s Specialists and created Rigs, Call of Duty’s first true class system. Unlike classes in other games, Infinite Warfare still allows players to completely customize the loadout via the aforementioned Pick-10 system. What Rigs do instead is offer three options for Payloads and Traits, abilities that can change the battlefield when they charge up, or passive ones that make you a more effective killing machine.
For example, the Merc Rig has a Payload called Bull Charge, which lets you pull out a Riot Shield and charge at your enemies, delivering instant kills to anyone caught in your path. Or, you could take Steel Dragon into battle, which gives you a powerful beam weapon that can incinerate enemies from afar. With Traits like Man-At-Arms that make this heavy class move faster, or Infusion that boosts your health regeneration speed, you can mix and match to best suit your play style and the mode you’re playing. That’s just one of the six Rigs available, and not even all of the Merc’s options—experimenting in different scenarios adds a whole new level of fun and customization to this year’s multiplayer.
Multiplayer also adds two new modes this year, but I only really enjoyed one of them. Defender is a spin-off of Uplink, but instead of trying to throw a data node through a hoop somewhere on the map, the player holding the node has to run around defenseless for a minute until the node resets, or they are gunned down and the ball can be picked up by someone else. The first team to collectively hold a node for five minutes wins the game. It’s a neat little take on a Guardian-style multiplayer mode, and especially on some of Infinite Warfare’s smaller maps, can be a hectic back-and-forth that pushes your traversal abilities to the max while requiring some epic teamwork to truly succeed.
The other mode, Frontline, is a take on Team Deathmatch, but with each team having a single locked spawn point. Players will have extra armor when they respawn on the map to help counter campers, but unfortunately it still promotes this hated multiplayer tactic far more than any other map or mode has in Call of Duty in a long time. I appreciate trying something new, but this mode left me more frustrated than anything, and feeling like I’d rather just play regular Team Deathmatch.
There are also a couple metagame additions to the multiplayer suite this go around, the first of which is Mission Teams. Players will be able to unlock and choose from one of four different factions that offer extra rewards in a multiplayer match for completing bonus objectives. For instance, the Wolverines are a no-nonsense sort of group that is all about picking enemies off, so lots of kills usually means lots of points with these guys. The Orion group, on the other hand, is more objective based, and rewards you for holding or capturing points. You can switch between the factions at your leisure as you unlock them, since obviously different groups are more effective in different modes—but Mission Teams help keep things interesting by giving you a game within the game.
The other addition is trying to collect salvage. Salvage is a new currency that allows players to unlock amped-up versions of some of their favorite weapons, with each having a different level of rarity. Players can earn salvage via unlock boxes from keys earned in multiplayer, leveling up, or trading in duplicate guns found via these other two methods. As per usual, players can also spend real world cash to buy boxes that might either have the next level of the gun they want or more salvage—and that’s where I take issue with this new system.
It’s one thing to spend real-world money on cosmetic items: calling cards, weapon camos, things like that. It’s another when buying boxes can lead directly to a currency or to a new gun altogether that is definitively better than the one you may be currently using. A perfect example is the first level unlock for the default assault rifle, which offers 20% more ammo; later unlocks include more damage and stability on top of more ammo. Yes, you can grind for salvage. Yes, you don’t have to sink a single penny into Infinite Warfare and still get all the weapons. But buying boxes doesoffer the chance to potentially speed up the process of acquiring weapons that are statistically better (the salvage shop even assigns a numerical value to the increases you’d get) than those available from the start or via straight leveling up, offering players with those guns clear advantages in gameplay. This is where microtransactions are a negative part of the experience, and for me this is unforgivable.
In terms of online stability, I played multiplayer in a limited review environment on a live server with the day one patch already in effect (but just before the official worldwide launch). The several hours I put in saw minimal issues in terms of matchmaking, although there were a couple of pockets of lag when we switched out of the regular playlists and into the 18-player Ground War playlist. While everything worked for the most part, the true test of online stability won’t come until the game hits the masses and is stressed far beyond what myself and a few dozen other reviewers could do.
Besides playing multiplayer online, I also played a fair amount of Zombies. I teamed up with three strangers, and was impressed with the fact that even with the wacky new setting of being trapped in an 80s B-movie, this take on Zombies felt just as strong and full of surprises as anything Treyarch had concocted over the years. New Fate and Fortune cards replace the Gobblegum from Black Ops III, and offer arguably better powers and abilities to help you survive the zombie horde. There’s also a new feature where the first time you die in the mode, you’re sent to an arcade where you can try to win your life back by playing classic Activision arcade games. Set the high score, and you’ll rejoin your team—assuming they all survive long enough but don’t beat the round to bring you back to begin with. Either way, it definitely makes dying a little less tiresome than in previous years. The four stereotypical movie characters—nerd, jock, rapper, valley girl—all add some humorous color to the mode. This was definitely a fun cast to play as, although I still think Black Ops III’s noir cast was second to none.
Normally, this is all there is to a Call of Duty game. However, an extra special bonus is included to those of you who jumped on the Legacy edition of the game. We’re not doing a full review of Modern Warfare Remastered, as currently you can only get this bonus through purchasing Infinite Warfare. As it is part of the package, however, I do want to give a few words on it.
It was a shock to my system to play the original Modern Warfareagain after not having touched the game in nearly a decade. The new graphics has the game looking beautiful on new systems, and it plays much like how I remember it. It’s like digging up a time capsule—comparing and contrasting it to what we have today—and we can see both how far Call of Duty has come in some regards, and how far it has fallen in others. The campaign is one example of the latter. At the time, Modern Warfare was pushing the envelope for storytelling in FPS games, while in Infinite Warfare, we’re spoon-fed drivel. I do believe the multiplayer of today is better, though. Playing MWR’s competitive suite—which now also includes newer modes like Kill Confirmed, which I love—felt great. Then, unfortunately, campers, the old scorestreaks, and the map design reminded me that as beloved as it was back then, Call of Duty’s multiplayer has truly been pushed to tremendous heights over the past 10 years—and I wouldn’t change that for anything. Still, it was still nice to go back and replay Modern Warfare after so long, and it was definitely a worthwhile bonus.
That pretty much sums up how I feel about Call of Duty: Infinite Warfarein a nutshell. Call of Duty’s multiplayer continues to innovate and improve in ways that fans will absolutely love and adore with this game—minus the microtransaction pay-to-win garbage that’s trying to be snuck in. Meanwhile, this version of Zombies could stand against any other one we’ve seen over the years. The campaign, however, is a low point for the series. From almost the very beginning, it just never grabbed me the way a lot of other stories in the series did, with flat and poorly-written characters that I was left unsympathetic toward. I never felt like I had a stake in this galactic battle of supposedly humongous proportions. All we can hope is that by looking a little harder at its past with Modern Warfare Remastered, maybe Infinity Ward can still save its future as storytellers.
Infinite Warfare is one step forward; two steps back for Call of Duty. The multiplayer is still fun, but suspect microtransactions have left me wary. The campaign also gets more wrong than right with shoddy storytelling overshadowing the usually tight FPS gameplay. At the very least, we got a Zombies experience comparable to what we’ve seen in the past—and Modern Warfare Remastered was a fun stroll down memory lane.
M - Mature
|Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Activision for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Ray has extensive roots in geek culture, as he’s written about videogames, comics, and movies for such outlets as Newsday.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Classic Game Room on YouTube, Collider.com, and Comicvine.com before finally settling into his role as EGM’s reviews editor. His main goal in life? To become king of all geek media, of course!