Call of Duty Infinite Warfare Review: Among the Stars
Ben Sheene / Nov 3rd, 2016 No Comments
The cards have been stacked against Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare since the gaming community at large found out this year’s premiere shooter would be going to space. Whether you hate science fiction or thirst for the battlefields of simpler times, this was not the Call of Duty you asked for or the one you wanted. Or what Call of Duty “should” be.
We’ve gone red in the face talking about how many dislikes one trailer got on YouTube even before the game was in anyone’s hands. Yet, Infinity Ward and Activision chugged along. Jabs were made about passionate gamers while gameplay footage was drip fed to us, feeding the idea that maybe that first impression was just a marketing misstep.
Now the veil has been lifted. This is Call of Duty in space. There’s the promise of uncharted territory never before seen in the series. There’s unparalleled multiplayer. There’s frickin’ laser beams. And, ultimately, the game shines as bright as the stars it reaches for.
Boots on Alien Ground
Infinite Warfare imagines a future where Earth has been depleted of the natural resources necessary for our survival. Humans have branched out into the solar system to plunder other planets so we can thrive. The world’s fleet of starships and extraterrestrial sailors came together under the United Nations Space Alliance. That was before the Settlement Defense Front (SDF), led by Admiral Salen Koch (portrayed by Kit Harrington in this year’s star-studded role), decided to break away in a war of secession.
Seconds into the game, players are jumping off a jet fighter with two other soldiers and diving onto Jupiter’s icy moon of Europa. As the three men begin their mission, the largest planet in the solar system fills the sky, the first of Infinite Warfare’s many breathtaking moments. Minutes later, there’s an encounter with Koch as he brutally attacks the small team with little emotion.
Then we are introduced to Captain Nick Reyes, his wingman Nora Salter, and the lovable robot sidekick Ethan. As it normally happens, a calm moment suddenly goes to hell as the SDF attacks a Fleet Week celebration on Earth. The seven-ish hour campaign plunges players into a battle between two opposing sides of good guys and nebulous bad guys. For Call of Duty, this is standard fare.
Something Old, Something New
Tumultuous moments of explosions and gunfights are punctuated by story beats that aren’t always easy to follow. Innocent bystanders are rescued, enemy intelligence is collected to gain the upper hand, and a ridiculous piece of technology — a massive bipedal robot — pops up to turn the tides of war. You would not be judged for thinking these scenarios apply to a slew of Call of Duty games or other first-person shooters.
Infinity Ward may not be the same team it was 10 years ago, but the minds behind Infinite Warfare recognize how far both the genre and the series have come since World War 2 and “modern” day. Despite the futuristic setting, Infinite Warfare embraces the “plausible future” aspect of its campaign by inserting familiar story beats and pacing.
To me, a large appeal of Call of Duty’s story has always been its focus on a band of brothers, soldiers, and friends facing impossible odds through sheer force of will and camaraderie. When threatened, these men and women take up arms and never miss the opportunity to protect each other, shout random expletives, and crack a few jokes. I found this in spades with Infinite Warfare.
Reyes, Salter and Ethan are three of the best characters that have been crafted from the massive soup of Call of Duty campaigns. Much of this can be attributed to the voice actors of each soldier, who never fall into full-on caricatures or emotionless husks. Despite being a robot, Ethan is written with as much humanity and humor as some of the best narrative-driven FPS experiences offer. I had quite a few laughs during some of the bonding moments between the main group of soldiers. Reyes and Salter have enough of a romantic twinge to give their mutual respect and friendship a deeper importance throughout the campaign.
Effort was made so players felt more immersed in the entire experience. Being set in space gave Infinity Ward the opportunity to make this universe feel believable and lived in. Players will see Reyes’ hand fly up when near the blast of a grenade and topple in different ways upon death. Loose objects will shift around a space station in zero gravity while airlocks will countdown the seconds before a room is flooded with oxygen.
The society of Infinite Warfare isn’t some opulent infrastructure where space freighters each have fancy engine thrusters and unique wings. Players are constantly reminded they are fighting alongside the Navy and the Marines. Just like today, everything is built from the same blueprint. Plausible may seem like a buzzword, but when the game world is crafted with such efficiency and attention to detail, it’s an appropriate sentiment.
Though the core cast is a joy to spend time with, there are a few aspects that threaten to derail the campaign. Admiral Koch is introduced as a stoic, heartless man with a commanding presence. And then he fades into the background through most of the game only to be seen a few times in video messages across the player’s HUD and in cutscenes. Because of this, Koch is more heard than seen and felt even less. An argument can be made that he is mainly a face to a greater force, like many villains in the series or even the “bad guys” we see on the news today, and that the SDF can still live on without him. But I still want to feel a more omnipresent force rather than just waves of nameless soldiers I need to kill.
Everything in Infinite Warfare happens at a rapid pace. Reyes and crew jet across the solar system in their Jackal fighters and move from one moment to the next with barely a sweat. The reason for this is that the entire campaign takes place across a roughly two-day period. It may help the story move along but it dampens some characters’ development with each other and causes the campaign to feel rushed.
Only after the second playthrough was I able to fully grasp some of the story’s subtleties. This isn’t uncommon for Call of Duty but this new universe deserves more time to let players latch onto it. Even with these flaws, I found myself enjoying several intense missions that have a surprising amount of emotional resonance, even as the credits rolled.
Brave New World
Not comfortable with just a new setting, Infinity Ward decided to turn the core Call of Duty experience on its head. A fantastic element to Infinite Warfare is the addition of side missions to the campaign. Not only do these missions expand the narrative and the length of the story, they make for some of the game’s most memorable events.
Side missions come in a couple flavors where players engage in dogfights with SDF forces, fight in zero-g, infiltrate enemy ships to eliminate high value targets, and a combination of these mechanics. By completing side missions, players beef up Reyes, giving him permanent perks like faster reloading, increased equipment/grenade lethality, and Jackal upgrades.
Thankfully, space combat wasn’t an afterthought in Infinite Warfare as Jackal combat takes a surprising prominence throughout the game. Not only is getting on and off the jet fighter usually seamless without load times, its controls fit well for a FPS layout. A click of L3 boosts, holding down the L2 trigger locks on while R2 fires. Movement is smooth though trying to escape a fighter locked onto you can feel a little clumsy.
At its core, Jackal combat can be repetitive, but that only comes through when attempting to barrel through multiple dogfighting side missions at once. The spectacular and explosive nature of watching a warship blow up in the darkness of space is a sight to behold, as is silently drifting through an asteroid field in your ship, only to disembark and sneak onto an enemy craft.
One side mission has players eliminating SDF high-value pilots near the surface of the sun. Because your Jackal can’t stand the heat for too long, the mission is timed. Watching the clock tick down with the sun blazing in the background will make you drip sweat.
The moment in the game that stands out the most is trying to infiltrate a ship flying above the cloudy, yellow skies of a foreign planet while lightning arcs across the sky. It culminates in chasing down the smoking ship, getting inside, and wreaking havoc. It’s moments like these that prove Call of Duty is a technical marvel that can do even more wonders when not limited to Earth.
Gunplay remains a constant joy for the series and the futuristic weaponry seen in Infinite Warfare doesn’t stray too far out of the realm of possibility. Beam weapons that make soldiers explode into chunks of flesh and blood are crude and heavy. Energy weapons shoot blue beams of death that cause more damage to robots. The wide range of pistols, snipers and LMGs is supplemented by anti-gravity grenades that cause opponents to temporarily float and mechanical seeker spiders that hunt for nearby targets to blow up.
Each mission can be tackled in a number of ways. Fans of Black Ops 3’s campaign will welcome the nearly identical movement system, the ability to go into fights with a set loadout, and the chance to experiment with various tactics. Everything is fast and flashy, with a dash of variety.
Show Me Your Rig
If there was any reason to fear that multiplayer would undergo a dramatic, horrid alteration with the shift to sci-fi, it’s best to put those feelings aside. At the end of the day, multiplayer is the excuse that many use to come back to Call of Duty, and it would make little sense for Infinity Ward to change what isn’t broken.
Nothing has truly been overhauled in the shift from Black Ops 3 to Infinite Warfare. Treyarch’s phenomenal movement system has been slightly tweaked and refined to make it better than it already was. Gone are the days where players were always stuck on the ground, aiming their guns at each other. Call of Duty’s take on a multiplayer environment where players dart around walls and blast each other in the fact at maximum efficiency and speed is here to stay. With today’s twitch shooter audience and esports world, it’s a natural course for one of the biggest names in competitive online gaming.
The big innovation this year is the Combat Rigs that act as an improvement on customizing a class specific to your playstyle. Similar to last year’s specialists, Combat Rigs come equipped with a unique weapon or ability called a payload and a permanent passive trait. With six Rigs, three unique payloads and three unique traits for each, there’s a lot of variation to be had.
My preferred Rig is definitely Synaptic, who has the combat boost trait that grants a speed boost after each kill. Because I love to run and gun, it’s an obvious choice for me. Players who prefer to be stealthy campers can unlock the Phantom Rig that has active camo and spawns with a shield on his back to take a few shots when not paying attention. As the months go on, newcomers and pros will find combinations to love and resent.
Combat Rigs grant players with an unprecedented amount of customization for a Call of Duty game. Gaining levels and earning rewards is a rush unto itself but with this multiplayer, you now have the chance to ensure you have perks and abilities that make sense to your plans for map domination. Of course, different Rigs and abilities work more effectively for certain game modes as well.
Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy and Domination are all here. Defender is a fun mode of keep away where players grab a ball and try to hold onto it for as long as possible to maximize points. When you’re playing with a group of friends, Defender and Gun Game can be some of the silliest, most entertaining modes to play in Infinite Warfare.
Infinite Warfare also attempts to make multiplayer a bit more enticing for every player by adding a couple new metagames and progression avenues. Players can join Mission Teams that assign unique objectives to that team. Whether it is performing kills in a specific way, earning points in objective modes, or making use of equipment, experience is earned based on performance. After leveling up a Mission Team, players will get unique cosmetic rewards and special gear. Just like Combat Rigs, Mission Teams are another way to supplement your playstyle.
Weapon crafting is also introduced in Infinite Warfare. By using salvage earned over the course of play, weapons of different rarities can be crafted. These weapons come with their own unique perks and offer a way to experiment with gunplay. There’s a pistol that rewards a tactical nuke after 25 kills and no deaths, a sniper rifle that pings opponents you hit, or an assault rifle that gives bonus damage to hits below the belt.
Some may argue that being able to craft prototype weapons with salvage can be “pay to win” due to the fact that salvage can be purchased with real money as well. But after being given time with many of the epic weapons – which are the final tiers in prototype weapons – the perks they give are often supplementary. Unlike in Destiny, there isn’t going to be a completely overpowered weapon roll. Even the most skilled player will be able to take out a player that has purchased an epic weapon with their own money.
One Ticket to Spaceland
Zombies is an unavoidable staple of the series for good reason: it’s a blast. Up to four players getting together and testing their mettle against increasingly stronger hordes of the undead is a silly and fun way to kill some time and feel accomplished.
This year, Zombies comes in the form of Zombies in Spaceland, an ’80s-themed amusement park that is overrun with secrets and gaming’s favorite disposable monster. As either the jock, the nerd, the rapper, or the valley girl, players will shoot zombies and board up entrances while trying to collect enough cash to figure out how to get better at killer undead faster.
The mode features Paul Reubens as Willard Wyler, a once popular movie director who has used demonic forces to summon four aspiring actors into the set of his movie. Being a theme park, the level is packed with carnival rides and games, goofy memorabilia, and the actual David Hasselhoff as a DJ spinning ’80s music.
Because of its theme, this might be the easiest version of Zombies to get into. There are still secrets abound and cryptic mechanics to uncover but the retro vibe is more inviting to newcomers. The initial waves are fairly easy to tackle and allow players to search a decent amount of the map before being swarmed by insanely difficult zombies. After about wave ten, the difficulty is amped up considerably and the search for a Pack-a-Punch machine and other perks becomes necessary. Even if you fall, you will be tossed into an “afterlife” to play minigames and win a chance at being thrown back into the current wave.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is not the end-all, be-all sci-fi shooter, but it is a giant leap for the future of Call of Duty. The science-fiction setting has finally allowed the series to get a little uncomfortable and play with the unfamiliar. We’ve never seen space done like this before and this is the series at its most bold yet.
The campaign stumbles slightly but proves that this franchise can be cinematic and immersive. Side quests provide remarkable moments while showing there are ways to tinker with a decade-old formula. Multiplayer has never been better, allowing an unmatched amount of player customization and fine-tuning. Infinite Warfare is the complete package and the Call of Duty you didn’t know you wanted but totally need.
Note: This review is based off a review event Gaming Illustrated attended hosted by Activision. A retail copy was also provided for the purposes of this review.
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