The newest entry into the Call of Duty franchise, “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare” is an interesting game. While developers Infinity Ward have often produced great single player content (just look at the Modern Warfare series), Infinite Warfare stumbles heavily. However, it manages to carve out a unique spot in both the multiplayer offerings and the fan favorite Zombies mode that it deserves a look. Depending on how you enjoy your shooters of choice, Infinite Warfare can either be a complete wreck or a total win, and it’s up to you to decide. I’ll examine the game piece by piece, starting with the campaign, and wrapping up with multiplayer and Zombies. Hopefully by the end of the review, you’ll fully understand whether or not this year’s Call of Duty is right for you. As always, narrative is up first.
Okay, here’s where Infinite Warfare stumbles right out of the gate. While the game is backed by some great performances, the script struggles to find its own place. You play as Reyes, an officer in the futuristic American Navy. After being promoted due to the unfortunate demise of a fellow officer, you start dishing out commands to take down the nefarious Mars based terrorist organization known as SDF (Settlement Defense Front). Leading this dangerous group of hostiles is Admiral Kotch, played by Kit Harrington of “Game of Thrones” fame. While Kit (as well as the other recognizable actors here) does a great job embodying his character and truly being menacing. However, his performance is trapped inside a script so convoluted and padded that it’s hard to notice. In the game’s approximately six hour critical mission run time, the villain Kotch makes an appearance in only a handful of scenes. His interaction with the player is usually limited to interrupting them with an annoying speech pulled right out of Emperor Palpatine’s book. It a story that tries to maintain a serious tone amidst a barrage of ridiculous action scenes. It has the camp of a B-movie trying to tote itself as a AAA production. There’s a huge difference between the story being told through slow narrative sections and cutscenes, and the story being experienced as a player.
The inability to balance seriousness from slapstick makes the campaign a confusing one to follow along with, which truly hurts it in the long run. Infinite Warfare makes a few leaps away from the standard Call of Duty formula with the inclusion of side missions and a generally slower burn to the narrative, but falls flat due to the weak script. By hour three, you’ll probably be so uninterested in the characters that you’ll forget their names and duties. This heavily affects late game narrative, as the story picks off friendly characters like a season finale of Kit’s own “Game of Thrones”. However, when characters a being gruesomely executed or tearfully pulled from our hero, it’s hard to care when you don’t remember their names. It’s a shame that the game has some excellent moments that would’ve been incredible with proper character development. In general, it’s a muddy script with a bunch of beautiful set pieces. However, when combined, the entire experience lacks the cohesive drive that a strong narrative gives. It ends up falling apart and becoming monotonous halfway through, never quite living up to its potential. When there is Michael Bay level explosions happening across my screen in the middle of a heavy action sequence, I shouldn’t be yawning. However, I felt the story drag and drag, and each encounter after my breaking point felt repetitive and annoying. It goes to show how much we take a decent narrative for granted.
This problem with the narrative leaks into other aspects of the game, namely campaign gameplay. While the game’s futuristic setting allows for some great new weapons and gadgets, the game stretches out so long that you often don’t notice their additions. You slowly unlock new scopes and upgrades for your weapon in campaign, much like you do in multiplayer. However, they make such a little difference in the grand scheme of things that you’ll most likely find yourself sticking to the same layout. It’s fun to experiment with huge new guns like the mini-gun energy canon “Scorcher”, but you’ll probably do most of your killing with a standard assault rifle or SMG.
For the first time in a history, I actually enjoyed space combat in a first person shooter. Infinite Warfare takes place almost entirely in space, and Infinity Ward capitalizes on this environment to their best ability. Most of the side missions mentioned earlier revolve around space battles, but these end up feeling repetitive and uninspired after the first few. Your JACKAL (a customizable space battle jet) is easy to control and barely represents flight controls. In fact, playing the cosmic dogfights feels more like controlling a larger player model rather than a vehicle. You can stop on a dime and change directions at exceedingly high speeds without needing any room for error. Additionally, there’s no mini-map, so combat is purely a visual battlefield. It doesn’t help that Infinite Warfare is heavy on lighting and explosion effects, often causing a busy screen that is difficult to analyze. Luckily, the true combat of dogfights boils down to locking onto enemy ships with the left trigger and shooting them with the right trigger. You can fire off flares to avoid incoming missiles, but there’s no true strategy to your approach. These sections are more about the heat about battle rather than the strategy, which leaves a hollow experience. While fun, these dogfights grow old and repetitive quickly, which is unfortunate seeing how much effort was put towards their inclusion.
The game interestingly carries over the movement from “Call of Duty: Black Ops 3”, a game developed by Treyarch. Infinity Ward productions were the assumed format for Call of Duty sequels, but somewhere around Black Ops 2, Treyarch’s formula for a more futuristic Call of Duty has taken over. In fact, all gameplay considered, Infinite Warfare feels like a Halo title with Call of Duty guns and movement. With more and more shooters sharing high mobility movement systems (see “Titanfall 2” and “Halo 5: Guardians”), it’s getting hard to tell the difference between franchises. It’ll be interesting to see where these franchises go in the future, as the entire genre has been suffering from fatigue lately. Thankfully, “Battlefield 1” has managed to shake things up in recent releases, so it’ll be interesting to see if Call of Duty tries to re-establish its roots in the same way. If anything is apparent, it’s that while the combination of both old and new gameplay in Infinite Warfare is fun, it’s become similar to other “mainstream” popular titles on the market. Something will have to change soon if Call of Duty wants to stay in the top charts.
Visually speaking, Infinite Warfare kills it. If I have one gripe, it’s the obnoxious showcasing of complimentary colors the game exhibits. That sounds like an oxymoron, but while the colors blue and orange look nice together in a picture, having an overall visual theme based around two colors doesn’t aid the repetitive nature of the campaign’s design. Beyond the color palette, there’s an insane amount of detail and passion that has gone into the visual fidelity here. It’s no secret that Call of Duty is a big brand, and a lot of money goes into the production of these games. It’s nice to see this so apparent though in the visuals, as Infinite Warfare is the first Call of Duty game that truly feels like the “summer blockbuster” that the series embodies so obviously. As I said before, explosions and combat in general have a very Michael Bay feel to them. For those unfamiliar with the “Transformers” film director’s work, Michael Bay is known for his absurdly large explosions often unnecessary and unrealistic. While I can’t argue the realism of this fictional space combat, it’s nothing if not excessive.
This is both good and bad, as it exacerbates the problem of the dull narrative, but manages to keep things visually interesting. Each level is essentially one giant interactive set piece after another, and the general style of the game keeps things hectic. When the bullets are flying and grenades are being tosses, the game is insanely quick and in-your-face. It’s truly an assault on all the senses, while makes it hard to appreciate your surroundings. This obnoxious amount of effects and style makes for some incredibly gorgeous looking sequences. However, it often provides busy and cumbersome visual landscapes, leading to difficulty conveying objectives to the player. I shouldn’t have problems figuring out where to go next in a Call of Duty game, let alone have to navigate the game’s visual onslaught to figure it out. I have to commend the development team though, as the game stays consistently crazy throughout the run time. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you, and you truly have to see how bright and distracting everything gets before you truly understand how it affects gameplay. Regardless, it’s a great looking game in both effects and overall modeling. As a side note, Kit Harrington’s character model looks spot on, so that’s a definite plus.
Like most Call of Duty titles, the longevity of the game will live and die by its multiplayer offerings. Previous games like “Call of Duty: Blacks Ops 3” have given players hundreds of hours of multiplayer fun, due to the well thought out upgrade and progression system. Infinite Warfare does something incredibly interesting, usually the movement and “Pick 10” system from Black Ops 3, but opting for a slightly slower gunplay style. It’s a combination of old and new ideas, producing a multiplayer offering that plays like a toned down Black Ops 3, with progression of unlocks that feel like “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2”. As you progress in level, you unlock new guns, gadgets, and score streaks. There’s an insane amount of purely visual upgrades as well, giving the player hundreds of weapon skins, taunts, and emotes to unlock. While some of these are tied to in-match challenges, some are only available through the Quartermaster.
The Quartermaster is essentially the Black Market from Black Ops 3. As you win games and perform well in matches, you earn keys. You can trade in 10 of these keys for a “common” loot box, or 30 for a “rare” loot box. Think of it like buying a pack of cards for a card game; the more you spend, the better the spoils will be. Keys can be purchased via micro transactions, but they unlock through normal play quick enough where I never felt tempted to spend any real cash. In general, the multiplayer does a good job dangling the proverbial carrot of progression, always beckoning for “just one more game”.
There’s a bunch of different game modes as well, some of which have never been available in Infinity Ward developed Call of Duty titles. Modes such as Gun Game, Kill Confirmed, and Uplink make appearances. These unique modes provide some great deviation from your standard “point and shoot” modes of popularity. You still have FPS staples like Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, but the best modes to play are the ones you’ll only find in Call of Duty. While a lot of deaths in Call of Duty feel cheap, there’s definitely a lot of skill and map memorization needed to become good at the game. The maps offered right now range from forgettable to great, with my favorite being a colorful town that looks a whole lot like the fan favorite map, Nuketown. Overall, it’s a great multiplayer package with a ton of replayability and unlocks. As long as they do a good job with additional DLC and map releases, Infinite Warfare has a sustainable base multiplayer to sustain engaging multiplayer for months in the future.
Another big addition is the fan favorite Zombies mode. This is another mode that was created by Treyarch, and found its way into the fan’s hearts. It’s interesting to see Infinity Ward’s take on the Zombies mode, opting for a super crazy and over-the-top tone rather than the serious horror tone of previous iterations. Zombies mode has turned into “Zombies in Spaceland”, a four player cooperative adventure into an abandoned theme park run by a maniacal Paul Reubens of “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” fame. The entire tone of Zombies mode is 80’s nostalgia, with hot pink and neon green colors being key palette inclusions. This visual style, coupled with the overt amount of 80’s content makes for a wacky good time.
While Black Ops 3’s Zombies mode was able to balance the ridiculousness with a good dose of reality, Zombies in Spaceland throws all reality to the side and embraces the crazy. We wind up getting a mode that feels like a campy 80’s action movie on steroids… in space. A great cameo from David Hasselhoff and a hair band heavy soundtrack really pushes this aesthetic home. My absolutely favorite part of the new Zombies mode is what happens after you die. In previous iterations of Zombies, you would simply hope for your team to survive the round without you. Now, you are able to gain an extra life and come back mid-round. It’s a nice addition, but the way you go about gaining the extra life is where the true magic is.
Upon death, you’re dropped into a retro arcade. Surrounding you is a plethora of arcade games and Activision (Call of Duty’s publisher) video game classics. You can interact with all of these games, and as you do well in them, a bar fills up. Fill up your bar, and you earn an extra life. However, you’ll probably find yourself perusing the arcade’s selection with a childlike joy that only old arcades can instill in a gamer. Although the arcade games here aren’t incredibly deep, the inclusion of this great side area adds wonders to down time. This is an insanely smart decision and I hope to see future iterations of this “extra life arcade” become even more unique.
As a package, “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare” is a good deal. Although the single player campaign is lackluster and forgettable, the multiplayer and Zombies modes are worth playing on their own. However, gamers who value single player content over anything else will find Infinite Warfare a disappointing package. The best parts of Infinite Warfare are communal; you’ll want your friends to play with you most of the time. In that way, the game succeeds. It provides fun and entertaining content that I enjoy playing with my friends. If you’re looking for a better campaign, try out “Titanfall 2”. However, when it comes to general multiplayer mayhem and wacky zombie fun, Call of Duty still remains king (in my humble opinion). However, there’s going to have to be some drastic changes in upcoming titles if the franchise wants to stay on top.
For those unsure about purchasing, I recommend those interested in the campaign to skip it or rent it, depending on your interest. Those who want a multiplayer experience with their friends will probably be find picking this up at a small discount price, or at full retail price. Fans of Call of Duty probably wont be let down, but there’s a chance you might not find Infinite Warfare as good as previous titles. It’s a game where your mileage will vary, but it all depends on how you play your shooters. If anything, it’s a visually impressive game that has a weak story. “Game of Thrones” fans can substitute all of Kit Harrington’s dialogue for Jon Snow quotes, and you’ll probably have a good time too.