Hate it or love it? This year’s Infinite Warfare is strange. By committing to sci-fi and embracing the larger-than-life lunacy that’s slowly been creeping in, it features the series’ finest campaign this generation; but with uninspired and frankly inferior mechanics, it also dishes up the worst Call of Duty multiplayer on PS4 and Xbox One.
It’s a shame so many Call of Duty players don’t fully embrace the solo offering anymore. I can tell you that now, almost a week after launch, by looking at the percentage of players that have unlocked the Achievement or Trophy for completing the final mission on any difficulty (at the time of publishing it sits at 5.2 per cent on PS4). I’ve also heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. Sledgehammer Games straight up told me a majority of players never finish the campaign in Call of Duty games a few years back. That’s the wrong way to play Infinite Warfare.
Whereas Battlefield 1 returned to a simpler time grounded in reality, Infinite Warfare has gone all-in with a lavish sci-fi blockbuster. Advanced Warfare and Black Ops III moved in a similar direction, but Infinite Warfare goes bigger by venturing deep into the final frontier. The forgettable Ghosts campaign had one redeeming feature: its imitation of the Moonraker space battle. The logical next step was to create a new sub-franchise set almost entirely in the vast expanses of space.
Playing as Lieutenant, to become Acting Captain, Nick Reyes, Infinite Warfare finally puts you in command. There’s no grovelling towards a senior officer or being subjected to perplexing orders – it’s all you, with the same amount of treacherous
helicopter spaceship crashes. Leadership gives the narrative a commanding protagonist, aided by the stern yet compassionate Lieutenant Nora Salter and witty robot companion Ethan. It broadens gameplay by offering a series of side missions, allowing Captain Reyes to decide in which order to pursue them.
While the trailers were heavy on Star Wars-esque dogfights in the Jackal spacecraft, most of these are optional, and the mandatory segments are awesome set pieces. It wouldn’t be Call of Duty if the vehicle controls weren’t a little clunky, but the controlled open environments of spaceflights are short and sweet across the 12 main missions. They start to become repetitive if you play through all of the optional Jackal missions, but that’s why the ‘choose your adventure’ format works so well. The missions contrast Jackal battles, familiar Call of Duty boots-on-the-ground gunplay and free floating through space between airlocks with the aid of a grapple. If one of the three blueprints starts to become stale, change direction and choose a different scenario.
Stealth missions are the highlight of innovation, something we haven’t seen to this extent in Call of Duty before, and breakup the monotony of constant murdering when infiltrating enemy ships. The levels are visually stunning, and ambition of such variety between sets is deeply impressive, but funnel through the same corridors we’ve come to expect from Call of Duty. The marketing promised CoD in space, but it’s more than that: it’s CoD’s journey through the Solar System.
Playing on Veteran, Infinite Warfare gave me a stronger run for my money than I expected from the iconic difficulty. Until recently, CoD was the only franchises where I’ve always played on hard mode. It’s challenging, and about three-quarters fair, taking six hours to complete the main missions. The almost 20 optional, albeit fairly similar, side missions double the play time. Expected bottlenecks create unfair chokepoints constructed especially for total bullshit deaths there’s nothing you can do about; this completes the remaining quarter, but in its charming way, that’s what we want from the highest default difficulty. Following Black Ops III, there are two even tougher options (including a ridiculous YOLO mode), but you first need to prove your worth.
While the campaign doesn’t pack any great gameplay surprises, and is quite repetitive, the three protagonists are the most likeable and entertaining from Call of Duty that I can actually remember. The combination of a commanding man, a powerful woman and a comical robot carries the out of this world narrative to a logical conclusion. Unless the gaming collective decides we’re done with future warfare, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nora Salter become the first well-developed playable protagonist in Infinite Warfare 2. On the opposing side, the primary antagonist is no Kevin Spacey. Played by Kit Harington, the forgettable villain is Rear Admiral Simon Katich….wait, no. That’s a retired Australian cricketer.< I’ve Googled the bloke’s name, and apparently it’s Rear Admiral Salen Kotch. I’ve already forgotten him, again.
Outside of campaign, the fan favourite zombies return with an equally outlandish mantra. Set in an abandoned 1980s themepark to the tunes of DJ David Hasslehoff, four buddies find themselves auditioning for a horror movie that turns too real. Waves of zombies are what we’ve come to expect, but being able to ride the attractions and play the arcade games between the endless slaughtering lightens the mood. Grab three mates and you’ve got an excellent simplistic wave mode, set in a spookily comical environment.
Zombies in Spaceland doesn’t do much new, but it doesn’t have to. The best of several minor tweaks is giving weaker players something meaningful to do between respawns. Instead of being reliant on teammates to carry them through, eliminated players can throw some balls and shoot metal ducks in the afterlife arcade to earn tickets to buy their own way back into the action. Better players can focus on doing what they do best, shoot zombies, while newbies always have something to do, no matter how much they suck. Everyone’s a winner in Spaceland.
Two of the three modes are pretty good, but Infinite Warfare drops the ball where it counts. Competitive multiplayer, why Call of Duty continues to top the leaderboards each November, is a shadow of what we’d expect. It’s not an infinitely bad experience, but it’s bland online warfare.
The fast paced movement system, which returns to the speed of Advanced Warfare, has become common this generation. There’s wall-running, boost jumping and power sliding, but it feels clunky compared to the fluid motion of Titanfall 2, and even the last two Call of Duty games. The maps seem to forget they’re meant to be designed for this movement kit, as overpasses to wall-run across appear shoehorned into existing designs, and there are too many needless blockages that conflict against the boost jump, which is a borderline hover. The maps are identifiably Infinity Ward, but they’re not designed to best take advantage of the fast and vertical movement of Infinite Warfare.
Pick 10 loadouts return, joined by the new RIG system, which is a half-attempt at adding classes to Call of Duty. They determine your special ability and minor attributes, but it’s more about wanting to play as man or machine. There’s also a salvage crafting system, which looks to be riddled with microtransactions, that I’m not fond of. It adds another layer of complexity to something that didn’t need it and doesn’t enhance the experience; fortunately, it can be ignored.
The usuals all return, with TDM, Domination, Hardpoint, Search and Destroy and Kill Confirmed amongst the most popular (I wish more commoners would play Uplink). There isn’t much in the way of new modes, but one of the two newcomers quickly became a personal favourite. Defender is just Oddball from Halo, and apparently nobody likes it. Infinite Warfare has been out for almost a week, and I’ve only be able to get one match on Australian servers. Every other game mode is well populated, but Defender is unplayable. My preferred addition is Frontline, a variant of TDM where all players respawn in their base. It removes the infuriation of spawning directly into death and controls the flow of the combat loop, because you know where most opposition offensives will originate. Weapons are grounded in Call of Duty’s established universe; although, not to the extent of Advance Warfare’s reality, where they plausibly exist in a lab somewhere. Everyone is wearing a combat RIG, there are seeker grenade robots and there are lasers, but it never feels like stepping into Destiny.
The multiplayer isn’t deeply flawed, it’s just boringly safe. We’ve had this movement system for three years, and there are better implementations of it in and outside of the franchise. The maps aren’t particularly well designed and the RIG system isn’t all that dissimilar to Specialists from Black Ops III, but needlessly makes loadouts more complicated without improving them. Matchmaking is atrocious and desperately needs to be fixed. Early in my online career, as a lowly level 5, I was constantly matched with players well above my rank. It’s impossible to compete against well-drilled teams with considerably better weapons, and that happened on a consistent basis. Even worse is imbalanced teams. I’ve been in too many objective matches that begin as four against six. By the time the teams have been balanced, which takes way too long, the result is known.
If you want to play a quality 2016 shooter, choose from Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, Gears of War 4 or Overwatch; which ever tickles your fancy. If it has to play like Call of Duty, I implore you to try Titanfall 2 – its mechanics are similar, but better, and it’s derived from Infinity Ward DNA. If classic CoD combat is the only shooter that speaks to you, pony up the $130 for Modern Warfare Remastered. There are so many strong options this year, including a superior classic CoD, that it’s impossible to recommend Infinite Warfare if it’s exclusively online multiplayer that you crave; and let’s not forget sticking with Black Ops III. We’re at the inevitable stage of annual releases where playing a Call of Duty game beyond its launch year, and skipping the newer instalment when it’s inferior, is a wise option.
Infinite Warfare is a strong return for Infinity Ward on the campaign front, and a lacklustre event in multiplayer. Zombies in Spaceland is the themepark experience you never knew you always wanted, with the right crowd. Together, it’s a fun but safe three pillar entry in the Call of Duty series; then there’s the fourth pillar, for a price. Modern Warfare holds up extremely well for a nearly decade old game. Its campaign is still fantastic, and its masterful, yet dated, multiplayer is a blast; it’s clunky and at times deeply frustrating, but it’s pure Call of Duty. Ultimately, it depends what you’re looking to get out of a Call of Duty game; and for the first time in over a decade, it’s the campaign that’s the clear selling point with Infinite Warfare.