When Activision and Infinity Ward released the reveal trailer for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, it took just two weeks for the trailer to become the second most disliked video in YouTube history. Justin Bieber’s music video for “Baby” remains the top most disliked video ever. Infinite Warfare’s reveal trailer, however, has an 85% dislike percentage compared to Bieber’s 56%. I’m pretty certain that the game’s trailer got so much flak because it revealed Modern Warfare Remastered as an exclusive extra to the more expensive Legacy Edition. Whether it was gating a remaster of a beloved classic, or the radical new direction that Infinity Ward was taking Call of Duty that was responsible for the vehement loathing is up for debate. A cursory glance at the video’s comments would seem to indicate the latter.
Every time I sit down to begin reviewing a video game, I have a notebook and pen with me that I use to jot down thoughts and opinions as they formulate during my play through. The notes become the skeleton of the review and generally reflect my final opinion way before I’ve even started typing. If one takes the YouTube reveal trailer backlash into consideration, then my notes for Infinite Warfare appear to be for a completely different game. Nearly every single note that I took for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare reflects overwhelming positivity; for the campaign at least.
I am by no means a Call of Duty devotee. I’ve played the vast majority of them and I’ve mostly enjoyed their over-the-top, military blockbuster campaigns. I do not, however, eagerly anticipate the next title and I certainly don’t rush out to buy the latest iteration on day one. Still, I do have a sincere respect for the franchise. Call of Duty is practically synonymous with video games. It is so deeply entrenched into gaming culture that it almost seems impossible to think that there are video game players out there who haven’t played at least one of the games in the series.
Infinite Warfare’s campaign is superb. It is, however, undoubtedly a Call of Duty campaign with all the grandeur and whizz-pow that can possibly be mustered. In that regard, the Call of Duty campaigns haven’t changed much. Every year since 2005 the series’ campaigns have been flashing, neon-lit marks on the industry’s release schedules. They’re safe bets treading the same narrative beats and set piece destruction that keeps people coming back again and again. By this stage in the franchise’s lifespan, the Call of Duty campaigns are highly polished, super-slick experiences, and Infinite Warfare’s is no exception. For me personally, however, I found Infinite Warfare’s to be the most memorable campaign in years but that’s very much thanks to the fact that I’m a bit of a sci-fi dork. While Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare flirted with science fiction themes, Infinite Warfare is full-on sci-fi complete with space combat, multiple planets, and wisecracking robotic squad mates.
You play as Commander Nick Reyes, a pilot in the Special Combat Air Recon division of the Solar Associated Treaty Organization (SATO). We’re far enough into the future that Earth’s resources are depleted, which means most of what the planet needs comes from mining colonies on asteroids and planets across our solar system. Earth is held together by the United Nations Space Alliance, and SATO defends Earth. But, the hostile faction known as the Settlement Defense Front (SDF) declares war on SATO and invades Earth. The SDF is led by Salen Kotch, who is voiced and mo-capped by Kit “You Know Nothing Jon Snow” Harington.
The plot is rather straight forward and nothing too inspiring, but it’s bolstered by science fiction themes that definitely bring a breath of fresh air to the Call of Duty franchise. Reyes falls into the “strong, serious silent-type” cliché insofar as playable characters go, but he does show some growth towards the end as he has to put aside long-time belief systems in favour of literally saving the planet. Joining Reyes is his wingman Nora Salter, who is a fantastic, strong female character who never slips into typical female sidekick roles. By far the most memorable and enjoyable character, however, is the robot squad mate E3N, or “Ethan”. I was really quite impressed by how much detail had been added to the game’s cast. For the first time in a Call of Duty game I found myself genuinely liking the characters that were appearing onscreen. It’s not surprising seeing as Naughty Dog’s narrative design lead Taylor Kurosaki joined Infinity Ward as the studio’s narrative director in 2014.
Very early on in the game, Reyes finds himself getting promoted to captain of a warship called The Retribution. The ship becomes a hub world of sorts that you can walk around between missions. It’s a nice touch having little details and passing conversations change as you return from each mission; crew will say new things or maybe comment on the job you’ve just completed. The Retribution feels alive with constant activity and incredible details. I enjoyed ambling around the interior, and in a lot of ways it reminded me of walking around The Normandy in Mass Effect, just without dialogue trees and alien sex.
Another nice feature of The Retribution hub world is that you get to pick which mission you want to undertake next. There are a handful of optional side missions to do that are either space combat missions or traditional, FPS-based missions. The side missions often appear pretty dull when reading the preamble, but they always satisfy as they follow the traditional Call of Duty mantra of “more explosions more often”.
Space combat is, unsurprisingly, new to the series, and it’s a lot of fun. While you are flying through space and shooting down enemy spaceships, this is definitely not a space simulator. If you’re worried that Infinity Ward got too much Elite: Dangerous or Star Citizen in your CoD then stop worrying: this is as close to a realistic space sim as Call of Duty is as close to a realistic military simulator. Which is to say, not at all.
The space combat is not on-rails, so you’re free to fly around combat zones and pick the targets you want to blow up. Once you’ve locked onto an enemy however, the game takes over piloting your ship for you allowing you to concentrate on shooting the target, so there are some on-rails elements at times. Naturally you get to outfit your Jackal (the spaceships you’re flying) with various weapons and improvements, and you get to unlock different decals to decorate your ship.
While you do get a spaceship to play with, there’s also a ton of really fun science fiction weapons to unlock and use. I particularly loved the Seeker Grenades, which are basically little four-legged robots packed with explosives that scurry across the battlefield to jump onto and hug the nearest bad guy they can find. Panic generally ensues, as does a red mist. While the vast majority of the game’s guns are grounded in some form of reality, you do find the occasional limited use weapon that’s firmly rooted in science fiction; like the gun that vaporises people.
I thoroughly enjoyed Infinite Warfare’s campaign; it’s without a doubt my favourite CoD campaign to date but I will admit that that’s because I love my science fiction. I loved having to take off and land my Jackal at the beginning and end of each space combat mission; I loved all the dorky science fiction tech chatter about making drops in and out of hyperspace travel; I loved having a robot teammate who got a kick out of teasing humans who were upset that they were on a team with an AI; I loved that while the enemy was trying to kill you in space, so too was space trying to kill you with its vacuum, freezing temperatures and lack of oxygen. Infinite Warfare offers such a refreshing Call of Duty campaign and definitely one that I needed to get me to pay attention to the series once again.
The multiplayer component for Infinite Warfare remains as competitive and violently unforgiving as it has in previous iterations of the franchise. Naturally the game’s single-player additions to gameplay and aesthetics make it across to the multiplayer elements, so expect wall-running, some neat sci-fi weaponry, and robotic playable characters. Not much else has really changed though with the exception of being made to choose a Rig (read: your specialist role of either fast melee, general machine gunner solider type, heavy weaponry support bloke, and so on). Each Rig gets a unique power-up that you can activate once you’ve murdered enough enemy forces.
Supply Drops are back, CoD Points are back (gross), and empty lobbies are back. There are 10 game modes to play, but just as I moaned about in my Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare review, good luck finding a game for any game type other than Team Deathmatch. All I want to do is play some Hardpoint; why doesn’t anyone want to play Hardpoint with me?
I get that multiplayer is the be all and end all of CoD for the vast majority of the series’ fanbase, but the entire experience has become embarrassingly bloated, inaccessible and overly convoluted in its quest to iterate and remain fresh. The years and years of “HOT NEW FEATURES” have piled up, resulting in something that’s borderline terrifying for somebody who hasn’t picked up at least the last three to four iterations of CoD multiplayer. There’s too much to keep track of: CoD Points, Supply Drops, weapon rarity, seven billion different unlocks, load outs, load out slots, specialist customisations, Pick 10 systems (or however many we’re picking for this year), levelling up your mission team, multiplayer challenges, the list just goes on and on. The endless quest to keep things fresh has left us with a multiplayer helping that’s totally overloaded. It’s like trying to cram every item of food at a buffet onto a small side plate: you’re theoretically getting your money’s worth, but you’re eating a total mess.
The Zombies component has benefitted by some severe colour pallete saturation and some genuinely funny playable characters. It’s hair-teasingly 80s, and it has an unlockable David Hasselhoff. Plus there are zombie clowns, and it’s all set in a retro space-themed amusement park that’s also weirdly the set for some oddball horror movie director that’s kind of making a movie but also kind of just using it as an excuse to watch you get murdered by the undead. Basically, it’s weird as hell, but in a good way, especially because you can slaughter endless ranks of zombies while Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” plays in the background.
I’ve always loved this mode and I continue to love this mode. It’s definitely more fun playing online with a group of good friends, as I found I just ended up pissing off online strangers when I joined their games, because I wasn’t following whatever well-thought-out plan they’d formulated for surviving all the waves of zombies. Or maybe I’m just really, really bad at this? It’s probably that.