Safe. That’s the word I’ll be using to describe Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Heralding Infinity Ward’s return to the Call of Duty franchise — the developer’s first hit out since Call of Duty: Ghosts — Infinite Warfare feels like it’s taken a step to the side rather than one forward. There’s still a lot to love here, but the lack of innovation and new ideas make for a Call of Duty that, while sparkling in technical prowess and enjoyable gameplay, doesn’t evolve or push the series forward in any meaningful way.
This year’s Call of Duty takes things to space, and besides the game’s Zombie mode, that’s where most of the action happens in both single and multiplayer. The term “boots on ground gameplay” – which Infinity Ward has stuck with throughout the game’s marketing campaign – is, to be quite frank, actually pushing it a little bit. Unlike previous Call of Duty games, there’s a stern focus on vehicular warfare as well as tried-and-true ground combat. That’s not bad though, and the handful of dogfights in space tend to be Infinite Warfare’s shining asset in its single player campaign.
In giving you control of newly promoted Commander Nick Reyes, Infinite Warfare locks you in a battle with the Settlement Defense Front, a rival faction that’s hell-bent on taking control of Earth. Led by Admiral Kotch (played by Game of Thrones actor Kit Harrington), the SDF attack Earth within the first hour of the game and force you up into the UNSA Retribution, one of Earth’s last remaining warships and your main hub and galaxy transport for the rest of the campaign.
In a way akin to Mass Effect’s map and mission selection, you’re able to choose which missions you want to undertake on a galaxy map onboard the Retribution, with each mission set around a different planet. These are known as “Targets of Opportunity”, and include a handful of side missions, too. Even with the side missions included, Infinite Warfare’s story still plods along in a very linear format, though – there’s just a little bit of extra content to occupy your time with if you feel so inclined.
On that note, of the 31 missions available in Infinite Warfare’s single player campaign, the side missions were the most enjoyable for me. Divided between Ship Assault and Jackal Strike, each of the nine side missions felt fresh and different from one another. And while they’re divided into either of the aforementioned sections, each presents a fun challenge that is noticeably different from anything offered up in the game’s main story. One mission in particular, a stealth-focused level that has you infiltrating an SDF base in order to take out three high value targets locked in a meeting, was perhaps my favourite mission of the lot thanks to it changing up the game’s shoot first, think later policy. It’s a genuine shame that this level of diversity is not really seen in the game’s main story.
That said, the biggest downfall of Infinite Warfare’s campaign is that the narrative never truly feels like it has any weight or meaning. It never really takes off, and throughout the five hour story I didn’t feel like my actions had any sense of consequence to them. This is further reinforced by Kit Harrington’s mediocre, whining villain, who, in the face of taking over an entire planet, never really comes across as evil, villainous, or menacing in any way. It all comes together to form a one-dimensional campaign, which is a shame given the complexities and ideas at play.
However, while there’s not a lot of substance to the game’s campaign, I still found myself having an absolute blast running through a majority of Infinite Warfare’s levels. There’s a very Modern Warfare-esque feel to some of them, and I quickly fell right back in love with the fluidity and fun of the modern Call of Duty and how it plays. This is also aided by the fact that Infinity Ward spices up the gameplay by juggling between ground combat and using Reyes’ ship, also known as a Jackal.
The Jackal sequences were a lot of fun in particular, with the sound effects and sense of scale employed in these sections immersive to the core, keeping things interesting when I felt myself getting a bit bored of taking out SDF troops and robots.
Before jumping over to multiplayer, I also dove into one of Infinite Warfare’s newest difficulty modes: specialist. Specialist is unlocked after completing the game’s campaign, and is perhaps the most difficult mode I’ve encountered in a Call of Duty game. Instead of bullet-sponging your way through the campaign, specialist mode forces you to become aware of where you’re taking damage and how that will have an effect on your combat skills.
This is demonstrated by showing a shot of a full body on your HUD, and each time you take damage it will show up on the body, in turn limiting you in some sort of way. If you’re hit by a bullet in your left arm, you won’t be able to aim your gun or throw gadgets, for example, whereas if you’re hit in the leg, you’ll fall to the ground.
The only way to heal yourself after taking damage is to use a Nano Shot, and these are fairly sparse around the game’s levels. They’re located in crates, just like equipment and gadgets are, but you only ever have around four shots at a time, so things become very difficult at times.
I had a blast checking out and playing through a variety of missions in this mode, and while it was extremely difficult, I can see myself going back in and trying, and trying again. I’ve also read that Infinity Ward has included a “YOLO” difficulty mode too, which is unlocked after completing specialist and is true to its name – you only live once, so if you die, game over.
Infinite Warfare won’t be winning any nods when it comes to innovation in multiplayer. To put it bluntly, I was fairly surprised with how much this year’s game feels like last year's, just with an added game mode and a slew of new maps and weapons.
However, Infinite Warfare changes up the class system from last year by offering up a new choice-based system that encourages a bit more customisation. The system involves Combat Rigs, and there are six of them to choose from, with three unlocked from the get-go.
Rigs are more or less Exosuits with a variety of class-specific abilities that can be customised slightly. Each Rig has one special ability dubbed a trait, a passive ability, and an ‘ultimate’ of sorts called a payload. The latter can only be used for a select amount of time, and regenerates throughout a match. If this sounds a little confusing, think of Overwatch’s class and character system and you should catch my drift.
Payloads and traits come with two alternate abilities, too, allowing you to customise your rig to your specific liking. If you’re not a fan of a specific class’s payload or trait, you’re free to change it up if another has been unlocked.
As well as introducing a way of customising your class to suit your preferences, Combat Rigs are also noticeably different in how they play on the battlefield. The Warfighter, a bang average go-to assault class, plays extremely differently to the Synaptic, which is quick, and can be extremely efficient in close quarters combat. It’s important to shape your play style around the class you’ve chosen, and in turn you’ll find that the addictive fun of Call of Duty’s multiplayer will quickly flood right back.
That’s the thing, in the end. While Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer feels like it mimics Black Ops 3’s with its movement system and – in some areas – its class system, it’s still an absolute joy to play. There’s so much fun to be had in its handful of fantastic game modes, and mixed in with the new setting, the new gadgets, and a selection of quick, average-paced, and slow classes, I couldn’t help but find myself still enjoying the experience on offer. It’s certainly not revolutionary in any way, but what Call of Duty does best is showcased within Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer. And that’s nailing the fluidity of battle – to consistently fall, only to feel that drive to get back up and go again. That’s what makes this year’s multiplayer still feel so damn fun to play.
It’s worth noting that there are also a couple of other new features introduced in Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer, most notably a gun rarity system and crafting. I didn’t get a chance to really dive into these particular features, however, and will look into them over the next couple of days and will update the review accordingly.
This year’s iteration of Zombies, Zombies in Spaceland, is more or less a Zombies experience that long-time fans of the mode will have a ball with. Infinity Ward developers kept reiterating that this year’s endeavour was specifically geared to help new players get into the Zombies experience, but I found that the handful of hours I had with it didn’t necessarily reflect that – it’s still hard as hell, and I still can’t manage to get to Round 15 on any Zombies mode in any of the Call of Duty games.
Taking place in a space-themed amusement park in the neon-loving ‘80s, Infinite Warfare’s Zombies takes the cake for having one of the best locales in any of the Zombies modes on offer in the series. I couldn’t help but want to explore the park, check out everything that was on offer, and throw myself into the Russian Roulette of attempting to get something good out of the Mystery Box.
Fate and Fortune Cards are the notable new additions in Zombies, and act like one-time special abilities for your character. Before jumping into the mode, you’re able to select a handful of cards that you’ll take into the game, each having their own unique boost to help aid your effort to stamp out the zombie horde. Getting a pack-a-punch weapon with my next purchase and auto-reviving after being put into last stand were two notable cards I could call upon during the game, as an example. The most important thing to note, though, is that there are two types of cards at play here: fate cards, which are your ordinary perk cards that can be recycled for each match, and fortune cards, which are unlockable/purchasable and can only be used once.
This creates a nice dynamic – a risk and reward system, more or less. Unless you have a handful of the same fortune card, using it in a round means it’s gone for good. It keeps you on your toes, and I really liked that.
This year’s Call of Duty is one that lacks forward thinking, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad game. In fact, Infinite Warfare is quite a good one, and I think it’s a safe step to take from Infinity Ward after their last effort. The single player campaign, while shallow in substance, is still a blast to play through, and combined with a great multiplayer and vastly enjoyable Zombies, still makes for a great Call of Duty package.
Updated 10 Nov 12:00pm
Over the last week I’ve put a lot of time into Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer, specifically looking into how the servers have been holding up and how the features I missed during my initial review session stacked up. That said, my feelings have remained the same – the experience Infinity Ward has created holds up well, however those aforementioned new features, crafting and gun rarities, could be a bit of a problem point.
Throughout your time in Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer, you’ll rank up your weapons, your player level, and subsequently unlock new weapons, perks, and other cosmetic items like emblems and calling cards. Those newly-unlocked weapons are more or less base weapons, though, with no specific perks attached to them or anything of that manner.
As you play the game, you’ll also earn keys which are redeemed in the game’s Quartermaster section, in turn unlocking a selection of new items including emblems, Combat Rig appearance changes, calling cards, and rarer versions of weapons.
This is where the game’s rarity system comes into play, with a selection of different levels of rarities available for items. Rarer weapon cards are generally better, of course, but they also include perks embedded into the weapon itself, such as more ammo or better recoil stability, inevitably giving players a tiny bit of an edge over the competition.
This is all well and good when you think about it – it takes time to earn keys, and you can unlock supply drops at 10 or 30 keys, depending on if you want to get a guaranteed rare item or not. However, you can also dip into the game’s micro-transaction system, which allows you to buy as many drops as you can afford with your real money.
The fact this system is in place is a bit problematic, because even while the rarer weapons aren’t all that more powerful than the base weapon, over time a distinction between players becomes apparent: those who pay for a lot of COD Points and buy a lot of supply drops versus those who just play the game for what it is, earning enough keys to buy the aforementioned boxes every few hours or so. It’s a distinction regularly seen in free to play games, and I’m a bit alarmed that this is included a full price game.
Also introduced is a crafting section of the game, though it coincides with the game’s rarity system as well. Over time you earn salvage, and when you’ve earned enough you’re able to craft a rarer version of a weapon. It’s more or less that simple, though to get rarer weapons you need to spend more salvage and work through a handful of tiers of weapon crafting. Each weapon has its own tier, so it does take some time, and salvage doesn’t come by very often.
Whether or not this rarity system becomes a greater problem than what I’ve seen over the weekend remains to be seen, but looking back on a few of the matches I played, I did notice that a handful of players with rarer guns were generally doing better than players with weapons of lesser value. Obviously skill is also a factor, but it still worries me that a system like this has been introduced into a Call of Duty game, which usually prioritises balancing and fair play over anything else.
That aside, I found my time in Infinite Warfare’s public servers to be great. There were little to no problems connecting with players and, as was to be expected, Team Deathmatch and Domination have the highest player counts. The multiplayer is still extremely fun and highly rewarding, though it’ll be interesting to see how things pan out over the next year, especially in relation to the game’s micro-transaction system and how that will have an effect on Infinite Warfare’s longevity.
◆ Toby travelled to San Francisco to review Infinite Warfare courtesy of Activision.