After playing Zombies in Space, the new Zombie mode that’s a carbon copy of every Zombie mode that Treyarch has made in the past seven years, I was convinced that Infinity Ward has again made the same mistake they did with Call of Duty: Ghosts. With the mode’s nearly identical mechanics, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare seemed to be yet another annual installment from the studio that hardly moves the needle for the Call of Duty franchise. This notion was only reinforced by the game’s multiplayer beta, which did very little to differentiate itself from last year’s Black Ops 3.
But when looking at the fuller picture, although Infinite Warfare isn’t nearly as well of a distinguished shooter as what both Sledgehammer and Treyarch managed to accomplish, Infinity Ward has delivered a surprisingly well put together and unique campaign along with a better version of Black Ops 3’s multiplayer.
It’s a shame that Infinite Warfare’s campaign trailer became one of the most disliked videos in YouTube history, because it unveiled what were potentially the most interesting parts of its single player experience. Juxtaposing a traditional Call of Duty-styled campaign with optional space flight and combat is a new way to sell a Call of Duty game, despite the end result being a little more conventional than what we were led to believe. Nonetheless, Infinity Ward has managed to widen the bar for Call of Duty campaigns instead of raising it, and seemingly formed their new identity as a studio.
Things don’t start off very well in Infinite Warfare’s story, and I’m not talking about the planetary invasion of the Settlement Defense Front (SDF) laying out devastation on the people of Earth. The single player’s opening moments are almost identical to that of the universally panned campaign in COD Ghosts. And even with the introduction of the Jackal, your personal space combat jet fighter, Infinite Warfare’s campaign doesn’t pull off anything impressive within the first hour. It isn’t until the single player takes a liking to Mass Effect that things get interesting, and Infinity Ward truly begins to make their mark.
Not long after you, as Lieutenant Nick Reyes, are promoted to Captain of the SATO Retribution once its sitting captain is killed in the SDF invasion, the campaign presents you with a mission command table, one that is not dissimilar to the hologram in which Commander Shepard uses to navigate missions on board the Normandy. Here, you’re allowed to select both main story and side missions, the latter of which rewards you with perks, weapons, attachments for your arsenal and your Jackal. Side missions also come in two different flavors: Ship Assaults are skirmishes that are done on foot with the chance of Zero-G combat sections in between, and Jackal Strikes that take place entirely in the Jackal. While these two styles of play may seem segregated from one another, Infinite Warfare does a pretty fair job mixing both together.
The game’s slogan, “While this may be the future of warfare, this is an old school fight”, is more of a confession than marketing speak. Don’t put too much stake in using the Jackal that often, as it’s primarily used for introducing and bookending skirmishes when it’s not in their standalone mission. Jackals are strictly used for dogfighting, which the controls somehow feel tight and unwieldy at the same time. Nonetheless, these sections hardly felt terribly different from some of the flight missions in both Black Ops 2 and 3. That point became especially evident when I realized that not once did I feel like I had the option to jump in and out of my Jackal at will like promised in Infinite Warfare’s preview coverage.
But that mattered less and less as I grew to enjoy the game’s campaign more and more. Once the monster closet, shooting gallery formula that has aged so poorly in Call of Duty’s single player began to fade, fresher ideas came to the fore. Infinite Warfare presents their own brand of stealth, which the series has attempted to employ in many forms. And with the exception of Modern Warfare’s All Ghillied Up, this is the best attempt yet, as it uses its own enemy detection mechanic, and seamlessly transitions into an all-out firefight when you’re detected. Infinite Warfare also introduces you to the most enjoyable set of weapons and equipment I’ve ever seen in a Call of Duty campaign, some of which make it into the game’s multiplayer. I found myself experimenting with retractable shields, anti-grave grenades, deployable drones, and guns that transform between two different weapon types. This mixed well with various encounter scenarios throughout the single player, and together with a subtle lean mechanic from behind cover, often made me feel as if I was playing a far more tactical version of Call of Duty.
However the biggest takeaway from Infinite Warfare’s campaign that struck me, particularly when the credits rolled, was, believe it or not, the story’s characters. Infinity Ward bringing aboard Naughty Dog’s Taylor Kurosaki as their narrative director has proven to work to great effect. Though Infinite Warfare’s plot itself doesn’t stand out in any meaningful way, the character development and interaction is heads and shoulders above all other entries in the series. Infinity Ward has gone to great lengths to cast the Retribution’s crew with personalities instead of archetypes. And though I’ve grown tired of calling attention to “representation in video games”, the writers deserve high praise for the wide array of standout well-acted female soldiers written into the story. Because of this, after years of Call of Duty killing off its story NPCs with unearned buy-in from the player, Infinite Warfare largely succeeds at surfacing at least a semblance of mournfulness when soldiers have fallen.
Story aside, there are many risks that Infinity Ward have taken with Infinite Warfare’s campaign; for instance, the Jackal and Zero-G firefights, but it’s unfortunate that the game’s multiplayer doesn’t reflect the same departure as the single player. As alluded to earlier, Infinite Warfare’s competitive space is a much more refined version of what Treyarch introduced last year with Black Ops 3. Four years ago, this would have been fine with Call of Duty’s two year development cycle. But considering that Sledgehammer has become the third independent Call of Duty studio, and thus adding another year of development to each entry, Infinity Ward’s effort this year looks stagnant in comparison. But let’s not allow that to take away from what is still a very good multiplayer experience.
As we covered in our beta impressions, the somewhat new Combat Rigs are this year’s bullet point for Call of Duty multiplayer, which in reality is a more robust take on the Specialists introduced in Black Ops 3. While there are only six Combat Rigs this year, in comparison to nine Specialists in Black Ops 3, the mileage in Infinite Warfare’s unique classes allow for more longevity and experimentation. Each Combat Rig has three active abilities to choose from called Payloads, and three persistent character bonuses called Traits – both of which are more than the mere two abilities to choose from with last year’s Specialists. These comprise some abilities that we saw last year, such as Warfighter’s identically named Overdrive, which gives him or her a massive speed boost, and several new ones such as Stryker’s Gravity Vortex that literally shoots black holes at their enemies.
The Traits themselves, though, are more rewarding than Payloads since using them as an extra Perk allows room for players to take more risks with their loadouts. I’m partial to Traits such as Merc’s Man-at-Arms which enables the player to run at full speed with heavy light machine guns, or even Warfighter’s Resupply that drops replenishing packages for tactical and lethal equipment after killing opponents. I typically don’t use LMGs or equipment in multiplayer, but I found myself experimenting with more and more custom options such as these. And experiment you should, because Infinite Warfare’s biggest contribution to the franchise is its arsenal, boasting the best weapon diversification in Call of Duty to date.
Let’s look at the R.A.W. for example. After equipping this weapon with Merc’s Man-at-Arms Trait, along with outfitting it with a stock attachment for faster strafing, and quickdraw to aim down the sights more instantaneously, you can then wield this heavy weapon like it’s a light and nimble assault rifle. The R.A.W. in particular is an Energy Weapon, a new class to Call of Duty multiplayer whose ammunition can ricochet off walls and, once equipped with the Fusion Mag, will replenish ammo over time. Energy Weapons are more meaningful than, say, direct energy guns in Advanced Warfare for this reason, although one can argue that it makes their ordinary ballistic counterparts obsolete. Infinite Warfare then furthers its arsenal with transforming weaponry. The EBR-800, for instance, is a sniper rifle that can switch to an assault rifle mode. Though it pulls from the same ammunition pool, it acts as a gateway gun for those such as myself who aren’t entirely skilled with sniper rifles, allowing us to experiment with it while having immediate access to a more familiar alternative.
And then there’s the weapons crafting, Infinite Warfare’s subtle, but perhaps the most significant addition to Call of Duty multiplayer. Crafted weapons, which should be more appropriately referred to as weapon variants, can be unlocked in a series of ways. These include purchasing them from the Prototype Lab with salvage, getting lucky after buying supply drops with keys, or completing enough challenges through the new Mission Teams. These weapon variants introduce different versions of existing weapons that have native bonuses and perks attached to them. Better yet, the perks can stack with weapon attachments as well. So if I unlock the Erad Ascendant SMG, which has the native perk of increased damage at range, equipping the Particle Amp that grants the same benefits will enhance this trait even further. Thanks to these weapon variants, there are over 100 different guns to unlock throughout the course of your multiplayer campaign. And together with the already significant amount of custom options for your loadouts that become available as you level up, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is a generous vending machine that rewards the player far longer than any Call of Duty that’s come before it.
Infinite Warfare’s remaining contributions aren’t so much novel as they’re more sharpened, giving little reason to pick up Black Ops 3 again. Last month, I wrongly dismissed Infinite Warfare’s maps as unimpressive. But after spending a week with the game’s multiplayer, I can comfortably say that Infinity Ward has damn near perfected Call of Duty’s recent commitment to the three-lane design, which matches perfectly to the seemingly standardized jet-fueled mobility. Where Black Ops 3 was more overt in its level design, Infinite Warfare is more intricate, with tucked away pathways that I’ve consistently discovered over a dozen hours in. What helped me develop a greater appreciation to the new maps is Infinite Warfare’s new mode, Frontline. Frontline is this year’s Kill Confirmed, in that no future Call of Duty of this style should go without it. In our Black Ops 3 review, I mentioned that the mobility mixed with the three-lane structure clashed with modes like Team Deathmatch. Frontline solves this problem by segregating both teams’ spawn point to opposite sides of the map, forcing them to use the stage’s alternate route options to flank and corner the opposing team into submission. It’s the most well thought-out mode since Uplink, and is quickly becoming one of Infinite Warfare’s most popular multiplayer modes.
After taking the Call of Duty franchise to the stars, both in a space suit and in a space ship, I was expecting a lot from Infinite Warfare. Call it mismanaged expectations, but my initial reaction to the latest from Infinity Ward wasn’t entirely positive. Is it completely satisfactory of what we should expect after three years of development? No. But in spite of all that, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare has made some very specific accomplishments in both its single player and its multiplayer that for the very least, rids itself of the bad reputation it acquired three years ago. Nothing has changed – Call of Duty is still a high quality first-person shooter.
Another year, another solid Call of Duty
Infinite Warfare might not have made radical changes to the franchise, but it manages to best previous iterations in a number of ways