With every Call of Duty release, there are broad strokes that remain the same – things you can rely on to help form your opinion of the game. There’s a bombastic singleplayer campaign that can be chewed through, and then forgotten. There’s multiplayer, filled to the brim with loadouts to tweak, and XP values to rack up. Finally, there’s some sort of co-op mode which will usually contains zombies.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare has all these things – and while it does struggle to find its own identity in the multiplayer, changes to the structure of singleplayer provide one of the most compelling narrative experiences in the franchise’s history.
On the campaign side of things, you follow Captain Nick Reyes, taking the fight to the Settlement Defense Front after they attack earth and declare all-out war. Unlike previous entries in the series, Infinite Warfare doesn’t wholly follow the 6-to-8-hour campaign model. Interspersed throughout the Michael Bay-esque action sequences are moments of quiet back on your ship, as you read through reports or listen to audio logs.
As brief as these moments can be, the relationships that they foster between you and your crew are tighter than the soppy slow-motion death scenes that previous games relied heavily on. This isn’t a wish-washy tale of greyscale beliefs either; it’s a simple good versus evil battle, with character interaction at the heart of it. Using these stepping stones, the writers manage to explore a single theme – the burden of leadership – in far more depth than other Call of Duty campaigns. One scene in particular is a master stroke, taking the two buttons you’ve been using to kill dudes for years now, and applying them in a way so as to illicit an emotional response. It’s clever, and puts the Advanced Warfare “Hold square to Pay Respects” scene to shame.
Infinite Warfare also features side missions. These optional objectives can be launched from your spaceship between story beats. Each one lasts about 10 minutes, and provides a bit of a palate cleanser – some based around aerial dogfights, and others being stealth oriented. Completing them leads to extra crew interactions, as well as persistent weapon and gear upgrades.
The singleplayer also sports different rules of engagement to shake things up. Standard ground-encounters exist, but they’re interspersed by zero-g combat, and dogfights using your Jackal. The former can get a little messy at times, with adequate cover in 3D space sometimes becoming a hassle to find. The latter controls like a dream however, translating Call of Duty’s button layout to that of a jet’s in an intuitive manner. If you’re insane, there’s also a new difficulty called “Specialist,” which doesn’t have regenerating health and tracks limb-damage. It’s a little antithetical to the fast-paced nature of the game, but it’s a feature that veterans may enjoy.
But if you’re playing Call of Duty, odds are you’re doing it for the multiplayer. Unfortunately, that’s where parts of Infinite Warfare stumble – not due to lack of content, but because of core design. In a world where Advanced Warfare and Black Ops III exist, I was interested to see the spin Infinity Ward would put on character movement. Unfortunately they didn’t have one.
Infinite Warfare uses the same movement model as Black Ops III, with momentum being the focus. Wall running and boosts give you unprecedented speed, but as someone who preferred Advanced Warfare and its lateral dashes, Infinite Warfare’s movement just never quite clicked with me.
Familiar progression and customisation systems underpin a lot of the experience. Ranking up unlocks perks and weapons at set intervals, while the size of your loadout is governed by the familiar pick-10 system. New however are Mission Teams. You can think of them like guilds or factions, each with their own progression tree and unlocks. Each Team levels up by completing different game modes, so you’re encouraged to experiment outside of things like Team Deathmatch and Kill Confirmed.
Among these familiar modes is a new one called Defender. It’s like an extended game of keep-away, where points are rewarded for holding a ball for as long as possible before its location resets. It’s fast-paced, and leads to some rather hilarious one-on-one engagements, where you’re rapidly throwing the ball at an opponent so you can raise your gun and shoot them. Gun Game has also seen a change, sporting random selections of weapons each time for added replayability.
Weapon unlocks have been given a lot more depth, introducing a Diablo-styled rarity system. You’ll unlock recipes for these weapons, which require salvage (a resource gained by playing multiplayer) to then craft. The different tiers offer cosmetic tweaks, but also Destiny-styled perks, like replacing all missed bullets back into your ammo pool. In my time with the game I opted to test out lesser weapons against reviewers wielding rarer ones, and I managed to hold my own just fine, so the power gap shouldn’t be anything to worry about.
Like the Specialist system from Black Ops III, Infinite Warfare introduces Rigs. While each one is visually different, they’re also geared towards particular styles of play – featuring a powerful cooldown ability, and passive traits. My favourite was Synaptic, who would move faster after every kill, and featured the ability to rewind time on himself. Once I found one to my liking however, I never changed my selection.
Also there is a zombies mode. I still feel like my Dad when playing it (in that I have absolutely no idea what is going on), but the shift to a more playful setting makes some of the insanity a little easier to roll with. The bright neon colour palette and cast of characters also provide a nice change of pace from the core game’s dour art style.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare doesn’t re-invent the wheel – and given the changing landscape of the series, that’s a very difficult thing to do. While the multiplayer errs on the side of caution, opting for familiar movement in wall runs and boosts, the writing and character-development elevates the singleplayer above the standard action-movie fare that has been the franchise’s norm for so long.
Keith travelled to San Francisco to review Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, courtesy of Activision.