Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Review - Feels Like the Wing Commander VI We Never Had
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
PS4, Xbox One
Review copy provided by the publisher
Once upon a time, Call of Duty was all about endless hours of multiplayer, with a single player campaign that you could summarize in two lines and that many didn’t even bother playing. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare changed that paradigm quite radically.
When Infinity Ward hired talent from Naughty Dog to take care of the story of its new Call of Duty game, I knew they meant business with the single player, but they managed to go above and beyond my expectations.
The campaign is set in a relatively near future, after humanity colonized the whole Solar System. Of course, since the human race has warred for resources for its entire history, multiplying the available riches exponentially doesn’t exactly turn our belligerent race into a bunch of peace-loving hippies. Quite the contrary, tension and strife move into space, with an extremist organization named “Settlement Defense Front” picking up arms to fight its way to independence from Earth.
If this sounds a lot like Zeon from the Gundam sagas, there certainly are some similarities, but the SDF is a lot more ruthless. They don’t just want Independence. They want to conquer and subjugate Earth itself, and they don’t really care how many they have to slaughter in the process.
It’s true that Zeon didn’t really shy away from dropping massive colonies on the surface of the planet, but they still had believable motivations and likable characters. On the other hand, the Settlement Defense Front and its leader, Salen Kotch (played by Kit “Jon Snow” Harington) are the one weak point of Infinite Warfare‘s story. They are dictatorial and ruthless to the point of being cartoony, and this certainly detracts a bit from the quality of the storytelling. When your sworn enemy is a puppet that does nothing but growl and spout super-cliched propaganda, he certainly loses his edge after a while.
Now that we got the bad out of the way, let’s talk about the good: it’s extremely rare for a conflict story to work well without a good villain, but Call of Duty‘s narration does everything else so well, that it manages to still be impactful and extremely enjoyable, despite having to fight against a sociopath with a one-track-mind and very little in the way of actual personality.
The tension between Earth and the SDF comes to a head as the secessionist organization launches a surprise attack on Geneva during a celebration dedicated to the space fleet, crippling most of the available warships before they have a chance to fight.
The protagonist, Lieutnant Reyes, manages to save at least one carrier, and assumes command after the death of its captain. Promoted on the field as the acting captain of the Retribution, he sets out to push back the onslaught of the SDF and buy Earth some valuable time.
While the plot itself sounds a lot like yous usual “against impossible odds” sci-fi fare, the real strong point is its characters, and how they are presented and interact with Reyes and each other.
Strikingly, considering how boring the local Jon Snow lookalike is, every relevant member of Reyes’ crew is a pleasure to watch and follow, with distinctive personalities, great acting and very solid elements of character progression.
Two very honorable mentions go to Sergeant Omar and Ethan, who are some of the most enjoyable characters I’ve seen this year, in any game. And yes, Ethan is a robot, yet Infinity Ward gave him a perfectly balanced human touch, turning him into an extremely compelling member of the cast. His human-like nature isn’t extremely intrusive, but that’s exactly what makes him so good, as he walks the thin line that separates man and machine.
The story itself is compact, but very solid and enjoyable from start to end. It’s also brutal and it definitely pulls no punches on the tragedy of war, no matter the fact that it’s colored by futuristic elements. As a matter of fact, it’s by far the most brutal and impactful in this season of shooters and in the whole Call of Duty series.
I will admit with no shame that it managed to make me cry, or better, bawl like a school kid for a good ten minutes. I won’t tell you how and why, but a certain something really left me a sobbing mess. And yes, I would have never thought I’d ever write this about a Call of Duty game. Not in a million years. Aftermath in Modern Warfare had me a bit short on breath for a moment, but that was absolutely nothing compared to the emotional weight of Infinite Warfare.
Incidentally, the story is also sizable, at least for today’s FPS standards, that tend to be done with it and send you to play multiplayer in about four hours or less. It took me about seven to finish the single player of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. It’s not massive, but it’s enough to let you connect with the characters and create enough emotional attachment to make them relevant.
On top of that, after beating the campaign once, you’ll unlock specialist mode. It introduces limb damage, manual healing and quite a few other perks, that shift combat more towards realism (while I wouldn’t call it actually realistic just yet), and offer a completely different gameplay experience.
Another interesting element is that this time around you’re in command, which means you’ll be able to pursue optional missions in whichever order you prefer. There are even missions fully dedicated to piloting your Jackal fighter, which is certainly another thing you wouldn’t expect from a Call of Duty game.
In normal circumstances, I’d consider this kind of mission padding, but truth is that they aren’t. As a matter of fact, they’re extremely well designed, and I found them all to be a blast to play. To be fully honest, I would have liked to have more of them to play.
Looking at the single player campaign, Infinite Warfare is almost the Wing Commander VI we never got, thanks to a fantastic story mixing military realism and sci-fi, great characters, and awesome dogfights in space.
Visuals in single player are quite nice, even if we aren’t in front to extreme levels of visual fidelity. The core engine is a bit dated, but it still manages to deliver a good level of spectacle, especially in the Jackal dogfight missions mentioned above.
What really shines are the cutscenes, delivering the full expressive power of performance capture and really enhancing the storytelling massively. The fact that most of the cast really did a great job in portraying their characters, most definitely helps in delivering an experience that gets quite close to a great sci-fi movie, and stands on par with the best story-driven games.
To be fair, even Kit Harington performed really nicely. The weak point of his character is in the writing, not in his acting.
On the other hand, the engine definitely looks its age in multiplayer, with simpler models and textures that would have been impressive a couple of years ago, but definitely not today. The art style is also completely different from the campaign. Whereas the single player portion of the game looks grounded and realistic despite the space setting, multiplayer reprises the over-the-top and colorful looks we saw in Black Ops III, and modern military shooter fans will probably cringe.
Audio is definitely strong, with a soundtrack that moves with no effort from epic tunes to somber ones, fantastic voice acting to match the performance capture, and great sound effects to top it all, contributing to delivering an emotionally engaging experience.
Shooting gameplay is very solid, even if that’s probably not very surprising. We’re talking about Infinity Ward after all. The game’s arsenal offers a nice variety of weapons, even more so in multiplayer, and most of them have enjoyable “personalities” especially when paired with the sight that best fits your own play style.
I said “most” for a reason, and that’s because there are a few guns that have no personality at all: I’m talking about energy weapons. While traditional ballistic weapons are great, energy-based ones simply don’t feel like real weapons. I genuinely had the sensation that I was firing air soft pellets.
While I understand that this is somewhat realistic (as realistic as a laser rifle can be), since you’re firing energy and not metal bullets, the EBR-800 is probably the least satisfying sniper rifle in the history of video games. Probably comparing it to an air soft gun is actually a bit too charitable: it feels more like a Nintendo Zapper.
Unimpressive energy weapons aside, if you’re familiar with the latest entries of the Call of Duty franchise, you’ll probably feel right at home with the gunplay in Infinite Warfare.
The pace of the single player campaign also changes quite a lot thanks to a large variety of missions including infiltration and moments in which you’ll be required to fight in zero-gravity areas, using your suit’s equipment and a grappling hook to move across the environment. Jump equipment and wall running also return from the latest Call of Duty games, giving you a full suite of traversal tools that you can freely use if they fit your play stile.
At least in the single player campaign, playing Titanfall-wannabe isn’t really necessary: you can easily take it slow and steady, almost without touching the space key through the whole game. If you prefer keeping your boots firmly on the ground, you definitely can.
On the other hand, mastering traversal is absolutely necessary in multiplayer, where the ability to wall-run and slide continuously will be necessary to keep you alive. While the pace feels a tiny bit slower than in Black Ops III (thank Goodness), where I always felt that Treyarch went way too crazy with the speed, learning how to shoot while bouncing around like a flipper ball will still be necessary to ensure a half-decent kill/death ratio.
Otherwise, multiplayer feels very much like your standard Black Ops III fare, which certainly isn’t a bad thing in itself, since it’s fast and frenetic like modern Call of Duty fans tend to enjoy, but I feel that it could use a deeper overhaul.
Personally, I’m starting to get weary of the extremely fast time to kill, which combined with the small maps, will turn the experience for novices into a frustrating ping pong match, often finding themselves sent to the spawn point way too quickly. Yet, I realize that this is mostly a matter of taste.
That said, if you’re a fan of patiently stalking your prey or sniping from a distance (in most maps there simply isn’t any distance), you’ll probably have to look elsewhere for your FPS fix.
An interesting novelty is the implementation of Rigs, which are basically loose classes with their own perks and customization options. They do give the multiplayer a more structured feel, providing both room for specialization and variety, especially thanks to the dedicated unlocks.
Customization is certainly a big plus for COD‘s multiplayer, with an enormous variety of sights, parts and cosmetic skins that will let you personalize both your rig and your weapons. Further room to get you addicted to building up your perfect soldier comes from the prototype system.
Basically, prototypes introduce Destiny-like loot to the game, and the similarities with Bungie’s system (that was in turn borrowed from MMORPGs) are actually quite striking: the weapons you can unlock and then craft are color coded by rarity, and come with their own perks. If you’re prone to epic-hoarding in games that include this kind of feature, Infinity Warfare has a whole lot to offer.
There is quite the variety of modes available, including the brand new “frontline” that players tired of the wild spawn rotation of Call of Duty games will certainly enjoy, as it works with fixed spawn points. Unfortunately it tends to be quite a lot less popular than the classic team deathmatch, which will often result in longer wait times, especially if you play on PC.
The big sin of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare‘s multiplayer is that not only it’s somewhat unremarkable, but mostly that it feels completely separate from the single player, actually ditching quite a few innovative ideas that would have brought a much needed breath of fresh air if implemented in multiplayer as well.
The feature suite is crowned by Zombies in Spaceland, which is Infinity Ward’s take on the classic Zombies mode, and personally I feel that they did a great job here. The four player co-op zombie-slaying orgy starts slow, and eases you into the gradually increasing difficulty level at a deliberate and steady pace.
The map, set into a space-themed theme park in the eighties, is interesting and full of Easter eggs, topped by a great dedicated soundtrack that will definitely enthuse veteran players like me.
Of course, like all co-op modes in every game ever, it’s a lot more fun if you tackle it with friends, while it can be a bit frustrating if you go into a random public match. Teamwork becomes extremely important after the first few waves, and one or two disruptive or simply inept team mates can make the experience quite miserable for everyone involved. That said, this isn’t certainly the developers’ fault: annoying randoms on the internet are a bug that no one found how to fix yet.
There are all sorts of attractions and zombie-trouncing gadgets to enjoy,
and a great sense of discovery as you explore the park to find your way out. Exploration is also characterized by a solid risk and reward mechanic, as you have to decide how to wisely spend the money you earn. Opening a new section can lead to more powerful weapons, but it might increase difficulty beyond your ability to handle before you can save enough for the new toys.
While you could say that Infinity Ward doesn’t have Treyarch’s zombie pedigree, Zombies in Spaceland is definitely one of the most fun zombie modes I have tried in a Call of Duty game. If you have three good friends, you can easily spend several hours in the park without a second of boredom.
Ultimately, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare comes with a ton of content, which is quite peculiar in nowadays’ AAA market, where publishers often try to put as little as possible in the package.
The Zombie mode is awesome, and it could almost be considered a game on its own, but unfortunately the series’ iconic multiplayer is where this game stutters a bit, providing an adequate but definitely not exceptional entry. It’s fun, but the formula is really feeling its age, especially when placed side-by-side with an increasingly competitive FPS market.
On the other hand, if you enjoy a good story, with great writing, compelling characters and some deeply emotional moments, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is definitely the best choice among this year’s first person shooters. If only it had a less unremarkable villain, it would have gone down in history as a full-fledged masterpiece.
Yet, it’s still awesome, and I personally hope to see a sequel in the future. We never got a Wing Commander VI, but I’d be very glad to play an Infinite Warfare 2.