Infinity Ward is fairly finite these days
When something hits that zeitgeist nerve, it creates an “us versus them” mentality where participants who haven’t even experienced something take sides. To avoid the stampede of rote “why [x government] is like Hogwarts or Westeros” think-pieces, people shut down and revolt against the mere idea of something — hence, the mass dislikes of the inaugural trailer for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
Call of Duty 4 planted that seed, and annual iterations allowed that rancor to bloom. Hell, people were even angry at World at War redoing the whole World War II shtick, and it hit critical mass with Infinity Ward’s Ghosts, which was arguably the worst Call of Duty yet.
I don’t see Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare winning anyone over with its far-future tech and space battles, but it’s a step up from Ghosts for sure.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Infinity Ward
Released: November 4, 2016
Whereas Battlefield 1 went back to basics this year and soared, Call of Duty attempts to push the envelope even more with its bombastic Hollywood approach to sci-fi. You can probably tell where this is going.
Yep, Infinite tackles the concept of the fall of man with a galactic-scale conflict that escalates quickly, but signifies little by the time the credits roll. You’ll move outside of the scope of the Earth into the final frontier of space, and slam into a near re-telling of your favorite Gundam story, with a faction beyond Earth that strays too far from the planet’s principles, and becomes a non-nuanced “bad guy” (they’re red so you know they’re bad!). Their leader comes in the form of Kit Harrington (of Jon Snow fame), and like anything he does, including his comedic work, he’s…sufficient. While he has a lot of room to improve and a long career ahead of him, nothing about his performance really excited me from start to finish.
That situation kind of sums up the average nature of the campaign. It’s a series of tunnels again, but without Kevin Spacey, the newness of “the future” (that kind of wore off sometime around 2006 with Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter), or Treyarch’s unsettling Jacob’s Ladder-esque approach backing it. There’s several cool instant foot-to-space-combat transitions and at least one low-key recreation of the No Russian mission that no one really cares about anymore, but those are fleeting, as the ground sequences comprise the typical Call of Duty feel of past games. It doesn’t quite sell the future feel beyond what Black Ops III and Advanced Warfare have already done outside of giving you “more space,” either.
Throwing an anti-gravity grenade or a spider seeking mine is only novel for so long, and gimmicks like that work far better within the context of multiplayer — especially when a ton of different concepts are coming together at once. If you really dig Mass Effect and other sci-fi tales you’ll probably be swayed, and the AI construct named Ethan who sounds kind of like a wisecracking Tommy Lee Jones did his part to sway me a tad as well. The Specialist (body-specific damage) or permadeath modes didn’t entice me to play the campaign a second time though.
As mentioned, multiplayer is roughly on par with the past few [good] Call of Duty titles, and Infinity Ward was able to crawl out of the funk of Ghosts. There’s 12 maps at launch, several of which play to Infinite‘s strengths like the indoor space station of Frontier, and others are impressive on a technical level (even if they lack ingenuity) like Precinct, a take on future Shibuya, Japan. The new “RIG” system is a good way to cement the halfsies class-based warfare Actvision has been toying with for a while, and creates more combinations beyond the “pick” loadouts that typically feature guns, equipment, perks, and killstreaks. I’m not big on the salvage crafting system, but you can ultimately ignore it as everything is there — all eyes are on Infinity Ward to ensure that the “prototype” weapons (like one gun that has a tactical nuke killstreak attached to it) are balanced, but nothing stands out right now as it’s early yet.
Now you can run around as a goofy Metal Gear Solid wolf-thing, shoot ricochet shots out of a giant claw gun, or walk around as a hulking menace with defensive shielding powers. It adds a layer to team play as you can complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses nicely. While there isn’t much in the way of new modes (Defender is essentially Oddball, the same mode you’ve played in Halo for over a decade), the old ones work just fine with the good map diversity and the aforementioned RIG mechanical mixup.
As is the case for many, Zombies in Spaceland is the main event and takes Infinite Warfare to a higher plane. It’s one of the most fun themes yet, and the voice talents of David Hasselhoff, Paul Ruebens, Jay Pharoah, Seth Green, Sasheer Zamata, and Ike Barinholtz are perfectly cast. Ruebens’ character Willard Wyler is basically the Call of Duty universe’s John Waters, and the intro is straight out of a Saturday morning Hanna-Barbera cartoon.
I love it, and not just from a “this was a thing when I was a kid!” type of way, mostly because it’s the most justified zombies mode to date, sending players into an ’80s film by way of a blood ritual. It’s a great break from the crew we’ve seen since 2008’s World at War, and I really hope Infinity Ward brings them back or introduces a new crew with each map pack (there’s hope, as “select film” on the main menu hints that future levels will be themed around Wyler’s creations).
It goes full crazy right away, with psychic powers, killer clowns, rollercoaster minigames, and David Hasselhoff playing himself. Secrets will be uncovered for weeks on end just like previous maps, but there’s far more incentive to keep playing with card upgrades (read: special powers that you can customize) and weapon unlocks to earn over time. Plus, it’s the most welcoming zombies to date with a comprehensive and interactive tutorial for solo play. Oh, and if you’re playing on PS4, there’s a PSVR bonus game that basically amounts to an arcadey 10-minute space shootout gallery. It wasn’t live during my test session, but I was able to play it at the Call of Duty XP event.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare does just enough to stay above the curve and somewhat make up for the appropriately soulless Ghosts. The zombies team did an incredible job with Spaceland, and the multiplayer still ticks all of the right boxes with an ample locomotion system that has since been surpassed by Titanfall. But if you were expecting anything totally new, including the non-inventive space campaign, look elsewhere. Or, look directly to the inside of your slipcase and enter the code for Modern Warfare Remastered.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]