Blasting off into a future where war is now fought across the stars, it's clear that Infinity Ward wanted to go in a daring new direction with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. But are spaceships and futuristic weapons enough to set this FPS apart from the pack, or are we looking at another perfectly competent shooter that relies a bit too heavily on series mainstays when this could have been an opportunity to boldly go where CoD has never gone before?
Playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered about a month ago and then tackling Infinite Warfare hot on its heels gave me an interesting perspective comparing where the series once was and where, nearly a decade later, it stands today.
What I discovered in Infinite Warfare was familiar action combined with fun new twists on series staples. It's been argued that "war never changes," so I find it kind of appropriate that Infinity Ward's latest creation argues that very point, offering a future where the landscape and the technology has changed, but we're still looking at the same types of people tearing out each others' throats over the same objectives and ideals.
In Infinite Warfare, the player takes on the role of Captain Reyes, a Special Operations Pilot who keeps a cool head and prefers to be the one heading into the thick of battle when the going gets tough. The people of Earth have come together under the banner of the United Nations Space Alliance and, since we've got a massive military, you better believe they've got an enemy to fight.
That's where the Settlement Defense Front comes in. Led by Admiral Koch, this totalitarian regime that calls Mars home is the result of a nasty war of succession from several years prior to the start of Infinite Warfare. They now believe that it's time to lay claim to Earth, launching a massive assault on one of our largest cities.
Earth's defenses are crippled pretty badly, and the warship Retribution is one of the last remaining beacons of hope in fighting back against our would-be oppressors. Reyes, of course, finds himself shifted into a position of command, meaning you'll be leading the Retribution all over the solar system in order to give Koch a really, really hard time.
Once you're in command of your ship, story missions can be broken up by a collection of side missions that are available at almost all times. These side missions offer unlockable gear and perks as rewards, and usually boil down to infiltrating an enemy ship, blowing their fighters out of the sky, sniping in zero G, murdering rooms full of enemy soldiers and the like. They're fine, but the main story missions are where Infinite Warfare truly shines. The cast is great, the action is fierce and the script is probably the best in the entire Call of Duty series. The plot isn't all that complicated, but at least it leads to a handful of missions and set pieces that go toe to toe with anything any other shooter has been able to produce.
Still, this is Call of Duty we're talking about, so Infinity Ward doesn't stray too far from the familiar when it comes to level designs, mission types and the like. Instead, they rely on the sci-fi aspects to keep things decently fresh. You're still sniping unsuspecting baddies, for instance, but now you're doing it while floating in an asteroid field. Grenades are still the best way to handle a group of enemies but, rather than just explode, maybe they cause everyone to float in a zero gravity field where they are defenseless and you can then shoot them all without fear of retaliation.
All of this cool sci-fi tech is complemented by the ability to boost your jump and run along walls, both of which allow for some fun traversal options. All of this combines as if to say to the player, "these are familiar situations, but now you have different ways to think about handling them."
The baddies are similarly diverse, with robot drones that are more heavily armored and more easily damaged by energy weapons. Some of them even crawl along the ground in a self-destruct sequence if you don't disable them right out, making for some tense moments where you need to track down the threat or risk being blown to pieces. Oh, and you also have the ability to hack some robotic enemies, allowing you to take control of an SDF bot long enough to thin the enemy's ranks without exposing yourself to danger.
Many of the missions you'll go on will also have you taking control of your Jackal, a slick fighter vessel that lets you basically skate around space. I had an absolute blast in these segments, with smart controls giving you the arcade treatment rather than simulation. You have the freedom to fly at will, or you can lock onto an enemy and your ship will automatically start to follow them, allowing you to handle fine-tuning the aim rather than try to tail what is effectively a mosquito on speed. If you're near a bunch of asteroids or an enemy warship, this frequently leads to you being pulled on an exhilarating chase through those obstacles while trying to finish the job with machine guns and rockets.
If I had one big issue with the campaign, it's that not a heck of a lot of world building was done here. That's not uncommon in a Call of Duty game but, in a setting more removed from reality than any of its predecessors, more detail in this area would have been nice. I did, however, enjoy the segments between missions where the player can tool around the ship a bit, watching propaganda-fueled news briefs from your latest exploits, checking out the wall of most wanted enemy soldiers or diving into the occasional audio log before choosing which mission you want to target next. You can pretty much go straight to the next chapter if you want, but I like that the scenes were allowed to breathe a bit, which usually isn't the case in a series that usually tags one breakneck sequence after the next.
Over to multiplayer, and you basically know exactly what you're getting out of Infinite Warfare. Whether that's a strength or weakness is up to your history with the series but, for me, it's something I alluded to earlier in this review. Just like with the campaign, you're going to be treated to the usual bevy of modes, a collection of well-designed maps and customization features that you've grown to know all-too-well over the years. Infinity Ward has this formula basically nailed down, which is kind of the problem. Sure, the gear is more futuristic and most of the levels feature designs that take advantage of your new mobility options, but I guess that the game being so far removed from previous entries had me hoping that some bigger risks would be taken, especially in the mode that many players buy the entire game for. But again, we're talking about some solid multiplayer shooting here, just don't go in expecting to experience anything particularly revolutionary.
As for the Zombies mode, I just consider that a nice little campy bit of icing poured onto the entire Call of Duty cake. Playing solo or with a group of friends, you'll be whisked away to a space-themed 1980s amusement park that has been overrun by the undead. While the rest of Infinite Warfare is straight-laced military shooter action with very little "nonsense" thrown into the mix, this is where you get to have a goofy blast amidst the neon lights of a world gone mad. There's so much going on at once here and so many fun weapons to use that you'll probably want to return time and time again just to enjoy a dose of shooting at its most pure.
In the end, you've got yourself a pretty-dang-solid Call of Duty package in Infinite Warfare that's both technically impressive and also a lot of fun to play. I wish more chances had been taken that really utilized the future setting, but the fresh ideas that are on offer are at least, for the most part, a success. I was hoping for a giant leap forward, but I suppose one small step will just have to do.
This review based on a PlayStation 4 copy of the game provided by the publisher.