Author: Travis Northern
Title: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Developers: Infinity Ward
Release Date: 11/04/2016
Platform Reviewed: Playstation 4
Time Played: 25 hours
Note: This review will attempt to avoid any major plot spoilers, but read at your own risk.
Infinite Warfare stands as one of the stronger Call of Duty titles with a substantial campaign and a surprisingly fun zombies mode, but its overly repetitive gameplay and frequently frustrating multiplayer fail to rise above the innovation of its competitors. It may be a fun, fulfilling experience for many, but the multiplayer audience is sure to be disappointed with the game’s low replay value and derivative design.
Concept and Execution:
In the campaign of Infinite Warfare—set in the far future—the nations of Earth have united to form the United Nations Space Alliance, or UNSA. In order to survive an overflowing population and a dwindling supply of resources, they establish colonies on planets throughout the solar system. Unfortunately, the interplanetary development attracts a host of military radicals with their knickers in a serious twist. These legions of rogues form the Settlement Defense Front, or SDF, in a war of secession. Now, the newly appointed Captain Nick Reyes and the crew of the UNSA ship Retribution must battle the SDF to defend the citizens of Earth.
Confused? I was, too. For the first two acts of the game, plot is optional. Finding the complete story requires watching news segments on the ship’s TV, searching through notecards pinned to an office board, and squinting to read tiny text on character profiles tucked away on a computer. Very little background information is offered in the beginning of the game, and the plot seems to flounder around without any higher dramatic purpose. Only in the final act does the story become detailed, compelling, and engaging. Once the plot stops rushing through random events and settles on a focal point, Infinite Warfare turns the dial to eleven. The story becomes purposeful and interesting: throwing themes, symbolism, and emotional drama into the mix to create an exciting, fast-paced finale.
The main plotline takes about five hours to complete (or six if you’re constantly stopping to take screenshots like me). This is par for the course for a Call of Duty story, but one aspect of the campaign sets this storyline above past games: side missions. There are a few hours’ worth of side missions here, set in a variety of interesting locations with a handful of unique objectives. One mission had me sneaking through the decks of a ship and melee-killing dozens of soldiers, utilizing stealth to ensure the survival of endangered hostages. Another mission had me choosing between taking on hordes of soldiers in a huge gunfight, or disguising myself and skipping gleefully past them. The choices during this mission reminded me of Modern Warfare’s “All Ghillied Up,” which is widely regarded as one of the best levels in the series’ history. Adding side missions to the game was a huge step in the right direction because it serves as a refreshing break from the usual point-and-shoot sequences.
When you aren’t in the mood to have your heart ripped out by the emotional story, head over to get your brains eaten by Zombies in Spaceland. This 80’s theme-park map works as a phenomenal location for a zombie uprising. The different sections of the park are utilized as different unlockable districts. The arcade works as an intermission stage where one can play classic games such as skee ball and coin drop. To top it all off, the atmosphere is complete with a cast of stereotypical 80’s characters and soundtrack of hits from the decade. The newest edition of zombies provides the perfect blend of spunk and camp to entertain longtime fans and recruit new ones.
And then of course, there’s the multiplayer. The lifeblood of all shooter games. Everyone wants to know how this entry holds up. The answer? It’s exactly the same as the others. This is the fourth game of this franchise to be set in the distant future (yikes), and as a result, they all kind of blend together. There just isn’t much new ground being broken in the multiplayer of Infinite Warfare: the maps are nothing we haven’t seen before, the guns are reskinned versions of the Call of Duty classics, and teamwork often dissolves into frantic shootouts. The only notable addition is the character customization system. Not only do players get to choose their character classes, or “Rigs,” but they can also choose their own ultimate ability and unique class perk to create a variety of different builds. Each of the different class combinations are fun to experiment with, but one must spend hours grinding experience from match after match to unlock and try them all. The character customization might provide some new incentives for the repetition, but this familiar multiplayer gameplay is starting to get fatiguing.
Concept and Execution Grade: 17/25
Call of Duty has always a delivered silky smooth gaming experience, and this entry is no different. The customizable controls are precise, tactically inclined, and polished for an optimal in-game experience. Button commands respond flawlessly. I can only recall once or twice in the campaign when a trigger would misfire or a jump wouldn’t process, but I often chalked up the error to the speed at which my Playstation had to process the lightning-fast sequences.
Generally, the experience of the campaign is enjoyable, even if it’s a little generic. Most of the missions consisted of the standard running-around-and-shooting-people motif found in the previous entries, but there was some experimentation with new things, like fighter jet sections, a hacking mechanic, and gravity-free combat. Before I began playing, I was concerned that flying the fighter jets would be linear and uninspired, but I found that engaging in messy dogfights and grand ship battles is thrilling. Utilizing heavy weapon systems and full three-dimensional movement, the game lets you freely play the missions without throwing in quest markers and simplistic tutorials to hold your hand along the way. At times the game keeps you on rails for cinematic purposes, but it rarely interferes with the fun. The gravity-free combat is also worthy of high praise, as its short and sweet sections allowed for expansive strategies and infinite replayability. These freeing sections basically allow you to create your own action film. Perhaps you’re inclined to free-float as you engage your opponents, spinning in wild circles to let loose a hailstorm of bullets. Maybe you want to jump from cover to cover, using the grappling hook to navigate through floating debris. Or perhaps you want to skip the debris, grapple an enemy directly, and pull him close for a melee takedown. The choice is yours.
The complete freedom in piloting your fighter jet and launching into zero-gravity can feel immersive and gratifying, and I hope Infinity Ward carries it into the next entry. If there was one aspect of the gameplay that came across as disappointing, it was the generic hacking mechanic. Throughout the entirety of the story, it never evolves past aiming the cursor and pressing a trigger. I found myself forgetting I could hack into robots, and I used it less and less as the campaign progressed.
Most of the smooth gameplay transfers to multiplayer…if your internet connection is solid. A busy Wi-Fi or a struggling router leads to endless frame rate stutters and nonsensical rubberbanding, so make sure your gear’s running at peak performance before you hop online. Or make sure your stress ball is nearby, because it’s going to get infuriating.
When you jump online, you can enjoy a mix of classic game modes and some new, interesting ones. The standard modes—including Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Free-for-All—are just as tired as they’ve always been because they’re an experience you can find in almost any other shooter. Naturally, I was more invested in the newer modes, hoping for something that sets Call of Duty aside from its huge market of competitors. “Frontline” ditches the sporadic, random spawn flips and creates team bases on opposite ends of the map. Teams within their own bases are shielded with extra health, and teams within enemy bases are publicly marked targets. This setup cuts down on spawn camping and flanking, but makes the world feel even more flat and repetitive by limiting you to walking certain paths on the map. “Defender” plays as a futuristic form of keep-away, where a team fights over a ball (it has a technical term, but I call it a ball. Sue me.) that spawns in the middle of the ring every minute or so. Both modes encourage teamwork and add some desperately needed freshness to the multiplayer space.
The experience’s entirety feels like a combination of the features from Advanced Warfare and Black Ops III. While the movement style and class setup are borrowed from the latter, the game adopts the largely weightless, paper-thin feel of the former. While a few guns seem heavy with their movement and impact, the physics layout makes most of the weapons feel like pea shooters. At times, this system can be entertaining, allowing you to shoot across the map at high speeds and turn the tides of battle. Other times, it can be maddeningly unsatisfying to not feel any weight behind your character and get brutally murdered by diminutive pellet guns. Feeling like a husk of a person breaks immersion and detracts from the overall experience. This is a video game, not a cartoon. In addition, the wickedly rushed gameplay brings the average death count to an all-time high. Because of the lack of innovation, players will no doubt maintain the same love/hate relationship with Call of Duty multiplayer that they have for years. If you love the franchise’s style of gameplay, then you’ll sink hours into the experience with a smile on your face. If you hate it, then this isn’t Infinite Warfare’s saving grace.
Zombies is a decidedly more social experience, with an emphasis on team gameplay and collaboration. Features such as sharable money, group arcade games, and intricate Easter eggs make the ragtag group feel more like a team working toward a common goal. The wide-open map layout and the higher damage dealt by the undead increase the difficulty of fighting alone, and it encourages you to join up with friends. It is kind of odd to utilize the futuristic weapons of the multiplayer within the 80’s setting, though. The noticeable lack of time-appropriate weapons does make for a lapse in a somewhat solid identity, but it keeps the gameplay familiar and the different modes connected. At least they didn’t have the jetpacks carry over, right?
Mechanics Grade: 19/25
Take a look at the screenshot above. Now look at it again. This game is gorgeous. Infinite Warfare is the most visually impressive installment in the series to date. The game ditches the bland orange and brown color schemes of Black Ops III for murky yellows and cool blues. Its environments, from the deck of the Retribution to the sandstorms of Mars, are packed with details worth exploring for days. The pre-rendered cutscenes had me drooling over the glorious aesthetics, but even the in-game graphics were precisely polished. It’s also worth mentioning that the character models are fantastically human. Their designs are so specialized and full of life that I recognized a few actors by name without previously knowing of their involvement with the title.
Speaking of characters and the actors that play them, they deserve special consideration in this review. Not only does the group contain veteran voice actors, but the cast is also bolstered by seasoned TV actors such as Game of Throne’s Kit Harrington, True Blood’s Jamie Gray Hyder, and Supergirl’s David Harewood. All the actors give memorable performances in their roles, and it’s clear that the campaign’s characters are the heart of the story.
Frankly, I’m thankful that Infinite Warfare put so much effort into its campaign. It might be on the short side, maybe maxing out at nine or ten hours with the completion of every mission, but it’s substantial in its story and gameplay. This mode shapes the game as a whole, layering the world in lore and personality. Several first-person shooters of recent years have delivered weak campaign modes, and a few haven’t bothered to include them at all (looking at you, Battlefront!), so it’s great to see Call of Duty still working to satisfy the single-player market.
Regarding the writing the story itself, I found the protagonist, Nick Reyes, to be a fairly flat character. He expresses a very basic character personality without any unique quirks, traits, or backstories. The main antagonist, Admiral Kotch, is also a simplistic character. He’s intimidating, yes, thanks to Harrington’s endless supply of charisma, but he doesn’t seem to have any personal stakes in the conflict. If he does, the game didn’t present it well enough in its confusing opening missions. Without a doubt, the standout character is E3N, or “Ethan,” Reyes’ lovable robot pal. Despite being programmed for combat, he still manages to have a cheeky sense of humor. He’s a beacon of hope in the story’s grim mood.
As for the multiplayer, the environments are also gorgeous, but the layouts are a mixed bag. The map called Mayday is a shining example of how beautiful the levels can be. The setting is awe-inspiring, with the battle taking place on a massive bulk of space wreckage being sucked into a terrifying black hole. Where Mayday sucks literally but not figuratively, some of the other maps invert that. Genesis is awful. The map is the been-there-done-that setting of a building complex, light on any environment detail or strategic layout. All the players are meant to congregate in the weirdest of spots: twisting, awkward corners and doorways with little to no cover. It’s difficult to implement any sort of teamwork in this confusing mess of a map. Precinct is also extremely typical. How many generic futuristic city maps can Call of Duty players suffer through before we cry foul? Some of the better maps include Scorch and Frost, two dynamic maps that encourage the use of lateral movements and spawn flips for strategic advantage. Scorch contains a mix of chambers and tunnels full of side entrances and cover points. It’s a layout that keeps teams on their toes, knowing they could be outmaneuvered at any moment. Frost is probably my favorite map in the game, mainly because it’s a healthy mix of dense and open environments. Its glacial corridors are tight and contained, benefiting shotgunners and melee combatants. Its buildings are wide open, allowing for players bearing snipers and heavy weapons to engage across a range. All sorts of strategies are welcome in these superior maps, and they’re the places where multiplayer can shine. Not only do these settings look great, but they’re also a blast for team-oriented gameplay, and that’s crucial to a fulfilling Call of Duty experience.
One map that—in my opinion—falls in the middle of the quality spectrum is the title’s most popular. Frontier is the most claustrophobic map in the game, full of tight turns and narrow corridors. The only strategic piece of the map is a tunnel that takes players across the ship via the underbelly, allowing them to get the jump on newly spawned players. And that’s the problem: spawn killing and flanking happen far too frequently, shootouts are rarely fought face-to-face, and the map encourages speed over skill. It’s a serviceable map for a Free-For-All, but if too many players jump in the blender, the death rate soars. This playstyle has its advantages, but the utter chaos will likely frustrate scores of fans. I can foresee it becoming divisive among players’ opinions, much like Black Ops’ Nuketown.
The map for Spaceland’s zombies combines the best of both worlds, utilizing the strategic layouts of the multiplayer and the attention to detail of the campaign to create a dense, thrilling experience. At times I was genuinely spooked by the unsettling carnival environment, and the scattered Easter eggs had me laughing with joy. Demonic clowns spawn every few rounds, David Hasselhoff mans the DJ booth, and most importantly, there are breakdancing zombies. You read that right. Breakdancing. Zombies. How could it get any better than that? The wackiness is great, but the downside to creating such an outlandish concept is that it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the game. Other than the futuristic weapons, no aesthetic connections can be drawn between zombies and the other modes. The comedic mood is tonally dissonant from the seriousness of the rest of the game. Still, I had so much fun digging up the map’s hidden secrets and goodies that the issue eventually faded into the background.
The game’s sound design is great, especially with regards to the energy weapons and special grenades. Their crisp sound effects separate them from the pack, making them feel like powerful, futuristic tools of destruction. They’re a welcome addition to the slow-motion sound effects, gibberish mid-combat yelling, and constant booming explosions. The voice acting is crystal clear and perfectly synchronized with the character models, complimenting genuine emotional moments. The soundtrack of the game, to contrast, is subdued, and goes largely unnoticed during the bombastic confrontations. When it’s good, though, it’s great. It stands out more prominently in the story’s quiet moments, when it’s arguably most important.
Atmosphere Grade: 21/25
How many shooters were released in 2016? On top of Infinite Warfare, a few major ones come to mind. Overwatch, Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1, and the Doom reboot all released this year. They all have their own growing fanbases, unique appeals, and replay values. The reason these other games stand separate from Call of Duty is that they’re new, unique titles without a history of precluding games to build from. Two of them are the standalone titles, one is a second entry in a franchise, and another is a prequel. Meanwhile, Infinite Warfare is the twelfth sequel in the Call of Duty series. That’s a lot of sequels. This is the fourth campaign to be set in the future, the sixth game to feature zombies, and the thirteenth game of the same old multiplayer. Franchise fatigue set in long ago, and this game does little to set itself aside from past games or any of its competitors. When the world of video games is oversaturated with first-person shooters, the newer, more creative games seem more appealing than an aging franchise fighting to stay relevant.
While the campaign shapes up after the first two acts, while zombie mode is an experience packed with fun, and while the multiplayer will have its undying fans, one still cannot deny that it lacks the type of unique gameplay and thoughtful innovation of its competitors. This would be much more excusable if this was Call of Duty’s first rodeo, but it isn’t. You can’t manage thirteen rodeos without swapping out a few cowboys along the way. This franchise needed some major overhaul, something to shatter the formula, and Infinite Warfare didn’t deliver.
The experience is fun. It’s honestly one of the series’ superior entries. However, its lack of creativity and innovation makes it a title that seems to herald a dying franchise.
Entertainment Value: 13/25