That’s right, it’s Fall. That means it is time for another Call of Duty. You can set your watch to these things. This time around Infinity Ward is back at helm and taking their first swing at the double jumping and wall running that has defined the series for the last couple of years. They’re also taking the campaign into space and doing a zombies mode. It appears zombies is the official co-op mode of choice, and those of us waiting for the next spec ops will have to wait even longer.
Up first we have the campaign. Given the glut of space travel present, you might expect the game takes place in the future. You’d be right. The main thrust of the game is that Earth sent out people to colonize other planets and the like many years ago. A group of those colonies joined together to create the Settlement Defense Force, or SDF for short. The SDF eventually turned on Earth and gained their independence. Now they’re looking for straight up war in order to confirm their dominance.
You’ll control Lieutenant Nick Reyes, a hybrid soldier/pilot in charge of a aerial unit called SCAR. When the SDF attacks Earth and cripples its fleet, Reyes finds himself becoming captain of one of the last two ships remaining. With an impending invasion on the way, the goal is to sabotage the SDF in whatever way you can and save the world. There’s good news and bad news here. The good news is there is a cast of colorful characters in this game. There’s Salter, your second in command, a robot named Ethan, a feisty deck boss, and more. They exude charm and you’ll want to get to know them better. The bad news is that you won’t get that chance. You can’t explore your ship or talk to your crew at will. They will get scripted lines during scripted moments and that’s it. This makes it hard to get attached, and you’ll care a lot less when the story gets in the mind to start killing them off. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t deliver at all on the early promises that these interesting characters make.
As for the overall plot itself, it’s standard action fare with a hint of tragedy. The SDF is lead by a comically evil Admiral played by Kit Harrington. He shoots his own men to make a point to a guy he’s about to kill anyway, he targets civilians even while his troops are engaged with enemy forces, and he preaches genocide to anyone who will listen. The game doesn’t go for subtlety. The only thing keeping the story from being a complete write-off are those characters and a fun circular plot thread that I won’t spoil. It’s just too bad the game feels so rushed, as being able to explore the characters and the various themes the game wants to talk about would make it much better.
As you might expect, the online multiplayer is back and is up to mostly usual things. You have standard modes such as Free-For-All and Team Deathmatch, along with core and hardcore options for several of them. There are two new match types this time around. First up is Frontline, a TDM variant. In this mode, both teams have specific spawning points that are cordoned off with shields. You’ll always spawn inside your camp, and you’ll start with some armor that wears off over time or after you leave. This means enemy players can’t camp your spawn, and you always have a safe space to start each life. This is a great new option for those tired of dying mere seconds after they respawn. The other mode is Defender, and it is less impressive. The goal here is to grab a drone and hold onto it to score points. All player can see the location of the drone at any time, and the player holding it can’t use weapons or equipment. While this sounds like a fun version of Capture the Flag, it has quickly become the preferred match type for those looking to rank of quickly. Skilled teams will score some points and then camp the drone. This allows them to rack up kills without having the match end until time runs out. It’s kind of frustrating.
Unlocks in multiplayer have changed a bit as well. You still unlock new guns as you level up, and pick up attachments as you use each gun. Playing matches gets you unlock keys and scrap. Unlock keys are used to get supply drops which might contain new camo, taunts, guns, and other gear. Scrap is used to buy guns. The guns you buy and unlock are upgraded versions of standard guns, with different tier levels offering up extra choices. The new guns are a straight up improved, meaning more experienced players (or those who spend on micro transactions) will have an advantage. It’s not a huge advantage, but that doesn’t make it less frustrating. There are also a handful of different “rigs” that are essentially like the characters from Black Ops III. You pick a rig and then create your class. The rigs unlock different customization options as you level them up and have different payload options for special abilities. It’s functional.
Finally we come to zombies. The zombies mode at launch contains a single map that takes place in a space-themed amusement park. Up to four players work together to fight waves of zombies, unlock more parts of the park, and ultimately try to collect special items that allow them to escape. You gain experience as you play and unlock new weapons, perks, and starting gear. You’ll earn keys in this mode too, and the items you get from drops carry over to the standard multiplayer. So at least you’ll progress no matter which mode you go with. As usual, the mode is full of Easter eggs and special touches that will require players to explore and experiment if they want to find them all. The more playful map as well as the DJ (played by David Hasslehoff) that comments on your progress make it one of the more fun starting maps in recent memory.
Visually, the game is as strong as ever. The characters are crisp and well defined, the animations breath life into them, and the space explosions look fantastic. The art design really stands out this time around, as the various levels and maps you play on are full of color and interesting details. From a ship being pulled apart to a retro town in the middle of a future city, you might find yourself stopping once in a while to enjoy the view. Then you’ll probably die. But still! The campaign has a few too many repeating designs though. Since you have optional missions that involve boarding the same types of ships or fighting the same types of enemies, it gets repetitive quite quickly. While it might make sense for ships to have similar if not identical layouts, it makes things less interesting. Still, this is a good looking game from top to bottom, and it runs well on the PS4. It’s hard to ask for more.
The more somber tone of the story lends itself to a more somber soundtrack. Expect less hard rock and more dulcet tones. That carries over to the characters as well for the most part, as the gravity of the situation they’re in keeps several characters from getting too chipper. The exception is Ethan, and he shines as a result. The cast is good though, and it’s another case of wishing there were simply more to the story, as the performances could have carried the emotions the writers were hoping to convey. A particularly interesting bit during the end credits proves this quite well. Beyond that, it’s a cacophony of gun shots and explosions. You’re almost certainly used to it now and it sounds just like you’d expect. There are some new energy based weapons that add some diversity, but this is pretty par for the course.
Call of Duty remains a run and gun style of first-person shooter during online segments, and a more cover based affair during the campaign. There have been no changes on that front. The controls are also standard. You move and turn with sticks, aim and shoot with the shoulder buttons, and so on. The jump pack returns, allows you to get extra lift, double jump, and run on certain walls. The controls are fairly intuitive and you’ll be zipping along like a pro in no time.
During the campaign, you have some new mechanics to worry about. First are dog fights. A big key to the game are battles involving your space fighter. It controls much the same way as you normal shooting, but the movement is stickier and the weapons are much bigger. You pretty much have free reign during fights, and the goal is usually to shoot down enemy ships. You can lock on with a shoulder button, which will track on an enemy and help guide you to keep them in sight. If you bump into objects, you don’t simply die. Instead you bounce off, lose momentum, and lose a bit of health. This means you don’t have to keep too close an eye on your surroundings. These segments are fun but short. There’s not much variety to what you do, so that’s probably for the best. However, they look and feel great, which makes them a definite plus to the experience.
The other big new edition to the campaign is zero-gravity fighting. During these, you can’t move as freely as you’d like. You float around, with the ability to rise and descend, rotate, and thrust forward. Enemies typically hide behind protruding ship parts and asteroids, and cover is less available to you. The cool part is a grappling hook you get that lets you anchor to solid objects as well as to enemies. The latter part of the mechanic is great for unique instant-kills as well as moving you forward quickly. It’s a great addition.
You have some freedom in the campaign. While you will always have a story mission you can complete, you’ll typically have a few side missions you can tackle as well. You don’t have to do these, but they reward you well for completion with new gear and upgrades. Not only do these missions let you play around more with the new mechanics, they also greatly extend the length of an admittedly short campaign. If you do them, expect to get another two hours out of the mode. The catch is that there will be a point of no return in the campaign, and you’ll have to start over again to take any missions you missed.
Like with any Call of Duty, this one lives and dies with the familiar. The story missions run the typical checklist of big moments, tight corridors, and a special mission or two. The online and zombies gameplay remains what you’d expect. The map designs and level designs are functional, but nothing really stands out as spectacular. There’s no real “wow” moment that will have you telling anyone who will listen to pick the game up. If you’re fine with that, the game offers a solid package with quality content and great value. If you were hoping for something new, the setting is nice but not enough. Call of Duty is simply lacking in innovation at this point.
Short Attention Span Summary
Infinite Warfare delivers what you’d expect from its online components. It offers the same modes and the same progression system with minor tweaks that you’ll either appreciate or dislike greatly. The campaign does some new things, but nothing truly creative. The story lags behind because it’s afraid to delve deeper into its various themes. The good news is the game is solid and entertaining throughout, and will continue to offer value for dozens of hours if you get into it. The bad news is that it doesn’t feel like this game is anything special, which is not good at a time when gamers are being inundated with quality titles. If you’re a loyal fan, you’ll enjoy it. If you’ve moved on to other things, this won’t bring you back.