Another year, another trio of divergent games united under the banner of a single Call of Duty release. It’s this triple-pronged approach that allows Infinite Warfare to advance the series while simultaneously standing still.
Call of Duty has come a long way since Infinity Ward launched the first game back in 2003. The first several installments in the first-person shooter series focused on World War II before beginning the slow march towards modern combat and beyond.
Fans hoping for a return to historical settings following the futuristic follies of Advanced Warfare and Black Ops III were disappointed when it was revealed that Infinity Ward’s next turn at combat would be set in humanity’s far-flung space-faring future. That’s a real pity, because Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s best moments come when it fully embraces its futuristic setting. If only it happened beyond the game’s single-player campaign.
In the distant future, dwindling resources and population growth have caused humanity to band together and expand into space, establishing colonies and resource harvesting stations across the solar system. Rather than working together for the sake of establishing humanity’s place in the universe, a militant group called the Settlement Liberation Front (SDF) has raised an army with the intent of seizing control of just about everything from the United Nations Space Alliance (UNSA) and its military protectors, the Solar Associated Treaty Organization (SATO).
Long story short, there are mean people to shoot in space.
Game of Thrones actor Kit Harington plays the role of Admiral Bad Guy With A British Accent, leader of the SDF. Early in the game he demonstrates his leadership skills by fatally shooting one of his own men to prove a point. Somehow this curly-haired tree stump has managed to bring together an army massive enough to threaten all life on Earth, and it’s up to a rag-tag band of much more charismatic good guys to halt his evil plans.
The campaign stars Brian Bloom as Captain Nick Reyes, a role that feels like it was written specifically for him. Seeing as Bloom also penned the campaign’s story, that’s highly possible. Joined by an amazing cast of military men, women and robots that includes the magnificent Jamie Grey Hyder and David Harewood (aka Supergirl’s Martian Manhunter), Reyes hops about the solar system aboard a massive capital ship, seeking to stop Harington from having more lines than are completely necessary.
The story feels less like a single compelling narrative and more like a series of situations in which Reyes and crew foster new bonds and reinforce old ones in order to drive home a message about the perils of war: People you like are going to die. Sometimes in space.
We bond with these characters in some of the most gorgeous locations the series has ever visited. We banter on and below the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. We crack wise as we race across an asteroid spiraling dangerously close to the sun. We silently float through the blackness of space towards enemy vessels, lost but for the reassuring glint of the sunlight off our squadmates’ space suits. We participate in massive space sim-style ship battles, casually teasing our mates for not downing as many bogeys.
These new elements—the space battles and zero gravity missions—neatly break up the same old slow and steady ground-based battles that have served as the core of Call of Duty games since 2003. We’re still moving to a spot, shooting until there’s nothing left to shoot and then moving to the next spot. It’s just now the spots are on the moon, or in a spaceship, and in between we’re getting into Wing Commander-esque dogfights.
That was enough to keep me contentedly playing Infinite Warfare’s campaign to the very end, when the credits roll and we’re treated to spoken “I Died” letters delivered to the families of the characters who died along the way.
For its various faults, Infinite Warfare’s campaign mode at least attempts to take the series in a completely new direction. Its online multiplayer, arguably the most important aspect of any Call of Duty release, feels like little more than a reskin of the multiplayer mode from last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III.
We’re wall-running, boost-jumping and sliding our way through another series of maps. Instead of last year’s Operatives, unique characters with special powers, we’ve got special Combat Rigs, which are essentially the same thing only without as much character. Supply drops return, giving players with the means to purchase them a slightly better chance to get special weapons and items than everyone else, though now everyone can save up salvage, a new currency that one day will allow them to unlock the weapons and enhancements they’ve got their eye on as well.
The overall feeling I get playing multiplayer is same shit, different map. Everyone’s still sliding about, ducking and going prone at regular intervals. If you stop moving, you’re dead. If you keep moving you’re dead, only not as quickly.
Given the campaign mode’s new gameplay types, it’s a shame that we couldn’t see more variety in multiplayer. Why can’t we jump into dogfights with each other? Why can’t we take turns infiltrating each other’s capital ships from the outside? Why did we have to continue last year’s multiplayer game instead of creating something new?
Thankfully innovation is alive and well with Infinite Warfare’s third mode, Zombies. While part of me was hoping Infinity Ward would continue the alien saga from Call of Duty: Ghosts, the colorful ‘80s cartoon vibe of Zombies in Spaceland is almost as exciting.
Four actors are lured to an old movie theater, where a has-been director (Paul Reubens) performs a ritual to transport them into an ‘80s horror classic. The actors take on the roles of ‘80s archetypes, banding together to survive 20 waves of increasingly powerful undead assault, all the while attempting to unravel the secrets of the Spaceland theme park.
It’s a kinder, gentler zombies experience, built with newcomers in mind. Teamwork is rewarded, with players able to use ATMs to transfer cash to each other. Bleeding out transports players to an old-style arcade, where they can play various games for a chance to return to the world of the living. While it might not prove much of a challenge to Zombies veterans, it’s a great confidence builder for those new to the game mode (and those who’ve never quite made it to the end.)
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is three very different games. It’s a character-driven military sci-fi action adventure with spaceship battles and a villain carved from the finest cedar. It’s a lighthearted co-op survival game with a bitchin’ period theme and some classic tunes. And it’s Black Ops III’s competitive multiplayer with a fresh coat of paint. I suppose it’s easier to push boundaries if you take them one at a time.