The reveal trailer for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is the second-most disliked video on Youtube – right behind “Baby” by Justin Bieber. Only half as many hated the game’s reveal, but that’s still roughly 3.5 million people that thought Infinity Ward’s latest entry to the series was lacking.
That this video garnered so much hate isn’t really surprising. The Activision marketing department has always had a penchant for sensationalizing war in all the wrong ways. To many, the highlight of the video was the remaster of Modern Warfare – a game which many considered to be the high point of the Call of Duty series.
My personal journey with Call of Duty started, and ended, in College. I played the first and second games on PC, then began to shun the series when Activision shifted focus of the series to consoles (I was one of those guys in college). Modern Warfare was the last game I played.
So, after almost 10 years, is Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare a worthwhile return to the series?
Unintended Side Effects
My wife is a fan of the Call of Duty series, so when I bought her a PS4, it was the bundle that included Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare Remastered. I figured that since the game was included, I’d give it a try. After all, I didn’t have much else to play at the time (there wasn’t much out near the beginning of February and I was biding my time until February 28, when Horizon Zero Dawn was scheduled to release).
So, I took the game to my surround-sound-equipped game room and prepared myself for a mediocre experience.
But after a brief explanatory cut scene, the game drops the player on the icy surface of Europa where the Settlement Defense Front (a Martian military organization) has attacked a weapons facility belonging to Earth’s military forces. Honestly, I can’t think of a more impressive way to begin a game.
Call of Duty has always had a narrow focus, and the battlefields presented have always been places that players could potentially see as familiar. But in the opening moments of Infinite Warfare, Infinity Ward strives to alter the player’s perception of what can be expected from the newest offering in the series. This very much isn’t the Call of Duty that veteran players have come to expect. And, while the trappings of what make the game a Call of Duty title are still present, everything else strives to define the game as something more.
And I like it.
There’s some RPG in my FPS
First and foremost, Infinite Warfare is a first-person shooter. But Infinity Ward has tried their best to add a dash of something new to the formula via side quests and character upgrades. During the intermediate portions of the game, the player is given the option to undertake a small selection of optional missions across a variety of locations spanning our solar system. Each mission features a unique, self-contained story, and a reward.
The rewards come in three varieties – Suit Upgrade perks, weapons (or weapon parts), and Jackal upgrades. Perks are passive skills that are automatically applied to the player’s character. They help in a variety of ways, but are never mentioned again after being rewarded. Weapons and weapon parts are more obvious rewards that impact gameplay more significantly. More parts means more weapon customization. And, while the game will suggest a load out at the offset of each mission, having more options allow player’s to put a more personal touch on their playthrough. The Jackal is the player’s personal space fighter, and while customizing it is possible, there is a severely limited number of options available.
Overall, the RPG elements are shallow, but they imbue the game with a sense of freedom never really offered in a Call of Duty title. There’s choice, even though, at times, it is more of an illusion than anything else. Either way, I welcome Infinity Ward’s willingness to experiment with loosening their reins on the player.
As I mentioned before, the intermediate portion of the game allows players the opportunity to undertake a variety of side missions. I want to take an opportunity to talk about this aspect of the game again simply because of how remarkable it actually is.
The Call of Duty series has never really been known for open level design or player freedom. In fact, I’ve heard many of the titles described as “on-rails first-person shooters”. Largely, this was due to the developer’s desire to maintain frenzied firefights, and funnel harried players into well-executed set pieces.
To a degree, this title has maintained similar pacing during main story missions. But it feels like Infinity Ward has tried to do away with these common strictures when it comes to the optional offerings. While each side mission has its fair share of frenetic firefights, other approaches are made available. Stealth is a viable option, and more than one side mission encourages the player to sneak through an enemy vessel. Or pick off unsuspecting enemies one by one. It’s no fresh mechanic by any stretch of the imagination, but to see it implemented here, even in a rudimentary fashion, feels like a step in the right direction. And, though stealth is really the only alternate approach offered the player, the choice to go without still remains – if the player feels brave enough.
Besides that, the self-contained story of each side mission feels much more developed than the cloned elements of many modern games. There’s something different about most of the side missions available in Infinite Warfare. I say most because the armory missions require breaking into the armory of an assorted number of enemy vessels. These scenarios generally play out the same, with minor variations thrown in depending on the weapon retrieved.
Level design is, perhaps, the only thing that holds the missions back. While most are unique, some aspects of the ships that are visited repeat enough times to be noticeable. This point could easily be explained by the fact that enemy cruisers are of the same make and model, but that excuse begins to wear thin when you’ve seem the same rooms and corridors half-a-dozen times. Luckily, there are enough other locations to visit that “armory” and “Jackal” missions could be parsed out and digested in manageable doses.
Still, side missions of such generally high quality in any FPS are welcome.
Once all the side missions have been completed (because there aren’t so many that players wouldn’t take more than a few hours to chew through them all), there’s the main story to consider. Overall, it’s standard fare for a FPS of Call of Duty caliber.
Missions typically send the player through tight corridors littered with angry combatants. Firefights are punctuated by short bouts of silence just long enough to reload or re-equip with weapons from fallen foes. Nearly every main mission is accompanied by a set piece of some kind. But, again, Infinity Ward has done a good job of trying to vary the types of things they throw at the player. Each is unique. Intense.
But even though every mission is a roller coaster ride of adrenaline and emotion, the campaign is tragically short. Just as the game felt like it was starting to hit its stride, the inevitable wind-down to a final confrontation began. Far too early, in my opinion.
The Future of Pew Pew
Much of that disappointment came from knowing that my time with such a well polished title would soon be coming to an end. While I play plenty of first person shooters, most tend to lean far more towards the RPG end of the spectrum.
Yet, as we all know, Call of Duty is a FPS before anything else.
When I abandoned Call of Duty in college, I quickly shifted to the contender – Halo. For many, Halo is the benchmark of the FPS genre. And, even today, the series is a powerhouse. The newest title in the series – Halo 5 – continues the trend with solid game mechanics, and insanely tight handling. But after playing Infinite Warfare, Halo 5 feels slow. Sluggish.
It seems that, along with the flashy environments, Infinity Ward decided to add some flash to the gameplay. The mechanics are solid and the controls are tight, but there is speed and fluidity built into the system. Aiming is crisp, and the trigger pulls on each weapon feel responsive.
And combat is even better when zero gravity levels are introduced. There’s really nothing like grappling from point to point on the outside of a massive capital ship, while blasting enemies into the void. Or, occasionally, smashing their helmet visors with a well placed punch. These brief sections of gameplay were an unexpected delight, once I managed to get past the disorientation of not being planted firmly on the ground.
Then, there are the dog fights.
I can’t say that Infinite Warfare comes close to iconic titles like Freespace, but the fact that dog fighting was even included deserves some kind of recognition. Like a gold star sticker. Or a cookie.
More often than not, the space battles feel like an arcade game when compared to everything else, but these interludes are fun jaunts that add a lighter element to an otherwise serious title. One thing that did strike me about the fighter portions were that the sense of scale seemed completely incorrect. Capital ships had no sense of size next to the Jackal that I was flying. And debris never really seemed as large or intimidating as I expected it should.
All that glitters…
So far, I haven’t said many negative things about Infinite Warfare, but there’s plenty the game could do better.
For instance, while the main story has many interesting engagements, the overall narrative is far from engaging. At one point, I took a break that lasted almost a month before coming back to the title – that’s a dangerous problem for any game to have, because loss of interest in one title can very quickly translate to lack of interest in the next.
Weapon selection also felt rather hamstrung. There are quite a few to choose from, and each has a litany of customization options. But, more often than not, a few weapons rose to the surface as obvious choices. This meant that, as the campaign progressed, I felt compelled to stick with the suggested load out simply because those were the weapons I typically wound up wanting to use anyway.
Finally, there are some really strange cameos in the game. Anyone who has watched trailers knows that Kit Harington plays the game’s main antagonist. It’s cool to see familiar actors in roles like this, but I can’t help feeling that it could have just as easily been filled by someone else (I also have a hard time taking Kit Harington seriously after seeing 7 days in Hell. And, if you haven’t seen it, you should go do so now.).
Also, for some reason, Claudia Black shows up. Throughout the course of the game, she only really has a handful of appearances that seem like nothing other than an opportunity to let the player know that the game is a big budget title – “Check it out guys…we got Claudia Black to be in our space game!”
I have a few other gripes, as well. Like the fact that the entire campaign is supposed to happen on a single day. And the fact that the game constantly prompts the player to view new upgrades and equipment by visiting the ship’s armory, but never gives the opportunity to do so before pre-mission load out prep. But complaints like that seem rather shallow in the grand scheme of things.
Infinite Warfare is far from perfect, but there’s a lot to love. After years of trading off with Treyarch Studios, it feels like Infinity Ward has really made a run for the fences with this title. And I have to say that I’m really impressed with what they’ve delivered.
I honestly never thought I’d play another Call of Duty game, but I’m really glad that I accidentally did. The saddest part is that I probably won’t have an opportunity to play something similarly delightful in the future.
Due to generally poor reception, Activision has handed development of the next game to Sledgehammer, saying that the studio will take Call of Duty “back to its roots”. It’s interesting to note that Sledgehammer co-developed Modern Warfare 3 with Infinity Ward, and was the lead developer on Advanced Warfare. It will be interesting to see where Sledgehammer takes the series, especially considering that Activision has stated that the next game will feature more “traditional” combat. This change of direction has sparked much speculation on the setting of the next game, but we’ll have to wait until later in the year to find out more.
Frankly, I’m disappointed. I understand that Infinite Warfare had a less than stellar reception by critics and fans, but that doesn’t mean that this title couldn’t have been the start of something new and interesting for the franchise. As it stands, it won’t be. And that’s sad.
I really hope that Infinity Ward is given the opportunity to experiment with what they’ve created in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Simply because there’s so much good that can be refined and expanded upon. But even without it, the title stands on it’s own as a solid sci-fi FPS. It may not win any GOTY awards, or stand as one of the best sci-fi FPS games ever made, but it will definitely scratch an itch if you’re in the mood for a title that takes war out of this world.
Note: Screenshots from the PS4 version of the game.