Platforms PC (reviewed), PS4, XBO
Developer Infinity Ward
Publisher Activision
Release Date November 4, 2016

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is the latest in the long line of games from the franchise, serving as always as a timely reminder that the end of the year is upon us once more. This entry puts us into the boots of Captain Reyes, a Special Operations Pilot turned starship Commander who must fight back against the super evil Settlement Defence Front led by Jon Snow Salen Kotch.

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There’s also multiplayer, which I’m told is the main reason most people play the annual Call of Duty games. Personally I’ve always been here for the single-player, sticking with multiplayer just long enough to review it before bailing out and never touching it again. I’m sure that will turn a lot of people away from this review. The combination of absurdly fast-paced gameplay with the twitch reflex requirements and constant instant deaths isn’t something that jives with me personally.

Before everyone starts shouting “git gud” at me, I always make a point to check in and see what’s changed. This, however, is a fairly substantial problem in the case of Infinite Warfare on PC. Activision have seen fit to split the PC versions multiplayer communities in two. Those who buy the game on Steam get to play with others on Steam. Those who bought the game from the Windows 10 store (where the game was cheaper than the Steam version) are forced into their own ecosystem.

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Given that a substantial number of players have thus far ignored Infinite Warfare for the hotly anticipated Modern Warfare Remastered, or purchased the game just for that, and the PC multiplayer population is abysmally low. Quickly finding matches in any mode that isn’t Team Deathmatch is very difficult. Combine all of this with Activision’s continued use of Peer-To-Peer networking for its online multiplayer components, which offer no protection against hackers and cheaters, and I simply decided to nope out and wash my hands of the whole situation.

Anyway, back to the real reason I jump on the Call of Duty bandwagon every year – the single-player (yes, people who care about story campaigns in first-person shooters do exist). Infinite Warfare’s campaign is executed in a very intriguing fashion. It’s easily the best campaign the series has offered since Black Ops II, with a decent story wrapped around some great set pieces. Infinite Warfare is a game that wants to shake things up, to make changes to what is a well worn formula.

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Unfortunately, every time it’s about to do something truly different and interesting, it’s snapped back and held in place by the formula it must obey. Infinite Warfare’s biggest problem is that it’s a Call of Duty game, which seems to prevent it from truly branching out and being something wholly worthwhile. It’s not that it’s a bad game, it’s just one I’ve played to the point of overfamiliarity, the the point where even the things it absolutely nails are starting to grow tiresome.

On the surface, it looks as though there are a lot of changes in Infinite Warfare. The biggest of these is the prevalence of spaceflight. Very early on in the game you’re seated in the cockpit of a space fighter and given control, tasked with dogfighting enemies as massive cruisers duke it out around you. It’s an incredible sequence and a visually stunning set piece. Better still, this isn’t even the only time you’ll get to fly, although they’re a bit too on-rails (thanks to an automatic lock-on mechanic) to ever be anything more than mildly interesting diversions.

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Similarly, zero-gravity space combat outside of your fighter offers a great change of pace. They take the form of your standard Call of Duty shooting galleries, but without the benefit of gravity or having your feet on solid ground. Instead, you’ll navigate the empty void, using your jump pack and grappling hook to dash between the cover of asteroids and debris during firefights. Again, it doesn’t feel much different to the rest of the gameplay, as it still feels inextricably CoD-like. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as Infinite Warfare still retains the sharpness and satisfaction of Call of Duty’s gameplay mechanics.

While the levels you’ll tackle are visually distinct, the game doesn’t really let you do anything you haven’t already done 13 times before. The far future, science-fiction setting is a major boon to Infinite Warfare in terms of set piece spectacle and world-building, but in other areas the game somehow still feels like the same old CoD. The weapons you’ll be picking up are the same as before. It may look different but that AK-47 looking rifle still feels like an AK-47, regardless of whether it shoots energy bullets now or not.

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The best example of Infinite Warfare shying away from offering a potentially seismic shift for the series comes in the form of the Retribution. Early on in the game, the player character is promoted and given command of his very own warship. This ship acts as a hub and your base of operations, and it’s from here that you’ll launch your missions. It could have been an interesting and engaging place to interact with other characters and learn about the world at large (Normandy style).

Instead the Retribution is a poorly disguised loading screen, seeing Infinite Warfare simply slamming on the handbrake, disrupting the pace of the game and forcing you through a tedious gameplay section. You chat idly with a crewmate, walk to the bridge and watch a news story, before walking back and selecting a new mission. This new setting gives you access to something new for Infinite Warfare: side missions – fully fledged, slightly shorter missions that see you assault enemy ships either in a fighter or on-foot for customisation rewards.

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However, all these side missions really offer is padding. Thanks to their inclusion this is the longest Call of Duty campaign for a long time, clocking in at around 6-7 hours. If you ignore this side content then the campaign will be considerably shorter. While the side missions themselves can be quite fun to play, with a robust package of options for completion (such as killing an entire conference room of baddies by sneaking past and venting their atmosphere), this time would have been much better spent fleshing out the campaign’s main story arc.

After a quick introduction to the state of the solar system, Infinite Warfare starts out strong – eschewing the traditional training course tutorial in favour of letting you jump out of a spaceship onto the surface of Europa and straight into the action. The main meat of the story sees the good guys being attacked by the bad guys and going after retribution (now I get the name of the ship!). You can tell the bad guys are evil because they’re being led by a face-scanned Kit Harrington who, in his very first appearance fifteen minutes in, shoots one of his own soldiers because…reasons.

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Despite a couple of narrative missteps in the opening moments, Infinite Warfare really does tell an engaging story. Like much of the rest of the game, it’s decent but it could be better. There’s some very interesting material that could have been mined between the diametrically opposite leadership styles of Reyes and lead baddie Kotch. One wants to lead without sacrificing his soldiers, the other believes that his soldiers deaths are worth it if they further the Settlement Defence Forces’ cause.

These themes are never explored thoroughly enough to ever make an impact, with most of this particular story strand being relegated to background reading. While Infinite Warfare does hit some pretty great story beats, touching on themes of leadership and making tough decisions, it seemingly benches what could have been a fascinating character study in favour of a more traditional military narrative. I have no problem with this, as Infinite Warfare’s story is solid (even quite touching at times), but it is disappointing that it doesn’t go all in.

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It’s the schizophrenic gameplay that is, once again, simultaneously the major strength and achilles heel of Infinite Warfare. As in Black Ops III before it, Infinite Warfare features completely pointless features such as jump packs and wall running. While you can perform some pretty impressive maneuvers, levels are not designed around them. In fact, anything other than sticking to cover and poking your head up to make quick shots is actively discouraged.

Only a week removed from Titanfall 2, which painstakingly built all of its levels and set pieces around its rocket-powered parkour maneuvers, Infinite Warfare’s gameplay is an absolute kick in the nuts. You can move with speed and verticality here, but you’ll get slapped back down by levels that are clearly designed for you to keep your feet firmly on the ground. There are so many moments in this campaign where making use of your enhanced traversal abilities will literally get you insta-killed.

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And then there’s Zombies. This year’s Zombies mode transports players to Zombies in Spaceland, a retro sci-fi theme park complete with all the wave-based, co-operative gameplay and absurdity we’ve all come to expect. It would probably be a pretty cool mode if skill and teamwork were the deciding factors in your success, rather than relying heavily on free-to-play-like mechanics centered around randomly unlocked crates and cards that can make or break your survival chances.


Summary

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is a promising entry in the venerable franchise for fans of its single-player campaigns. There are enough attempts to shake up the tired formula that it really does seem like the developers know something needs to change. And while most of the new additions don’t really go far enough to break the mould, their inclusion gives me hope for the future and marks Infinite Warfare as the best Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare 3. It helps that the story is genuinely entertaining, hitting on themes I thought had long since been abandoned by the franchise and doing it really well. It’s the multiplayer that lets the game down. At least on PC, thanks to a terminally low player population and Activision shenanigans that have split the community in three (with the Windows 10 segregation and the release of Modern Warfare Remastered). Even if Call of Duty multiplayer is your thing, I’d recommend staying far away from the PC version of the game.

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