The Call of Duty franchise has taken its wars to a lot of places. From the Second World War to the allegorical middle eastern conflict in Modern Warfare, from the heights of the Cold War to a distant future of human augmentation. Infinite Warfare takes the series to a new frontier – though certainly not its final frontier – blasting off into outer space.
The campaign dives headlong into a conflict between the Settlement Defence Front and the United Nations Space Alliance, with the territorial aggressions of the separatist colony on Mars spilling over into a thoroughly unsurprising surprise attack that wipes out much of the UNSA fleet. Fighting through a Geneva under attack, it barely takes any time before you hop into your Jackal fighter and rocket up the sky for some dogfighting on the edges of Earth’s atmosphere.
It’s a very well done shift as you sweep up into the sky, and it’s a sign of things to come. All the way through the game’s campaign, you’re switching back and forth between putting boots on the ground and zipping around in the nippy Jackal fighters. They’re the game’s surprise package, and it took me a couple of minutes to realise that you’re given the same kind of manoeuvrability as when on foot. You can zoom around like a fighter jet, but a flick of the stick and you’re strafing while raining down fire on a destroyer or spinning on the spot to take down fighters on your tail. It’s so fluid and so easy to get to grips with, aided by the ability to lock onto a target, excellently mixing the new and the old.
But Infinite Warfare leans on this new trick too often. It feels like almost every mission has a segment in which you fly a Jackal, or it’s just a Jackal Assault dogfight, and there’s only so much variety to these shooting galleries. Having had command of the Retribution, one of just two remaining ships, dropped in his lap, Reyes can go after these targets of opportunity or skip past them in favour of following the main objectives. Do that, though, and you’ll miss out on a lot of the game, with side missions often feeling like they could have happily sat within a purely linear game.
The Retribution is always there to head back to and land on once objectives are complete, and each mission is launched from the bridge before visiting the armoury and heading down to the flight deck. The sequence is curtailed for side missions, cutting the time in lifts and stopping you from staring at Lewis Hamilton – appearing here as an engineer – too much, but they give the ship a sense of place.
Like a more straight-laced Captain Kirk, Reyes doesn’t shy away from leading the charge, often accompanied by Omar, Salter and Ethan – a very loveable and charismatic robot that’s perhaps the most human feeling character in the game. Alongside the wider crew, Reyes has to come to terms with losing personnel under his command and learn that the mission comes first. It can often get the tone right as people close to him die, or he has to give an order out of sheer desperation. Those can surprise and hit home, but others just feel callous, whether hollywood clichés or senseless moments.
Overall, it’s quite an effective campaign. There’s not as much control over events as I was expecting to have, the Jackal is trotted out a few times too many, and the sheer number of valiant deaths starts to become morbidly amusing, but it’s where Infinity Ward have really been able to stretch their legs creatively.
In multiplayer, Infinite Warfare adopts an identical form of momentum-based augmented motion to Black Ops 3. On the one hand, that’s a good thing, and this kind of continuity can be reassuring for players in the burgeoning Call of Duty World League, but there’s so much that is practically the same to last year’s game, that this feels like it’s missing that spark of ingenuity.
Nine specialists have been reduced to six combat rigs, but each of these now have three Payload abilities to choose from instead of two. So, for example, Synapse can have twin rapid-fire machineguns for a little while, rewind its place to a few seconds before, and turn into a robot dog and race around meleeing enemies. At the same time, each has three traits to pick, many of which are repurposed perks from the general loadouts.
It’s a sideways step. There’s a lot of reused Payload abilities from Black Ops 3, but now you have fewer distinct character models to spot and be able to guess their ability. Some feel like they need balancing, as well; FTL’s Eraser ability can turn an entire team into a shower of molten dust in seconds. That said, miss a shot or react a fraction of a second too slowly, and a good opponent will take you down in a blink of an eye. Most of the longer term payloads leave you just as vulnerable as in open play, and this is a game with a very low ‘time to kill’.
The first guns available to you are all very neutral and recoil-free, which feels more pronounced in this game than before. The NV4 and the R3K, might as well be lasers, and that’s before any attachments are applied. There are some interesting and fun new guns, though. The Type-2 assault rifle can split in half and turn into twin machine pistols akimbo, while the EBR-800 sniper rifle’s scope can be flipped down to turn it into a fast firing assault rifle, as just two examples.
The apple of every player’s eye will be the weapon variants that can only be unlocked through crafting with salvage or the randomised loot boxes, offering free perks that don’t count toward the Pick 10 loadout. Yes, the keys and loot boxes are back, but you can earn keys quicker thanks to missions to kill certain numbers of players, use certain guns, and so on. These factions are also a path to certain prototype weapons, and it’s a nice impetus to keep you trying different gear as you play.
One of the biggest losses from Infinity Ward’s decision not to follow up with a sequel to Ghosts is that the quite excellent Extinction mode has been dropped in favour of yet another interpretation of Zombies. It’s another reason why Infinite Warfare doesn’t feel as interesting and original as the last few games. And yet… this is a damn good take on Zombies.
As usual, there’s just the one map to sink your teeth into at launch, but it’s vibrant, it’s colourful, and it’s fun to explore. You’ve got to survive waves of progressively more and more difficult zombies in an abandoned theme park, unlocking different areas, discovering secrets and, of course, bumping into the Hoff himself, potentially getting him to fight alongside you.
What makes it stand out is that despite having so many of the same systems and gameplay ideas from Treyarch’s games, it’s also one of the most accessible Zombies maps I’ve played. The park’s layout is pretty easy to get to grips with, with three main areas that split off and interconnect in different ways, and that helps a huge amount, but the best thing for newcomers is that they can run around the map solo and have pop ups that explain many of the things in the game.
Don’t understand what to do with the coins that Zombies are dropping? What are souvenirs? Why’s this thing not powered up? What on earth do I do with this robot’s head? It’s these kinds of things that are made clearer.
Even death is made friendlier, as you’re now set to a little game room while your Soul Meter recharges, instead of forced to spectate. That doesn’t mean the game is now easy. Far from it, trying half a dozen times, we died each time when the big alien monster showed up around the 10th wave, give or take. Such a brick wall of difficulty is always going to turn people away from the mode.
Sadly, despite setting off to explore new settings and backdrops for its blockbusting action, Infinite Warfare finds itself treading in the footsteps of others. The campaign is a good and refreshing twist of putting you in command and having you dogfighting in space, and Zombies is the most accessible rendition of the mode yet, but turn to the multiplayer, the beating heart of any COD game and we’ve been here before.
Version tested: PlayStation 4