The past few years have seen the Call of Duty franchise take a hop, a skip and a double jump into the future, but with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, it’s going even further away from the realism of World War 2 and the modern era that helped make this the biggest name in first person shooters. With this game, Call of Duty is wholly embracing the realms of the sci-fi shooter, bringing its bombastic, cinematic gameplay to a new setting, but Infinity Ward are also trying to push what their game does and what it asks of the player forward.
It’s a relatively familiar feeling sci-fi story, with humanity branching out from Earth and into our solar system, but then finding political tensions rising between those in the fringes and those still back on our home planet. Things come to a head with the Settlement Defense Front launching a surprise attack on Earth and crippling much of the UNSA fleet in the process.
Captain Reyes, your protagonist in the game, doesn’t start as the commanding officer of his ship. His rank is a field promotion borne of necessity, with the captain and XO of the UNSA Retribution killed in a crash, as they took the fight back to the Settlement Defence Force. You’re now in command of one of the very few remaining ships in the UNSA fleet, and that allows Infinite Warfare to do something more than previous games, giving you the ability to make choices and pick the missions you take.
The overall story is linear, Infinity Ward have previously stated, so it’s not heading down path that Black Ops 2 trod with different missions that altered the story’s ending, but you’ll have certain side objectives and missions that you can take on. Just how big an impact these will have, we’ll have to wait and see – these kinds of things are quite difficult to demo in the context of a trade show like Gamescom – but ought to open up the door to a broader experience for those who want something beyond a traditional Call of Duty campaign.
Reyes isn’t your standard ship Captain, being the lead officer of the Retribution’s elite SCAR (Special Combat Air Recon) unit. He’s basically an all round action hero, trained not just as an elite Tier 1 soldier as you might find in the SEALs or the SAS, but also as a pilot for aerial and space combat in the game’s transforming Jackal fighters. He’s got a little bit of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk about him as well, in his determination to make use of his own combat abilities and lead from the very front, going into the danger areas and putting his boots on the ground.
The mission shown at Gamescom sees Reyes leading a small unit on a search and rescue mission to an asteroid facility spinning wildly out of control. An explosion managed to alter its rotation to the point that the sun rises and sets every minute, searing the surface with unimaginably high heat, causing its to melt and bubble into lava. Needless to say, it makes for some spectacular visuals, as you scurry from one building to the next, but that gives way to a darker, more eerie tone, as Reyes and the team fan out to explore the main facility and find the bodies of those working on the asteroid. It’s not exactly clear if this was an accident or intentional, but something’s gone terribly wrong.
Unusually, this demo focussed on these two moments, before cutting to show glimpses of the rest of what feels like a more tangential level to the main thrust of the story. Alongside the above cinematic trailer that was released at the start of the month, these are examples of how the game can lean more towards story and character building, shifting the tone away from the blockbusting action that tends to be the beating heart of a Call of Duty campaign.
Of course, we all know the kinds of action that this series can deliver, and Infinity Ward have shown these moments before for Infinite Warfare. This time last month, they focused on fighting through the streets of Geneva, before easily shifting to orbit and dogfighting in space. There was a similar shifting focus when, back at E3, they showcased an audacious ship boarding action, with Reyes and his SCAR team working their way through the ship’s defences, fighting through zero G on the ship’s hull, fighting through and then scuttling the ship.
That was a mission rather reminiscent of the opening submarine assault on the Hudson River from Modern Warfare 3, and it all happened in a breathlessly seamless fashion, having chosen the mission and launched directly into the fight from the Retribution, which acts as your hub and evolves over the course of the game.
It’s still Call of Duty, in other words, but the way that it’s been wrapped up is new and interesting. There’s a lot of new additions to the traditional gameplay of the series, from the ability to choose the missions you take on, the character dialogue changing tone to respect you as the ranking officer and not the grunt that’s to be ordered around, the zero-G fighting, the dogfighting and especially the interstellar setting. These are things both big and small that could add up to more than a small step forward for the series.