2016 has widely been called as a pretty crap year. People have mourned the deaths of celebrities, natural disasters have struck, politics have been… divisive, to say the least, and Apple decided to kill the headphone jack on the iPhone (but not the Macbook Pro). There have been bright spots, though, and this year has been pretty outstanding for first person shooters and single player.
Sure, there have been some duff notes, but Doom, Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 have given us some of the best FPS campaigns of the last decade. Call of Duty has never been a series that’s shy about reinventing itself, and with its single player in particular, Infinity Ward are pushing off in a new and fascinating direction for the series.
I’m talking about more than just blasting off into space, but jumping from one part of the solar system to another is a big part of the game. There’s plenty of the familiar ‘boots on the ground’ gameplay to enjoy here and you’ll see some box ticking as you play a stealth mission, a vehicular assault, a headlong charge through a city wracked by all-out war, but each of these is touched and changed by being on a different planet or out in the vacuum of space.
Take the obligatory stealth mission, for example – a true staple of the series ever since the iconic ‘All Ghillied Up’. You’re not crawling through thick grass avoiding idle patrols and tanks, you’re floating in zero-G, making sure to stay tucked behind asteroids as enemy spacecraft do security sweeps and drop off small groups of enemies.
There’s a fantastical shift from a planet’s surface to flying in space as you hop into the Jackal fighters, charging up and then boosting at a frightful rate of acceleration into the upper atmosphere. The first time you do this is 40-odd minutes into the game, escaping Earth after a devastating surprise attack on Geneva during the Fleet Day celebrations.
The Jackal is something of a revelation, combining the speed of a fighter jet with the manoeuvrability you have when on foot. All it takes to switch from going flat out to spinning on the spot and gunning down an enemy fighter on your tail is to move the left analogue stick. It’s easy to get to grips with, as you hold a trigger to lock onto and follow a target, while trying to adjust your aim a touch to lead them or waiting a second before you can fire off a homing missile.
It’s a key part to the game’s variety, and you hop in and out of the Jackal fairly regularly. That Fleet Day attack sees Reyes get a field promotion to Commander and given the captaincy of the Retribution carrier. You’re given a degree of free reign to choose the missions that follow, whether you want to head straight to the next core story mission that comes down from central command or make the most of your time and clear as much of the solar system of Set Def forces as possible. These could be five minute Jackal dogfights, or they could be 20-30 minute long levels that could so easily have been part of a more linear campaign. It’s fascinating to have that kind of choice put in your hands.
The backstory has the Settlement Defence Front rising up from a separatist movement on Mars, branching out and forcibly taking control of a number of outposts in the solar system, gradually strangling the vital resources that Earth needs. It’s quite staggering that they’re able to do this for 30 years without any real retaliation, a sign that the UNSA might be willing to celebrate their military, but are crippled with indecision.
Admiral Kotch – spelled such a way to avoid some terribly droll mispronunciation, and emphatically portrayed by Kit Harington – is an equally caricatured villain. Maniacal to an extreme, there’s no space in his head for mercy or compromise. He even demands at one point that you surrender, so that you might be executed. Sure, he’s a one note villain, but there’s a strength and a certain depth within that.
He only appears on a handful of occasions, with the majority of your time spent with a small number of comrades in arms. Omar is your go-to guy, as the Staff Sergeant of the Marines onboard, but you’re just as often joined by Nora Salter, your SCAR wingman, and ETH.3n – or ‘Ethan’ – a new generation of military robot. Ethan’s really the standout buddy for me, getting to be the most amiable and comparatively informal character of the bunch, charming at every turn. Honestly, it’s hard not to fall in love with his character.
There’s a hint of this century’s Battlestar Galactica TV series as you see the Retribution and its crew evolve through the campaign – Lewis Hamilton puts a shift in as an engineer to keep her up and running – and there is a growing feeling of family. You see Gator on the conn, Salter takes up her spot opposite you as you gaze at the map and plan your next step, the deck Chief will often greet you and chat as you head down to the deck to hop into your Jackal or a drop ship.
But as the captain of a ship fighting a guerrilla style counterattack against overwhelming enemy forces, there will be losses. This a war, after all. How Reyes deals with that fact and comes to terms with his responsibilities is at the heart of the game’s story. It’s something that Infinite Warfare doesn’t shy away from.
Come back early tomorrow morning for our full review of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. In the meantime… wouldn’t you like to see us kicking butt in Modern Warfare Remastered’s online multiplayer?