A Review of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Calling Major Tom.
2016 has been a year of hype in the games industry. Summer’s No Man’s Sky is perhaps the best example. It lacked core promised features, and was blasted as a near universal disappointment. If it’s so easy to overestimate how good a game will be, the inverse is equally true as well.
Released earlier this month, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare holds infamy on the internet, with it’s initial trailer being one of the most disliked YouTube videos of all time. Like Biggie said, wealth leads to complications, and Activision has long struggled to keep their cash cow series fresh with each installment. As of 2013, Activision has made $9 billion over the course of the franchise, so the revelation of a half decrease in sales for Infinite questions the future of the series.
The truth of the matter is that the market for this specific style of the genre is saturated, and with the renaissance of arcade style games such as Overwatch, the greater category is equally fierce. When Activision announced an offering that seemed to be more of the same, the market reprimanded them as such. That being said, the collective write off of Infinite is unfortunate, because it’s actually pretty good. Really good in fact. As I said in the opening, Infinite is a casualty of constant speculations of low quality, made worse by issues in the multiplayer beta. If you’re a returning fan, or like me, very detached from the series, you may be pleasantly surprised at what Infinite has to offer.
To the Moon!
If you’re looking for value, the Call of Duty series has always had it in spades. You can spend an infinite amount of time in this game, from an engaging 7ish hour single player, to an endless set of multiplayer battles.
The single player this time around is fantastic. The usual Call of Duty campaigns have been digital Michael Bay films; about 3 hours long and visually disorienting. Infinite breaks this trend by focusing on a compelling cast of characters, and themes of sacrifice. It’s a slower burn. Interspersed between the big set pieces are moments of character conversation that bring humanity and depth. To keep the pace brisk, there aren’t too many of these points, but I think not adding more of these sections was a missed opportunity. The already great characterization would be much stronger with more optional interactions, around the hub world (aside from a handful of audiologs that are present). The high level plot isn’t revolutionary, but the story is well crafted and the little details make for a satisfying tale. The best way to describe it is like playing through a season of a science fiction serial like Stargate or Firefly. The series of events is relatively straightforward, but the character moments and themes take centre stage.
The player takes on the role of Nick Reyes, a member of the allied space navies of Earth. Due to the actions of a competing spacefaring faction, the Settlement Defense Front, Reyes becomes the captain of one of the last remaining Earthen battleships. The story sees you voyaging throughout the solar system, attempting to hold off invading enemies on key worlds and in space dogfights. Conceptually, the best aspect is the tone. Reyes and his crew aren’t on a typical Call of Duty mission. Their victory isn’t defeating the entire enemy force, but rather distracting it long enough for Earth to regroup. The odds are always strongly against the protagonists, and tension on their doomed mission grounds the story.
For once the story is actually about the call of duty.
In a strange, but welcome, turn, Infinite eschews a linear narrative for a more open mission select. The player chooses battles from the ship they command, and can complete a variety of main story and side objectives. The main quests take the form of traditional action gameplay, whereas the side missions offer interesting takes on the stock formula. Fantastic ideas can be found in these side missions, such as stealth take downs while drifting in an asteroid field, or depressurizing an enemy ship. Coupled with additional optional fighter jet quests, there’s a great deal of variety in the campaign. The optional content nets your character extra perks, items, and upgrades so there’s always incentive to branch off.
As a whole, the story mode is quality, however I do have one major criticism of the plot. There isn’t really an explanation for the villains’ motives. They do evil things and want to destroy Earth, but there’s never really an elaboration as to what their reasoning is.
Gameplay wise, there’s a ton to like. As mentioned before, the player spends about a third of their time in large scale space battles. Generally, these quests involve taking down enemy ace pilots, or knocking out giant battleships. They’re entertaining for the most part, and forgiving enough to avoid frustration. Eventually, it is noticeable that they do lack complexity, but by the time that thought enters your mind, the game is nearing its end. The balance of time is spent on the ground in first person combat using a variety of future weapons. Strangely, items in a future with FTL travel are very similar looking to our own, and design hasn’t changed much. Aesthetic gripes aside, the gameplay is frantic and enjoyable, but some of the locations lack a sense of verticality which makes mobility features (like a jetpack) less useful.
The best way to play Infinite’s campaign is through the “Specialist” mode. At this difficulty level, enemies are a lot tougher, and health regeneration is turned off. Players need to manage health syringes, and protective helmets along with fighting off enemies. Additionally, being damaged in different body parts can inhibit your movement, or knock items out of your hands. It’s a very rewarding level of challenge, and warrants a second play through.
1v1 Me in Space
While I’ll repeat that the story mode is excellent, multiplayer for many is the main draw of the franchise. On the cooperative side, there’s Zombies in Spaceland. Set in an 1980s amusement park, this version makes the zombie mode a little less dreary with a cheesy story and colorful setting. The soundtrack here stands out. There’s something inexplicably charming about fighting off a horde of undead to Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees.
Call of Duty’s multiplayer is perhaps the most contentious aspect of the series. At this point, either you love it or hate it. It’s smooth, fast paced first person combat, where one moment you’ll feel like a boss racking up a streak, and the next minute you’ll throw your controller across the room in frustration. Personally, I find it enjoyable in small doses. Once you get into a rhythm and feel more proficient with the game systems, it can be very satisfying.
Customization is robust, though hampered by the antiquated progression system. This is mostly personal preference, but I’m not a fan of perks and items being locked behind player rank. I would have preferred the ability to unlock specific perks and gear at my discretion, as opposed to unlocking a bunch of equipment I didn’t care for to reach something I liked. There’s also an element of randomness, as better versions of default gear can be unlocked through loot drops. I didn’t find it too frustrating, but your mileage may vary. There’s potential to create some unique load outs with the “pick ten” customization system from the last game, and the new addition of “Rigs”, but you’ll need to put in some time to access all the options. If you’re a fan of the progression systems though, this critique probably won’t affect your experience.
The multiplayer arenas are a mixed bag. Some such as Mayday have a variety of sight lines with various flanking opportunities. Others such as Frontier are very partial to specific strategies, such as sitting in in the back and taking potshots.
Weapon balance in these games are always prone to continuous change. At the time of review, the K-BAR seems a tad too good at everything. Subsequent patches will most likely change the whole state of the multiplayer game, as balance is tweaked.
Infinite Warfare is a good game that’s received a bad rep before it even launched. The game is a complete experience with hours of content, and an excellent single player campaign. While the core concepts of the plot will be familiar to sci-fi fans, the narrative is executed well. The multiplayer is fully featured, but not particularly innovative or inventive. More risk in the storytelling and gameplay departments could have built on the foundation of new ideas introduced here. If you enjoy a good yarn, a well made action game, or getting the most out of your dollar, definitely consider picking this up.
While trying to make a name for yourself in competitive multiplayer, try some of these tunes.