Review: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

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I’ve never been a big fan of military shooters, but I caught the bug with Modern Warfare 2. The ridiculous, over-the-top campaign and the high-speed action of multiplayer kept me hooked for months. I tried to keep the fun rolling with Black Ops but by then the fever had broken, and I went back to my ARPGs and indie pixel art games. Infinite Warfare looked like just the thing to draw me back in, with a heavy sci-fi slant that summoned memories of Space: Above and Beyond and Battlestar Galactica. And while it’s certainly a departure from previous milshooters, it turns out that’s far from a compliment.

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Infinite Warfare is divided into three features, so I’ll tackle each one on its own merits. The biggest for me is the campaign, a battle between the military of a unified Earth and the absurdly aggressive Settlement Defense Forces of the colony worlds. You take on the role of Nick Reyes, an experienced fighter pilot and ground combatant as he leads the fight against the SDF following a catastrophic sneak attack. The battle takes him and his crew to the furthest reaches of the solar system before returning to familiar ground for the final conflict.

Now that the fluff is out of the way, I can run down all the ways that the campaign disappoints. For starters, it’s seven missions long. Seven. And the first one is a prologue mission with unrelated characters. And one of the middle missions is pure filler, almost entirely unrelated to the war. Between the middle missions you have the chance to take side operations that unlock additional perks and weapon attachments to use in the campaign. These are split between boarding raids and deep space dogfights, but are all very short and offer little of the setpieces or moments of awe CoD campaigns are known for. The dogfights are fun diversions but the ship raids have a bad habit of reusing maps and assets which makes them feel like yet more filler.

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The moment-to-moment action feels like traditional CoD, almost to a fault. This being sci-fi space warfare you get all kinds of laser guns and anti-gravity grenades and such, but it’s all used for sniping at foes from cover just like you would with regular guns and grenades. You have jump jets and parkour moves but they’re only used to move from one cover battle to another, never for actual combat. There is one quality gimmick, a hacking tool that lets you take control of enemy robots, though it sees limited use in the short campaign. Even the much-vaunted zero-G sections adhere to the same cover shooting as the rest of the game, and are a terribly brief portion of the gameplay anyway.

In the end it’s the same corridors and shooting galleries you’ve played in previous CoDs, but without the big crazy events or setpieces that make them worth powering through. For all the flash and posturing there is very little going on in Infinite Warfare’s missions, and certainly nothing as memorable as battling through the ruined White House or breaking out of a Russian gulag by helicopter. And don’t expect the story or characters to save this one, because oh my God it is the worst they could possibly cobble together. It’s the future with warp drives and combat robots and everyone is still all “solid copy” and “oscar mike” like they were time warped there from the set of Black Hawk Down. It’s like there was no writer on the game, they just wrote down every military cliche they could think of on slips of paper, put them in a hat, and then dumped out the hat and stitched them all into a barely-functional plot.

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Call of Duty used to be able to count on multiplayer to salvage a terrible campaign, but the long-standing series has fallen on hard times. Player counts are way down even during peak hours, so expect to wait minutes for games and forget about even trying the special modes. There’s also plenty of weirdness going on with matchmaking where full lobbies can be bugged into a permanent wait cycle or you can end up matched to a group that never grows large enough to start the round. And it’s not even a very inviting game for newcomers because of all the elaborate tools and movement options the series has built up over the years.

Once you get into a game you can expect to die, a lot, in ways you never expected. The older CoDs had very short times to kill but were flatter and slower-paced. Characters in Infinite Warfare can double-jump, wallrun, combat slide, and attack from almost any angle imaginable. It’s a heavily skill-based system to be sure but one that can be intensely frustrating to learn, especially with all the special suits and equipment and abilities to contend with. Leveling up to even access the tools you’re being killed with can be a painfully slow process, and sadly all of the really interesting weapons are now locked behind a particularly uncharitable random box system.

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So, the campaign is garbage and multiplayer is a high-speed clusterfuck that hardly seems worth committing to. Maybe the zombie mode is good? Honestly, I haven’t the slightest idea because this is one of the weirdest, most incongruous modes I have ever seen in a game. Zombies opens with a long animated cutscene of four youths being transported to an 80s theme park by Vincent Price. I am not making that up, and the gameplay makes even less sense than the setup. You and any friends you convince to play this thing with have to defend your corner of the theme park from shambling undead, using money earned from the slaughter to buy weapons and ammo and tarot cards and divine intervention and I seriously have no idea what is going on here WHY DOES THIS EVEN EXIST

The most disappointing games to me aren’t the really bad ones, they’re the ones that have tons of potential and waste it all. There is so much that could be done with a serious, AAA-quality approach to space warfare and Infinite Warfare realizes none of it. The brief bouts of zero-G combat and orbital dogfights are broken and scattered by the same cover shooting and overused moments of its predecessors. It’s a gorgeous game with detailed environments and photo-realistic characters but they’re wasted on rehashed plots and military stereotypes. It feels like a terribly rushed game, from the short campaign to the filler missions to the lack of any unique elements in multiplayer. If Activision wants to keep this series going they need to innovate and they need to do it yesterday, because the future is nothing I haven’t seen before.

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