Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Review

  • First Released Nov 3, 2016
  • PC
  • XONE
  • PS4

Wise of the Machines

In Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, the ease of traveling to space is as simple as pulling out of the driveway. This moment, in all its science-fictionalized spectacle, is emblematic of the rest of the campaign. The game's indelible cast has little time to be impressed with advanced technologies; they’re too busy fighting an intergalactic war. This story is Infinite Warfare's showpiece--a rare, finely constructed Call of Duty tale that manages to outshine its multiplayer counterparts, including a highly involving Zombies cooperative mode.

Infinite Warfare's campaign kicks off with a classic sci-fi trope: Earth's dwindling resources motivates and drives humanity to colonize other worlds, but colonization and time give rise to an off-world insurgency. The version of this group in Infinite Warfare--dubbed the Settlement Defense Front--takes an aggressive approach, restricting the earthbound forces' resources with blockades while also racing them to colonize new moons and planets. When you take the controls as protagonist Nick Reyes, you promptly experience the savagery of the SDF firsthand. After the initial dust settles, Reyes undergoes a trial by fire when he's suddenly promoted and given command of his own ship, both while continuing to repel the SDF threat.

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These events reveal Reyes as a vulnerable leader, one who is prone to moments of apprehension or regret. The campaign only lasts five to seven hours, but Infinite Warfare's writers manage to craft meaningful characters with depth that rivals any from the Modern Warfare series. There's Nora Salter, Reyes' dependable ally who, up until recently, was the same rank as Reyes. Another example is chief engineer Audrey MaCallum, who appears for only a few minutes but manages to make the most of her limited screen time. As an ex-captain, she shares her poignant backstory, explaining how she gave up her commission by committing the mortal sin of caring for her crew. Caring and sacrifice are overarching themes that play into this story's key moments.

This sci-fi tale doesn't have any aliens, but its standout character isn't human. ETH.3n (pronounced Ethan), a robotic naval petty officer, represents a new definition of a perfect military warrior: a strong, dependable teammate who can also soften a tense moment. He proves handy in every firefight, but his greatest gift is his wit. He jokes about having a farmer's brain and makes light of the rivalry between the Navy and Marines. At his best, he sounds uncannily human.

Ethan is also your co-pilot and introduces you to Infinite Warfare’s exquisite spacecraft combat. Dubbed the Jackals, the game's highly maneuverable ships cast a silhouette reminiscent of an F-22 Raptor stealth fighter. It's a thrill to chase targets through tight gaps and around columns. The most intense moments occur when enemies match your level of agility and aggression, forcing you to try to shake them off with sharp turns and salvos of diversionary flares. Call of Duty games have always had vehicles, but it's hard to recall one as involving and unforgettable as Infinite Warfare's.

Many military-shooter campaigns are designed with a persistent--sometimes forced--sense of urgency. There's more nuance to Infinite Warfare's flow, where the pressure of an ongoing war maintains the sensation of forward momentum without feeling rushed. Moreover, its writers are wise to avoid the restrictive structure of chapter breaks. While this campaign features clearly defined missions at distinct planetary destinations, the story plays out more like a long film than a 13-episode cable series. One key ingredient to this cohesion and the narrative's invisible pull to press forward is minimal presence of loading screens. This benefit is accentuated in missions where you seamlessly transition from the Jackal to zero-G combat to on-foot shootouts.

Infinite Warfare does not shy away from the cruel indifference of space. I winced at the effectiveness of sending a dozen foes into the vacuum by simply destroying a large nearby window or grappled myself to a string of enemies, cycling through the five or so fatal takedown animations (e.g. cracking the glass of their helmets, activating their grenades before kicking them away). Any momentary sense of guilt was forgotten when I remembered the SDF’s unforgivable actions during the story’s initial hour.

There's more nuance to Infinite Warfare's flow, where the pressure of an ongoing war maintains the sensation of forward momentum without feeling rushed.

The campaign's side missions, while skippable, elevate the overall experience of the single-player mode. Some of these sorties feature the campaign's most memorable assignments, such as an assassination plot where you're disguising yourself as an SDF soldier. The mission partners Reyes with Salter, and the appeal is as much about his banter with the lieutenant as it is about a satisfying opportunity to eliminate some high-level SDF officials. This optional section of the campaign also lets you log additional flight time since half the missions are Jackal operations. Given the limited opportunities to pilot the ship in the main missions, it's a joy to partake in additional dogfights and find ways to sink destroyers, often single-handedly.

The profoundly hostile nature of space is, unfortunately, not something that can be found in multiplayer. It’s disappointing to miss out on the thrill of zero-G combat in a competitive online environment, especially when games like Star Wars Battlefront and Strike Vector affirm its appeal. What you have instead are the usual tournament-ready modes, a familiar playlist of match types that take no chances on new ideas. Defender is Infinite Warfare's version of Halo's keep-away game, Oddball, where it's often more stimulating to defend the ball carrier than be the ball carrier. And Kill Confirmed once again proves its worth as an alternative to team deathmatch – you must run to the spot where your target was killed and grab their dog tag for your kill to count, giving nearby enemies an equal opportunity to beat you to that dog tag--or worse, kill you and steal your tag as well. The result? Tense micro tug-of-wars that you can't find in classic team deathmatch.

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The new online battlegrounds are, unsurprisingly, inspired by environments found in the single-player mode but include a few exclusive locales, like a small Japanese urban center. Much like prior Call of Duty competitive maps, it only takes a few sessions to get the lay of the land, discern the best sniping spots, and discover high-traffic areas. Even the wall-running points are easy to commit to memory. As with the last two Call of Dutys, using walls can give you an edge in avoiding gunfire and catching ground enemies off guard. There's elegance in the simplicity of the maps, although they lack imaginative design, partly due to an overabundance of right angles.

Multiplayer's mid-match and profile progression rely on a classic reward loop that recognizes skill--and the devotion to play matches for hours on end. That includes the return of the UAV, an assault drone that can wreak havoc and rack up substantial kills during a single flyby. Two new notable unlocks, depending on which class you select, are the Eraser--a gun that vaporizes its target instantly--and the Claw, which fires a horizontal rain of ricocheting bullets. These enhancements are welcome bonuses that add variety to the matches and are even useful in the hands of novice players eager to increase their kill count.

Tied to these bonuses are the Rigs, Infinite Warfare's multiplayer classes. Rigs expands on the traditional FPS class archetypes where Stryker serves as the Support class while Phantom is the Scout. Warfighter mirrors the Assault class and it's supported in the frontlines with the high-tech FTL class and the Synaptic robot experienced in close quarters combat. Collectively, these class variants do not add anything substantially new to the matches though they're each worth checking out, even if their roles might fall outside your comfort zone.

Zombies is an amusing contrast to Infinite Warfare's campaign in that this cooperative multiplayer mode is once again bereft of subtlety. It's a caricature of the 1980s, down to the neon-heavy art direction and a rapper in a tracksuit as one of the playable characters. The map and backdrop to these visuals is 'Spaceland,' a futuristically-styled theme park. It is the first of a number of planned Zombies maps for Infinite Warfare, designed as movie settings by a fictional film director named Willard Wyler. In keeping with the '80s motif, Wyler’s voiced by Paul Reubens (best known as Pee-wee Herman), whose sinister voice channels a hint of Vincent Price.

What this mode lacks in aesthetic nuance, it makes up for in strategic depth. Zombies presents a risk-versus-reward scenario where opening up additional sections of Spaceland as soon as possible may not always be the best strategy. New areas contain new gear and zombie traps, but you increase the amount of enemy spawn points and the risk of getting separated from your team. A common benefit to opening up new sections? The attractions that can quash zombies in high numbers, like an arcade with a lethal laser dance floor. There's a positive sense of trial-and-error when figuring out what park-expansion progression works for you and you friends.

By venturing beyond Earth--and not just to other planets, but to space itself--Call of Duty found a canvas to produce its best story in years. It reinforces the notion that a game's narrative is only as good as its characters. Given the campaign's accomplishments in space combat, it's puzzling that no effort was made to replicate its zero-G sensations in Infinite Warfare's multiplayer. Consequently, the well-crafted Zombies mode is a more attractive, time-consuming proposition for those looking to play with friends. While no Call of Duty game has matched the comprehensive excellence of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the exploits of Reyes and Ethan are at least as memorable and moving as any deeds from “Soap” MacTavish and John Price during from the series' heyday.

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The Good

  • Stellar, well-written campaign has an abundance of memorable characters
  • Space-fighter combat is engrossing enough to be its own game
  • Robust selection of competitive online modes are sufficiently supported by esports-ready maps
  • Feature-rich 1980s theme park map aptly kicks off a new season of Zombies

The Bad

  • Lack of multiplayer space combat is a severe disappointment
  • Multiplayer lacks innovation, despite its strengths

About the Author

Miguel spent 8 hours on Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare's campaign and logged approximately 38 hours of multiplayer time, primarily on the PlayStation 4 version and partially on the Xbox One and PC versions. Of those multiplayer hours, 15 were spent at a four-day review event in San Francisco in a closed online environment, while the rest of the time was spent on live servers using final retail code provided in advance by Activision. He has played every mainline Call of Duty release since the first game in 2