If there is one thing you can be sure of with Call of Duty; it will provoke opinions. Not all of them positive, and for the latest entry, Infinite Warfare, the welcome was anything but warm. The reveal trailer was crowned as the second most disliked video on YouTube ever. Not the sort of feat you like to boast about.
Typically there is a lot of hatred prior to launch. Either the game isn't innovative enough, or it strays too far from what Call of Duty ought to be. For some reason they still tend to sell a lot, and perhaps the negativity at the reveal can be turned into a positive. We entered the review session with an open mind.
Infinite Warfare tells a story of mankind being forced off its rock to find resources on other planets to sustain itself. Rebel forces (SDF) led by Admiral Kotch are trying to wrestle for power over these resources with an end goal of assuming control of Earth and all of humanity. During the annual UNSA parade on Earth, rebels strike. All of Earth's defensive forces took part in the parade and the attack dealt a devastating blow. One of those who fell was our protagonist Captain Reyes' superior and so Reyes finds himself at the helm of the massive warship, Retribution, and its crew.
That's a major change. We're no longer just a grunt, one of thousands on the frontline. We're their leader. We have to make the hard choices and live with the consequences. Reyes in an idealist who wants to get his soldiers safely back, no matter the cost. Unfortunately war has a way of beating idealism out of you, and even if he comes in with noble intentions, he'll have to make some tough decisions if Earth is to be saved.
There is a sense of gravity and responsibility towards the soldiers and civilians caught in the middle. We quickly felt for the characters, here so full of life and personality. It's a heart wrenching, beautiful and inspiring tale that was helped on by beautiful graphics where cutscenes and gameplay seamlessly melted together.
You'll come face to face with the ugliness of war, and the story reaches new depths in our opinion. There may not be many who play Call of Duty for its story or campaign, but we would have wished that this deeper narrative would have been presented at a more leisurely pace. Everything happens at incredible speed. Captain Reyes, for instance, goes through more evolutions in a single cutscene than most characters do over the course of a full game. It feels rushed and there is no time to breathe and take it all in.
Infinity Ward has also worked to expand player freedom. Even though it is still a linear story, you now have the option to take on side missions. You can choose to go on Ship Assaults where you infiltrate hostile ships. You're encouraged to do this as stealthily as possible. Sneaking with your knife in hand and performing silent takedowns. But you always have the option to go loud. So if you're like Han Solo and prefer a straight fight, that's entirely up to you. These side missions offer the game some added variety and offer a break from the action packed shootouts of the main story. There is another type of side mission as well where Captain Reyes boards a more agile craft, a jetfighter called Jackal, and take part in a dogfighting scenario where you take on enemy fighters.
Much of the criticism the game has gotten is down to its sci-fi approach. Something that's easy to understand. When dealing with sci-fi it's easy to lose your footing and over-complicate things. But the futuristic approach in Infinite Warfare never goes too far. It's not overly complicated and the weapons come across as being grounded in reality. Infinity Ward achieves a great blend of a timeless tale and a sci-fi setting.
In great contrast to the single-player campaign is the Zombies mode. With a new look that is more colourful and silly, co-op makes its return. And the zombies totally pull of this new look. The story kicks off with four hopeful actors arriving at an audition for a part in the famous horror director Willard Wyler's comeback flick. What they don't know is that the audition will play out inside a movie called Zombies in Spaceland, set during the '80s. That means zombies in neon coloured pants, crazy hair and sporting lovely legwarmers. And if that wasn't enough everything happens in a closed down theme park, and you'll need to power it back up. This theme park might just be the biggest map the mode has ever seen.
Through your travels in the park you can come across David Hasselhoff behind the soundboard, providing you with some of the greatest hits of the era. And how about a trap made out of a boombox that forces the zombies to bust a move until they explode? The theme park is stuffed with so many fun and crazy elements and Easter eggs that it was impossible to experience them all inside the hours we spent with the zombies for review. Great fun was had.
While this mode isn't known for its visuals, it should still be noted that coming from the beautiful single-player campaign and directly into this mode, was something of a letdown. There's a big gap, and while Zombies are perhaps best seen as a side dish to the main courses of campaign and multiplayer, we still wish it had looked better.
That takes us to the multiplayer. The futuristic setting offers access to wall-running, boosting and powerful weapons of the future. We've all heard complaints that these elements screw up the multiplayer experience, as players are just flying around or running crazily across walls, but these elements have been balanced better this time around and there wasn't the same sort of confusion. We can't guarantee that you won't hate these elements in Infinite Warfare if you didn't like them before, but there is a chance you'll enjoy them more here. The matches are still very fast paced, which is a big part of the Call of Duty ethos, and an improved balance of the abilities makes for a more enjoyable experience.
One of the new elements in the multiplayer are the six new classes called Rigs. The six Rigs have three unique passive skills that you can unlock and choose from, as well as three active abilities called Payloads. You start off with three Rigs: Warfighter, which is the most basic Rig, Merc, the heavily armed, defensive type, and the Synaptic, the robot best suited for the players who want to mix it up in the midst of the battlefield. As your level rises, you will unlock three further Rigs called FTL, Stryker and Phantom, each encouraging a different play-style.
By choosing these Rigs and their passive abilities as well as their Payloads you can greatly adapt these to your chosen playstyle and there really isn't anything better than unleashing your Payload once it's ready. An example of this is the Synaptic's Equalizer, which is two built-in machine guns that can pierce your enemy's armour in record time and our favourite, FTL's Eraser that pulverises your enemies much like the Annihilator from Black Ops 3.
Additionally you're also introduced to a Weapon Crafting system. After every round you're awarded with something called Salvage that you can then use to upgrade different weapons. This doesn't just influence the stats of the original weapon, but also adds special abilities called Gun Perks. These will make the weapons even more powerful in various ways. Through this Weapon Crafting system you get to choose which weapons to upgrade instead of having to wait for it in a Supply Drop. What worries us about the Weapon Crafting and the Supply Drops is that Infinite Warfare could very quickly become pay-to-win. We waited a bit with opening our Supply Drops, which were handed out by Acitivision so we could test the systems. Therefore we played a lot of matches against people with better guns, and it got boring very quickly. So if you prefer to grind your way up to the legendary weapons, instead of putting real money in, you can quickly end up in matches where your enemies or teammates have a clear advantage. Time will of course tell if this is what is going to happen, or if matchmaking is equipped to handle this, which we sincerely hope.
There are lots of new toys to play with in Infinite Warfare. The higher your level, the more stuff you unlock and later in the game you get to play with the spider-like Seeker Grenades that try to attach themselves to your enemy before they explode. And then there are the Black Hole Grenades that seem a bit laughable. They will open up a black hole that sucks your enemies in. Scorestreaks also return with both new and familiar options. When we first saw some of the new bonuses, we really looked forward to unleashing them, but as we finally hit the necessary score to unlock them, they actually seemed a little underwhelming. It's possible that this could be fixed just by buffing them a bit, to make them feel more empowering. You can also unlock new weapons through the new Mission Teams. To start with you get access to just one Mission Team, but you can unlock total of four. Through these you will get challenges that encourage you to try different ways of playing.
When it comes to game types all the classics are present and accounted for: Drop Zone, Infected, Team Deathmatch, Free-for-all, Domination, Search and Destroy, Hardpoint, Kill Confirmed, Gun Game, Chaos Moshpit, Ground War, Uplink and Capture the Flag. But we also have a couple of new modes called Defender and Frontline. In Defender, which is a lot like Uplink, you have to conquer a drone and hold onto it until the time runs out. Frontline is a variation of Team Deathmatch, where both teams have their own base that functions as a spawn point. To get the most points you have to kill the other team in the neutral areas and not in their respective base, which adds a little twist.
The map designs are very successful at creating fast-paced matches. You can always jump head first into battle, but you also get to spawn in peace. Every map offers both big, open areas for head on battles, long corridors with great cover, good vantage points where you can play sniper, and indoor areas where you can sneak up on your enemies. However, if you were to ask us how these maps looked, we frankly wouldn't be able to tell you. That is probably because most are either on or inside space stations and they looked alike. The most important thing is of course that they facilitate great multiplayer, but it wouldn't have hurt had they been more memorable and varied.
There is no doubting the fact that this is a Call of Duty game with everything that comes with it; fast pacing, action-packed firefights, and fluid and well-crafted multiplayer. If you wanted something entirely new and different you're out of luck. Infinite Warfare is not the title that will revolutionise the franchise with baffling new elements and a completely different style. But there's also some bad news for those who were hoping for something that stays exactly the same. Infinite Warfare is its own game. A game we truly enjoyed getting to know and that has much to offer. A single-player campaign with a deep, meaningful story, a Zombies mode with a light-hearted and silly mood, and multiplayer that feels balanced and fast-paced.