Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 15.11.2016

Review for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare on PlayStation 4

It feels like the knives have been out for Infinity Ward for quite some time, now. Despite fathering the whole Call of Duty phenomenon and unleashing the game-changing Modern Warfare on an unsuspecting public (a review of the Remastered version to follow shortly) it still seems there is some residual doubt on whether its latest addition to the series, Infinite Warfare would deliver the goods. This is largely down to Ghosts, the team's previous franchise entry, which proved to be fairly unpopular due to its pedestrian 'by the numbers' campaign, coupled with a soulless, uninspiring multiplayer component. Now, of course, Activision has three different COD developers doing shift work over a three-year release schedule, so, in theory, that extra year in Infinity Ward's combat oven should make the world of difference to the end product. Right?

The future sounds pretty bleak. Earth has been stripped clean of its resources due to years of intense industrial pollution and an overly expansive growth in population. It's a chilling scenario that actually resonates in the here and now and doesn’t sound that far-fetched given the current climate issues. An organisation called the United Nations Space Alliance (UNSA) is formed to govern space colonisation and oversee the mining of resources on far away planets and asteroids, though these often-remote colonies start attracting the unwanted attention of radical militants who see them as high value targets. Jupiter's moon Europa houses a top secret UNSA weapons facility, which comes under attack from one such faction known as the Settlement Defence Front (SDF), led by a Rear Admiral Salen Kotch (played by Game of Thrones' Kit Harington). A Special Forces response team heads to Europa with a brief to recover the secret weapon prototype and destroy the facility upon extraction, though it's a plan that falls flat at the last hurdle, resulting in Kotch brutally executing the UNSA team before making off with the weapon.

Back on Earth, Commander Nick Reyes (Brian 'BJ Blazkowicz' Bloom) warns Admiral Raines (John Marshall Jones) that this act of aggression from the SDF needs to be dealt with swiftly, but it falls on deaf ears as the Admiral's thoughts are more attuned to the imminent Fleet Week celebrations. As the festivities commence, the entire fleet assembles in Geneva, but the ceremony gets interrupted abruptly by the UNSA's defence systems unexpectedly kicking into action, decimating the majority of the assembled ships and crew in the process, and causing chaos and confusion on the ground. It turns out that an SDF sleeper agent had sabotaged the weaponry systems as a distraction to coincide with a further attack by their flagship (the Olympus Mons) on the remainder of the UNSA fleet orbiting the Earth. UNSA is left with only two ships that are still operational, one of which, the Retribution, lost its Captain and second in command during battle. Reyes takes command of the Retribution and vows to track down Salen Kotch and dismantle the SDF via any means necessary.

Screenshot for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare on PlayStation 4

So, yeah, Call of Duty is now in space. It's quite a significant leap from its World War II roots, and while a lot of people thought that Infinity Ward had finally jumped the shark with this decision, it has to be said that it actually works really well. In fact, it's probably one of the most enjoyable and coherent COD campaigns in quite some time, and has clearly drawn influences from the seminal Battlestar Galactica series. Strands of the now familiar COD DNA are still heavily evident, and Infinite Warfare retains its linearity, tight corridors, explosive set pieces and snappy gunplay, but isn't afraid to throw in the occasional zero gravity/grappling hook combat sequence to mix it up a little. The weaponry and gadgets look and feel suitably futuristic and pack a meaty punch. Reyes is able to add to and upgrade his available arsenal by finding new weapons out in the field or in hidden armouries, which get scanned so they can be replicated back at the Retribution and added to loadouts for future missions. The inclusion of a 'Most Wanted' list of SDF war criminals that increases in size as the campaign progresses is a direct parallel to the US army's use of playing cards during the Iraq conflict, and it cleverly replaces the standard collectible. Gotta kill 'em all!

Considering his command status on the Retribution, Reyes isn't shy about jumping into the fray feet first, thanks in no small part to his tight-knit crew that consist of Lieutenant Nora Salter (Jamie Gray Hyder), Marines Staff Sergeant Usef Omar (David Harewood), as well as robot sidekick Ethan (Jeffrey Nordling). The Call of Duty campaign is known for its linear, point-to-point structure, and while that is still present, there is a certain amount of freedom afforded to the order in which chapters are approached. As intel becomes available, missions open up on a Mass Effect-style galaxy map, and Reyes is able to pick which mission is to be tackled next. While it doesn't change the outcome of the campaign in any meaningful way, it does at least give the illusion of a vast universe full of opportunity, as well as adding a sense of scale to proceedings. Reyes will often have to fly into these missions in his heavily armed Jackal Starfighter to clean out the enemy airspace before being able to dock/land on the current objective, and these tense dogfights add a thrilling new aspect to the gameplay that, for once, isn't on rails. Infinity Ward took a big gamble with this campaign that thankfully paid off.

Call of Duty: Ghosts had a co-op mode called Extinction that focused on an alien invasion of Earth, which was very much Infinity Ward's take on Treyarch's Zombie mode. It seems odd that they've completely abandoned this, as it seems far more thematically appropriate to this whole package over yet another festering chapter involving the restless undead. Nevertheless, 'Zombies in Spaceland' kicks off proceedings and draws heavy inspiration from corny, low budget VHS horror movies that cluttered the shelves of video rental shops back in the day. Renowned yet reclusive horror director Willard Wyler (played by Paul Reubens) holds an audition for his long-awaited comeback movie. The four aspiring actors that turn up for the gig get far more than they bargained for as they are thrown through a black magic-induced portal into a garishly neon 1980s theme park. It seems Wyler's directorial style involved making the action appear as real as possible, and filming these characters react to an ongoing zombie onslaught is as real as it gets. In keeping with the 'classic' stereotypes of the era, there's a nerd (Seth Green), a jock (Ike Barinholtz), a rapper (Jay Pharoah) and, of course, a valley girl (Sasheer Zamata).

Screenshot for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare on PlayStation 4

To escape their rotten predicament, the gang needs to find all the pieces of an ancient artefact called the Soul Key, a fragment of which resides somewhere in the park itself. It's a cliché-heavy setup that doesn't take itself too seriously, while simultaneously providing the option to take the remaining chapters in a multitude of directions. The sprawling theme park itself is huge, has a playable arcade and is all too easy a place to get lost in for the geographically impaired. Getting separated from the rest of the party is a frequent occurrence that more often than not leads to a certain death. Eighties legend David Hasselhoff reprises his role of Michael Knight (sans KITT) and is seemingly trapped on the set himself, though killing the time effectively by taking up DJ duties as the zombie carnage unfolds. He can occasionally be coaxed out of the DJ booth to fight alongside the gang by those in the know (Hint: it involves assembling a robot and performing all the tasks it asks for). One of the many Easter Eggs that await discovery in the park.

One of the major contributing factors in the continued success of the Call of Duty juggernaut has been its multiplayer component. Consistent, reliable, familiar, maybe ever so slightly predictable. It pretty much spawned an e-sports initiative that turned into a multi-million-dollar industry in its own right. Unfortunately, while Infinite Warfare ticks all the right boxes and delivers an online experience that, in essence, handles very much like a typical COD production, it just feels a little bit sterile and bland in execution. It probably doesn’t help that direct competitors Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 both released particularly strong multiplayer outings this year that evolved the genre somewhat, but unfortunately succeeded in highlighting COD’s shortcomings by doing so. That’s not to say this a flawed product by any stretch, but there are no surprises, no real flashes of inspiration and very little in the way of innovation on display here. Call of Duty is at a point now where any slight deviation from the norm or attempts to mix up the formula are usually met with hostility, derision or, worse still, apathy, which, as a developer, is a tough audience to cater for.

Screenshot for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare on PlayStation 4

Infinity Ward has near enough cloned Treyarch’s blueprint for Black Ops III and used it as the jumping off point for Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer, but has then seemingly wandered off in a slightly different direction with it. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the arenas are located in numerous outer space environments that are vibrant in hue and look like they could have been lifted straight out of Destiny. While the momentum ‘slide/double jump/wallrun’ movement system is still the preferred method of traversing the battlegrounds, it's completely at odds with the majority of the cramped, claustrophobic map designs, which actively discourages its usage. It's not that there aren't walls to run along or chasms to double jump across, but the narrow corridors and plentiful nooks employed on the stock maps seem to encourage rampant camping over chained movement. Combine this with the frequently lousy spawn points, which often lead to being shot in the back seconds after re-entering the fray, and... well, let's just say it can be pretty frustrating. Camping is a perfectly legitimate play style that often occurred in Black Ops III, but it was never particularly problematic there as the maps were big enough to work around and flank the troublemaker. Here, though, it can be damn near impossible to get any kind of streak going, as a well organised team can lock down the whole game just by perching near the spawns and objectives.

This time around, there are Combat Rigs that seem to be a mashup of the Specialists from Black Ops and Advanced Warfare’s Exo-suits. Six in total, each of which are optimised to cater to certain play styles and provide both a Payload (a unique heavy weapon that charges gradually during play) and a Trait (an additional persistent perk). In general, the weaponry feels solid and packs a punch; however, Infinity Ward has employed a system that involves using salvage to pay for incrementally improved variations of the guns. Unfortunately, the flow of salvage is slow and minimal, forcing those too impatient or unwilling to grind it out to resort to the 'oh-so convenient' micro-transactions to get the most powerful weapons. It would take some extreme luck, but the opportunity is there to win one of these stronger weapons by spending keys earned during play when visiting the Quartermaster (the equivalent of Black Jack from Black Ops III), but it's hard to get behind any game that hands over the best weapons straight away to those willing to pay for them.

Another minor gripe is that the Drone Drop Killstreak (the Infinite Warfare equivalent of the Care Package) remains locked until level 51 is reached. Being that this gives lesser skilled participants the chance to access the more expensive Kill Streaks they would likely never be able to access via normal play, depriving them of this potential playfield leveller seems a fairly odd decision on Infinity Ward's part. Considering that the majority of matches quickly devolve into a rapid spawn/die loop, earning enough to unlock even the UAV streak (the cheapest) is a minor achievement in itself. In terms of game modes, all the old favourites return, from the classic Team Deathmatch to the more objective based modes, such as Domination and Hardpoint. A new addition for the roster is Defender, a decent take on Halo's 'Oddball' that sees both sides fight over a drone that awards points to the team in possession, with the winner being the first to hit the score limit. The drone carrier is unable to wield a weapon, so it falls upon his team to protect him (hence the name), or failing that, ensure they quickly grab the drone when it's either dropped or reset (which happens frequently to give the dispossessed team a chance to score).

Screenshot for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Infinite Warfare is very much the same slick, expensive looking/sounding, finely honed product that crops up every year, regular as clockwork. No surprises there, really. Maybe it's the COD fatigue talking, but the multiplayer just feels a bit regressive, all told, and the 'pay to win' aspect does a great job of killing any residual enthusiasm to persist with it. In direct contrast, the campaign is the real surprise here, as Infinity Ward has exceeded all expectations and delivered an action-packed sci-fi epic that elevates itself from the usual 'military contractor gone rogue' narrative that the series is known for. Zombie lover? The Hoff is in it... 'Nuff said.

Developer

Infinity Ward

Publisher

Activision

Genre

First Person Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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