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Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Review

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare isn’t the best Call of Duty has ever been, but it’s almost certainly the most Call of Duty Activision has ever placed into a single package. For $60 you’ll get that now-standard three-pronged Call of Duty attack, with a campaign, competitive multiplayer, and cooperative zombie survival multiplayer. Go above and beyond that and you’ll also get a remastered version of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the game that sent us down this perk and loadout-filled road to begin with. It’s a lot of stuff, and some of that stuff is maybe better than its ever been. But just as much, if not more of those different chunks of video game are far enough off the mark that it’s still hard to recommend Infinite Warfare, especially in a year that presents a higher-than-normal number of other, better options.

The campaign, for once, is the shining star of Call of Duty this year. Infinite Warfare casts off all of the tip-toeing “near-future” steps we’ve seen in the past few games and just drops you in a world where our military can traipse around the solar system with ease. A world of giant capital spaceships serve as the center of space dogfights. A world of… yes, that’s right, space marines. At times, the setting and tech utilized in Infinite Warfare reads more like a Halo prequel than a Call of Duty game, but it’s a weird mash-up of huge, futuristic space battles and a set of characters that deliver all the “Oscar Mikes” and “Bravo Zulus” that you’d expect from, like, a Modern Warfare 2-era military shooter. It’s a game where you hide behind rocks and take out distant troopers with sniper rifles, except those rocks are floating in space and those troops are hanging out in spacesuits on the outside of a battle platform. These disparate elements clash in spots, but that helps give Infinite Warfare an identity and a future of its own. This isn’t space opera, this is space ops.

Flight combat is a huge part of this year's campaign.

You play as an ace jet fighter pilot who is also, somehow, the best man for the job when it comes to stealth, shooting people with guns, melee combat, whatever. Oh, and you also very quickly become the captain of your own ship, in case the power fantasy wasn’t thick enough for you already. As such, you call the shots and then go on the missions to execute the shots you call. This takes the form of a map of the solar system that gets peppered with side missions that you can take on, or you can skip to the next story mission and cruise through an already-shooter-length campaign even faster. But the side content is either brief enough to make for a fun diversion or cool enough to be worth seeing. The missions typically break down into pure dogfights, where you remain in your fighter the entire time and take out enemy fighters and a variety of larger ships, or assaults on enemy ships that require you to do some dirt on-foot. Many of these start out with some fighter piloting, too, but some of these contain inventive ways to sneak up on enemy space stations and ships as you infiltrate, mess things up, and find a way out to the relative safety of space. A couple of these missions even rely on some basic stealth mechanics. All in all, the flow of the campaign feels bigger and better than it’s been in a long time, with a good amount of variety between your standard runnin’ and shootin’, space hijinks, some quieter stealth moments, and the sorts of hellish things you can put into a game when large parts of it take place in areas with no oxygen.

The campaign’s story is straightforward, but effective. It’s your standard “the people who worked on the space frontier decided that the people of Earth were their enemy” tale, though their actual motives are never made clear enough to make them feel more than “the bad guys.” The tale gets grim by the end, and for a franchise that’s been killing off protagonists left and right for years, that’s saying something. It’s interesting to have a Call of Duty game be just as much about the sacrifices required to achieve victory as it is about the victory itself. The campaign is time well spent.

I feel far less certain about any other part of Infinite Warfare. The competitive multiplayer feels like a lightly tweaked version of last year’s game. The movement, right down to the squirty boost jumps and sluggish wallruns, seems unchanged. And yet, the maps still feel like they weren’t built with these abilities in mind, as there are plenty of walls that you can’t run on for some reason and rooftops that you should, in theory, be able to get to. But you can’t, because of invisible walls and such. The movement seems like it should open up tons of new possibilities and make things exciting. But, like last year’s game, it falls flat. Sure, it looks nice and there are some neat gadgets to fool with and new loadout options to pore over, but the competitive multiplayer in Infinite Warfare commits what might be the franchise’s worst sin to date: it’s boring. They finally got to a point where they could put maps on the moons of Jupiter, Mars, Earth, space stations, wherever… and even that potentially amazing change of scenery doesn’t save it. It feels lifeless and flat, full of half-realized ideas and combat rig abilities that seem designed to inject some unique traits into the gameplay, but instead they just come off like the character abilities from last year’s game.

Spending some extra money on this year's game also gets you a remastered version of 2007's game.

Of course, people on the outside looking in might say that Call of Duty has been the same every year and that this game is “boring” is nothing new. They’re wrong. Despite some of the year-to-year changes sometimes feeling like taking two steps forward and one step back, most of the games in the COD line have their own twists on a similar feel. They’re distinct animals of the same species. I used to get really irked at the way the Treyarch-developed games would have the dolphin dive while the Infinity Ward games didn’t. These changes always looked like some kind of weird… inter-studio politics or something. But now that it’s been more or less codified and homogenized from last year into this year, I see I was wrong. Or, at least, if I was right, then this was the exact wrong year to start unifying the game’s multiplayer design from one year to the next. If I’m picking and I’m limited to COD multiplayer games, I’m still picking Advanced Warfare or Black Ops II. Or… Black Ops, I guess. I mean, at least Black Ops had Ice Cube in it as a multiplayer announcer. Infinite Warfare gives you a series of faceless playable characters, ensuring that even the non-robot characters just kinda look like robots, too. If you grind out enough keys or spend some real money on “COD points” you can unlock some additional cosmetic options. Maybe some of those liven things up a bit.

The third prong of Infinite Warfare is its co-op mode, which is a survival mode where players team up to fight zombies. The most notable thing about this is probably that this is an Infinity Ward year for the franchise, and IW-led games haven’t “done” zombies before. This one has a 1980s horror movie vibe to it. I won’t waste your time rehashing my arguments about why zombies mode is a weak addition to the franchise that never felt like it fit in the first place and that it’s crazy that this weird joke of a post-campaign bonus has become so popular anyway. This one has David Hasselhoff in it. It also has a handful of Atari 2600 games, which is a cool little touch. I still miss Spec Ops from MW2.

If you decide to spend somewhat more money on Call of Duty, you can also play a remake of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. This gets you the campaign and a revamped multiplayer mode. It’s a cool addition that adds like 20 more multiplayer “hoppers” to the game, making you wonder if they’re perhaps spreading this all too thin. That said, it’s nice to be able to play a proper match of Headquarters again. Though I went into MW Remastered expecting its relative simplicity to feel like a breath of fresh air when compared to the weighted-down bulk of the current Call of Duty, it comes off as more of a curiosity than anything else. It’s neat to relive this 2007 campaign, but doing so also exposes some of the issues that have since been dealt with in newer games, like areas that seem to spawn enemies forever until you move onto the next trigger to advance the story.

Space marine!

The MW Remastered multiplayer gets some more modern tweaks, like the addition of medals, calling cards, player icons, and the Kill Confirmed mode that wouldn’t appear until Modern Warfare 3. The loadout options are simpler, but in some ways feel crude compared to the more flexible “Pick 10” system that has become fairly commonplace in the franchise. I played a lot of COD4. I put Double Tap onto a P90, slapped on Bandolier and Steady Aim, and went to town. I’ve called in and shot down more helicopters than you’ve had hot meals! MW Remastered is a lovely remake of an amazing game. But you can’t go home again. MW ends up feeling stripped down compared to what we think of as “modern” Call of Duty games. It’d be great to see more of the classic games in the franchise get this treatment in the future, but packing it in with a core Call of Duty game just seems to offer too many options. Should I care about leveling up my weird gun robot in Infinite Warfare? Or should I be working towards unlocking that G36C in MW Remastered? Maybe this would all work better if the progression was combined across the two games or something. I don’t know. It’s a weird package that would feel less weird if the publisher was selling this remake on its own. It probably will, someday, but for now you’re stuck buying More Call of Duty Than You’d Ever Actually Need to get it.

That’s probably the weirdest part about this year’s Call of Duty. There are terrific pieces in there. The Infinite Warfare campaign is really a sight to see, and its mix of outer space dogfights and boots-on-the-ground combat is really cool. It’s the best campaign Call of Duty’s turned out in years. But the rest of the Infinite Warfare package feels lackluster and as cool as Modern Warfare Remastered is, it feels more like a fun little curio than a full-fledged game. This franchise can certainly do better than this, and in a year that is uncommonly stacked with some amazing first-person shooter campaigns and multiplayer modes, it’s going to have to do better than this if it wants to maintain its relevance.

If you’re looking for actual purchasing advice–and because people keep asking me specifically if the game is worth buying for the campaign alone–MW Remastered is worth purchasing if and when it goes on sale separately from Infinite Warfare, but might not keep you engaged for as long as you’d initially assume. And the IW campaign is great, but not long or replayable enough to warrant a full-priced purchase on its own. But if you can find it at a discount, or if you’re a big fan of the zombies mode, there’s enough there to make it worth seeing.

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