I’m sure I’m not the only person to say this, but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway; Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a very special title for me as it is the game that got me into online multiplayer shooters. Cherished by many, Infinity Ward’s critically lauded shooter darling was arguably the shot in the arm the FPS genre needed back in 2007 and helped catapult the Call of Duty brand into the cultural phenomenon it has become today.
Fast-forward 9 years and the juggernaut series’ dizzying rollercoaster success story seems to be hitting a few bumps; most notably, that trailer. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s sci-fi reveal trailer received a record number of dislikes earlier this year, and rapidly became the second most disliked video on YouTube. It’s understandable, too, as there are a number of reasons why some fans, including myself, felt a little bummed out by it.
Firstly, the reveal trailer wasn’t very well put together, and that’s putting it somewhat mildly. An awful butchering of David Bowie’s Space Oddity only helped to add insult to injury. Secondly, Modern Warfare Remastered, which is many fans’ favourite instalment, was only available to those who bought one of the special editions of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare – and this was emphasized by an advert at the end of the trailer. I believe that if there was an option to buy Infinity Ward’s magnum opus piecemeal, the backlash from the trailer maybe could have been minimized.
Lastly, as a fan of the series, it’s a little disheartening seeing the franchise re-tread what overwhelmingly feels like familiar ground. We’ve been into the future and we’ve been busy shooting robots for the past 4 years now — 2008’s Call of Duty: World at War was the series’ last foray into the gritty realism of World War II, and it was, in my opinion, refreshingly all the better for it. Alas, it looks like this isn’t going to be the year that Activision will be breaking the mould, and I guess it’s another year of future robots. Yay?
Having said all that though, a bad trailer doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the full game. I do believe in my heart of hearts that this year’s Call of Duty multiplayer suite could potentially be a return to form for the series, despite the trailer’s missteps. After spending a weekend with Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer beta, I’m pleasantly surprised to report that Infinity Ward’s multiplayer offering remains as rock solid as usual — it really looks like they’ve honed their tried-and-true formula to a sparkling sheen, particularly following the disappointingly average multiplayer found in the developer’s last instalment Call of Duty: Ghosts way back in 2012.
The fast-moving, wall-running exo-suits make a return, though they’ve been dubbed Combat Rigs this time around. It looks like there’ll be six rigs in total and each boast their own advantages and unique Payloads. Payloads are essentially the Specialist moves from Call of Duty: Black Ops III and these slowly charge up during the match and charge up quicker as you earn more streak points. Warfighter was my favourite of the bunch and is your assault-style class, with Payloads that range from a spread shot assault rifle that opens up like an eagle’s talons aptly named the Claw, to Combat Focus which doubles your streak points for a limited time, to the speed boosting Overdrive.
Furthermore, each rig can also equip one of three unique Traits and these function more or less like an extra perk. The Merc’s Infusion Trait, for example, regenerates health faster, whereas Warfighter’s Ping activates a wave on your minimap highlighting the enemy’s position with every kill and assist you land, which is super useful to chain kills together and lay waste to groups of opponents.
I’m sad to say that Scorestreaks felt a little uninspired this time around as there was nothing in the roster that stood out as anything especially new. The tried-and-true staples make a return, and these range from the UAV, Scarab (basically, the RC-XD from the Black Ops series) and the Advanced UAV, to the slightly more exotic T.H.O.R, a missile system that fires remote controlled missiles down upon the map, to the R-C8, an armoured mech with a shield and a high-powered rifle that stalks the map similar to last year’s Cerberus. Interestingly, the RC-XD’s feisty speed has been slowed down considerably resulting in RC-XD’s feeling much less of a threat this time around.
Perks feel pretty familiar too with classics such as Ghost, Blast Shield, Blind Eye, Hardline, Cold Blooded, Hardwired and Dead Silence all making a return. A few new ones do stand out, such as Pin Point, a handy perk that outlines enemies when dealing or receiving weapon damage, and Momentum, which helps you sprint faster over time. There’s nothing earth-shatteringly new to be found here, but the pool of perks that are available are easy to learn and straightforward to use — I’m sure you’ll be able to find a few of your favourites from previous iterations.
Call of Duty’s meat and drink is its tight, satisfying shooting and gun progression, and it thankfully doesn’t disappoint here. As you may expect, players unlock new weapons and attachments as they level up, though, there is also another wrinkle to the customization of your load-out which can be found in the new weapon crafting system. You unlock new Prototypes from within the Armory with the game’s new Salvage currency system and these apply special combinations of perks to your guns. These look like they come in four rarity levels; common, rare, legendary and epic. One of the epic Prototypes, for instance, reduces recoil and gives veterans the chance to chain a 25 player kill streak and activate a De-Atomizer nuclear strike, which is pretty cool.
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Maps feel meticulously well designed and are luckily a far-cry from the needlessly big, empty maps from Call of Duty: Ghosts. Throwback is a retro-inspired 1950s town with a train track splitting the map down the middle. A circular lane snakes its way around the periphery of the map, with a central square in the middle ushering players into frantic close-quarters firefights. Frontier is a symmetrical map set aboard a space station. A long pathway links both sides of the map together and acts as a hotbed for long-range sniper conflict. Lots of smaller paths jut off this long pathway and these chokepoints lends themselves well to close quarters shotgun-wielding classes.
Frost is the highlight of the bunch here and feels reminiscent of Horizon from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare with three fast-paced lanes and a ton of opportunities to flank your opponents. All the maps also incorporate a healthy dose of free-flowing verticality into the mix that gives you a chance to show off your sick (or not so sick in my case) wall-running skills.
Overall, I’ve been having a lot of fun with the multiplayer in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, but it does feel like more of a “best of” for the franchise than a truly brave, new direction. Activision will really have to shake things up going forward to help keep the series fresh and exciting for hardcore fans as it feels like the future setting is suffering from diminishing returns.
Infinity Ward has a lot to prove, having created one of the smartest, subversive FPS games in the last decade, and I’m pleased that this year’s multiplayer portion of the game is still fun and accessible, if somewhat overly familiar. I’m sure that its lack of anything truly innovative won’t silence longtime detractors, and I do really hope that Activision and Sledgehammer are a little braver with the formula next year.
However, the long and the short of it is this; big, dumb, bombastic fun is rarely as smartly executed as this. I just hope that we Call of Duty fans get to go somewhere a little bit different next time, as this future sci-fi setting is starting to feel pretty long in the tooth.