The cold majesty of space is the beating heart of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and the playground for the series’ largest canvas yet. The result is a stunningly realized world married to a story of obscene spectacle that’s unfortunately but expectedly, light on substance. Thankfully, a competent and thrilling multiplayer and the return of Zombies mode rounds off one of the meatiest CoD packages in years.
But let’s start with the campaign. Visually, it’s a sight to behold. From the empty confines of an enemy ship to the inky blankness of space, there are moments of true beauty here – and even genius. The zero gravity of space is deftly brought to life, and there’s something formidably impressive about this vision of the world above our skies.
One standout level takes place on a mining colony knocked out of orbit and circling the sun in seconds. The spinning rock switches between night and day like a pendulum swinging on its axis, and when the sun rises, it bares down on you like a giant crosshair, while the disused colony evokes memories from good Alien films. Infinite Warfare packs in the sighs at a breathless pace, and it’s a real thrill at times.
But what’s the plot all about? Well, the year is 2080 and you’re Nick Reyes, captain of a space vessel named the Retribution. Nick has just lost his old captain and he’s in a spot of bother because a clan called the Settlement Defense Force is intent on murdering his crew, his loved ones and just about everyone on Earth.
So, Nick rounds up his tough guy chums to wage war against this impenetrable evil. As he sets out on his mission, the cast swap exposition-heavy dialogue like actors in an Aaron Sorkin film. Your head’s spinning before you’ve even started, and unless your cheek is pressed against the screen and your ears are cocked like a spaniel, you’re going to struggle to keep up. But let’s be real, half the audience will be tuning out to Snapchat in these moments anyway.
The SDF is led by Salen Kotch, the Proverbial Bad Guy. Salen spends his time jumping onto a videolink to let you know how motivated he is. “You can never win. I do no fear death,” he intones, speaking like a Shakespeare convert battling a stick wedged up his posterior. He also ends every call with his favorite phrase: “Mars Aeternum.” It means Mars for eternity, but it wouldn’t sound as grand solely in English. Besides, Kotch hates Earth, though I can’t tell you why, and it turns out he’s actually Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. The guy’s invented time travel and brought UFC fighter Conor McGregor along for the ride, too. Conor’s great, but his cameo is laughably brief given the hype around his appearance (though eagle eyed players might spot his identical twin brother later in the campaign).
There’s a surprising amount of downtime between all the breakneck action and a Galaxy Map at your disposal ripped straight from Mass Effect. Here, you can choose whether to pursue the main story or alternate between side quests and dogfights, the latter are which are called Jackal Runs. The airborne battles are pure Call of Duty: big, brash and a bit dumb. They require you hold down a trigger to lock on and mash a few buttons to make things boom, every now and then performing an evasive maneuver by responding to an on-screen prompt.
The side missions are better, and often turn out to be tense solo affairs that display Infinite Warfare at its best. One reconnaissance job asks that you disguise yourself under enemy lines and remove soldiers one by one without being spotted. Another is a fun hostage encounter where you need to pick off foes without alerting their friends. It’s in these moments the game lets go of your hand and gives you the room to play.
But before long, Infinite Warfare is wrenching you by the coattails again, ramming the story down your throat and orchestrating the action for you. As captain, you’d expect Reyes to be calling the shots and setting the pace, but your right-hand woman Salter is often the one egging you on and hurrying you up, or telling you flatly what to do. It doesn’t make much sense in the context of the story and Salter is essentially a giant waypoint pulling you from one firefight to the next.
Still, for spectacle, you can’t fault it. During the helter-skelter action, buildings explode, ships arc into view and there are times you’ll be left to pick your jaw up off the floor. But I remember the small touches most. The first time I tossed an EMP grenade into the empty blanket of space, for instance, and watched it get sucked away like a rocket-propelled gas canister. Or the way Reyes interacts with objects within the world. Or how, before every mission, you choose your loadout from the resident quartermaster, then watch your new gear emerge gracefully from a pneumatic shelf, before plucking it from the container like Batman might. Few developers are so good at making things look cool.
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Blowing people to pieces and looking cool is ultimately what Call of Duty has always been best at and there are an assortment of weapons here to get the job done, including pulse cannons that pulverize foes and, in some cases, literally liquefy them. This extends to the multiplayer as well, where fourteen online modes offer long-term thrills beyond the six-hour campaign. The maps are nods to the story, though in execution they’re really just retreads of Blacks Ops III online.
These arenas are designed to facilitate your jet pack and your ability to run across walls, a la Titanfall. But in reality, wall-running operates within a very narrow scope of traversal, and the areas you can wall-run here are tightly defined and overly restrictive. Still, once you’re immersed in the rhythms of multiplayer there’s something for everyone, and Kill Confirmed is a standout mode for me, asking that you retrieve the dog tag from a slain enemy to make the kill count. It often plunges you into danger and becomes a tense cat-and-mouse affair.
All told, despite the new window dressing, multiplayer is not a marked departure from what’s come before it, but it certainly scratches that itch for more, more, more all the same.
Elsewhere, Zombies in Spaceland is a full-blown cooperative mode with RPG bits bolted on that pits you against increasing waves of undead. There’s a strong nod to Left for Dead and even a backstory as to why you’re fighting in a giant theme park decked out in 1980s styling. I know a lot of players who’ve sunk hour upon hour in to Zombies mode in Black Ops, and this is an elegant extension of that. I particularly love the way it marks a departure from the earnestness of the single-player campaign with balls to the wall action and retro stylings. Think Far Cry Blood Dragon to Far Cry 3.
In the end, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is a three-pronged proposition and though its component parts don’t always bear close scrutiny, it’s an excellent offering as a whole. With a more coherent story, the campaign could have soared, but as is, it still remains a wildly entertaining jaunt stuffed with big, dumb fun. When you consider the long-term allure of the Zombies mode and the competitive carnage of online multiplayer, there’s definitely a lot of meat here. It’s never refined, never delicate, but it does satisfy a base craving for carnage.
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
A beautiful campaign is marred by an underwhelming story, but with solid multiplayer and Zombies to boot, there's plenty to like about Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.