What is it? A sci-fi shooter spectacle in singleplayer, with twitchy multiplayer and co-op zombie shooting.
Reviewed on: Windows 10, Intel Core i5-3570, 8 GB RAM, Nvidia GTX Titan
Price: $60/£40 ($70/£40 to get Modern Warfare Remastered)
Release date: Out now
Developer: Infinity Ward
Multiplayer: Up to 18 players competitive, 4-player co-op in Zombies mode
Link: Official site
Buy it: Humble Store (opens in new tab)
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I don’t think Call of Duty campaigns are supposed to be fun anymore. If I'm reckless at all—like, say, having a bit of fun with my jetpack—I start taking fire and my vision smears with strawberry jam, blurry and pulsing. My screen shakes, white text yells 'get to cover' at me and I'm forced to the ground behind hunks of concrete and metal. And then I toss a grenade, which bounces off a squadmate's calf and blows us all up. Friendly fire will not be tolerated, it says. Very little will be tolerated.
There are plenty of cool moments in Infinite Warfare—incredible action scenes that have been impeccably scripted, modeled, and animated—but when I'm in control I feel weak and ineffective. On Normal difficulty, many of the enemies can absorb a flurry of bullets or energy zaps (even headshots sometimes just pop their helmets off) and inflict damage so quickly my only recourse is to stay back, run away from grenade indicators, pop out of cover and shoot a little bit, then hide away again. It’s not fun, it’s war: chaotic, fearful, deadly. I’m disappointed that even with the push deeper into science fiction, Call of Duty hasn’t changed much, except in the diminishing size of its multiplayer population.
Space walk, don't run
Infinite Warfare’s campaign does muck with Call of Duty’s typically linear mission structure, at least. This time, you’re given command of a spacecarrier and can select optional side missions in between the main ones. But there’s no good reason to hang out on your (admittedly super cool-looking) ship between missions. You can’t have optional chats with your bland crew or do any side activities aside from watching news reports about your exploits. Effectively, the ship adds lots of walking around and standing in elevators.
The story is a by-the-book tale of valor, and the protagonist is too dull to care much about. He and his admiral pal kick it off by lamenting that the damned politicians won’t let them attack the nasty space colonists who have it in for them, and then they get attacked. (It’s a funny sort of backwards world where politicians don’t love starting wars.) There’s no question who the good guys and bad guys are: The Settlement Defense Front is so cartoonishly evil they’re quoted as saying stuff like “freedom has no place in the light of our sun."
In battle, the contrast between Infinite Warfare and Titanfall 2, which I started playing around the same time, is not flattering for Infinite Warfare. When I get into trouble in Titanfall 2, I turn invisible, wallrun around behind whoever’s shooting at me, and blast them all with an automatic shotgun while doing a sick powerslide. Infinite Warfare gives me a jetpack and wallrunning, too, but I mostly only use them to goof off while people are talking—it’s just too dangerous to expose myself to incoming fire.
Often, Infinite Warfare ensures the enemy doesn’t have to see me at all. I enjoyed hacking robots, running them into a group of enemies, and then detonating them. Less fun, though useful, are drones that’ll buzz around firing on targets for you and little grenade-bots that scuttle up to enemies, grab on, and blow up. I spammed those a lot. Where Titanfall 2 encourages me to go after enemies and take them out, Infinite Warfare encourages me to stay back and wait until whatever airstrike I can call in has recharged.
The action gets slightly more fun in space. I enjoyed a classic Call of Duty Sniping Mission set in an asteroid field, where I could zip around with a grappling hook, bouncing between beautifully-rendered rocks and picking off helpless floundering spacesuits. But spacewalk combat becomes a lot like gravity-bound combat in most instances. During one mission, on the hull of a giant destroyer, I tried to leap into the void to pick off enemies behind cover, and was summarily hit with a missile salvo. I did it again the ‘right’ way, staying low and out of sight. Boring.
Flying a little fighter ship, called a Jackal, is the best part of Infinite Warfare—though the spectacle of my first Jackal encounter was ruined because I had to keep popping to a submenu to adjust the mouse sensitivity. There’s no deadzone where you’ll keep turning if you put the cursor at an edge, so I had to constantly lift up and reposition my mouse to make 180-degree turns, which sucks. It’s better with the mouse sensitivity turned all the way up or with a controller, but still a bit awkward: the Jackals fly like a mix of Descent’s ship, where you can hover, strafe, and turn in place, and an aircraft where you’re swooping and banking.
Fun as it could be once I got the hang of it, repeatedly blowing up the same ships gets old by the third time. It isn’t much of a challenge, either. Locking onto an enemy ship magnetizes your trajectory and aim, gently guiding you into a tailing position for an easy shot. At one point I took my hand off my mouse during a docking sequence I thought I was controlling, and my ship made the landing on its own. The hardest thing you’ll actually have to do is remember to fire flares when told to. Rather than making me feel like an ace pilot, these little tricks make me feel like I'm dutifully painting by numbers. It offers an enjoyable but rigidly structured creativity.
Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer remains the opposite of the campaign in many ways: a zipping cyclone of bullets and bodies. Constantly circle, check the minimap, aim at corners, crouch, jump, move weirdly so you’re hard to hit and aim true, as only a second separates you from scoring a kill and eating dirt.
It’s fun when I’m winning, and the more I win the more winning I get to do. Fill a meter and I can activate my ‘payload’, which in my case is a giant beam weapon that snakes toward targets and pops them in a shower of blood. Very good. On top of that there are killstreaks and weapon unlocks and all that, layers upon layers of stuff from years and years of these games.
It’s not nearly as much fun when I’m not winning, so I don't recommend Infinite Warfare to the casually interested. There’s no joy just to being there, like there is in Battlefield 1, where I can have a bad round but still have fun because I ran around on top of an airship. There are no real support roles, or roles for anyone who isn’t interested in mastering minimap awareness, hopping around, and performing split-second headshots. It’s dated and, strange as it is to say about one of the biggest entertainment franchises in the world, not the mainstream style anymore. In the compressed, rapidly fluctuating videogame timeline, Call of Duty is retro now.
I still enjoy it, though, for the one-on-one battles that test my reflexes—but less for the convoluted unlock system and powerful killstreaks. I'm also not fond of CoD's rotating spawns, so my favorite new mode is Frontline, which spawns each team in protected bases a la Team Fortress 2. I prefer knowing which way the enemy is coming from so I can make plans: flank them, face them head on, anticipate their flank and guard side passages. The jetpack is more useful in multiplayer than it is in the campaign, as the maps are designed with lots of side routes: walls and gaps to run along or boost over to set up a surprise attack. That also meant a lot of falling to my death at first, as I got used to all the holes in the maps.
But not many people are playing Frontline. As I write this, I can’t get into a match. Over the weekend, on the Saturday after launch, it took me two minutes of waiting to get into a free-for-all match. Team deathmatch is more populated, but anytime I’ve checked, Black Ops 3 has about half as many concurrent players or more than Infinite Warfare—and some number of Infinite Warfare players are still playing the campaign. Compared to Overwatch, CS:GO, Payday 2, and Rainbow Six Siege, Infinite Warfare is not a very well-populated multiplayer game at launch.
It also took me about five minutes to gather a public Zombies match together, Zombies being CoD’s staple co-op horde mode. There’s one scenario to play at the moment, Spaceland, and it’s a fun exercise in stringing along lines of dumb braineaters and scoring rows of headshots. Zombies remains a satisfying Left 4 Dead-ish experience and it's well-built—no part of Infinite Warfare had too little work put into it—with fun little gimmicks like an afterlife arcade where you can hang out if you die during a round. It’s disappointing that there’s only one scenario at the moment.
That brings me to yet another part of Infinite Warfare, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered, which comes with the more expensive special editions and includes prettier versions of the classic campaign and multiplayer. I don’t know if I forgive Modern Warfare for setting off a trend that has led to today’s stupidly complex unlock systems—please, no more attachments, just give me a gun—but it’s a relief to play CoD4 multiplayer again.
The maps are more spacious, blockier, and easier to navigate. I can set up behind a rock near a bridge, or hide among hay bales, or skulk through crumbling stone buildings. Sniping is viable—and yeah still a little annoying—but assault rifles are powerful at long range, too. I can sneak in close, or I can score shots from two blocks away. I can camp or run. I have room to breathe! And there’s no chance anyone’s going to come at me with an auto-targeting beam weapon that makes me explode. The killstreaks are basic, and countered easily by going indoors. Modern Warfare Remastered is more fun than Infinite Warfare. It’s dumb that you have to spend $70 on Infinite Warfare to get it.
I’m at least happy with how both Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare Remastered run for the price. They both support ultrawide aspect ratios, and I'm hovering between 80-90 fps at 2560x1080 with an Intel Core i5-3570, 8 GB RAM, and Nvidia GTX Titan. I've had a little stuttering here and there, which is annoying even when it’s minimal, but it mostly happens during transitional scenes, where I assume some loading is taking place.
I’m know from looking at the Steam forums that others are having more problems running Infinite Warfare, but it’s not a catastrophic launch by any estimation. For me, it runs smoothly and looks stunning. And even if it’s not much fun, Infinite Warfare is a hell of a spectacle. The many, many people who built Infinite Warfare—I sat through the unreasonably long credits—have made some of the coolest scenes I’ve ever seen in a videogame. Skydiving to Europa. Careening over a crater in a moon buggy, with big blue earth hanging in the sky, explosions all around. I never tired of watching entire enemy squads get sucked into space when we blasted their windows. Even the minor scenes, stuff players might see for five seconds or not even look at, are beautifully rendered, and I adore the look of my ship’s bridge, which is designed like a futuristic submarine.
But those bombastic action scenes pair oddly with Infinite Warfare’s stifling play. Soldiers can both leap through space with ripped suits and be killed by an exploding car they walked too close to. It's a grinding cover war that, even with gadgets to mitigate its oppressiveness, favors a slow, methodical approach over a fluid, fast, creative one. There’s a vision for how every battle should look from my perspective, and Infinite Warfare kills me if I stray from it.
And with the multiplayer lobbies already slow just after launch, I don’t have a good outlook for Infinite Warfare’s longevity on PC. The extras bundled with the main attractions—Zombies and a remaster of a nearly 10 year old game—are better than the main attractions. But those successes aren’t enough for me to recommend spending $70/£60. I’ve had more fun in Titanfall 2’s campaign than Infinite Warfare’s, and I haven’t even finished playing Titanfall 2 yet.