If you only played the opening mission of Activision’s latest blockbuster first-person shooter, you’d be forgiven for walking away thinking that it was just another Call of Duty.
It starts much as they all do: bad stuff happens and guns get shot. But this one also changes things up in ways that are unexpected, yet very welcome.
After an opening mission full of explosions, space combat, bombast and bluster (and let’s face it, you can’t jump into a starship and burst out of the atmosphere into space without at least a few ridiculous explosions) the story settles into one that might feel familiar if you’re a Killzone veteran.
You (naturally) play the good guys who have to protect Earth - normally a fairly standard job, if the Settlement Defence Force (SDF) rebels didn’t have an unhinged boss (Salen Kotch, played ably by Kit Harington of Game of Thrones fame) calling the shots. He’s hell-bent on becoming the dominant force.
OK, we’re not breaking new ground here, and it all gets a little messy at times, even for a series that follows the good vs bad model so often. But without losing any of what the series is known for, Infinite Warfare still proves that there are some very smart people working at Infinity Ward.
SIDE MISSIONS. IN A CALL OF DUTY CAMPAIGN
Where Infinite Warfare diverges from the norm is in the way the universe feels conceptually more whole.
Call of Duty regularly suffers from a narrative that feels less cohesive; more like a set of missions you just have to get through. Here though, you end up in charge, and can pick side-missions from a map (think Mass Effect, and you’re not far off), each of which are largely inconsequential to the story, but will give you bonuses that affect your character.
One such diversion is all about stealth, and sees you boarding a ship, sneaking into the vents and turning off the air supply to kill four high profile SDF targets. Once you’ve shot your way out, enemy rankings will be thinned and you’ll earn faster health regeneration as a bonus. Win win.
A MORE COHESIVE GAME WORLD
This all adds up to just make if feel… well, less of a Call of Duty game, really.
Each time you select a mission you go to your pal in the armoury and select a loadout, which is more important than you’d usually expect. Being a futuristic world means that you’re not just shooting human soldiers - there are robots to kill as well, so you might want to take the gun that’s good at killing them quicker, right?
It’s not what you’d expect from the series, but it grabs you early and pulls you through the story.
Most missions have armouries that hide upgrades for your tools, and you can wander around your hub, check your computer (after each level it’ll have something new on it), or even just watch the TV with your crew. There are lots of small details that make you feel like it all belongs, which is a welcome change for the series.
The Infinite Warfare gameplay demo which I saw at E3 centres around a mission which sees you and your squad advancing through the streets of Geneva, battling a seemingly endless army of enemy robots on your march to a key control point.
There's a real sense of impressive scale and chaos from the get-go, with enemies crashing from the skies all around you, with relentless explosions and bullets enveloping your every move.
The claustrophobic environments littered with rubble and abandoned cars make for some intense firefights, but it looks like you've got an arsenal of handy gizmos to make your life a little easier.
Take the adorable little spider-like robot, for example, which cheerfully scurries towards enemies before ending its short-lived life in a deadly explosion, or the deployable mobile shield which lets you get out of tight spots. I also quite enjoyed the fun anti-gravity grenade which freezes enemies in mid air, letting you pic them off with ease.
The guns themselves look and feel futuristic enough to be believable, and they all sound great, with a real hefty quality to their reload animations and muzzle fire sounds.
THE SHOOTING FEELS GREAT
New weapons in a new universe are fun, of course, but it’s the specialised tools that make it feel fresh and unique.
The hacking tool is superb, allowing you to remotely log into an enemy robot for direct, first-person control over the enemy. It means you can turn around and thin the ranks before they even reach you, all before self destructing and causing even more damage.
Zero-gravity grenades pop your enemies into the air so you can shoot them like fish in a barrel, and shock grenades debilitate your mechanical foes, making them sitting ducks. Even the grappling hook is fun as you bounce around in space, allowing you pull yourself to a helpless fool before killing them with a fairly gruesome melee attack.
It all feels tight and rewarding, and unless my skills are dulling, harder than usual. Enemies take a lot more bullets to drop, making it feel more of a thinking person’s shooter than the run and gun of the past.
But it’s the little things that make it feel special. If you’re bouncing around walls inside a space station trying to pick enemies off, you can decide to be more clever and shoot the windows out behind them. Doing so will cause them to be sucked into space before the shutters come down, letting you wipe a load of them out quickly.
It’s a supremely rewarding shooter, only really let down by the fact the wall movement and jumping doesn’t feel as smooth as EA’s criminally overlooked Titanfall 2.
After traversing through the streets of Geneva and leaving a pile of mangled robot bodies in your wake, a Jackal ship lands. You hop in, and before you know it, you’re hurtling towards the heavens in a vertical squadron of death-dealing fighter jet/spaceship hybrids.
As soon as you hit the empty blackness of space, the rumbles of your fuel tanks are cut short, and there’s a brief period of calm as you spot the blue Earth beneath you.
And then the battle starts.
The dogfights looks like something straight out of Star Wars, and zipping in and out of floating hulks of debris while shooting enemy ships looks like heaps of fun.
The space action isn’t limited just to flying around though. In the E3 demo, the player leaves his ship for some hand-to-hand space combat, using grappling hooks to attach to objects and zip along, fighting enemies on top of giant spaceships.
Grappling an enemy towards you and ripping off their mask looks like a very satisfying ability, and if there are any space-themed multiplayer maps, it could very well replace the classic teabag as the ultimate multiplayer insult.
It wouldn’t be much of a space shooter if you couldn’t jump into a spaceship and blow things up, would it? Happily, Infinite Warfare delivers in space.
Switching between weapons is easy (tap a button), and you lock on by holding the left trigger. It’s a lot to take in, and wouldn’t be much fun if you were constantly crashing, so the environments are designed in a way that they look bigger than they are.
It’s enrapturing in the explosive beauty, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people played these sections with their jaws on the floor.
It’s always a visual treat being in space, whether it’s launching your spaceship, bouncing around from rock to rock, or just enjoying the quiet beauty from your command centre. It cannot be overstated, really: this is one of the most incredible games you’ll see this year, and when you hit the closing chapter of the story (which just goes, and goes hard) you’ll struggle to finish it because you’re too busy taking screenshots.
You venture into the great unknown a fair bit, and although it’s not a long game (around 5 or 6 hours, depending on play style), there are diversions that give a sense of place. It doesn’t have the soul of something like Modern Warfare (the characters just aren’t as memorable - aside from Ethan, your robo-buddy, who is fabulous), it’s one that’s well worth playing before you jump into the other modes.
WHEN YOU'RE DONE - KEEP SHOOTING ONLINE
Infinity Ward has made an effort to pull every part of Infinite Warfare together to feel like a coherent whole, and this extends to the multiplayer. Sure, you’re still shooting random people on the internet, but this time the bounties are called missions, and you have a voiceover from your boss telling you how you did after each round.
A slight overhaul to the multiplayer means that you have to choose between “Combat Rigs”, which is essentially a class based system, three of which are immediately available, with three more to unlock.
These rigs are designed to appeal to different types of player, but so far (and bare in mind the servers hadn’t yet filled up at the time of writing) multiplayer doesn’t really feel that different from previous games in the series. That means you’ll either continue to love or, or you’ll still hate it.
TIME TO KILL
The biggest issue I have with the competitive multiplayer is that the time to kill seems incredibly short. Where other games will offer you at least the chance to fight back, in Infinite Warfare, it feels like being spotted automatically means you’re dead. You are a paper thin combatant, and he who fires first, wins.
Obviously these game are tweaked throughout their lifespan, so this might change, but at launch, unless you’ve got a lot of time to devote to it, you’re going to end up as fodder for the hardcore multiplayer gamers.
Mastering the weapons and abilities is part of the fun, sure, but people already seem ridiculously good, and it’s hard to learn if you’re being killed within seconds of spawning - especially on some of the smaller maps.
It’s a ridiculously full package, though, with modes galore (Gun Game returns, hurray!), unlocks, perks, scorestreaks, gun attachments, and more than you could ever actually use, or need, but it remains impenetrable to the casual player.
While it’s something you can absolutely respect, there are also some strong competitors out there that offer something different, and perhaps a bit more unique. Most worryingly for Call of Duty, they’re also just that bit friendlier to the newcomer.
Zombies returns too, and feels a lot more friendly this time around. It’s a great co-op mode, but it has always been tougher than you expect - now you should get that little bit further on each attempt. It’s also a diversion from the speed of the campaign and multiplayer, removing some of the cliff-like difficulty curve.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare verdict
There’s no sign that Call of Duty is looking to hand over the crown just yet: Infinite Warfare is an enormous, almost fit to burst package of shooty goodness.
The difference this time is that the single player campaign finally switches things up, creating one of the best story modes the series has seen in a very long time.
As always, then, this is a very complete game, and comes highly recommended - with the caveat that the multiplayer is just as punishing as ever.