The year was 2007. Halo 3 had just released and taken the online gaming world by storm. The throne was firm, or so we thought. Just over a month later, on Nov. 5, 2007, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hit the scene and it all changed.
Now, you might think that sounds a little bit dramatic, but it's true. The fourth main entry in the Call of Duty franchise reinvigorated a lower tier gaming brand from World War II vehicle-based obscurity to modern war epic. Nestled at the tail-end of the first decade of the millennium, the game exploited our fears of a war to end all wars. The game was gripping, emotionally satisfying and offered revolutionary level design and combat depth.
Since Call of Duty 4, publisher Activision has released a new entry in the series every November. That's 9 games in the last ten years. The company has also retrofitted many of its top developers (Raven Software, Treyarch, High Impact Games) and relegated them to exclusively work on the franchise, leaving other IP like Spider-Man, Transformers or Wolfenstein to fall to other owners (who made better games) or into obscurity.
But this year seemed just a little different. With the release of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, developer Infinity Ward doubled down on the sci-fi influence seeded in previous titles and went full-on space opera. Guns have lasers (some of them) and you fly around in space having sweet space battles. It's fun, frantic and pretty to look at, but it's a far cry from what made the series stand out: realistic combat, thoughtful level design and not-so-tropey themes.
The plot of Infinite Warfare centers around Captain Nick Reyes, a top soldier in an intergalactic fighting force. He, along with his partner Lieutenant Salter, robot buddy E3N (or Ethan) and a colorful cast of others, take the fight for Earth to the Settlement Defense Front, a grassroots rebellion based on Mars that's looking to take back Earth for themselves. Oh, and Game of Thrones' Kit Harrington is the main villain, sort of.
The game's campaign is short, but is much more open-ended (or seems like it) compared to other entries in the series. You can actually select from different mission options via your ship's communication systems. Sure, the main quests are highlighted, but the smaller quests, which have you jetting around the solar system rescuing scientists, blasting enemy destroyers or fixing satellites are wholly inviting and a hell of a lot of fun.
Harrington's performance, however, is mostly flat and feels increasingly phoned in the more you listen to it, which is fine in theory. After all, his star power alone should draw in some players. Reyes and Salter follow very specific military tropes, and the story itself follows suit to neatly tied up ending, but the game's shining force is Ethan, the artificially-intelligent robot who cracks jokes and earns the respect of top-ranking officers.
Overall, the campaign is worth a play, if only as a sign of what could come next. Though, part of me wants Activision to just spin-off this space nonsense and take the series back to its roots. Less Michael Bay, more Band of Brothers.
Oddly enough, the 'Legacy Edition' of this year's game comes bundled with a current-gen remaster of Call of Duty 4, with campaign and multiplayer completely in tact. Weird, isn't it? Not to mention the game released just a week after ex-Infinity Ward heads Vince Zampella and Jason West released Titanfall 2, their evolution of the Call of Duty franchise.
But Infinite Warfare isn't bad, by any means. It feels less tired than Advanced Warfare, more complex than Ghosts and way more serious than Black Ops III. But I'm only really talking about the campaign here, as the game's multiplayer suite and zombies modes feel stale and carbon-copied from previous titles. There's a difference between familiarity and legacy, and this game doesn't strike that contrast well.
The bad aside, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is a solid space romp with great graphical fidelity, fun, wholesome gameplay and an on-par multiplayer playground to explore. If you're looking for a bit more depth, maybe turn to Battlefield 1 or Titanfall 2, but if you're a die hard Call of Duty fan, don't skip out on this one.
This reviewer played through Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare's campaign on PlayStation 4 and spent additional time in the games multiplayer and zombies modes.