Every year, Activision releases a new Call of Duty. Non-fans criticize them for being too similar, while series faithful eat them up. Infinite Warfare truly shakes things up by jumping into the far future, taking the fight into space and beyond. Could this be the Call of Duty for fans and newcomers alike?

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Postmodern Warfare

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review Xbox One

Although Infinite Warfare's single-player campaign takes place hundreds of years in the future, its story won't be entirely alien to Call of Duty fans. With the Earth overpopulated and low on resources, humanity has joined together as the United Nations Space Alliance (UNSA) and begun colonizing other worlds. Peace is threatened by the ironically-named Settlement Defense Front (SDF), a sizable group of radicals who seek to eradicate freedom and unite the galaxy under an authoritarian regime.

The first mission begins as your squad of three soldiers dives down from their ship to the icy surface of Europa. The team is tasked with recovering an experimental weapon from a UNSA base and then destroying the facility. Unfortunately, they soon run afoul of the cartoonishly evil Admiral Kotch, played by Kit Harrington (you might recognize him as Jon Snow from Game of Thrones).

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review Xbox One

For the remainder of the game, you play as UNSA soldier Nick Reyes, who closely resembles a young Scott Bakula. He meets up with Lieutenant Nora Salter ("Salt"), a strong female character, and the lovable E3N ("Ethan"), a newly-developed robotic soldier who Reyes and Salt instantly treat like a fellow soldier — unlike the less-welcoming Staff Sergeant Usef Omar (played by David Harewood, Martian Manhunter on TV's Supergirl).

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review Xbox One map

After the SDF ambushes and wipes out most of the UNSA fleet, Reyes becomes Commander of one of two remaining UNSA ships. A few missions in, our protagonist gains the ability to pick missions from a map of the solar system. Players can take on a variety of side missions, eliminating "Most Wanted" members of the SDF and unlocking permanent upgrades for Reyes and his Jackal fighter ship.

Piloting the Jackal as part of larger missions or Jackal-specific side missions do much to keep this installment feeling fresh. You generally fly around a space or land-based environment, taking out small fighters or larger ships with guns and missiles. It's fun and intuitive, although a better indicator of out-of-sight enemies would reduce the need to spin around, scanning for evasive targets. Jackal missions aren't too hard even on Veteran difficulty – a smart move, given that FPS fans aren't necessarily experienced fighter pilots.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review Xbox One

The campaign is filled with beautiful sci-fi landscapes like the icy surface of Europa, decimated colonies that closely resemble modern cities, and numerous ship interiors. Along with numerous impressive set pieces, one of the more memorable missions has players sneaking into an SDF ship during a big meeting, turning off life support, and then fighting the remaining soldiers to escape. Space-suit missions in which you grapple around ship hulls and debris (complete with satisfying 1-hit grappling hook kills) also provide welcome breaks from running and gunning.

Along with the spacewalks, other futuristic gameplay elements include Seeker grenades (tiny drones that chase after targets, latch on, and blow them up). and the ability to hack robotic enemies. Consumable hacking charges allow you to take over robotic enemies, forcing them to fire on friends or simply blow up like a bomb. None of this would be believable in a contemporary setting, but it works perfectly in this far-future tale.

My only complaint about the campaign is that the SDF are too absurdly evil. They truly want nothing more than to eradicate freedom from the solar system. Real-life evil leaders and governments seek to amass wealth for the ruling elite, distract the population from their problems with scapegoats, and eliminate or demonize groups different from themselves. Infinite Warfare's narrative would have a greater impact if the villains had recognizably human motivations.

Competitive Multiplayer

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review Xbox One multiplayer gun game

Infinite Warfare provides two distinct multiplayer modes: competitive Multiplayer and cooperative Zombies. Both support 2-player split-screen, and split-screen players can join online games.

This year's multiplayer mode is closest to that of Black Ops III, with players able to wall run (but only in specific locations), double jump, and slide around at will. The actual pace has been slowed down slightly, making it more approachable.

Players still die with just one or two shots for the most part, so firefights often come down to which person sees the other first. Scorestreaks remain an inherently imbalanced mechanic, rewarding the player who is doing best anyway and making it harder for struggling players to catch up. But admittedly, it feels good when you get to unleash one yourself.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review Xbox One multiplayer gun game

Taking advantage of the science fiction setting, the customizable Specialists of Black Ops III have become Combat Rigs. Each of the six rigs has inherent strengths and traits (persistent perks), making some better suited to varying situations and combat distances. Rigs unlock as you gain multiplayer levels, so it takes quite a while to have them all at your disposal. Casual fans won't feel too disadvantaged with the standard Warfighter rig, at least.

Even as a novice, I enjoyed Infinite Warfare's multiplayer mode – especially the Gun Game mode in which your weapon changes with every kill. But I've experienced two problems so far: spawn killing happens too often, and sometimes the game won't allow friends to join each other (which hasn't been a problem in this year's other big shooters). Infinity Ward patches the game frequently, so hopefully these issues will be addressed before long.

Zombies in Spaceland

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review Xbox One Zombies in Spaceland

This year's Zombies mode is at once the best implementation of Zombies yet and the odd mode out. Rather than sticking to a sci-fi setting, Infinite Warfare's Zombies takes place in a candy-colored 1980s theme park. Play by yourself and you'll be treated to a cartoon intro depicting four actors arriving at an old movie theater for auditions. But the director, voiced by Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman), somehow sucks them into the movie world itself. They'll have to win the fright of their lives to make it back to the real world.

Infinite Warfare ships with a single Zombies map, Zombies in Spaceland, but we expect more will be released as part of the $50 Season Pass. Spaceland is a massive theme park, filled with branching paths that players can unlock with money earned from zombie kills. Each location offers weapons to buy, side paths to unlock, switches to flip, and numerous secrets to discover. Players can also build the robot N31L and complete challenges to earn rewards.

The best aspects of Zombies in Spaceland are its colorful setting, sense of humor, and wealth of secrets and mysteries. The energetic eighties soundtrack (accompanied by David Hasselhoff himself as the deejay) and humorous player characters add a welcome vibe of whimsy to an otherwise challenging mode. Dying while your team lives on sends you to the Afterlife Arcade, where you can play carnival games and a handful of Activision Atari 2600 titles to earn the right to come back to life – it's a treat.

Besides its incongruity with the rest of the Infinite Warfare package, this Zombies mode is held back somewhat by punishing difficulty and the need for map memorization (or the use of external guides). In its defense, Zombies in Spaceland starts out a bit easier and has a smoother difficulty curve than past Zombies modes. But the challenge still ramps up quickly, to the point where casual co-op enthusiasts (such as significant others) might feel unwelcome. Zombies would benefit greatly from selectable difficulties à la Gears of War 4's excellent Horde mode.

Achievements

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review Xbox One Achievement

Infinite Warfare has 50 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore on Xbox One. Surprisingly, competitive Multiplayer has only a single Achievement for winning five matches. Zombies in Spaceland gets 10 Achievements (which will be very challenging), with the remaining 39 tied to the single-player campaign.

The toughest of the campaign goals include beating every mission and side mission on Veteran difficulty (surprisingly doable) and finding all eight hidden equipment upgrade terminals. Missions can be replayed from the main menu, so nothing is missable.

Overall Impression

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare review Xbox One

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is the perfect way to keep the Call of Duty franchise fresh. This series can't just stick with modern warfare and past wars every single year. Moving to the far future allows for the introduction of new mechanics, equipment, and especially environments that couldn't be done in other time periods. Not only do series followers get something new here, but science fiction fans who've never touched a Call of Duty will find much to like as well.

Infinity Ward set out to make Infinite Warfare the most "changed" Call of Duty since Modern Warfare, and they succeeded. The story might lack some of the characterization and wonder of Titanfall 2's campaign, but everything else is so top-notch it hardly matters. For big budget thrills and fast-paced, tight gameplay, look no further than Infinite Warfare.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is available in standard, Legacy, and Deluxe Editions. The $80 Legacy and $100 Deluxe Editions include Modern Warfare Remastered, an excellent remake of Call of Duty 4. Modern Warfare Remastered can't be bought separately at this time, so be sure to grab the Legacy Edition if you enjoy Modern Warfare.

Pros:

  • The most ambitious Call of Duty in years
  • Lots of variety with combat on foot, in spacesuits, and in ships
  • Clever tools like Seeker grenades and hacking enemy robots add futuristic fun.

Cons:

  • Campaign story needs more characterization and depth
  • Tracking targets can be difficult when piloting Jackals due to the sparse UI.
  • Zombies mode doesn't fully mesh with the rest of the game and needs selectable difficulty.

Outstanding

4.5/5

Xbox One review copy provided by Activision.