Interested in learning what's next for the gaming industry? Join gaming executives to discuss emerging parts of the industry this October at GamesBeat Summit Next. Register today.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is out today, and it’s not a disappointment. I would say that it’s one of the best Call of Duty games in years, but I said the same thing about last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III. But I have to say that the critics of Call of Duty who say that it’s the same game every year are going to have a harder time making the case this year. This one takes a lot of risks that really paid off.
Activision’s Call of Duty series has generated more than $15 billion in more than a decade. And with Infinite Warfare, I expect the company to add a billion or two billion to that figure. Activision’s Infinity Ward studio, coming off the poorly received Call of Duty: Ghosts, redeems itself with an excellent game that takes a lot of risks, like shifting the setting from modern war to science fiction and outer space. Borrowing some leaders from Naughty Dog, maker of the acclaimed Uncharted series, Infinity Ward created an epic story that is also very personal.
The story follows a surprise attack launched by the Settlement Defense Front — a rebellious military group that has colonized the solar system — against its home planet Earth, held by the United Nations Space Alliance. It is an interplanetary war for resources. But Infinity Ward it tells the tale of that war in a personal way, following the path of Lieutenant Nick Reyes, a brave special forces soldier and pilot who gets promoted on the battlefield. The great insight of the developers in improving the story and characters is that it makes you care that much more about the action sequences.
“One of the reasons I came here to work on Call of Duty is I’d always admired how well they did those big blockbuster action-movie set-pieces,” said Taylor Kurosaki, a former Naught Dog designer who was Infinity Ward’s narrative director on Infinite Warfare. “But my feeling was—if the guys that specialize in doing that stuff just do that again, they don’t have to outdo themselves. They just do the thing they do so well, and we can infuse context and characters you care about. You could have two equivalent set-pieces, and the one involving characters you care about is going to feel far more spectacular.”
Infinite Warfare has benefited from three years of development. I encountered almost no bugs in the build that I played. The characters are well crafted, and the story makes good use of them. It’s an epic action game, but it has a lot to say about its central characters and the sacrifices that you make when you move from boots on the ground to command. The voice acting can be moving. The villain and hero are a study in contrasts. The facial animation is great, and the graphics are first rate. Zombies adds some much-needed levity, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered will provide a fix for those who feel nostalgic for modern war. Best of all, the action sequences will leave your hands shaking after you’re done with them because they’re so intense.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare debuts today on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and the Windows PC. I’ve played the entire campaign and multiplayer sessions on the PS4. Check out our interviews with studio head Dave Stohl and narrative director Taylor Kurosaki.
This has some spoilers, but we’ve tried to minimize them. We recommend you read this after you’ve played the campaign. Check out our Reviews Vault for past game reviews –Ed.
What you’ll like
A better story with characters who change
By staying rooted in his grunt’s training, Reyes risks being a terrible commander, as he can’t bring himself to sacrifice a few for the needs of the many. He continues to fight like a grunt until his own subordinates challenge him to step up and be a leader.
“We wanted you to feel what it was like to be a military leader,” said Taylor Kurosaki, narrative director at Infinity Ward and a former Naughty Dog designer. “To have to move forward, despite the fact that maybe some people you’re close to didn’t make it. There’s still an overarching mission you have to focus on despite those losses. That’s a tough circumstance to be put in, and we wanted you to be in those boots.”
Reyes undergoes a change in the story as he is tested in battle and loses comrades around him. He is almost paralyzed as his cohorts ask him to step up his command, but he ultimately becomes more assertive and goes on the offensive by taking the battle back to the enemy.
“The fact that he’s still the tip of the spear, still going out on the front lines, makes it that much harder for him to have that metamorphosis, to truly behave like a leader,” Kurosaki said. “He’s having to wear both hats. Like I said earlier, we’re all creatures of habit. We don’t like to change. He’s going to double down on his MO until he’s basically forced to change.”