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The New Call of Duty Is Pretty Awesome, Actually

A little time with 'Infinite Warfare' at E3 2016 later, and here's my interest level at an all-time high.

A screenshot from 'Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,' courtesy of Activision

Most years, Call of Duty hits me about as hard as a moderately size cup of water. As in, just the water, the wet stuff that doesn't hurt, not the cup itself, which could easily cause bruising if launched at an unsuspecting mug. You got that already, obviously. Not that water would have much of a chance to splash against my LA-sweaty brow in the outer space (some of the time) setting for the forthcoming Infinite Warfare, which—and here's where we flip-reverse the whole not bothered mostly narrative—is looking like a franchise revitalizer. It's a genuinely exciting production that takes a series arguably overdue an injection of true originality in a bombastic sci-fi direction where the player switches between ground combat and zero-G gunplay with grappling hooks via pulse-pushing spacecraft dogfights.


Because, you see, water in space wouldn't splash on anything, ever, because it almost instantly turns to ice. After it boils, that is. It's complicated. Just ask any astronaut who's seen his or her piss expelled into the near-perfect vacuum of space.

It's not all zipping between shattered parts of busted-up spacecraft and popping rounds off floating foes, as seen in the palpitations-all-up-inside-you trailer that ran at Sony's E3 2016 showcase (words on which can be found here). In a cozy room at the Los Angeles Convention Center, I get to see both the previewed-already "Ship Assault"—I'll get to that in just a moment—and "Black Sky," which is staged in Geneva, near-or-maybe-not-so-future style. Here, the player is initially on the ground, standard CoD vibes abounding. Except the assailants swarming the city via dropped pods from above are a mix of humans and robots, sparking blue electricity as their American backwater mailbox heads are popped like Monster cans in lava.

"You," a guy called Nick Reyes unless I misheard (the internet confirms my hearing is sound), are joined by crew mates, including what looks like a robot buddy of your own. Nick has the ability to call in a nearby air ship to unleash bullet hell on clusters of enemies, aiding his progress toward a tower under siege. He can hack enemy bots, too, causing them to self-destruct, which can bring down entire ships with one simple command (or maybe two: one hack, one oh-shit-there-she-goes) of no-human-causalities aggression. Come the end of this section, through shrapnel-peppered European streets and brick-walls-like-colanders buildings, Nick and company leap into atmosphere-breaching crafts, and it's into a different assault phase we go: rockets locked onto some sort of battle cruiser until it makes like a firework and explodes, burning itself out against the big black.


'Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,'

"Ship Assault" gameplay trailer

In the trailer, these spaceship passages look as if they could be on rails. Refreshingly, they're not, and the controls are largely identical to ground movement—point the stick up to go forwards, click it in to boost. This is a neat move on the part of intuitiveness, ensuring that CoD old-timers aren't about to be thrown by trigger-mapped acceleration. Dogfights are EVE Valkyrie-rivaling for stomach-tossing speed—just imagining this in VR is making me feel tingly—and while the ship piloting is over and done with in what feels like no time at all, making way for the grenades-and-grappling-hooks combat as depicted in the "Ship Assault" trailer, that it's there at all is reason to pay attention to a game that looks like it's committed to furthering the singular appeal of this mega brand, rather than merely repeating winning formulas.

Which makes it a risk, too. Call of Duty is too big to fail by now, at least for the next few years, but Infinite Warfare's orbital assaults have already proved spectacularly divisive, to say the least, making the packed-alongside-it Modern Warfare remaster an essential sweetener for the bummed-out blinkered sorts bemoaning a departure from tradition. But truthfully, the fourth CoD proper, nine years old this November, looked like a relic when witnessed running after Infinite Warfare. You might come for the memories, then, this winter. But don't be surprised if you, too, wind up considerably more rocked by Infinity Ward's new baby than you were anticipating. Space, once again, appears to be the place.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare will be released for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on November 4. Visit the game's official website for more information.

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