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‘Infinite Warfare’ sneak peek gives hope that Call of Duty will evolve

I never finished Call of Duty: Black Ops III. After making it through almost the entire campaign, a thought struck me: “I’m not having fun.”

The story was ridiculous, yet still felt like it was going through the motions. The abilities were “high-tech,” but never felt like they could work simultaneously with the series’ signature fast-pasted shooting, and its sorry excuse for customization in the campaign felt like a halfhearted attempt to jump on the “RPGs in every genre” bandwagon. I never even touched the multiplayer. I was done with the series.

When Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was revealed last month, the internet’s collective reaction was less than enthusiastic, to put it mildly. The possibilities for a game with a title like Infinite Warfare should be, well, infinite, yet we only saw a futuristic spaceship and a small mech before being greeted by the familiar assault rifles, airstrikes, and hand grenades. The trailer even suggested similar environments and combat to that of developer Infinity Ward’s previous game, Call of Duty: Ghosts, albeit with a lot more emphasis on space stations.

I wrote it off. I had played every game in the series since Call of Duty 2, but my mind was already made up. This would be the first year I skipped a Call of Duty completely. The team at Infinity Ward clearly had nothing new to offer, forever bound by the linear, “Michael Bay: the game” formula that had made the series successful before being beat like a horse that had been dead for two weeks. The cynical “buy this and get the good Call of Duty game” marketing for Modern Warfare Remastered was just the icing on the crappy cake.

Related: Call of Duty: Black Ops III review

Then Activision showed off several minutes of gameplay at Sony’s E3 press conference, and I immediately changed my mind.

It took a few minutes to realize that this was even a Call of Duty game, and we weren’t the only ones confused. Perhaps it’s a new module for Star Citizen, destined to never release? As the press conference had been focusing on PlayStation VR-compatible titles, it wouldn’t have been that shocking.

Soldiers stand around a holographic map of the solar system as protagonist Nick Reyes picks the team’s target. As Reyes enters the cockpit of his Jackal fighter, a dazzling amount of information fills up his heads-up display — an autopilot switch, thruster and missile notifications, and even two separate temperature gauges. Reyes’ ship swirls through the air, narrowly avoiding debris as he zeroes in on an enemy vehicle. The glow of Earth looms in the distance, but this feels like space. As his squad approaches the landing zone and begins taking fire from a group of anti-air turrets, the game even started resembling that gritty Star Fox reboot we never knew we wanted.

It’s when Reyes gets out of his ship that Infinite Warfare really starts to look like a different kind of Call of Duty. In outdoor areas, a grappling hook largely eliminates the “hide behind cover, shoot, hide behind cover” combat of previous games. Instead, he zips quickly around the surface of the space station, picking off targets with the series’ signature smooth gunplay before entering the breached control room. There’s no “slo-mo, shoot everyone in the head” moment this time, either: the enemies are sucked into the vacuum of space. Inside, there is a small amount of cover-heavy shooting, but the sequence only lasts a few seconds before Reyes eliminates the hostiles with an anti-gravity device and a freakin’ laser gun.

And as quickly as he entered, Reyes drops back into his Jackal and flies off, with the screen cutting to black without revealing if the mission then continues with more spaceship combat. Should this be the case, it would create an entirely different gameplay loop for Call of Duty, which tends to use any vehicle sections — usually on rails — as a bookend for a mission, rather than a major component of it.

Six minutes of gameplay is obviously not enough time to tell if Infinite Warfare will finally be the entry that evolves the series, but if this “Ship Assault” is indeed indicative of the full game, we’re in for a treat. This could be the first game to truly revitalize the series since Modern Warfare helped us forget about Call of Duty 3, and if the space combat can make its way into the multiplayer mode and finally do away with the automated ships introduced with kill streaks, it may finally be able to go toe to toe with Battlefield again.

But that is all a very large “if.” The footage showcased was right outside Earth, and following the disappointing lack of planet-hopping in 2014’s Destiny — also an Activision title — a similar worry comes to mind for Infinite Warfare. Activision says that the game takes place in “a universe where humanity’s colonization of the solar system has sparked a new war for power and resources,” which suggests that we may get to travel a little bit farther away than just a space station outside our own planet.

Thus far, however, my biggest concern isn’t about the setting, the abilities, or even the amount of space piloting: it’s the enemies Infinity Ward has us fighting. They’re humans, with a few robots thrown in for flavor. Kit Harrington of Games of Thrones fame plays the leader of the Settlement Defense Front, the villainous organization seen in the gameplay demonstration.

Related: Harington goes bad in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Why stop at regular old people? Call of Duty: Ghosts introduced alien combat through its “Extinction” mode, and if Activision wants players to truly believe that “this one is different,” it begins and ends with the enemies we’ll be fighting. On Earth, in space, or on the surface of the sun, they’re still just people, and no amount of high-tech weaponry or superpowered armor is going to change that. “Infinite” doesn’t have to stop with humanity. If Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is really an evolution for the series and not just another iteration, it has to realize that.

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