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The challenge with the billion-dollar-per-year Call of Duty franchise is to offer gamers something new without alienating those who want something familiar. It’s that contrast between the passion for something known with the quest for something new. For the shooter series, the key to this balancing act is multiplayer combat, which Activision is revealing for the first time at its Call of Duty XP fan event in Los Angeles.

With Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Infinity Ward and Activision are taking some huge risks. They’re taking Call of Duty from modern warfare to space, and some fans hate that idea. To calm those angry players, the developers are including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered, an HD remake of the 2007 hit that turned Call of Duty into a blockbuster, as part of the Deluxe and Legacy versions of Infinite Warfare. And they’re including an almost-cartoony take on zombie co-op play with the Zombies in Spaceland mode as a bonus in the standard game. At Call of Duty XP, Activision is making its best case that Infinite Warfare will truly feel familiar to Call of Duty fans. (See more of our Call of Duty XP coverage here.)

“While this may be the future of warfare, this is still an old school fight,” said the voice-over in the latest Call of Duty trailer.

Joe Cecot, lead multiplayer designer for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Above: Joe Cecot, lead multiplayer designer for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

I played the multiplayer combat and decided that it’s a lot of fun, even if I was skeptical early on about the sci-fi angle.

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Joe Cecot, lead multiplayer designer at Infinity Ward, the developer of Infinite Warfare, spoke at a press briefing at the Call of Duty XP event, which will draw thousands of people. Cecot had a big grin after he heard cheers when Activision unveiled the first multiplayer trailer to the press. The multiplayer emphasizes customization, fast-paced gameplay, and a host of new high-tech weapons and tools.

David Stohl, head of Infinity Ward, said, “We’re excited to be talking about the multiplayer side of Infinite Warfare. This has been a long time coming, and we’ve held back until now.”

The zip lines are back at Call of Duty XP 2016.

Above: The zip lines are back at Call of Duty XP 2016.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

In an interview, Cecot said that many of the sci-fi weapons will fire and recoil in a way that’s similar to modern-war weapons. Also, the wall running and fluid, momentum-based movement introduced in Call of Duty: Black Ops III will be used again in the multiplayer for Infinite Warfare. On top of that, while you can fight upside down and float around in space, Cecot said that the designers deliberately tried to avoid excessive use of 3D combat in Infinite Warfare so that players would feel comfortable about attacking in head-on confrontations.

One of the biggest changes in the multiplayer is that you have to choose among six “combat rigs” you’ll use. This idea is roughly equal to the class of fighter that you chose in previous games.

The rigs are designed for different styles of play. You can customize your rig by picking different payloads, such as powerful weapons or abilities which you earn through combat. Traits are persistent, overcharged enhancements or abilities that have to be refilled every few seconds. You can unlock rigs over time, and you can customize your rigs’ heads, bodies, and other cosmetic elements.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare's Warfighter combat rig.

Above: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s Warfighter combat rig.

Image Credit: Activision

The Warfighter rig is a lot like the assault soldier in modern war, firing at midrange but always part of the firefight action. The Merc is a defensive player with heavy weapons. The FTL uses guerrilla tactics. The Stryker is a tactical team player. The Phantom is a sniper who uses stealth. And the Synaptic is a robotic run-and-gun player who can turn into a cyber dog.

The Warfighter’s payloads include a rapid-fire spread-shot weapon with ricochet ballistic rounds designed to take out the enemy in front of you and around blind corners. Traits include ping, which gives you an idea of where the last enemy’s death location was. You can use new kinds of grenades, like the seeker grenade, which will attach itself to victims before detonation. You can swap rigs on the fly in the middle of a match.

You’ll find plenty of new things, like resupply for your lethals and tacticals (such as grenades). You can pick up scavenger bags after successful kills with bullet weapons. I heard a few cheers when fans saw the bull charge, which gives you a shield and allows you to knock over multiple enemies in a wild charge. If you don’t find the exact weapon you want, you can actually craft new versions of weapons.

You'll fight in outer space in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Above: You’ll fight in outer space in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Image Credit: Activision

Scorestreaks are one way that Infinity Ward is keeping multiplayer familiar. As in past games, if you reap a lot of kills, you can earn rewards that make you more useful to your teams (by giving them recon intelligence through UAVs) or more deadly on the battlefield. You can, for instance, deploy the R-C8 armored robot that will watch your back. All of the old modes will be available, along with a couple of new ones, such as defender. Defender is a high-stakes game of keep away, where you have to stop and toss the ball drone to your comrades.

The maps also reflected a combination of old and new. I played a few times on the Frontier map, which is set inside a space station in the solar system. If you shoot someone, the dead body will start floating in space, as if the gravity armor stops working once the wearer dies. Since it would be much harder to play while floating in a big 3D space, Infinity Ward made this map easier by making it only two levels high and having gravity throughout the level.

But I expect we’re going to see a huge variation in maps, from outer space to Earth-based locations. Other maps featured at Call of Duty XP include Frost, a three-lane, medium-paced map. Another is Throwback, a 3-lane map that is also medium paced. Frost is a linear three-lane, medium-paced map. And Breakout is a three-lane, slow-paced map.

The action is very fast-paced in Infinite Warfare's multiplayer.

Above: The action is very fast-paced in Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer.

Image Credit: Activision

Meanwhile, mission teams provide a new twist. With these, you and your teammates can get a new mission, such as getting as many kills while sliding as possible. Each team has its own unique personality, challenges, and very own commander that will help guide, and in some cases, push the player to go after the objective and complete those challenges.

“Our core vision with focus on driving front-line combat engagement and rewarding players of all play styles, Infinite Warfare is redefining the two most important elements in Call of Duty multiplayer, the player and the play space,” Cecot said.

I was intrigued by the Biospike, a new knife that explodes when you throw it at someone. But I found it only explodes if you hit someone with the knife. That means it requires a lot of skill to work right. I also thought it was cool that you could fire while throwing out tacticals, such as flash bangs, at the same time.

So the big question: Is it Call of Duty? Yes, of course it is.

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