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This is how Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare's space dogfights work

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The Call of Duty series made its name with boots-on-the-ground infantry combat, but this year's iteration — subtitled Infinite Warfare — is taking players far from terra firma. The game's most recent trailer showed the player character blasting off into space, using a heavily armed "Jackal" spaceship to destroy enemy fighters and capital ships in zero-gravity dogfights.

These sections are visually impressive, with swirling debris clouds, swarms of missiles, and vast planets hanging quietly in the background, but they're not mandatory, as Infinity Ward art director Brian Horton explained at E3. "Throughout the story you have junction points where you can point the Retribution [the capital ship the player commands] at a new planet and take on one of the opportunity targets — which are these ship assaults."

Ship assault missions are optional but pay out in minor rewards

The huge capital ships in question belong to the Settlement Defense Force, the ornery colonists that act as Infinite Warfare's antagonists, but they don't go down without a fight. Just like the forces of Earth, the SDF has its own spacefleet, and smaller enemy fighters teem around your target, engaging you in dogfights and stopping you from simply hopping out of your spaceplane and breaching the capital ship's bridge. Notably, for a series that's famous for its linear progression, these dogfights aren't directed or on rails — players can choose where to fly and what to shoot in a 3D environment, tearing through metal with their Jackal's cannons and launching flares to avoid incoming missiles.

You get launched out of a tube like 'Battlestar Galactica'

A publicly available trailer showed player character Reyes launched out of a tube in his Jackal, Battlestar Galactica-style, but at a behind-closed-doors presentation at E3 I also saw the ship boost its way from the Earth's surface into high orbit, a rocket-powered ride that saw the Jackal's windows ice up just as it punched its way through our atmosphere. The craft allowed Reyes to get from Geneva — the site of the SDF's first attack on Earth — to the rest of our planet's spacefleet in just a few seconds.

A successful attack on one of the SDF ships doesn't change the overall story, Horton explains, but the optional missions will pay out smaller additive ways. In breaching an enemy vessel, players might get gear they might not have had access to until later in the story, or providing background information on the objectively evil SDF. The gains you get out of these missions might not mean much in the long run, but Horton says their inclusion gives the player a little bit more freedom of choice than Call of Duty has ever offered before.