The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War- Part IV Review and Reflection, Wrapping Up Loose Ends

“You go in with the intel you have, not the intel you want.” –Jason Hudson

With the evidence Bell collects and solves following his assignments, Mason is sent out to take out two targets believed to be assets for Perseus. In Operation Chaos, Mason heads to a desolate stretch of highway near the Colorado-Mexico border, where they’ve spotted a convoy of Spetsnaz soldiers protecting Robert Aldrich, a former CIA agent began working for the KGB. After Mason and Woods fight through the Spetsnaz forces, they reach a motel where Aldrich is hiding and shoot him dead. Mason quickly photographs Aldrich’s corpse to confirm the kill before fighting their way back to the extraction zone. Later, Mason is sent to the frozen, snowy mountains of the Uzbek SSR to assassinate Major Vadim Rudnik, who has secretly been working to install sleeper agents in positions of power within Europe. Mason investigates a Soviet communications base to locate Rudnik before he escapes and manages to find him hiding inside a bunker. Mason summarily shoots Rudnik, confirms the kill with a photograph and then holds out against attacking Soviet forces before his ride arrives. Cold War‘s side missions act as an additional piece to the game in which exploration is encouraged: in order to successfully complete these side missions, one must locate the evidence within the main missions, and then solve a series of puzzles. This represents a novel chance of pace to Cold War: if memory serves, previous Call of Duty games only required steady aim and swift reflexes to solve, so the inclusion of puzzles in Cold War that test a player’s logic ended up being very enjoyable, speaking to how narrative and novel gameplay elements can be seamlessly incorporated into a genre whose success usually hinges on delivering consistent and satisfying gun-play.

In order to have the optimal experience with Operation Chaos, where Aldrich must be found and neutralised, players must first allow Qasim to live in Nowhere Left to Rin, which produces a code. Then, photographing a map in Red Light, Green Light will unlock a newspaper clipping, and finally, a numbers station broadcast found in Brick in the Wall will yield the final piece of the puzzle. With these three items, one can work out the passkey and passphrase using a numerical pattern in the coded message needed to get into the floppy disk: solving for the four-digit numerical code and the name of the city as the passphrase will allow one to properly take on Operation Chaos. For Operation Red Circus, players will need to find Franz Kraus’ ledger from Brick in the Wall, a cassette tape in Echoes of a Cold War and a wristwatch containing a list of dead drops in Desperate Measures. With this information, players can then work out, using invoice dates and their locations, the identities of three persons of interest, which makes Operation Red Circus possible. The patterns for both Chaos and Red Circus are easy to spot: the remaining code for the former can easily be derived by solving a mathematical series, and a little bit of lining dates up will enable one to work out their suspects. Having a physical piece of paper handy could make working out the answers a little faster, and in this moment, one does feel like a cryptographer trying to work out some pattern that could help them to achieve their goals. The puzzles themselves are easily solved (asking players to implement SHA-2 would, while being a more realistic experience, be completely outrageous), but it adds a newfound level of immersion into Cold War: the last time I had such an experience would’ve been with Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, where I similarly had fun putting my love for solving logic puzzles to use to unlock intel needed to hunt down the various Übercommanders. Cold War has, time and time again, proven to exceed expectations by incorporating elements that aren’t usually present in a first-person shooter, and in this way, demonstrates that there is plenty of opportunity for single-player campaigns to excite and challenge players in unexpectedly fun ways.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Operation Chaos opens with Mason and Woods touching down on a lonely desert highway in the middle of nowhere under a crescent moon. Mason starts this mission with the M60 (equipped with a Hawksman holographic sight) and the Hauer 77 (with a Milstop red dot sight). Call of Duty traditionally gives light machine guns poor handling traits – they’re ineffective in close quarters situations, but their higher damage and large ammunition capacity makes them better suited for handling larger groups enemies at moderate ranges.

  • After reaching the gas station, I immediately swapped out the Hauer 77 for an XM4, a precursor to the M4 Carbine with strong all-around characteristics. Cold War fully captures the aesthetics of buildings in the Sonoran Desert, with their tacky designs and flimsy-looking constructions. No expense was spared for details, and the interior of this gas station convenience store looks well-stocked with the sorts of things one might expect to find at these roadside stations.

  • Making my way through a trailer park, I engaged with multiple enemies concealed in the darkness. Previously, in Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2, I had access to IRNV goggles and the AN/PEQ-2A laser module, which, in Price’s words, made things too easy. Since I’m striking on a moonlit night here, the lack of night vision becomes less of a challenge, and I stayed in cover, used the enemy’s muzzle flash to determine their position and returned fire accordingly.

  • Motels are often the best choice for lengthy road trips, especially where one is less concerned with the quality of accommodations and simply need a place to kip for the night. When I was younger, motels were our choice of accommodations for road trips – despite their reputation, some motels are well-maintained and provide a clean and inexpensive place to settle down for the night, even offering some services to make things easier for guests: when I was travelling years earlier, I have particularly fond memories of a motel that offered a complementary continental breakfast, for instance.

  • After reaching the motel Aldrich is hiding out at, I quickly identified him, aimed down the XM4’s sights and double-tapped him. Once Aldrich and his guards are down, the only thing left to do is verify Aldrich’s identity. I’m actually not too sure what happens in this mission if I fail to decrypt the floppy disk ahead of time – a cursory Google search doesn’t yield anything, and most results simply deal with how to decrypt the floppy drive so that this mission can be completed correctly. I’d hazard a guess that either Aldrich gets away, or one would encounter more difficulty in finding him.

  • Once Aldrich is neutralised, the Soviet forces will shoot down one of the UH-1s intended to be the team’s exfil, and converge on the hotel. Fortunately, there’s a M79 handy for destroying the convoy of vehicles that show up: the grenades are very powerful and will turn the entire group of vehicles into smouldering husks on very short order. The M79 brings back memories of Far Cry 4‘s grenade launcher, which was classified as a sidearm and could be used to utterly devastate enemy vehicles.

  • On the topic of Far Cry, I’m not too sure if I’ll pick up Far Cry 6 just yet: on one hand, the game looks very ambitious in its mechanics and world-building, which would be a great single-player story-based experience of the sort I’m looking for, but on the other, I’m never too sure how much time I have these days to sit down to a full-length campaign, and my computer might not be able to handle the game. For Far Cry 6, then, it looks like the logical thing to do is wait and see: once I’ve had a look at the gameplay, I’ll be able to make a clearer decision. On the other hand, Halo: Infinite is a no-brainer since I know precisely what to expect, and after seeing the E3 for Infinite, I can say with confidence I’m excited to see how this one turns out.

  • Owing to their simple layouts, motels aren’t often featured in first person shooters, but Cold War does an excellent job of utilising the setting fully to create a fully-fleshed out, if somewhat shorter mission. Before heading back to the exfil, I grab another M60 and take a look at the motel’s swimming pool, which is rendered well, before heading back down the road into town, where the backup extraction point is located.

  • I’ve never been particularly fond of deserts in video games or film and will make it a point to skip them where possible. The reason why deserts are a big deal in science fiction seems to stem from 1965’s Dune, and Star Wars really popularised it owing to the symbolism deserts supposedly have. I appreciate that deserts can be beautiful for their ecosystems, and Les Stroud’s desert survival episodes are always good, but as far as a setting for film or video games go, the overuse in Star Wars means I tend not to like them as much.

  • After clearing enough of the trailer park out to secure a landing zone for the helicopter, I take one quick look back at the settlement before boarding to end the first of the side missions. The simplicity of the mission speaks to how Cold War is able to take a straightforward objective and adding enough of a build-up to really create the sense of urgency surrounding wet work.

  • The second of the side missions, Operation Red Circus, is set in a location more befitting of the Cold War setting: for one, it’s set in the Soviet mountains under a fresh snowfall. Unlike Operation Chaos, Red Circus happens by day, and there’s a hard time limit on how long one has to actually locate Rudnik before he escapes. Mason starts the mission with the Pelington 703 bolt action rifle and the XM4. Neither weapons are suppressed, so the moment Mason fires that first shot, finding Rudnik means dealing with the armada of Soviet soldiers defending the base.

  • Players must search for Rudnik inside the various buildings in this installation, and my familiarity with first-person shooters means that I had a gut feeling that the game would require I search all of the buildings before locating Rudnik himself. To prevent players from blazing through such missions, the game will spawn assets and trigger corresponding events in response to the players’ actions: in Bad Company 2‘s Sangre del Toro mission: players could visit the relays in any order of their choosing, but all three needed to be visited in order to set the stage for what’s next.

  • Having the XM4 makes dealing with soldiers at closer ranges easier; the Pelington 703 isn’t suited for close quarters combat at all. However, with its VisionTech 2x sight, the XM4 in this mission is kitted out as more of an intermediate range weapon, suited for engagements between 20 and 50 metres. Having said this, the XM4 remains satisfactory in close quarters because it’s equipped with a laser sight. Laser sights are portrayed as increasing hipfire accuracy in most games: in reality, they project a beam onto a target to give a clearer picture of where one is aiming.

  • Laser sights, being electronic equipment, have the downside that they require a power supply, reveal the shooter’s position and aren’t particularly useful at long ranges (or in bright conditions). This usually isn’t a concern in games, and the increased hipfire accuracy is a reflection of how having the laser speeds up target acquisition times by providing a shooter with a good indicator of where they’re aiming. One study in law enforcement also finds that laser sights act to intimidate targets: fiction is particularly fond of using this as an element, especially in high stakes hostage situations.

  • Of course, much as I don’t expect fiction to line up with reality, I am okay with the application of different weapon attachments to alter gameplay mechanics. My general tendency to give fiction a high tolerance for realism comes from the fact that I experience stories to learn something, not to be a harsh critic on how realistic something is. This is, unfortunately, something that not everyone respects: today, the latest Super Cub episode aired, and while I had fun watching it (I’ll aim to get a review for the past two episodes for Friday), the thread at AnimeSuki has seen one “serenade_beta” consistently making sarcastic, patronising remarks about the show and its characters.

  • With Super Cub‘s tenth and eleventh episodes, these remarks escalated to wishing death on Koguma. “serenade_beta”‘s behaviour is, quite frankly, disgraceful, and I’m hoping that reporting him will, at the very least, get those remarks stricken from the forum. While for now, no one’s agreed with him, allowing them to exist would set a bad precedence for what anime discussion entails. While people are permitted their opinions of anime, what “serenade_beta” has been doing is immature and callous, undeserving of consideration; one wishes that removing him from the conversation would be as straightforward as dealing with Rudnik and Aldrich.

  • After clearing out all three of the structures, Mason will find no sign of Rudnik. I ended up switching over to an AK-47 off the XM4 for variety’s sake; in most Call of Duty games, the starting weapons for a given mission will be more than enough for the task, although this also means not being able to try out the different weapons, all of which have different traits and can be fun to use in their own right; this is one reason why I have plans to revisit Modern Warfare 2: Remastered at some point in the future, especially since the game allows one to dual-wield certain weapons, and I never tried this on my original play-through last month.

  • As I did with Aldrich, after entering the room where Rudnik is hiding out, I blasted Rudnik with headshots to finish the assignment and then took a photograph of his corpse for the kill confirmation. It always did strike me as a little hasty that the photographs could be seen that quickly by Mason’s handlers, since this is before the age of digital cameras and the ability to transfer data wirelessly, but this is something I’m willing to live with since it accommodates the game’s progression.

  • After Rudnik is six feet under, a horde of Soviet soldiers will converge on Mason’s position while he awaits for his ride. The Stoner 63 LMG joins me for this fight, along with another conveniently-placed Type 66: I ended up hunkering down on the roof of the bunker and fended off the soldiers using a combination of precision fire from the Type 66, which has become one of my favourite weapons of the Cold War campaign, and then using the Stoner 63 to lay down suppressing fire. While it’s only rocking the standard seventy-five round belt here, this is enough to work with.

  • I realise I’ve been writing a great deal about Cold War over these past few weeks: I’ve been advancing through the game at a breakneck pace, certainly faster than I usually do, and I am aiming to finish up Cold War very soon so I can turn my attention to other things. Before then, I plan on writing about Super Cub before the week is out (and give a proper talk on things), but I have noticed that my talks on Super Cub are poorly received despite my effort to ensure a useful and comprehensive post for readers; if there’s any feedback on why my Super Cub talks are substandard, I wouldn’t mind hearing them. In the meantime, readers have my word that after today, there will only be one more post about Cold War‘s campaign.

Once the puzzles themselves are solved, the resulting missions players go on as Mason are run-of-the-mill vignettes, both of which entail a familiar pattern of entering the target area, neutralising the army protecting the HVT, and then beating a hasty exit before retaliation can follow. However, these side missions also allow players to shoot their way through new locations that are otherwise not seen anywhere else in the campaign; these locations are stunningly rendered and highly atmospheric. From the seedy desert motel in Colorado, to the frigid Soviet military installation, level design creates a very convincing backdrop for players that adds to the campaign experience. Overall, the inclusion of these smaller items in Cold War serve to encourage players to explore: previous Call of Duty games included things like intel or weapon parts that could be found in the campaigns, which, when unlocked, allowed for things from having more loadout options for the single-player modes, to even introducing cheats for creating a more exotic experience. Call of Duty games have long been derided for popularising the short campaign trend, but the reality is that the campaigns are designed to invite replay. For folks whose priority are the multiplayer modes, they’re unlikely to give too much thoughts on the story, but players who enjoy campaigns will find that they can be very well-crafted and convey a more meaningful set of ideas. In the case of Cold War, the game also encourages creative, lateral thinking, which is to the game’s credit and creates a much deeper, more immersive experience than the first-person shooter genre otherwise suggests.

Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War- Part III Review and Reflection, Behind Enemy Lines in Moscow and Cuba

“If I couldn’t put my life in the hands of vetted strangers, I’d be in a different line of work.” –Russell Adler

In order to infiltrate the Lubyanka Building, Alder and Bell count on help from KGB double-agent Dimitri Belikov: on the day of the operation, he attends a meeting to discuss the possibility of a mole within the KGB, and suggests that only General Charkov retains his bunker access key card. This change of events forces Belikov to improvise – he knocks out a security guard and disables the building’s CCTV cameras before bribing a guard with a Cuban cigar; the guard reluctantly allows Belikov access to the armoury, where he quickly reprograms a new key card for bunker access. After obtaining the key card, he lets Adler and Bell into the building. From here, Bell and Adler fight their way through the bunker and reach the vault where the list is being stored. Bell places a gas canister as a contingency measure, secures the documents and manages to rescue Belikov, who has been outed as the mole. The group manage to escape the building and return to West Berlin, learning that Cuban scientist Theodore Hastings is one of the sleeper agents they’d been seeking, and moreover, that Perseus likely intends to have Fidel Castro help him move one of the nuclear bombs in exchange for a favour. With this knowledge, Bell, Adler, Park and Azoulay head to Cuba, where they fight their way through the building where Hastings is held. Upon reaching Hastings, they learn that Perseus had ordered him and his team to reverse-engineer the detonation codes for all of the Greenlight devices, intending to frame the United States for the attack and create a new world order with the Soviet Union on top. Hastings was mortally wounded and dies shortly after, and the team takes off in pursuit of Perseus, who manages to escape. With their mission compromised, Bell and the team prepare to extract, but a Cuban soldier wounds Bell, Park and Azoulay with an RPG. Bell is forced to save Park, leaving Azoulay behind, along with a pile of questions that linger following their botched mission. Without alternatives, Adler authorises use of a cerebral injection to force Bell to give up any secrets he may still be holding onto.

In Cold War‘s third quarter, the gameplay really demonstrates what is possible with contemporary shooters as far as options go – Call of Duty games have traditionally been very linear in design and had a singular focus on shooting one’s way to victory. However, Cold War has players experience things from new perspectives, and this creates a much more compelling story, showing the moments that lead up to firefights, and how in espionage, social engineering and the human factor have a role to play, as well. In this regard, the mission Desperate Measures, which is seen from both Belikov and Bell’s perspectives, acts as a superb example of how big-budget games can allow players to impart their own approach towards problem solving, something that previously was thought to be limited to walking simulators, narrative-driven games that are driven by player choices. Pure walking simulators are often thought of as lacking in innovation, vapid and jejune, depriving players of agency. It is the case that most walking simulators are hopelessly dull and preachy, but there are definitely some insightful titles have a meaningful story to tell, as well. Cold War‘s exploration-driven segments are remarkably well-done because one’s choices as Belikov can dramatically alter how difficult it is to secure a bunker keycard. Cold War gives players several options to approach this, and for each option, sub-options become available. On first glance, killing Charkov is the easiest route, since he has a keycard. However, this is fraught with unknowns: stabbing him may blow Belikov’s cover if not timed correctly, and poisoning Charkov requires a sample of Nova 6, which is kept in a restricted area. Even if Belikov secures the Nova 6, the conversation with Charkov is a tightrope act; one could screw up the conversation and accidentally drink their own poisoned tea. Conversely, one could go for a much more clandestine route and gain access to the armoury. This route leaves Charkov alive, eliminating the risk that Belikov faces and assures him of a bunker key card: it takes a little more patience to make this one work, but the route is much more straightforward in the long run. While as Bell, the goal is simply to gather the document and eliminate all Soviet enemies, seeing Belikov’s actions leading up to the firefight is to provide players with an experience that demonstrates the level of decision-making needed to navigate a side of espionage that is desperately tricky, in turn augmenting the immersion in Cold War.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While exploring the building, I ended up finding a Cuban Cigar, and figured that the best possible route would be to try and cut my own keycard. This approach would result in the fewest deaths, and I certainly had no wish to poison Charkov. The choices players make will impact how easy it is to get the keycard needed to let Bell and Adler: some choices will result in Belikov being compromised or even killed. Throughout Cold War, the choices that players make will impact the game in meaningful ways: since I ended up sparing one of the informants in the East German mission, it became necessary to kill him.

  • Cold War does not offer many details for players while they’re playing as Belikov, but providing a map helps one to make their choices. In the end, players will succeed regardless of what method they take, and while is possible to kill everyone in sight, I’ve always had a fondness for figuring things out in the most elegant manner possible in games because it’s fun to see what happens when I do things as closely as I would in real life. I thus secured the keycard and got through the first part of the mission without any difficulties.

  • One part that caught me a little off guard was when Imran Zakhaev enters the elevator with Bell and Adler and strikes up a conversation with the two. While failing the conversation has no negative consequences, until the guns come out, I prefer talking my way through things: I ended up mentioning a General Sobol, having heard his name earlier, and Zakhaev therefore remains unaware that anything is off. Once the elevator reaches the bunker, it’s back to business: players gain the MP5 with a Sillix holographic sight and STANAG fifty-round drum magazine. The customisations in Cold War, while nothing jaw-dropping, are still fun, allowing one to change out weapons in a way that alters their handling.

  • The modified MP5 Bell carries become a close-quarters hipfire LMG, and backing this up is the Gallo SA12 with a twelve round tube magazine. Modelled after the SPAS-12, the SA-12 is a semi-automatic shotgun with moderate stats, making it a solid contender in the campaign for close ranges. For the longest time, I used to wonder why games would portray the SPAS-12 with the distinct railing, and others would not. It turns out that the FIE Corp variant is seen here (which is also used in 007 Nightfire), with its stock folded up, whereas the other version (seen in The Division 2, Half-Life 2 and Agent Under Fire) is the American Arms Inc. fixed-stock version.

  • The bunker underneath the KGB headquarters isn’t anything resembling a Bond-villain lair, but it’s still quite large and in some places, well-appointed, indicating that the bunker was designed to be utilised as a survival shelter of sorts in the event of an atomic attack on top of acting as a highly secure storage site for important documents. I imagine that the bunker seen in Cold War is likely a fictional one: the Soviets were supposed to have a secret underground system, Д-6, to act as a nuclear shelter, but beyond rumours, no one has ever found any concrete evidence for its existence.

  • The top-secret nature of numerous Cold War projects is such that they create intrigue even today, and this is one of the reasons why I find the Cold War to be such a fascinating part of history. The extreme secrecy behind many projects and initiatives create wild speculation online in the modern era, with things like the nature of the UVB-75 broadcasts, or near constant UFO sightings in areas where the United States military were testing new aircraft commanding a certain pull towards folks seeking thrilling and mysterious stories.

  • Here, Adler instructs Bell to place a device into the ventilation system that will release a toxic gas when activated. The pair are getting close to the vault itself now, and here, I will note that I am fairly impressed both with Cold War‘s performance on my eight-year-old machine, as well as my machine for being able to run such a game. While there are frame drops and artefacts, as well as the fact that my GPU can’t do the latest ray-tracing computations, the game runs smoothly enough at high settings at 1080p to confer an enjoyable experience. The true test for my machine will be whether or not it can handle Battlefield 2042 on at least high settings and still push 60 FPS, as well as Far Cry 6, which looks stunning.

  • There are a lot of technologies my five-year-old GPU won’t have access to, but I’m frankly impressed that the card I have now has lasted as long as it did. The time is probably overdue for me to build a new desktop, but with chips remaining very pricey (assuming stock exists at all), I feel that, should I decide to go for any of Battlefield 2042 or Far Cry 6, if I can at least run the game with playable framerates, I’ll count that as a win. Here, the vault can be seen at the end of this large room: I’ve finished clearing it out before going for the screenshots. I tend to go for screenshots before or after firefights, since mid-firefight, taking damage turns the screen red, resulting in poor results.

  • Inside the vault, a host of tape machines can be seen, and at the end, there’s a computer terminal Bell can use to pull the list of sleeper agents from. While tapes appear to be a very archaic way of storing data, especially with SSDs, tapes are more durable and have a much greater capacity compared to conventional hard drives. The reason why tapes are unpopular for modern computers is because tapes are good for sequential access, while computers require direct access. As such, while tapes are great for safely backing up large amounts of data for infrequent retrieval, conventional hard drives allow one to do read and writes more easily.

  • During a lull in the fighting, where waves of soldiers will attack, I come across the Desert Eagle, referred to as the “Hand Cannon” in Cold War. With an integral green laser sight, the weapon is devastating and kills in a single shot. However, one only gets eight shots with it, and once it empties out, the weapon is useless since additional ammunition cannot be obtained. During the frenzied firefight, I used it to blast attacking soldiers, marvelling at how it throws enemies back: despite its small capacity, that the weapon is a one-shot kill means that it can be used to quickly deal with enemies in a pinch and potentially buy enough space to survive a difficult moment.

  • When Bell and Adler begin gaining the upper hand, the Soviets cut the power to the bunker. The darkened underground setting brings back memories of the Metro series, and it is with a jolt that I realise that some eight years have passed since I first heard about Metro: when I built my current desktop, NVIDIA had been bundling copies of Metro: Last Light with their GPUs, and it proved to be a fantastic adventure. I have very fond memories of Metro: Last Light, whose sophisticated campaign and masterfully crafted setting immersed me into a franchise I’d previously never heard of.

  • Striking a balance between combat and survival-horror, Metro: Last Light would lead me into the series, and two years ago, I finished Metro: Exodus, finding it a phenomenal experience. That Cold War brought back these memories speaks to the distinct nature of Soviet architecture. Here, I’m still hanging onto the Hand Cannon as I push through the darkened bunker, but once Adler realises Belikov has been burned, he orders Bell to activate the gas. This knocks out the Soviet soldiers, and Bell hastens to put a gas mask on Belikov. Once they reach the bunker’s elevator, the three equip heavy armour and prepare to blast their way out of the Lubyanka Building.

  • In a moment reminiscent of Modern Warfare 3‘s final mission, players walk through the main hall of the Lubyanka Building with an RPD and blast everything that moves. This light machine gun is a staple weapon used by Soviet forces (and some Viet Cong soldiers): by default, it has a fifty-round drum magazine and is counted to have excellent handling traits. For this last segment of Desperate Measures, however, I’ve got an upgraded hundred-round drum instead, allowing me to make short work of the soldiers standing between Bell and the extraction without reloading as often.

  • Desperate Measures turned out to be the perfect balance of exploration and action: previous Call of Duty games were purely about firefights, but Cold War marks the first time where player choices have an impact on subtle things in the game. By putting decision-making in players’ hands, players must play out a game knowing their actions have an impact down the line. Empowering players thus indicates that the power they attain also has an attendant responsibility, and that in real life, any choice one makes similarly have consequences individuals must take responsibility for. In Desperate Measures, for instance, my choice to spare the East German informant poses a risk to Adler’s operation, so now I must set things right.

  • It turns out that, had I taken the time to read the informant’s file and then shot him earlier, I might’ve spared myself the trouble of having to do so in a building full of KGB and Soviet soldiers. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, and since I have a preference for not leaving behind loose ends, I opted to eliminate him, knowing that this made my assignment a tad riskier. In the end, I got everything done, and here, before I leave the Lubyanka Building, I take one last look at the main hall before departing with Adler and Belikov. Even on my older machine, the interior looks amazing.

  • The next mission, End of the Line, sees me fly over to Cuba with the goal of securing the sleeper agent. At this point, if players haven’t finished off the side missions, Operation Red Circus and Operation Chaos will become inaccessible after players accept End of the Line. On my play-through, I stopped after Desperate Measures, having found the evidence needed to decrypt a floppy disk for Red Circus, and chose to play through both side missions before continuing. I’ll recount my experiences with Cold War‘s side missions later and will only note now that they’re shorter missions that were quite fun to unlock and play through.

  • End of the Line Starts players with the LW3 Tundra, this time, without the suppressor. In Cuba, it’s Fidel Castro’s forces Bell and his team fight against. While Castro is mentioned to be assisting Perseus in the briefings, he never shows up in-person like Black Ops, where players were tasked with assassinating Castro. Being the leader of Cuba from 1976 to 2008, Castro is a polarising figure; he is credited with improving the quality of life in Cuba by proponents, but counted by others as a dictator bent on controlling freedom of expression. Thus, when Black Ops sets players with assassinating Castro, Cuba responded with opposition.

  • There are always both sides to a coin, and I personally have no strong opinions about Castro as a leader. In general, this is how I approach contemporary politics, as well, and it is therefore to my dismay that Western media is so quick to dæmonise anyone whose ideologies deviate even slightly from what is accepted here. I am not saying that people should acquiesce to a form of government that lack checks and balances, or lack accountability to the people, but instead, people should make an honest effort to, at the very least, understand how a foreign system works before passing judgement, as well as acknowledge that alternate perspectives typically exist.

  • It is therefore a disheartening to watch the news over here wherever foreign events are covered; most outlets only run things from one perspective, and journalists have no qualms in labelling an entire people and their culture as evil, even fabricating claims to smear said people to turn public opinion against them if it suits said journalists’ goals. The end result is a misrepresentation (or outright untruthful) presentation of what happened with no room for discussion or consideration. For instance, with the release of an activist from prison overseas, our media has seen fit to cover the story as being highly relevant and push the same tired narrative even if the story matters little to the people here, on the sole virtue that said activist has a large Twitter following.

  • I’ve seen it fit to pay such stories no mind; follower counts are irrelevant, and I doubt I’d get along with sycophants who revere people with half a million followers, so I’ll return the discussion back to Cold War, where I’ve swapped off my starting M1911 for an AK-47. The LW3 is a great weapon for picking off foes defending the building Hastings is in, but upon getting closer, it’s prudent to pick up a weapon better suited for close quarters combat: much of the level is set inside the building, and the LW3 won’t be of too much use in a confined space.

  • The Milano 821 is modelled after the Italian Socimi Type 821 which was designed in 1983 and entered service in 1984. While outwardly a copy of the Uzi, the Type 821 is an improvement in every way, making it easier to handle, more accurate and even be fired one-handed while retaining satisfactory control. I imagine that the Cold War incarnation is named after the fact that SOCIMI is based in Milan, Italy. As a weapon, it’s certainly fun to use: here, I’m rocking a stock Milano 821 with the standard magazine and iron sights.

  • While I’ve long felt iron sights to be ill-suited for my playstyle, of late, I’ve become much more comfortable running with iron sights in games. Before games like Call of Duty popularised aiming down sights, games tended to let players fire from the hip (Half-Life, Halo, Counterstrike). The inclusion of iron sights was intended to complement aiming down sights to increase accuracy and control at the expensive of mobility. This would slow down a firefight, forcing players to make use of positioning and cover, whereas games without these elements are more about movement.

  • In games where aiming down sights and the associated accuracy increase is central, I’ve always opted to install a holographic or red dot sight to my weapons for easier target acquisition. Thus, when Battlefield 1 came out, I had trouble adjusting, since all of the modern sights and optics were unavailable. However, by Battlefield V, I managed to become more familiar with them, and at present, I’m not particularly bothered if my weapons have no sights available to them. Here, I come across a CCTV system that lets Bell and his team quickly work out where the scientist is being held.

  • Because I otherwise won’t use shotguns often enough during my run of Cold War, I ended up swapping off the Milano 821 for the Hauer 77, which is based off the Ithaca 37, which was designed in 1933 and uses a bottom-loading mechanism that makes the weapon friendly for both left and right-handed operators. The Ithaca 37 itself is modelled on the Remington Model 17, and as the Hauer 77 in Cold War, is unparalleled in stopping power; it can one-shot any enemy in close quarters. Although I never did find it myself, I’ve heard there’s a Hauer 77 equipped with Dragon’s Breath rounds, which set enemies on fire when hit.

  • After reaching the room where Hastings is, to Park and the others’ surprise, everyone’s already dead, and Hastings himself is in the verge of death, being critically wounded by Perseus himself. It becomes clear that Perseus has no loyalty to anyone other than himself, and more than likely, he saw the scientists as a means to an end. Insofar, Perseus has been a ghost, but as more of Cold War‘s story is presented, a face behind the evil is finally presented to players, giving them a tangible target to pursue. With Hastings dead, Bell and the squad turn their attention to capturing Perseus here and now.

  • Cuba, for its sunshine and warmth, feels far too anti-climatic a place to capture Perseus; there’s no way to actually do so here, and Perseus will escape, leaving players to deal with Castro’s soldiers and beat a hasty exit of their own. Fighting on the balconies surrounding the courtyard means being exposed to long-range fire from enemies, but fortunately, there’s a Type 66 handy. With its optics, picking off more distant foes becomes much easier, although I did find myself adjusting to the weapon: since the Type 66 is classified as a tactical rifle rather than a sniper rifle, one can’t stabilise it like they would the Pelington 703, LW2 or M82.

  • I ended up finding an MP5 amidst the chaotic firefight from the building’s hallways leading up to the roof. Looking back, Bell’s time in Cuba is short, and as Woods joked earlier in the Red Light, Green Light mission, it would’ve been nice to stick around and sightsee a little: the whole of the level is set in a derelict compound just south of Havana proper and was likely chosen because Perseus counted it a secure spot to finish off what he’d started.

  • Upon reaching the roof, a veritable army of Cuban soldiers await Bell, Park and Azoulay. Fortunately, there’s also a stockpile of weapons up here, conveniently placed for the team to utilise. There’s another Type 66 and an M16A1, as well: because of the range that enemies will attack from, having an intermediate range weapon will be most helpful here. The Type 66 up here only has a red dot sight, so there’s wisdom in hanging onto the Type 66 with the scope from earlier.

  • For players looking to deal a bit more damage and were feeling shafted about not finding an M79 earlier, End of the Line offers a chance to rectify this. This single-shot break-action grenade launcher was born of a project to create a weapon that had a greater range than rifle grenades and more portable than a mortar. While effective in its role, the M79 also limited a soldier from having a service rifle: the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher ended up being the answer to this, although the M79 remains in service to this day because it is more accurate and has a longer range than the M203.

  • Ultimately, I ended up saving Park because reaching her was closer. The outcome of Bell’s choice brought back memories of Battlefield 4‘s ending, and on the topic of Battlefield, the gameplay trailer for Battlefield 2042 was released during the weekend. Together with the reveal trailer, it looks like the team at DICE has completely nailed the marketting piece for Battlefield 2042, selling it as a large-scale sandbox multiplayer modern military shooter, which is what every fan had been asking for since Battlefield 1. Unlike previous iterations, Battlefield 2042 will not have a single player campaign, but instead, will have bots as an option. While it’s still early to know whether or not Battlefield 2042 will join my library, the game looks very promising, and I’ll probably have a more concrete decision once I’ve had a go at the open beta.

Cold War‘s implementation of a choice-based narrative within a first-person shooter is therefore effective, because Belikov’s actions set the stage for something much larger. A compelling exploration-based narrative is one that combines both quiet moments where a players’ choices have an impact on the outcomes within the context of a larger story, and moments where skill and knowledge are necessary to advance the story. Cold War is able to achieve this very well, and thus, is able to convey an atmosphere of urgency by utilising both decision-based mechanics and traditional first-person shooter mechanics in every moment to underscore the importance of stopping Perseus. The combination of infiltrating the Lubyanka Building and shooting one’s way through a Cuban mansion to determine what Perseus is up to leads to one chilling revelation: a plot to falsely accuse the United States of destroying over half of Europe with neutron bombs. The potential loss of life is staggering, and with Bell being an integral piece of the puzzle, Adler guides players to journey inwards in the hopes of figuring out what Bell knows about Perseus and using this knowledge to save millions of lives from being extinguished. While the cards are laid bare for players to take in, and what’s at stake is now clear, this part of Cold War also ended up being a lot more conventional than expected. The promotional materials had suggested a much more insidious plot to undermine the world as we know it, but it turns out the catalyst to this is a staple of Cold War fiction, taking the form of nuclear devices. Of course, with Operation Greenlight’s scope, the penalties for failure are much higher, and entering the final act of Cold War, the desperation to stop Perseus becomes very tangible. Overall, the setup in Cold War is very much a classic video game experience, but the narrative is much deeper and more satisfying because it combines the best of both worlds – striking a balance between the two and taking a hybrid approach, as seen in Cold War, demonstrates how games that combine elements of exploration can connect players to what’s going on in the story without sacrificing the excitement and satisfaction of improvement over time, creating a superior experience.

Higurashi GOU: Whole-Series Review and Reflection, A Return to Hinamizawa

“This is how things are now! You and me, trapped in this moment, endlessly.”
“Then you will spend eternity dying!”

– Doctor Strange and Dormammu, Doctor Strange

Keiichi Maebara moves to a remote mountain village in 1983 and discovers that this seemingly sleepy village conceals a dark secret that has consistently claimed the life of one individual and resulted in the disappearance of another every year during the town’s Cotton-Drifting Festival. At least, this is what Higurashi was originally about: 2020’s Higurashi GOU was quite unexpected and surprising given that KAI had satisfactorily answered all of the questions that Higurashi had raised. Thus, when GOU began airing, the first half of the season felt to be an incomplete retreading of the original Higurashi, as different arcs saw Keiichi and Mion succumb to madness. However, as the story progresses, Rika begins to realise that something is off: having broken the cursed cycle, she finds herself suffering tragedies anew. Rike learns that the culprit is none other than Satoko; after defeating the Yamainu and revealing there never was Oyashiro-sama’s curse, she decides to pursue a future at St. Lucia’s, a prestigious academy for young women. It turns out that Satoko had joined Rika on her journey, but, lacking the academics and social skills to fit in, became increasingly withdrawn. When Keiichi, Rena and Mion invite her and Rika back to Hinamizawa, Satoko begins to long for the days of old and decides to take a walk around, eventually reaching the old storehouse holding the statue of Oyashiro-sama. When she comes into contact with a piece of the statue, she is transported into a void and comes face-to-face with the entity that consents to be known as Eua. Here, Satoko gains the same power Rika has, and vows to do whatever it takes to stop Rika from leaving Hinamizawa, even if it means endlessly killing her best friend to utterly smash her resilence. Satoko’s constant resetting of time begins to be felt across different realities: her uncle, Teppei, begins to realise the horrors he subjected Satoko to and makes amends, while Miyo follows a feeling in her heart and learns her adoptive grandfather had intended her to live a happy life. Miyo decides to stand down from her research, but Satoko capitalises on the moment and takes possession of a vial of agent H-173, promising Eua that Hinamizawa’s fate is now hers to control. From shaky beginnings to a shocking middle and gripping ending, GOU thus sets the stage for the upcoming SOTSU by posing the questions that had allowed Higurashi to be so successful. Despite treading on familiar ground, GOU thus manages to reignite interest in Higurashi and creates a compelling story to follow.

Despite being a question arc, in which the story is only partially told from several viewpoints to pique the viewer’s curiosity and set the table for the big reveal, GOU nonetheless establishes that Higurashi has returned to demonstrate that the notion of a happy ending is only thus from a certain point of view. The outcome of KAI had decisively finished off Higurashi and ostensibly eliminated any chance that evil could rise where it was once buried, but in GOU, this is precisely what happens anyways. In fact, GOU ends up being even more brutal than its predecessor: the instrument of Rika’s suffering is none other than Satoko, and during a particularly horrific episode where Satoko had sawn Rika in half with the ritual hoe, it becomes clear that KAI left Satoko’s wishes unattended; it was Rika who’d defeated her fate to create a path for her future, and nowhere else in GOU was Satoko’s longing more pronounced. While seemingly gratuitous and unnecessary, the reason for such an outcome would later be explored as Satoko found herself increasingly shut out from Rika’s world after the pair had gained admittance to St. Lucia. Melancholy turns to pure hatred, speaking yet again to the horrors that lay dormant. Higurashi had nailed this particular concept, only to demonstrate that despair can be beaten back through hope in KAI. However, with Satoko seemingly holding all of the cards as we leave GOU, it becomes clear that the renewed Higurashi has something else in mind for viewers. GOU had appeared to suggest that an unwillingness to change is an instrument of suffering, causing people to cling to the past, but so far, GOU depicts Satoko as having no remorse, and understanding Rika’s determination only increases her own twisted desire to destroy Rika utterly. The extreme lengths Satoko has gone to in doing a deal with the devil, and the disregard for those around her so long as she achieves her ends, has not been met with a response in equal and opposite manner just yet, but such a path can only be self-destructive: I therefore expect that the upcoming SOTSU will aim to demonstrate the cost of reactionary behaviours, and potentially, how even the foulest and despairing minds can yet be redeemed.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It feels a little strange to be back in Hinamizawa again after six years: as my story goes, I had a friend who had been quite interested to hear my thoughts about it, and so, I kicked off the series in the knowledge that I had also been watching GochiUsa, as well as working on the Giant Walkthrough Brain on the side. While graphic violence has never been something that I do well with, especially in anime, it turns out that Higurashi‘s art style wasn’t of the disturbing sort. So, I shot through the series, found it superbly enjoyable, but also found myself at a loss for words: back in those days, I wasn’t too effective with condensing out an entire series’ worth of thoughts into a single post.

  • Thus, the first I’d ever talked about Higurashi here was with Dewbond, a peer blogger with a keen eye for character dynamics and the importance of certain events on a story’s overall messages. Higurashi had left a trail of questions in its wake, but by the second season, KAI, it became clear that Higurashi had been stressing the importance of winning hearts and mind; the tragedies of Hinamizawa are averted when characters learn to forgive past evils and accept one another, as well as demonstrating the patience to hear even one’s foes out in conversation.

  • As Dewbond and I mentioned in our collaborations, the Black Ops approach would probably result in total devastation: the reason there is such a disparity between Call of Duty Black Ops and Higurashi, despite both sharing in common ordinary men and women trying to do good in a world entangled in ancient conspiracies and shadowy actors manipulating things from behind the scenes is simply because of their respective genres. Higurashi is about speaking to players, of making good decisions in the shoes of an ordinary person whose small actions can have a massive difference, and Black Ops is a first-person shooter whose entertainment value comes precisely from blowing stuff up.

  • GOU‘s portrayal of Hinamizawa brings the place to life with updated visuals. Modelled after Gifu’s Shirakawa, this remote mountain village has a population of two thousand and is host to a unique set of beliefs, with Oyashiro-sama’s curse being the chief of them. With mysterious disappearances and unexplained murders darkening the area, the village was host to the dam conflict, during which villagers succeeded in convincing the government to withdraw approval to construct a hydroelectric dam in the area.

  • Classic elements like outrageous club activities, Rika’s nipaa and mii, and Satoko’s trademark ojou-sama laugh all return in GOU: when the series began, it initially felt like a reboot of the original Higurashi and GOU. Familiar elements are presented, along with a lingering sense of mystery and multiple, distinct timelines that sees characters make mistakes and end up committing murder or walking towards their own destruction. However, GOU also had characters demonstrate a vague awareness of the past, as well, akin to what had happened in KAI.

  • One of the most memorable events in Higurashi and KAI was when Keiichi gives a doll he’d won at games day to Mion rather than Rena. Originally, this was intended to signify that Keiichi does see Mion as a girl and staves off the outcome where her twin, Shion, succumbs to Hinamizawa Syndrome. A recurring theme in KAI was how small differences in the choices people make can have a knock-on effect on things, and moreover, that if given the choice, people generally would choose to pursue acts that they know will help those around them.

  • Angel Mort makes a return in GOU: Keiichi initially believes Mion to be working here, but it turns out to be her twin, Shion. This initially created no shortage of confusion in me during the original series; the pair are tricky to differentiate from one another on the virtue of appearances alone, and instead, it is subtle differences in their personalities that allow one to tell Mion and Shion apart. Mion, despite her tough-talking exterior, is shy and girly at heart, while Shion’s girly personality is a façade masking her violent and unstable traits.

  • Detective Kuraudo Ōishi is seen throughout Higurashi, and while he initially appears to be a hostile member of the law enforcement, it turns out his interest in Hinamizawa stems from the death of a friend here and is search for justice. His direct and forward methods leave Hinamizawa’s residents thinking poorly of him, and his words can often imply that he’s no friend of Keiichi’s, but in most arcs, Ōishi is an ally, looking out for the characters and helping them to achieve their goals.

  • The frequent resets in GOU betrayed nothing about where the series was headed, but once the series ventures into Satoko’s arc, it becomes clear that something’s off: in KAI, Keiichi leads a titanic effort to get the local government to recognise that Satoko has trouble at home with her uncle, Teppei, and in the end, manage to free Satoko from his clutches. GOU revisits this route in vivid detail, showing that Keiichi takes a very similar route that had originally worked well: he even manages to convince Shion to stand down, feeling that if they were to off him, something worse might happen.

  • Convincing child services to support Satoko was an integral part of KAI to show how Keiichi could affect positive change, but in GOU, Satoko’s older brother, Satoshi, is completely absent from the proceedings. Despite doing his best to protect Satoko, Satoshi ended up succumbing to Hinamizawa Syndrome and is currently held at the Irie Clinic, with doctor Kyosuke Irie working tirelessly to cure him and redeem himself from his past misdeeds. Like Satoshi, Kyosuke only shows up briefly in GOU, and only serves to encourage Keiichi on his quest to free Satoko of Teppei’s abuse.

  • Despite the success Keiichi has in liberating Satoko from Teppei, GOU ultimately took an unexpected turn when Teppei ambushes Keiichi after he walks Satoko home. While Keiichi is initially caught unawares, he manages to fend off Teppei and kills him, but passes out in the process. Later, it turns out that Ōishi himself succumbed to Hinamizawa syndrome and opened fire on the festival-goers with his service revolver, killing Rika, Satoko, Mion and Shion. This handily undoes everything that was accomplished in KAI and is the turning point in GOU where it becomes clear that there is something affecting the timeline, forcing Rika to suffer anew.

  • Whereas GOU had not particularly impressed up until this point, the series decides to then take viewers for a shock-filled ride. Many began wondering what GOU had intended to accomplish with this, as the sudden increase in violence wouldn’t likely be enough to compel one to approach the series with renewed interest when the series’ direction had not appeared clear. This is one of the reasons why I elected not to write about the series while it was airing – Higurashi is a series that is always filled with surprises, and my impressions at any given moment may not be a fair assessment of things, especially when the context isn’t known yet.

  • As it was, I sat through a full episode of Rika getting killed off in gruesome ways, some of which have been described by others as “torture porn”. As Rika’s resolve weakens, she decides that if she can’t get to a desirable ending in five attempts, she’ll use the shard of an ancient sword to take her own life. Hanyū, who’d been assisting Rika all this time, is beginning to fade, and without her support, Rika begins to wonder if there is anything left in her world worth fighting for.

  • Most infamous of all was when Rika reawakens in a world where Satoko is the one to end up killing Rika: after using a ceremonial implement to cut Rika in half, Satoko administers a high dosage of painkillers and explains to Rika that her actions led to this moment. Without any context, only questions linger: what led up to such a moment, and what could drive Satoko to do this? As painful as it was to continue watching, the enormity of what happens here ultimately has an important role in setting up the remainder of GOU: it is in the series final acts that things really begin to take on an interesting turn.

  • It therefore seems especially jarring to switch over to a scene of ordinary summer fun in the rivers of Hinamizawa moments later; Rika’s curse means she is doomed to repeat suffering eternally, and the Rika here seems utterly defeated, playing the part of a beaten individual resigned to the sanctuary of idle days in a remote mountain town. This is a dramatic departure from the Rika we’d previously known, whose resolve had been so great she was willing to spend the equivalent of centuries living those same weeks over and over again in the hope for a better future.

  • There’s an uneasy feeling as GOU enters its endgame – while tragedies are seemingly averted, viewers are surprised again when Satoko draws a sidearm on Rika. While Rika retains her memories of her previous loops, that Satoko appears to have knowledge of what’s happening becomes a bit of a surprise. This outcome sets in motion the final story of GOU, and it is a thrilling one once the pieces fall into place.

  • GOU thus sends viewers back to the point where Miyo is apprehended once more, and this time, it really does seem like Rika is able to continue on and embrace the future she had been cruelly denied earlier. KAI had ended here on the note that Rika was free to follow whatever her aspirations had been, so this would mark the first time I’ve seen life in Hinamizawa after 1983.

  • Rika and Satoko thus enter middle school in 1984, a year when the Soviet Union and her allies boycotted the 1984 Summer Games. While Satoko is content to live life out as she and the others had previously, Rika begins turning her attention towards gaining admittance at St. Lucia, a school that makes ladies out of young woman. Unable to bear the thought of being separated from Rika, Sotoko reluctantly follows suit even as Keiichi and Rena continue to run the club that Mion left behind.

  • After a gruelling effort, Satoko manages to pass the entrance exams, but rapidly finds herself falling behind in academics, as well as feeling the culture at St. Lucia’s to be too formal and stuffy for her liking. Despite doing her best, Satoko feels as though Rika is leaving her behind in the past, and resentment grows. The gap between Satoko and Rika’s experiences at St. Lucia is indicative of what the difference between people are when they do something by choice, and those who do something because they have no choice.

  • Had Satoko chosen to accept that Rika and her futures diverged, the events of GOU would not occur, and that would correspondingly mean there’d be no SOTSU, either; in real life, people often have guidance as to how they should best handle challenges and difficult decisions such as these, but where common sense and reason may have an influence in reality, stories are written to accommodate the story, and as such, characters act in a way that drives the narrative forwards. Satoko’s choice is therefore logical in the context of Higurashi even if it may seem foolish in reality.

  • Satoko’s story really takes off after she and Rika receive an invitation to hang with the old crew in Hinamizawa for old time’s sake, their afternoon is spent retreading old club traditions with Mion, Keiichi and Rena, who are now post secondary students. While times have changed quite a bit, everyone’s still more or less who they were before they’d left, creating an old sense of nostalgia reminiscent whenever I gather with old friends for raclette or other events. By this point in time, Mion’s obtained her operator’s license and is able to transport everyone around without trouble.

  • Despite the time that’s passed, some things have evidently not changed: beyond Mion’s love for classic club activities, Rena retains her love for all things kawai and practically bulldozes Keiichi and Satoko into the ground in her haste to hug her. With the catching up over on short order, it’s back to classic club activities again with the same familiar rules and penalties. These moments evoke memories in Satoko and make her yearn for the world to be perpetually trapped in the June of 1983, where all seemed possible. However, resisting change is something that brings upon suffering to varying extents; Satoko’s wish of keeping things as they were have a significant impact on the remainder of GOU.

  • While I started my Higurashi journey with a fondness for Rena (bonus points for the fact that Mai Nakahara also voices CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa), time has led me to appreciate Mion greatly: despite her boisterous nature and a love of creative punishments, Mion is also fiercely loyal to those around her. With an indefatigable resolve and spirit, Mion is the only member of the main group to never fire a shot in anger. In short, she acts as a constant throughout Higurashi, being the energetic club president leader who looks out for her friends while at the same time, embodying the themes that Higurashi strives to convey.

  • After the day’s activities end, Mion and the others end up swinging by Angel Mort for dinner, but Satoko uncharacteristically declines, wishing to tread along familiar paths in Hinamizawa. She discovers that the village itself is changing when seeing that Rika’s old house has collapsed from snow load, and when following an instinctive feeling to return to the temple storehouse housing Oyashiro-sama’s statue, Satoko suddenly finds herself transported into a void known as the Sea of Fragments. Here, an enigmatic being greets her and grants her the power to live in loops, feeling Satoko to be an interesting character. She later accepts the name Eua and walks Satoko through the details, helping viewers to fill in gaps in the process.

  • Thus, Satoko’s effort to stave off the future where Rika leaves for St. Lucia begins. However, to her frustration, nothing works on Rika: Eua explains that Rika was no stranger to pain, and as such, her determination to escape tragedy had resulted in the fabric of reality reflecting this. It would thus be very difficult for Satoko to find the outcome that she desires: despite imbibing the memories that Rika retained, Satoko is unsuccessful in all of her attempts and winds up committing suicide to gain a fresh start on multiple occasions.

  • Satoko’s frustration becomes increasingly apparent with each failed attempt, and one can quickly see how GOU‘s most horrific moment came to fruition: on one of the particularly bad timelines, Satoko’s emotions get the better of her, and she presumably cuts Rika in half before committing suicide again. GOU‘s final act speaks to the dangers of clinging to the past, and while a traditional story would go the route of telling how this negatively impacts the individual, Higurashi boldly chooses to show how much damage can occur when misguided individuals are given the power to affect their fate, but understand little of what this power actually entails.

  • Indeed, while Satoko herself certainly hasn’t been made to learn any lessons yet from her actions, her constant resets are beginning to affect the world, to the point where other individuals are beginning to recall memories from alternate timelines. Much as a database lacking normalisation would have many redundant entries, which slows down search and insert operations, the accumulated memories (i.e. data) Satoko’s created appears to be breeding instability in her timeline. As of GOU, no ill effects are noticed yet, but if other works of fiction (including the new MCU mini-series, Loki) are anything to go by, the increasing instability will demand correction in the form of what could be a violent return to equilibrium: for one, I doubt Eua can be bargained with.

  • One of the things GOU absolutely succeeded with was showing how even the most irredeemable individuals, if given a second chance, might be able to accept their mistakes and make amends. Teppei had been presented as a wholly detestable character, but towards the end of GOU, after recalling his own sufferings and the pain he’s caused, he attempts to reconcile with Satoko, who is shocked that such a thing could happen. In any other timeline, this would be a pivotal moment that accentuates Higurashi‘s themes, but Satoko seems to be intent on turning even this to her advantage; in a manner of speaking, Satoko has become a greater evil than Teppei and even the Hinamizawa Syndrome itself.

  • If I had to guess, Eua would probably be most similar to Death Note‘s Ryuk, who dropped his Death Note in the human world out of boredom. Eua similarly has no concern for Satoko’s well-being and only facilitates her actions because she deems them interesting. Assuming this to be the case, Satoko’s fate would be doomed to be similar to that of Light’s, and it would take a titanic effort from Rika and the others to bring Satoko back from the precipice. This is merely speculation from my end for the present: with SOTSU only a few weeks away, I’m curious to see where things will head. Having said this, Higurashi‘s always been an unpredictable series, and as such, I am not particularly invested in any of my own personal theories: as long as things are compelling, I’ll be happy.

  • The stakes are amplified by the fact that Satoko is exploiting Miyo’s change of heart to steal a vial of H-173, which is a chemical agent that induces the same symptoms from Hinamizawa Syndrome. Declaring that she’s now able to dictate when tragedy strikes, Satoko sets off with the determination of obtaining what she feels she is owed, no matter how much suffering occurs. That each timeline is a proper reality in its own right speaks volumes to how callous Satoko’s become: loops had simply made Rika more resilient and understanding of things like kindness, but Satoko’s become more selfish and stubborn. Where these opposing forces meet will doubtlessly form the bulk of SOTSU‘s story.

Higurashi GOU is, like Black Ops: Cold War, something that didn’t necessarily need to be made, but now that it exists, serves as a powerful and enjoyable instalment in their respective franchises, further developing and expanding out their worlds further and giving them a fresh coat of paint. The new character designs in GOU aren’t particularly distracting or jarring, and the updated background artwork is solid. Kenji Kawai returns to score GOU‘s soundtrack and as usual, excels in creating atmosphere for both ordinary and horrifying moments. The story, despite starting off slowly, accelerates wildly towards the end; familiar events and outcomes are gradually displaced by the presence of something much more sinister, and GOU absolutely delivers a stunning reason to give the continuation a go; in the knowledge of what’d been established in Higurashi, and then how things reached a resolution in KAI, GOU shows that there remains a ways to go yet before a new equilibrium can be established. The journey will doubtlessly be a part of SOTSU, and if the trailer is anything to go by, SOTSU will not be pulling any punches at all. I appreciate that some viewers did find the violence to be more brazen than anything seen previously in Higurashi, where things were more implicit, but shock factor aside, the choice to portray things directly is meant to suggest that Higurashi and KAI, being Rika’s stories, had been about the fear that lies within her heart. The open portrayals of violence in GOU, on the other hand, mirror how Satoko is more direct and forward than Rika, acting rashly without thinking things through. It’s a clever bit of a contrast to indicate that GOU is Satoko’s story, and my only remarks here are that, as long as I’m not made to watch heads being mangled in SOTSU, I will accept the more explicit violence as a part of GOU and SOTSU‘s storytelling. With this post in the books, I think that at some point, it’ll probably be prudent to invite Dewbond back – as I’ve demonstrated, my thoughts on Higurashi are feeble at best and lean quite heavily on my making remarks about the series’ unusual connection to the Black Ops series. Having an extra set of eyes on things means being able to really delve into how GOU turned around from being a middle-of-the-road experience to something I’ve become quite excited to check out.

Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War- Part II Review and Reflection, Behind the Iron Curtain, Returning to Yamantau and The Cicada’s Memories

“You knew Manual 34 was from Hinamizawa and didn’t tell us! What else are you hiding? Maybe I can knock the truth out of you!” –Frank Woods

Information from Volkov confirms that Perseus had been smuggling nuclear weapons as a part of an enigmatic Operation Greenlight. This leads Adler and his team to a Spetsnaz training facility in deep in the forests of the Ukraine’s Zakarpattia Oblast. Bell and Woods fight through the facility, discovering a mockup of the average American town’s main street and finding themselves amidst a live-fire drill. After reaching a control centre, Bell gains access into the computer systems and acquires a printout of Operation Greenlight, which had been a top-secret contingency President Eisenhower had approved in 1958. In the event of a Soviet invasion, Eisenhower ordered nuclear bombs placed in major European cities and would detonate them to cripple the Soviet advance as a last-ditch effort to stop them. By 1974, the nuclear bombs were exchanged for neutron bombs, which had a lower blast yield but emitted up to ten times the neutrons compared to a standard fission weapon, reducing their impact on infrastructure. Upon learning that Perseus has infiltrated the programme and Hudson had known about it, Woods confronts Hudson back in their West Berlin safehouse. However, with the threat that Perseus poses, there isn’t a moment for the team to bicker amongst themselves; Perseus is seeking information from Nikita Dragovich’s old facility at Mount Yamantau. Despite infiltrating the base and extracting the entire mainframe computer, it turns out that Perseus had wiped the mainframe’s memory banks clean of anything. With no other options left on the table, Adler enlists help from double agent Dimitri Belikov and prepares for an operation cladestinely enter the Lubyanka Building and retrieve the prize: a list of sleeper agents Perseus is interested in. I’m now roughly halfway through Cold War, and with more of the narrative unveiled, it becomes clear that Cold War is falling back the a familiar threat of nuclear weapons being used against their originators. However, unlike most stories, the stakes in Cold War are much higher owing to the single fact that instead of losing a single nuclear device or several, the whole of Europe could potentially be lost. This underlies the team’s determination to thwart Perseus before he has the chance to erase millions of lives.

The nature of Operation Greenlight is strictly fictional: while NATO had been concerned about a possible Soviet invasion of Western Europe, and the Soviets did indeed create a simulation of what such an invasion would look like with something called Seven Days to the River Rhine, there is no evidence to suggest the United States ever would’ve considered placing nuclear weapons in European cities as a contingency precisely because the risk of such weapons being discovered, or even stolen, would’ve created a political nightmare for NATO. However, the audacity of plans during the Cold War have always appeared to come out of works of fiction, and while Operation Greenlight might not have  ever existed, it is named after the Green Light Teams, special forces which were trained in a top-secret programme to deploy low-yield tactical nuclear weapons behind enemy lines should the need arise. Cold War‘s missions at the halfway point therefore become some of the most enjoyable levels to play through. These vividly-designed maps striking a balance between gameplay and storytelling, creating a highly immersive experiences. Of note was the return to Mount Yamantau: Hudson originally visited in 1968 to locate NOVA 6, and fifteen years later, the facility largely remains intact. With Mason returning to the site along with Woods to secure the mainframe, Yamantau is presented in all of its glory, with the latest visual effects and textures of a game was made ten years since its predecessor. Despite the decade and a half that has passed, Mason still retains lingering memories of his past mission, especially after opening a weapons cache and spots a photograph of German scientist Friedrich Steiner. Ancient conspiracies are very much a part of Cold War, and this clever callback to the original Black Ops brought back a thought I had: when I first played through Black Ops in 2015, I was captivated by the setting and storyline, which I felt to hold an inexplicable connection with Higurashi: When They Cry. Both series, after all, shared in common the idea of evil rising where it was once buried. Much as how Black Ops created an unsettling portrayal of hidden plots in the Cold War, Higurashi‘s 2006-2007 anime series proved to be a compelling, gripping tale of a group of students in Hinamizawa racing to sort out their home village’s darkest secret. Both Black Ops and Higurashi ended decisively, but would return in a big way in 2020, with Cold War and GOU both picking up where their predecessors had left off. Both works began slowly, but over time, would come to act as a meaningful entry in their respective series by simultaneously exploring new directions with a renewed vision while at the same time, remaining respectful of the original’s aesthetics and themes.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The massive Spetsnaz facility is reminiscent of the sort of thing that one might see from Wolfenstein: Bell and Woods are tasked with infiltrating the structure and seeing what’s inside a building that is reluctant to give up its mysteries from reconnaissance photographs alone. Over the radio, Park suggests that Bell and Woods be efficient with their time, leading Woods to jokingly remark that he was hoping to perhaps sightsee a little and check out the gulag. While Cold War might be all business, it’s got its moments of humour, too, and this works in the game’s favour.

  • After clearing out guards at the entrance with the suppressed Norinco Type 63, a battle rifle with solid accuracy and stopping power, I enter the facility’s grounds under the light of a full moon. I imagine that most operations of this nature would be timed with a moonless night where possible to increase stealth, but given the fact that stopping Perseus is time-sensitive, Bell and his team don’t have this luxury. Sneaking around the guards to reach the entrance is preferred: one could just use the suppressed Type 63 and kill every guard in sight, but the door’s lock then subsequently becomes harder to pick.

  • Seeing small details like reflections in the puddles on the road act as a reminder to why Cold War is DirectX 12 only: advances in graphics technology means that contemporary games are almost photorealistic, and even at lower settings, still look phenomenal. Because I ended up going stealth-only and took out three guards during my run, I had an easier time getting to the door leading into the training facility proper. Regardless of one’s stealth, Bell will be ambushed at the door, but Woods will show up and save him in the nick of time.

  • The gargantuan proportions of the training facility become apparent once Bell and Woods are inside: gigantic steel trusses and girders keep the building up: the building’s design suggests a cavernous interior. A handful of guards will be found patrolling a corridor, and once Woods is in position, Bell is free to engage them. The Type 63 is a great choice here, as well-placed headshots will neutralise the entire group without risking a protracted firefight. Weapons in Cold War sound and feel great, with headshots from the Type 63 feeling immensely satisfying.

  • I’d also swapped out the suppressed M1911 for a Krig 6 assault rifle, which is modelled on the Ak 5, a Swedish assault rifle based on the FN FNC that entered service in 1986. As an assault rifle, the Krig 6 is a solid all-purpose weapon with moderate damage, accuracy, firing rate and reload speed. Here, Bell and Woods cut through a 1980s arcade blaring Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot. Woods takes down a mannequin, and in embarrassment, warns Bell never to mention it to anyone else. The arcade games can actually be played, and while on my current run, the mission was the only thing on my mind, it would be worthwhile to come back in the future and try everything out.

  • It turns out the massive structure was built to house a course modelled on an American town, indicating that the Soviets had at least some plans to invade the United States in Cold War‘s timeline, if they were willing to invest this heavily to recreate an environment they’d expected their special forces to fight in. However, as Wood remarks, the Soviet special forces are no match for the two operators: I used the Type 63 to pick off distant foes and mopped up the remainder with the Krig 6. The heavy, powerful weapon sounds in Cold War makes each gun feel lethal, and psychologically led me to fire in controlled bursts. This in turn made my experience feel all the more authentic.

  • Here, I pass by yet another Burger Town: it would seem that Burger Town is a recurring brand in Call of Duty, and while I’d been playing Call of Duty for almost a decade, it was only really with Modern Warfare 2: Remastered that I began noticing this fictional fast food joint. Entering the Burger Town here, I notice a menu not unlike that of A & W’s or McDonald’s: both places similarly serve a variety of burgers and even breakfast items. Earlier today, to mix things up, I ended up throwing together a Buffalo chicken-and-cheese sandwich with Frank’s Red Hot for lunch: the last time I had one of these was back in January, when Yuru Camp△ 2 was airing, and under different circumstances, I was really able to savour the sandwich, which was as every bit as delicious as I remember.

  • Back in Cold War, there’s not time to really look around, since the Spetsnaz forces will be keen to wipe Bell and Woods off the face of the planet. After dropping some soldiers on a railing leading to the command room, I picked up the M82, a .50-calibre anti-materiel rifle that deals an incredible amount of damage in exchange for a slow aiming down sight time and heavy recoil. This weapon can down ordinary foes with a single shot anywhere to the body, and for the fight against a heavy trooper, proves invaluable: the .50-calibre ammunition will knock off the trooper’s helmet in as few as two shots, allowing one to be downed very quickly without an inordinate ammunition expenditure.

  • After taking an elevator up to the command room, Woods will begin exploring the room while Bell works off a terminal. There’s a trove of information here: while the goal is to quickly get a printout of the Operation Greenlight files, there’s actually no rush to do so. Security won’t be tripped until one gets the files, and exploring the different files on the computer is a fantastic way of learning a little more about the state of the world in Cold War. When the Operation Greenlight files are retrieved, Woods is angered to learn that Hudson was involved with the project, but with the entire base alerted to their presence, it’s time to beat a hasty exit.

  • While powerful, the M82 won’t be enough to stop the armoured vehicles from firing on Bell and Woods, so the only real option is to sprint through the next segments of the game, ducking and weaving to elude heavy fire. The M82 stops being useful in these hectic quarters, and I would switch back over to the Krig 6 for its usefulness in closer ranges. Some of the Krig 6 rifles are equipped with a forty-round magazine and a red dot sight, while others have a standard thirty-round magazine and an ACOG sight. Which one players go with is strictly a matter of preference, and I stuck with the 40-round variant simply to have more versatility at close ranges.

  • Woods and Bell end up reaching a garage guarded by a pair of heavy troopers. The logic of keeping the M82 handy becomes apparent here, although folks who’ve dropped the M82 can pick up the CIGMA 2, a modified FIM-43 Redeye MANPAD that can lock onto enemy vehicles or fire unguided projectiles. The presence of the CIGMA 2 makes it considerably easier to deal with these behemoths, who can absorb magazine upon magazine of heavy fire and still remain standing. These heavy troopers are usually armed with an LMG of sorts and can lock players down.

  • Purely for my own amusement, I ended up switching off the Krig 6 back over to the M16: while it does seem outwardly strange to have American weapons readily available here at the Spetsnaz training facility, it makes sense in retrospect to have American weapons around so the Spetsnaz know what weapons their adversaries are using handle like. Since their cover’s blown and the entire facility is on them, the time for stealth has passed, and there’s nothing left to do except clear the area and then steal an APC.

  • I imagine that the CIGMA 2 was chosen purely for aesthetics: Cold War‘s weapons aren’t always true to their real life counterparts in terms of performance or when they should appear. The FIM-43 Redeye forms the basis for the FIM-92 Stinger, and in most games, Call of Duty titles being no exception, this has been a strict anti-air weapon that requires a lock on before it can be used. I imagine that Cold War simply needed an anti-vehicle solution, and the writers decided that since the Redeye pre-dates the Stinger, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to allow it to fulfil both an anti-ground and anti-air role.

  • I’m not too sure what model and make the APC is, nor what the machine gun I’m using is called, but what I do know is that having unlimited ammunition makes it easier to provide cover for Woods while he starts the APC. Once Woods gets the APC going, players return to the mock-up of an American town and will have a chance to destroy the APCs that were firing on them and Woods earlier: the fact that the mounted machine gun can deal appreciable damage to the other APCs suggest to me that it’s at least a heavy machine gun, probably the NSV, which fires 12.7 mm rounds.

  • With Woods at the wheel, all Bell needs to do is hold down the trigger and shoot at whatever stands between them and an escape. This chase segment was entertaining, although one can imagine that, with the ruckus caused and whatnot, Perseus would likely be made aware that someone is onto them and make the appropriate arrangements subsequently. Here, Woods and Bell tears through a segment of the map with neon lights, creating a visually-pleasing effect as the two escape the facility back into the cold winter night.

  • With Perseus known to have an interest in Operation Greenlight, Mason and Woods head back to Yamantau. This mission puts players in Mason’s shoes, and he starts with the LW3 Tundra with a suppressor, as well as a suppressed Diamatti pistol. The Cold War revisit lacks the same emotional tenour as the original Yamantau mission from Black Ops, during which players get to play the mission from the perspective of an SR-71 pilot and camera operator, as well as Jason Hudson himself, and instead, does outwardly seem a ways more modest in terms of design.

  • However, this is not the case, and the Yamantau mission, Echoes of a Cold War, proved to be remarkably fun in its own right. Cold War has particularly nailed the way sniper rifles handle in the campaign: the LW3 Tundra (L96A1) is a solid bolt-action rifle that has a lower ADS time and firing rate compared to the Pellington. While being slower, the LW3 deals more damage, and so, the weapon is better suited for scenarios where one can be assured time to pick their shots. This primarily applies in the multiplayer. In the campaign, the Pellington and LW3 will both get the job done.

  • Returning to Yamantau brings back memories of Black Ops, which in turn reminds me a great deal of Higurashi: When They Cry. I picked up Higurashi: When They Cry durnig 2014 at the request of a friend and found the series an excellent one on account of its transition from supernatural murder mystery to a Cold War sci-fi thriller. The nature of Hinamizawa Syndrome was not so different than Nova 6, and immediately, I felt that Black Ops was what Higurashi would be if guns were allowed. Speaking with Dewbond on the matter during a collaborative post, I was finally able to put into words what had eluded me seven years earlier.

  • Higurashi strove to convey that even in the face of an unyielding foe, violence is not the answer. Higurashi KAI made this explicitly clear: when Keiichi took a route of negotiation and indirect action, reaching out to people and winning hearts and minds, he was able to save Satoko more decisively and gave Rika hope that breaking the cursed fate was possible. Higurashi could’ve ended with KAI, much as how Black Ops could’ve ended once Mason stopped the numbers broadcast, but reality is hardly so kind. Cold War reminds players that of this fact by sending Mason back to Yamantau, and GOU indicates that happy endings don’t necessarily leave everyone happy.

  • While GOU appeared to struggle in the beginning, once Satoko is introduced to the deity known only as Eua, and she accepts a deal with the devil, the series hits critical mass and raises all sorts of questions. Dewbond has made it clear that the supernatural aspect of Higurashi always remained the more intriguing of the two (over the Cold War aspects that I’m more familiar with), and given Eua’s enigmatic presence and goals, coupled with her claims that she serves even greater powers, I would tend to agree. When problems are scaled up so that guns and special tactics can no longer deal with them, a series is invariably going to suggest that force isn’t the answer.

  • Of course, had Higurashi purely been about Tokyo, the Yamainu and Banken, I would be completely in my element, and the solution would simply to send a wet team in to bump off Miyo’s superiors and secure whatever assets might be at the Irie clinic before extracting Miyo herself for questioning. This would be too easy, and with SOTSU inbound, I’m curious to see what the writers have in store for us. I’ll write more extensively about GOU in the near future. Here, Mason and Woods passes through the old command post: despite being damaged by the avalanche that had occurred fifteen years earlier, the facility still appears to be in use.

  • The collapsed catwalk remains intact following the avalanche of fifteen years ago, and while Mason is able to make it over with a jump, its rickety construction does not inspire much confidence, leading Woods to comment on the quality of Soviet construction. Cold War‘s addition of small jokes and minor bits of humour into things is a pleasant touch: Bad Company 2 had excelled in doing this, and while I’ve come to hope that more military shooters would take the Bad Company route of lightening things up with jokes, it is something that’s more situational.

  • Cold War is all serious, but the occasional joke here and there helps to remind players that everyone, despite their skillset and dedication, are still human. Here, as Mason and Woods prepare to rappel over to the next section, they bicker about who goes first on the zip line. In classic manner, the line breaks and sends Mason tumbling downwards. While he manages to land on a catwalk, he loses his weapons in the process, and sets off to link up with Woods. At this point, Mason will only have access to a combat knife, and as he makes his way deeper into the facility, old memories begin resurfacing.

  • The derelict facility is frigid, and with only a knife, the situation does suggest that capitalising on the darkness is a better idea. However, upon reaching a room with soldiers, it is possible to deal with them and confiscate their firearms. The knife occupies a weapon slot, and can be swapped out: beyond stealth, there’s no reason to hang onto the knife once the recurve bow is picked up. I suppose now is a good time as any to mention that after the Modern Warfare series, Call of Duty began using numerals to indicate ammunition counts again, making it far easier to know my status in a firefight: while I greatly enjoyed Modern Warfare, the ammunition indicator was tiny and only gave one a visual representation of how much they had left in a magazine.

  • This would occasionally be troublesome during a firefight, since I would run out of ammunition and be forced into a reload at the worst possible time. Halo never gave me this problem because the display was larger, and I imagine that Call of Duty might’ve been able to use this approach had the ammunition counter been a bit larger, too. Back in Cold War, I found the recurve bow to be well-suited for stealth gameplay; it can kill in a single shot while being totally silent. Moreover, arrows can be retrieved, and one clever touch is that Woods’ dialogue to Mason will change depending on how he chooses to fight through the dark corridors. Off to the side in one of the smaller rooms, Mason can also find a key to a weapons locker.

  • This weapons locker is more of an Easter Egg more than anything: it contains the Redeemer, a double-action six-shot revolver with high damage. After crawling underneath some pipes, Mason links up with Woods and enters a room overlooking a dig site of some sort. After ascertaining that’s where they’ll need to head, Woods jokes that while the Soviets have a crane, they’ve got Belikov and a helicopter. A veritable army stands between Woods and Mason, so the time has come to ditch the suppressed weapons and go loud.

  • Belikov will provide covering fire in his chopper, softening up targets to make the fight to the mainframe computer a little easier. It speaks to the era that an entire mainframe needs to be hauled out; today, picking up intel would entail plugging in a hard drive and pulling data, or having some fancy system like ISAC gain deep persistent access into a system and then upload the data elsewhere for retrieval. The old-school mechanics of the Cold War era allow for the story to add additional challenge to things that, in the modern era, would take the blink of an eye to complete.

  • A quick glance at the history books will find that in the early 1980s, the late Cold War, things were marked by rising tensions again: the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and hard-line stances against the Soviet Union resulted in the deployment of Pershing II medium-range ballistic missiles to Europe, as well as the conducting of Able Archer 83 in 1983. The exercise had alarmed Soviet forces, who assumed that NATO was preparing for an actual nuclear war, bringing the world the closest it had been to calamity since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

  • According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the world today is actually closer to the brink of total catastrophe than even during 1953, when the United States successfully tested the world’s first hydrogen bomb and saw the Soviet Union following suit a year later, or in 1984, when intermediate range missiles were deployed to Europe while President Ronald Reagan announced his intention to win the Cold War, accelerating the arms race. Factors include the withdrawal of both the United States and Russia from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, as well as a lack of action on climate change. I would add to the list the current reverence people have for social media; besides creating an illusion of expertise amongst those with large follower counts, it also amplifies the minority’s opinions and accelerates the spread of misinformation, obfuscating the ability for leaders to make proper decisions.

  • A capable society would set zero stock on social media where politics are concerned, but with this trend looking like it’s here to stay, it does feel like humanity, in choosing to listen to popular people over skilled people, is on the precipice of unprecedented catastrophe. This is a matter for another day: at this point in Cold War, I’ve entered the building where the mainframe is housed. Woods and Mason hit the bottom floor, secure said mainframe and attach a winch to it, then prepare for a harrowing lift back out. To help with this, an AK-47 with a fifty-round magazine is provided. Belikov’s flying allows for the entire mainframe, a “regular-sized” one, as Woods puts it, to be safely brought back to West Berlin. I smiled at Woods’ remark, as it was worthy of Bad Company 2, and found the firefight here as hectic as it was cinematic; one must know where the enemy fire is coming from, or otherwise will succumb while riding the highly exposed mainframe.

It is therefore unsurprising that the seemingly coincidental timing of Cold War and Higurashi GOU can appear to be anything but: while seemingly separated by a dramatically different set of characters with their own unique goals and intents, both Black Ops and Higurashi speak to the depth that certain mysteries have. However, while the conspiracies and enigma may seem bottomless and hopelessly convoluted, one still retains the agency to make the sort of decisions that can leave one in a better situation, and by doing what’s right at the individual level, one’s choices still potentially have a knock-on effect in things that are greater in scale. This is where the commonalities between Black Ops and Higurashi ends; Higurashi had always been about solving problems through winning hearts and minds, while Black Ops, being a first person shooter first and foremost, encourages resilience and an unwavering determination to get the job done. However, Cold War has taken a few steps towards the routes that Higurashi takes: as Bell, players can make decisions that impact the game’s progression later down the line, and as the Berlin mission indicates, there are times where going silent yields results where going loud does not. Cold War‘s shift in direction speaks to the merits that Higurashi had so effectively conveyed in its run, but not to be outdone, GOU takes Higurashi in a brand-new direction, and this is a topic that is sufficiently sophisticated as to warrant a separate post: the choices that Satoko make sends the story heading on a path even I cannot speculate an outcome for. GOU therefore creates an exhilarating question segment that grips viewers and leaves them longing for answers, which the upcoming SOTSU will likely provide. While this is a few weeks away, I’ll have the time to both draft out my thoughts on GOU and continue making my way through Cold War, which has proven to be an absolutely enjoyable ride. Cold War might be about the multiplayer, zombies and Warzone modes for most players, but for me, I’ve always found the stories to be immersive, worthy of consideration, as well. With two excellent missions in the books, I’m very excited to see for myself what comes next.

Mystery Camp: Yuru Camp△ 2 OVA Review and Reflection

“Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise.” –Julia Cameron

Aoi recounts three vignettes surrounding camping to viewers. The first segment has her and Nadeshiko using a handy app to rent camping gear, only to learn that they’re missing Chikai for their trip and therefore, decide to rent a Chiaki-in-a-box, too. Later, Nadeshiko’s solo camping takes her to a horrifying camp where her days consist of working in a factory, subsisting on meagre rations, burning hazardous chemicals for warmth and sleeping in a cardboard box. Later, Rin and Nadeshiko roast some marshmallows, and although Nadeshiko begins thinking of all the different recipes she could make with s’mores, the roasted marshmallows Rin gives her turn out quite unlike what she’d been expecting. Aoi wonders if any of the stories she’d just told could be really counted as camping. This is Mystery Camp, the first of the Yuru Camp△ 2 OVAs that accompanied the second BD collection. The first season’s OVAs were imaginative and fun, being both supplementary materials to the series and sending the characters on adventures that would otherwise be counted as unrelated. Here in Mystery Camp, the trend continues, capitalising on Aki Toyosaki’s excellent voice acting to deliver Aoi’s lies in a compelling manner. The three stories are unlikely to be considered canon in any way, but instead, serve to act as what-if segments that allows the studios to put the characters in unusual situations in the name of comedy. However, unlike the previous season’s OVAs, which were denoted as a part of Heya Camp△, this OVA lives up to its name as Mystery Camp: there’s not a context for Aoi’s stories, leaving viewers to wonder if said tales really went down or not.

The middle act, which sees Nadeshiko coming across a work camp, was probably the most heart-wrenching of the stories: the reason why it’s so effective is because Yuru Camp△ unfailingly puts Nadeshiko in gentle, easygoing scenarios where she is able to learn and relax, and where any challenge is overcome with creativity. As such, when Nadeshiko enters a work camp instead, traditional camping activities are replaced by something considerably more grim. Seeing Nadeshiko will herself through everything becomes particularly saddening, and while she’s doing her best to hold together, nowhere else in Yuru Camp△ do we ever see Nadesiko look so defeated. Consequently, viewers would be relieved to know that such things don’t actually happen to Nadeshiko as this OVA draws to a close. I appreciate that something similar was done during the first season, when Aoi spent an entire OVA lying to Nadeshiko, even getting everyone to pretend to be Rin and causing Nadeshiko to question reality itself. Because it’s so adorable to see Nadeshiko in this manner, I expect that this OVA was a chance to have Aoi continue on with her tall tales and perhaps drive up the feeling of pity for Nadeshiko, who otherwise has a very happy-go-lucky experience in Yuru Camp△.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Aoi’s pranks are at best, hilarious, and at worst, mean-spirited. This is greatly augmented by the fact that Aki Toyosaki’s delivery of Aoi’s lines is done with a gentle and soft kansai-ben: with her voice, it’s almost impossible for Nadeshiko to tell when Aoi is lying, and this has resulted in a great many jokes throughout Yuru Camp△. I’ve long found Aoi to be an amalgamation of K-On!‘s Yui Hirasawa and Tsumugi Kotobuki: Toyosaki’s voice and Tsumugi’s eyebrows make Aoi quite standout in terms of appearance, although I imagine that Aoi’s other attributes make her notable.

  • The first of the stories indicates that while Nadeshiko and Aoi had made use of a rental service to swiftly get gear delivered to them for their latest winter camping excursion, they’d forgotten to bring Chiaki along with them. No camping trip would be complete without Chiaki, so they decide to rent one, too. This is a hilarious oversight that wouldn’t otherwise happen in Yuru Camp△: of the Outdoor Activities Club members, Chiaki is the most rambunctious of the bunch, and sooner or later, it should have dawned on Aoi and Nadeshiko that they were missing their club president.

  • As far as camping gear goes, Aoi and Nadeshiko have brought almost everything of note in this vignette, from the standard tents and sleeping bags, to chairs, campfire stand and cookware: one of the biggest joys of the series was watching everyone in the Outdoor Activities Club grow; as everyone became more familiar with camping and its implements, they were able to tailor their experiences to their liking. Over the second season, Nadeshiko, Aoi and Chiaki begin buying gear to fit their own style, rather than simply following Rin’s setup. This is a pleasant indicator that everyone’s learning their own style of doing things.

  • Mystery Camp is the first of the Yuru Camp△ 2 OVAs to be released, accompanying the second Blu Ray set which had become available back on May 26. I’d been rather looking forwards to the OVAs, and while my enthusiasm is shared by other fans of the series, I cannot say that I am surprised by the fact that there isn’t more discussion about the OVAs, since it’d just come out (at the time of writing, I think this is the only discussion around for the OVA). I’d originally planned on watching the OVA at a later time, but the realisation that I’d otherwise have a tad too many Cold War posts out in rapid succession led me to change things up.

  • This weekend, it was to thundering skies I’d waken up to, and with this first thunderstorm of the year, I also caught wind that there’d been a small tornado south of the city. The thunderstorms began in the morning, paused briefly during the afternoon and then returned in full force during the evening before ceasing again. I was fortunate that it was during the respite that my haircut had been scheduled: the skies relented long enough for me to finish, and after I returned home, it hailed and rained briefly. Today, while the skies were quite moody, but much of the day remained reasonably dry even though the clouds overhead gave every impression that a storm was going to happen.

  • We did get some rainfall towards the end of the day, and while the sun did appear briefly, it’s overcast again now. Back in Mystery Camp, the second of Aoi’s stories is the highlight; Nadeshiko is geared up for another solo camping trip, but upon reaching the campsite she’d made the reservation for, she’s shocked to find it to be quite unlike anywhere she and the others had previously camped at. Noxious fumes emanate from the site, a far cry from the pleasant mountain air that Nadeshiko had come to expect from camp sites she’d previously utilised.

  • It soon becomes clear that this camp is no ordinary camp: it is a barren field of concrete, pole-mounted CCTV cameras, electric fences and smokestacks. Up until now, Yuru Camp△ had always been about displaying the splendor of nature in all its glory, so to see something so industrial and unnatural was jarring, most unlike the aesthetic that Yuru Camp△ is known for. A drone greets Nadeshiko at the gates, and she reluctantly walks towards the central tower to check in.

  • A row of androids greet Nadeshiko once she arrives: the cold, monochrome environment is quite uninviting, and the absence of other humans creates a sense of unease. A major part of Nadeshiko’s enjoyment of her solo camping adventures came from being able to explore on her own and meet new people in the process, so to completely strip this away would be to take away the very thing that Nadeshiko most enjoys doing.

  • As soon as Nadeshiko’s checked in, she is relieved of her camping gear, given a drab garb and is assigned menial labour as part of camp activities. The look on Nadeshiko’s face is heartbreaking, and she assembles what appears to be an inexpensive plastic toy on the production lines. Because anime are often limited by how they convey emotions, certain cues are retained here – Nadeshiko’s eyebrows speak volumes to how disheartened she is with camp activities. Slice-of-life anime usually feature eyebrows in three distinct styles: ordinary round eyebrows for a neutral or happy expression, v-shaped eyebrows for anger, determination or surprise, and finally, reverse-v-shaped eyebrows for sadness, melancholy or mortification.

  • To emphasise things, Nadeshiko’s eyebrows can be seen through her cap, and of the people at camp, she’s the only person with her eyebrows visible. The moment the camera pulls back out and shows other individuals on the same production lines, it becomes clear that Nadeshiko’s checked into a labour camp. Such a topic is no joke, and it was therefore surprising that Yuru Camp△ opted to use this as one of Aoi’s stories. This can potentially be seen as being insensitive, although in good faith to the writers, I will suppose they’d intended to show the dramatic difference in what “camping” entails through Nadeshiko’s sorrow.

  • The moment that really hit hard was watching Nadeshiko down camp rations in an empty room whilst sitting on a folding chair – this is so far removed from the joyful meals she’s enjoyed while camping that one cannot help but feel an inclination to offer Nadeshiko a good nabe and perhaps a hug. One clever touch about this segment was that, as Nadeshiko’s day progresses, things become increasingly monochrome. The only detail that suggests to me this camp is more in line with Futurama‘s Spa 5 labour camp (and therefore, that Aoi’s story is meant to be taken lightly) was that when Nadeshiko is given a pile of solid fuel to burn for heat, she’s at least given a gas mask to keep her from succumbing to the fumes.

  • While burning these chemicals, Nadeshiko sadly notes that there’s no warmth in the fire. whatsoever. With the day over, a dejected Nadeshiko prepares to turn in, the colour fully stricken from her world. The aesthetics here brought to mind the likes of Girls’ Last Tour, an anime set in a post-apocalyptic world filled with engineering marvels whose purpose were lost to time. Such settings inevitably create a sense of melancholy, and while Yuru Camp△ might not deal in things like finding purpose in a world inherently lacking meaning or similar, there is no denying that when the moment calls for it, the series can create very compelling aesthetics that evoke certain emotions.

  • After spotting a cardboard box, Nadeshiko prepares to turn in for the night with naught more than the box as bedding, remarking it’s at least a little warm and wonders where she’ll end up upon waking up. This segment reminded me of Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales, during which he remarked that his fellow gulag prisoners lived moment to moment and whose sole joy in the day was determined by if their soup was thick or not. If Yuru Camp△ ever creates a vignette similar to this again, there is no guarantee that I will be able to keep my composure: this was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in a while, and I think that I’ll need to remedy this by watching Nadeshiko experimenting with fire-roasted vegetables again, to convince myself this is only an OVA at the end of the day.

  • I’m always fond of such dinners, since they represent a nice change of pace, and because driving out to the Chinese restaurant is admittedly fun. Hot food on a cooler evening is especially welcome, and with things looking up locally, I am hoping that we’ll be able to return to restaurants, movie theatres and fitness facilities soon. Over dinner, the conversation topic turned to what we’d like to do once things reopen, and while dining out is high on the list, one activity that came up was a potential trip out to the province over: we have our own hot springs here at home, and a year ago, I’d set up an itinerary for such a potential trip before the health crisis put those plans on hold.

  • Excited at the prospect of marshmallows, Nadeshiko wonders if s’mores could be made into other things like a spread for toast, tarts or even in ice pops. Because s’mores are just graham cracker, melted marshmallow and chocolate, their colour and flavour can be easily replicated and previously, anything with these combination of ingredients are marketed as having the same great taste of s’mores, only without the need for a campfire. I imagine that basic s’mores could hypothetically be used as a spread on toast, and that would result in a relatively tasty and easy treat to whip up.

  • Similarly, if one were to go for the pre-made route, smokes could be made into tarts, too, with the crust standing in for the graham crackers. However, I imagine s’more ice cream popsicle would be a little trickier to make, and one wonders if this is something worthy of Binging with Babish. Of course, if Binging with Babish were to do foods from Yuru Camp△, the ajillo from the Izu trip would probably be more interesting to make. Back in Mystery Camp, Rin finally remarks that things are ready to eat and hands one over to Nadeshiko, who is brimming with joy about this camping confectionary.

  • My Japanese isn’t quite strong enough to resolve what Nadeshiko had eaten, but it becomes clear that what Nadeshiko’s eating most certainly isn’t a s’more. This reminds me of a classic stunt I’d love to pull off one day using 番薯糖水 (jyutping faan1 syu2 tong4 seoi2): a sweet yam soup. The family recipe calls for Dioscorea alata, or the purple yam, a bit of ginger and rock sugar. The resulting product is sweet and delicious, but when purple yams are used, the soup itself resembles grape juice. The prank would then entail setting aside some of the soup after straining it and the making an attempt to convince people it’s grape juice.

  • Because purple yams don’t have a grape-like taste, the shock people would have when eating it would be hilarious. I approve of low-level pranks such as these because no one gets hurt, and Aoi’s stories very much fall into this category: while Nadeshiko might be quite gullible and falls for Aoi’s lies regularly, I don’t believe that Aoi ever means for her jokes to have a malicious outcome. Instead, her enjoyment of jokes and lies seem to derive from the moment of dawning comprehension that such jokes can create.

  • It should be to no one’s surprise that Aoi’s been lying through her teeth for the whole of Mystery Camp: in fact, the level of trolling here inexplicably brings to mind Higurashi GOU‘s Eua for reasons even I can’t begin putting into writing. However, it’s impossible to feel shafted, since Aoi’s elaborate lies are always so adorably crafted. The way she rolls the ですか at the end is hilarious, and with this, the first of the OVAs for Yuru Camp△ 2 draws to a close.

Altogether, despite a short runtime of only four minutes and forty-five seconds, the first of the Yuru Camp△ 2 OVAs represents an amusing addition to the series. I am aware that in general, reception to Yuru Camp△‘s OVAs have generally been nowhere near as positive as they are for the anime proper, and this is because most of the effort in the series have indeed gone towards ensuring that the episodes themselves are of a very high standard. By comparison, the OVAs can feel more slipshod, being more of an afterthought rather than an integral part of the experience: we’ve seen Yuru Camp△ at its best during the TV series, and the OVAs are instead, a chance to place familiar characters in scenarios that would otherwise not fit with the series itself, with the aim of eliciting a few laughs. Having said this, the OVAs aren’t always about humour: the first OVA had shown how Chiaki and Aoi founded the Outdoor Activities Club with the aim of sharing their love for camping with others, and more recently, Heya Camp△‘s OVA had Rin head up to Hokuto on a loaner three-wheeled moped. With the upcoming OVA being titled Travelling Shimarin, I imagine that there will be a greater focus on Rin and her explorations to some capacity; while it may not necessarily be a straight exploration episode as Heya Camp△‘s OVA was, it could be fun to see more comedy come into a (non-canon) version of Rin’s solo travels, as well. The second OVA is still a ways off, releasing in July 28, so for the time being, I’ll return my attention to the Yuru Camp△‘s live-action drama, which, despite having fallen behind in, is something I’m still enjoying immensely.