“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.