The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Blizzard Entertainment

The Relevance of AI Bots in Contemporary Games, and A Case Study in Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War

“What will limit us is not the possible evolution of technology, but the evolution of human purposes.” –Stephen Wolfram

While Agent Under Fire today might be counted as unremarkable, it was revolutionary for its time: tucked away in the multiplayer menu was an option to play against AI bots. If one’s friends were unavailable, or one wanted to learn the multiplayer maps that way, one could add a few bots into a match, set their difficulty and aggression, then enjoy a match against the AI, whether it be to explore the map or warm up prior to a split-screen session. In this area, Agent Under Fire completely raised the expectation for what games could accommodate, offering single players additional choice even if they did not have additional friends over at the time. Against the bots on iconic maps like Town or Castle, one could spend an hour just learning the map and its tactics, facing AI of difficulties one found appropriate. This feature would later make its way to Nightfire, which further allowed the bots’ AI to be customised. Bots could be team players, focused on grabbing power weapons or simply care for kills. When friends weren’t available to visit, I used to still play Nightfire‘s multiplayer with bots for amusement, marvelling at the fact that I could still learn the maps and weapons without needing a second player. When properly implemented, AI bots provide players with more choice and more options: some folks might want to explore maps and blast enemies at their own pace, without angry teammates screaming at them about what to do. Others simply don’t enjoy the frustration of excessively serious players ruining sandbox moments. However, it is rare for modern multiplayer games to feature bots; the idea behind multiplayer is that one is fighting human opponents, the ultimate foe in terms of strategy and skill. As such, most games don’t bother with implementing offline bots: writing pathing algorithms and decision trees to give the AI the proper level of sophistication is a demanding process, and studios would, understandably, prefer to focus on their core mechanics so that they can provide the best possible experience for players interesting in squaring off against other players.

The emphasis on always-online games is not without inherent risks for players. For one, if one’s connection goes down, or worse still, if the servers go offline, then an entire segment of the game is rendered unplayable. This is a longstanding problem that always-online games face: they are absolutely dependent on a stable connection and uptime. While servers and internet connections now are generally reliable, if a company decides the time has come and pulls the plug on their servers, that’s pretty much it. This sort of thing happened with Halo 2 during the Xbox Live days, and again with Halo 2 Vista‘s servers; I spent countless hours in the latter honing my skills and generally having a good time, but when Halo 2 Vista‘s servers were shut down, I was more or less left with half a game. Had Halo 2 included a bots mode, I would’ve doubtlessly spent many more hours after that on Lockout, enjoying an iconic experience. The addition of AI bots also opens the floor for creativity. After my time in Halo 2 ended, I ended up finding a replacement in Battlefield 3: this was a fantastic large-scale sandbox experience, but it was fully dependent on populated servers. On filled servers, it was non-stop, engaging chaos as players fought for objectives, and whacky emergent behaviours created some of Battlefield 3‘s most iconic moments. However, quieter servers were less exciting, and some days, I was met with empty servers where the match was awaiting enough players to join. Having AI bots to fill servers would doubtlessly had made matches easier to find, lessening the time I was waiting for things. Indeed, Battlefield 2042 appears to have learnt from this and will utilise bots to fill the void. For players looking to get the most of things, finding a server will be no problem, and as more humans join a server, the bots are simply replaced. The setup in Battlefield 2042 therefore helps players looking to enter the action as soon as possible, but the presence of bots also has a significant implication: it might be possible to spin up a local server with nothing but AI bots, and then spawn in with one’s mates and have a good time trying to kill helicopters with a bike or running around with terrible loadouts.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve not spent a minute in the online multiplayer of Cold War, but upon learning that there was an offline mode for bots, I was convinced to give things a go: overall, Cold War‘s multiplayer does feel a little less finessed compared to something like Battlefield V or Halo, and as such, playing against other players could be quite frustrating. On the other hand, against AI bots, the experience becomes much more relaxing and casual, making it well-suited for someone who has around an hour to game.

  • What I enjoyed most about Cold War‘s multiplayer was the fact that the weapons could be extensively customised, allowing a given primary weapon to feel like a completely different weapon with the use of a few customisations. This creates variety, and players can use the AI bots to play with things before hopping into a real match. Here, I’m running the MP5, which was known as the KS-7 in Agent Under Fire. Unlike the KS-7, which was a peashooter, the MP5 in Cold War is a solid submachine gun and can be reliably used at close quarters to down enemies.

  • Agent Under Fire players will know the AUG as the UGW. However, whereas Agent Under Fire treated the AUG as an automatic weapon with good accuracy and damage, but a lower firing rate, in Cold War, the AUG is a burst-fire tactical rifle that can take an enemy out in as few as two bursts. In keeping with the aesthetic seen in Agent Under Fire, I’ve opted to keep the default sights on a given weapon, modifying the barrel and underbarrel for slightly improved performance.

  • The Moscow map is one of my favourites in Cold War, showing off things like water reflections and lighting. If memory serves, I tried out the bots mode back in May after installing the multiplayer component; originally, I’d bought Cold War thinking that I’d go through the campaign, but after hearing about the AI bots, I became curious to try out a mode that could extend the longevity of this game. Having played a few rounds against the AI bots, I conclude that this is indeed a nice way to spend half an hour on weeknights if I’m ever in the mood to blow stuff up in a more relaxed environment, away from the aggressively competitive players out there.

  • I’ve switched on over to Yamantau and have decided to run with the basic AK-47 here. Cold War‘s AK-47 feels particularly powerful, being a reliable and hard-hitting weapon. In most games nowadays, the AK-47 is portrayed as a slower-firing assault rifle that is less accurate than the M-16 and its counterparts, but otherwise does more damage per shot. This is reflecting on the fact that the Ak-47 fires a 7.62 mm round, as well as the fact that the weapon was manufactured with lower precision compared to their NATO equivalents.

  • This, together with the fact that the AK-47 is made of very few moving parts and has a robust construction, contributes to the weapon’s legendary durability and reliability. In video games, this translates to NATO weapons being portrayed as more accurate and having a higher rate of fire, while Eastern Bloc weapons deal more damage but will fire more slowly and be less accurate at range. In older games like Agent Under Fire, the AK-47 (KA-57) is depicted as an entry level assault rifle that does intermediate damage.

  • Agent Under Fire had been built around its campaign, and so, as the players got further into the campaign, the weapons became more powerful. This was appropriate for the single player mode, but it meant that some weapons were evidently better than others in the multiplayer. Nightfire ended up addressing this by making weapons more specialised (for instance, players have access to a suppressed burst-fire SG-551 in the first mission, but later, the unsuppressed, full-automatic version appears). Today, weapons have a wider range of attributes, and weapons diversity means that developers must balance everything against one another.

  • Agent Under Fire‘s Windsor FSU-4 is the M16A2 armed with the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher and sports a 40-round magazine. It’s an upgrade from the KA-57 and is introduced later in the campaign, featuring more firepower. The FSU-4 is a fully-automatic weapon, but in Cold War, the M16 is another tactical rifle with burst fire capabilities. Burst fire weapons have typically not been too popular, since players prefer to spray on full automatic or pick their foes off one shot at a time. However, Halo 2‘s implementation of a burst-fire weapon, in the BR-55, allows for versatility: the weapon can be controlled for longer range combat, but fires quickly enough to deal with foes at closer ranges.

  • During the Electronic Arts era of James Bond, all of their titles (Agent Under FireNightfire and Everything or Nothing) featured the SPAS-12. This Italian shotgun has a very distinct appearance because of how it looks when its stock is folded up, and while it’s a pump-action shotgun in reality, Agent Under Fire gives the weapon the more useful semi-automatic mode to increase its rate of fire. In Cold War, the SPAS-12 is a two shot kill, but has a good firing rate, making it easier to land follow-up shots.

  • A quick glance at the calendar shows that three years ago, I wrote about Battlefield V‘s open beta. I’d been home from Winnipeg for five days now, and while that assignment had been tough, what followed was nigh unbearable. When August had drawn to a close, we’d closed up our office and began working from home, although I was still required to meet with the founder and other staff. Because of a lack of accommodations, we ended up utilising my access to the university’s facilities to meet. During my downtime, I spent a fair bit of it playing the Battlefield V beta, which had opened the day after I returned and ran for five days.

  • Although I was knocking out work items daily, the fact that the backend’s team was essentially creating make-work (e.g. arbitrarily changing JSON responses and bouncing code reviews for choice of variable names) meant that the project continued to be delayed. I recall a cold, grey morning where I was scheduled for a live demo with the Denver team, but thanks to the backend team altering the names of JSON keys, the app crashed the moment I opened it during said demo. Fortunately for me, I’d done a video capture of the project and was able to show that, but the way the Winnipeg team worked made it an incredibly stressful environment.

  • Having the Battlefield V beta to look forwards to after hours really helped me to de-stress and gave me something to look forward to after a long day of sorting out bugs and dealing with headache. In the present day, I was expecting that Battlefield 2042‘s open beta to be this week, but scuttlebutt was that there’s some delays owing to development challenges, pushing the beta out to September 24. This is, incidentally, when Halo Infinite‘s open beta is scheduled to run.  I’ve never encountered a situation quite like this before, where two betas were running concurrently, but assuming that both betas happen on the same weekend, my priority this time around will be to get a feel for how both games perform on my system.

  • Previously, I primarily played betas to gain insight into how a given game handled from a mechanics standpoint, but with my machine now entering eight and a half years of service, it’s important to determine whether or not any games I have an interest in can even run on my system before I sink any coin into it; Cold War represents a situation where I’d jumped the gun, and while upgrading an OS is comparatively straightforward, outright building a new rig is going to be more involved. Under the best of circumstances, I could purchase a new custom rig and get it up and running in two weeks or so, but with the ongoing microprocessor shortage and crypto-mining causing GPU supply to be limited, building a new computer isn’t viable (it’s still possible, but not cost effective).

  • Here, I open hostilities with the Milano 821, which I’ve got standing in for Agent Under Fire‘s Ingalls (itself a facsimile of the Ingalls MAC-10, which I haven’t bothered unlocking because that would entail playing actual multiplayer matches). The Ingalls is a step up from the KS-7 in Agent Underfire, but is overall inferior to the PS-100 (P90). Conversely, the Milano 821 in Cold War is a decent weapon, handling like a submachine gun version of the AK-47 in having a lower rate of fire and higher damage per shot compared to the MP5.

  • On the other hand, the CARV.2 (a fictionalised version of the Heckler and Koch G11) was a weapon worth unlocking: late in June and early July, I spent my weekends farming long-shot kills in Cold War‘s Zombies mode to earn this weapon. This burst-fire weapon fires 4.73 mm ammunition and is very accurate, making it a great choice for medium to long range encounters. After several weekends, I finally unlocked the weapon, and subsequently kitted mine out with the Axial Arms 3x optic, which is considered to be the best optic one can use for medium to long range combat.

  • The bonus is, of course, that the CARV.2 is Cold War‘s equivalent of Agent Under Fire‘s D17. Agent Under Fire portrays the D17 as being the ultimate weapon, a combination of high accuracy, rate of fire and damage with the largest ammunition capacity of any assault rifle in game. The weapon is only available during the final campaign mission, Evil Summit, and handily beats out all of the other weapons in-game during multiplayer. I’ve spent many a Christmas getting mowed down by the D17 because we’d fight the bots on maximum difficulty and aggression.

  • Conversely, when we returned to the GameCube for kicks more recently, working out how to corner the bots and stop them before they could grab the D17 was instrumental in allowing us to win. Agent Under Fire‘s AI bots might not be the most impressive in the world (they occasionally get stuck and fail to notice when one is sneaking up on them), but at full difficulty and aggression, they are monstrosities that can utterly wreck players. This creates numerous hilarious moments where bots achieve kills that seem supernatural, contributing to the fun factor in Agent Under Fire.

  • The combination of D17 and bots in Agent Under Fire is entertaining enough so that one could spend hours at a time just blasting the AI for fun without ever needing to hop on an online multiplayer match, and having spent the bulk of the past twenty-one months playing bots, I came to realise that these offline modes are essential parts of any game that wishes to have longevity. The idea here is that, even if the servers are offline, having the map assets and ability to fight bots locally lets one play multiplayer even when support for the game stops.

  • The other reason that bots are now something to look for in a game is that, at least for me, online gaming has become a most undesirable place to be of late. I noticed this in Battlefield V, where cheaters ran unchecked, and the community encouraged unsportsmanlike behaviours during matches. These actions ranged from pushing players using AA vehicles out of bounds to kill them and free up a vehicle slot for themselves, camping, and players not utilising their classes’ abilities (e.g. refusing to revive, heal and drop ammo).

  • Calling out these players was met with a flood of insults in the text chat, and since Battlefield V automatically censored out expletives, players would resort to making up new insults that were far more annoying and offensive, creating a new sort of meme culture in the process. I’ve heard that online gaming has only gotten worse: Fortnite players insult one another for lacking cosmetic items, and in Warzone or Apex, cheating is even worse than it is in Battlefield V. With online games are looking more and more unplayable these days, AI bots can fill that void and provide players with a quasi-multiplayer experience.

  • Here, I’m rocking the Pelington 703 (modelled after the Remington Model 703, standing in for the SSR-4000, known as the SSG 3000). In Agent Under Fire‘s multiplayer matches, I never set the SSR-4000, since my aiming skills with a controller is non-existent (and in matches where I’ve tried, the bots end up steamrolling us). In Cold War, the opposite is true: while I’m nowhere nearly skilled enough against human players, I can make the sniper rifles work in matches with AI bots to have a phenomenal time. The Pelington is particularly fun to use because it feels like a hunting rifle.

  • I’ve played online multiplayer titles for about a decade; my experience started with Halo 2: Vista in 2009, and when the servers shut down in 2012, I switched over to Team Fortress 2 briefly before becoming a Battlefield fan. My first proper Battlefield experience began with Battlefield 3 in 2013, and I’ve played every Battlefield since then. I’ve noticed that antisocial behaviours weren’t really a problem in the Halo days. Trolling was definitely a present even back then, people rarely perpetrated disinhibited behaviours that we see today. For instance, the worst trolling I saw in the Halo days were players teabagging one another in matches, or people begging for Unusual hats in Team Fortress 2.

  • It was only with Battlefield V where I really began noticing hate speech, harassment, griefing and other unsportsmanlike behaviours. The uptick in antisocial behaviour coincides with the rise of in-game microtransactions and the battle royale genre’s popularity; younger players have gotten into their heads that one’s appearance in-game is directly correlated to their social status in real life, and are willing to use any method necessary to win in a given match so that others can remember who they are. Moreover, said players have taken to bullying players running “lesser” cosmetics, with hostilities spilling over to real life.

  • Video games are intended to be fun experiences that, at best, help players work on visual-spatial reasoning abilities, split-second decision-making and resource management, but recent trends have turned games into a demoralising experience and meme factories. Games like Fortnite thus become a pain to play, and multiplayer shooters with more conventional game-modes are no better, with people spewing insults and memes into the chat whenever they’re called out for unsportsmanlike behaviour. This is what made Battlefield V particularly unenjoyable for me, even more so than DICE’s constant messing with the game’s mechanics.

  • It is not particularly meaningful to have shouting matches with people who likely don’t contribute any taxes to their nation, so after Battlefield V ended, I began playing single player games exclusively. The resulting change in my well-being was profound: I became much more relaxed, and gaming returned to being a hobby I could unwind to. Single player modes further have the advantage of being titles that I can play at my own pace. If, mid-match, I need to go tend to something, I can pause the game and resume later without penalty.

  • The real joy of games is being able to immerse oneself in a different world, and enjoy things at one’s own pace, so moving forwards, I imagine that how single-player friendly a given game is will greatly impact whether or not I am likely to pick it up. Here, I’ve decided to open a match on one of the Miami maps and have loaded out the Stoner 63 LMG to look like a futuristic weapon. As it turns out, Infinite Warfare also has offline bots, and I’ve recently been getting back into that, as well: released in 2016, Infinite Warfare‘s requirements aren’t steep at all, and the game handles very smoothly.

  • I imagine that the multiplayer scene of Infinite Warfare is likely to either be depopulated, or else infested with cheaters, making it unplayable. Even though this is probably the case, because Infinite Warfare has AI bots, I am able to create a match and play against bots that are moderately challenging (and therefore, fun to fight). The shooting mechanics of Infinite Warfare are not as visceral or polished as those of Cold War, but they remain solid overall: in conjunction with the fact that the maps and weapons look rather cool, I am finding myself having a great deal of fun in a game I was otherwise only going to get twelve hours out of.

  • In this way, Infinite Warfare shows how AI bots dramatically improves the longevity of a game. Another title that did something similar is Star Wars: Battlefront II. While the original launch was plagued by lootboxes and a poor progression system, towards the end of Battlefront II‘s lifecycle, DICE added Instant Action to the game. Battlefront II thus went from being an unplayable disaster (compounded by try-hard players who already have all the best upgrades) to being an open Star Wars sandbox that allows players to kit their character out however they’d like and immerse themselves in the Star Wars universe without aggressively competitive players ruining the atmosphere.

  • These bot modes are excellent because they allow for players to enjoy an element that is often forgotten when competitiveness takes over: the game’s aesthetics and atmosphere. While I might’ve had the time to improve my skill in competitive multiplayer games ten, even five years ago, other obligations now mean that it is no longer feasible for me to do so. I don’t wish to spend hours every week trying to keep up with players half my age when there are bills to pay, and in the time that I do have, I’d much rather have fun. This is why Battlefield 2042‘s upcoming Portal mode is so interesting; if there is a full-fledged AI bots mode and all weapons, attachments and gear are unlocked for experimentation, this mode will allow me to explore Battlefield 2042‘s sandbox capabilities in a way that previous titles had not accommodated.

  • I’ve heard that today is National Video Games day, and I intend to capitalise on this by playing games in the manner of my choosing: in a private space away from all of those who believe that cosmetics equates to skill. DOOM Eternal‘s The Ancient Gods looks a good place to begin, and having just finished a delicious dim sum lunch, the afternoon is open to me. Since I’m not honour-bound to squad up in a game where the goal is to win and show off a crude victory dance, there’ll be time to iron a few things, read a few more chapters of Harukana Receive, and then make my way into The Ancient Gods, all at my own pace.

The idea that Battlefield 2042 might permit a fully-featured AI bots mode might very well be a reality: DICE has indeed announced the presence of something known as Battlefield Portal, which allows players to create their own game modes, utilising weapons and vehicles from different eras. It will be possible to pit 50 Tiger Is against a single platoon of M1A2s, or run a hundred soldiers with defibrillators versus a hundred soldiers with knives. Battlefield Portal is billed as the ultimate sandbox mode, a place where players can try out exotic and unique setups before publishing them to the community, and this means that for players seeking a single-player option against AI bots, Battlefield Portal might just be the answer. Being able to create an offline match with AI bots means being able to play Battlefield 2042 even if the servers are offline, and more importantly, being able to play in peace if one wanted to try driving a tank or messing with unusual weapon setups. Bots provide players with a highly cathartic and relaxing experience. They don’t insult the player, have no qualms with one quitting as a result of real-world obligations or become idle at inopportune moments. Games with bots remain highly playable long after the community has moved on to the next best thing, allowing a game to continue offering replay value well after its prime, and this gives the game value. In a case where Call of Duty holds the edge over Battlefield games, Black Ops: Cold War, Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare Remastered all have bot modes. Similarly, Battlefront 2 features Instant Action, an offline bots-only mode. These modes offer me amusement, an experience that can’t be had when I’m playing against try-hards half my age who have more free time than responsibilities; video games are about having fun, first and foremost, and I play to immerse myself in different worlds, not to elevate my blood pressure because some kids decided they’d spend the entire match spamming the chat with frog memes and insulting everyone who isn’t camping. I do see myself continuing to drop into Black Ops: Cold War bot matches because it’s amusing, and if Battlefield 2042 is offering full-fledged AI bots in Portal (which, on top of the game’s base maps, will also feature iconic maps from Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3), this gives me plenty of things to be excited about. Being able to play Battlefield at my own pace, away from the try-hards and cheaters, would be a breath of fresh air and a return to the age in gaming where the object was to have a good time.

World of Warcraft: Setting Foot in Northrend and Exploring Wrath of the Lich King’s Coldest Frontier

“I came through and I shall return.” –General Douglas MacArthur

The end of my vacation was approaching: I was sitting on a bench at Taikoo Shing’s City Plaza mall and waiting at our rendezvous point for everyone to gather so that we could take a bus over to the airport for the flight back home. This had been a particularly memorable trip, during which I had the chance to check out Beijin’s Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, Hangzhou’s West Lake, Suzhou’s legendary canals, and Shanghai’s world-famous Pudong skyline. At the end of two weeks, I was quite happy, but also quite ready to go back home. I stretched my feet, brought out my iPod and put the music on shuffle. Moments later, Howling Fjord began playing. I watched the crowds pass by while listening to the song’s Nyckelharpa, and my thoughts strayed back to a time a year earlier, when my friend’s private server was still running. It was not lost on me that while my friend had upgraded the server to support Wrath of the Lich King, I never ended up travelling to Northrend, since I’d been busy exploring Azeroth and Outland. The music of Northrend had been very enjoyable, making use of a variety of Scandinavian instruments to convey the sort of beauty associated with northern landscapes of boreal forests, striking fjords and snowy mountains. However, with my friend’s private server now offline, I imagined that the time to finish exploring the whole of Wrath of the Lich King had passed. I shook those thoughts out of my head and returned to the present, ready to board the half-day flight back over the Pacific, certain that I’d never have the chance to visit Northrend for myself. Eleven years later, I ended up putting together my own private server together; after growing salty at some overly serious players who saw fit to kick me from a dungeon, I decided to get my own Wrath of the Lich King server set up. Since then, I’d finished exploring Azeroth, built back my old mage and warlock, and finally got the chance to check out all of the major regions in Outland. With the old goals done, it occurred to me that here was the opportunity I’d been longing for. I thus spun up the server and boarded a boat that brought me over to the Howling Fjord.

As I began exploring more of Northrend, it became clear that, far from the dark, cold and frozen wastelands of the Arctic I had imagined it to be, Northrend possessed a variety of biomes, from thermal hot springs in tundra plains, to steep fjords, boreal forests and glacier-capped mountains. The world design in Northrend speaks to the improvement in period hardware: Northrend is bigger and bolder in design than any of Azeroth or Outland’s locations, featuring dizzyingly high peaks and tremendously deep ravines. In particular, Storm Peaks’ terrain is such that one must have a flying mount to even consider traversing some of Northrend’s most gorgeous vistas. It becomes apparent that Northrend was designed to accommodate the players’ ability to fly, and unlike Outland, vertical movement has been integrated seamlessly into map design to encourage players to get to a point where they can have access to cold-weather flight. Beyond the scope and scale of these new maps, one area in Northrend I absolutely was not expecting was Sholazar Basin, a tropical paradise surrounded by massive cliffs whose magic kept out both evil forces and the frigid weather. This was such an unexpected surprise: to find anything approaching the tropic in the far north would be a fool’s hope at best in reality. Stories of tropical valleys tucked away in the deep in the mountains of the Nahanni dominate the myths about some of Canada’s most remote regions, as adventurers of old imagined that geothermal springs of the Nahanni would create fantastical landscapes. Today, advances in cartography corresponds with the understanding that anything resembling hidden tropical gardens that far north would be implausible in reality, but in the virtual world that games like World of Warcraft provides, it would appear that these constraints are no concern. Thus, I took some time to check out the lush, verdant tropical forests in the Sholazar basin before concluding my journey at Dalaran, finally having done something I’d figured was impossible twelve years earlier.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • During the Heritage Long Weekend this year, temperatures were actually even hotter than they had been last year (33ºC to last year’s 28ºC). However, unlike last year, I had the presence of mind not to spend six hours doing dungeons; instead, I visited the Grizzly Hills for the first time. I found myself in a region of evergreen forests, rolling hills and swift rivers, and decided to take on a few quests to familiarise myself with the area.

  • Besides towering conifers, fields of violet also adorn the hillsides. Grizzly Hills is a decidedly beautiful area, and the background music has a very Nordic feel to it. However, unlike my earlier experiences, the monsters here are closer to me in level; they now take a few spells to kill, a world apart from when I was slaughtering everything trivially with my wand. In World of Warcraft‘s latest expansion, the game has been updated with what’s called a level squish, allowing new players to reach the endgame faster and get to the activities that most come for.

  • For me, raids and dungeons aren’t my objective – I’ve gotten my share of grinding for loot through games like The Division, and there, the game had been sufficiently well-designed such that one could solo the levelling experience and then still work towards unlocking a working loadout for endgame activities solo if they felt so inclined. In The Division, I used matchmaking to periodically party with others to complete legendary missions, while in The Division 2, I ended up finishing the entire game solo.

  • For me, being able to complete things solo is a vital part of a game, and when a game with a large group component accommodates this play style, I end up with nothing but respect for the game. Solo players are often at a disadvantage, fighting off larger numbers of enemies, and rewards are typically better with groups, but I find that being able to do things like collect most of a game’s most powerful items alone is an immensely satisfying experience.

  • I’ve now entered back into the Howling Fjord, capitalising on my cold weather flying to travel more swiftly over the northern continent. While Wrath of the Lich King‘s aurora might not be as stellar as those of Skyrim‘s, they look solid and fit Northrend’s aesthetic well. The aurora can be seen from almost everywhere up here, and they certainly liven up the long flights around: while Northrend is quite large, flights up here do not feel anywhere as lengthy as those of Outland’s.

  • I understand that I’m playing through Wrath of the Lich King in the most unconventional manner: this is something that is afforded by the game master (GM) powers my account has access to. In general, GMs are staff who oversee the game and will enter the game with an avatar to help players out (for instance, if they’re stuck somewhere or lose an item of importance), as well as to enforce policies. To allow GMs to carry out their duties, their accounts have access to powerful commands that allow them to become invisible, invincible, spawn items at will and teleport players.

  • On my friend’s private server, the GM powers were used to quickly gather all of the players for evening parties, as well as kit everyone out with a fully-levelled character so that we could take on some of the end-game content. During the server’s last week, I was given access to a GM account so I could build a level 80 character capable of travelling around Azeroth and explore without worry about being wiped. I utilised my abilities to create an Ashbringer, too – such actions would’ve certainly defeated the purpose of playing the game with friends, but at that point, since the server was about to shut down, my friend didn’t see any harm in giving me a chance to really play around.

  • While the role of GM was highly coveted back then (several of my friends had requested GM accounts for the purpose of spawning powerful items instantly), the role of GM is an actual role. A quick glance around shows that the average GM makes around 56000 CAD a year pre-tax, which goes out to 43000 CAD a year after deductions. Having access to a host of commands and being a virtual god is nice, as is the feeling of being able to help players in need and punish those who seek to degrade the experience for others, but it’s not an occupation I could see myself doing. Consequently, I’ll stick to acting the role of GM on my private private server.

  • With this being said, the exploration in Northrend has been quite unlike anything I’d previously seen on Azeroth and in Outland. Some of Northrend’s best sights are truly spectacular, and here, I find myself overlooking the seaport of Valgarde, which consists of a small town cut into the fjord’s narrow cliffs. Everything seen here can be visited, and while folks rocking a flying mount have it easier, the level designers fortunately had the foresight to create footpaths for players to walk down there, as well: it isn’t until level 77 where one can unlock flight for Northrend.

  • I’ve long had a fondness for watching sunsets from different places in World of Warcraft: the combination of mostly playing the game after finishing the day’s assignments and busy weekends meant that a large majority of my World of Warcraft memories are set during the evenings. I had previously mentioned that I would like to try and visit some spots in World of Warcraft by night, and wondered if changing sunset times might impact the times where night sets in. However, I never got around to trying that out last year, since I’d been wrapped up in Halo.

  • This year, with Battlefield 2042 and Halo: Infinite on the horizon, things are looking mighty busy, so time will tell as to whether or not I get around to testing my theories out. The Howling Fjord’s got areas that appear exactly as I imagined Northrend to appear, and with a flying mount, exploring becomes considerably easier: Northrend is very much walkable, and there are plenty of flight paths, but nothing beats having one’s own flying mount when it comes to pure exploration. Flight paths are only a bit faster, but they don’t always take the most efficient way to one’s destination.

  • Here, I’ve managed to fly out over to the Boreal Tundra’s Valiance Keep. This is the first place players would see of Northrend if travelling from Stormwind: the decision to have two starting areas in Northrend, as opposed to Outland’s one, was a consequence of The Burning Crusade suffering from capacity issues when all players congregated in Outland’s Hellfire Peninsula. The idea was that having two starting areas would lighten loads on different parts of the game world. Here, I look in on the city, having flown in over from Dragonblight.

  • While the Boreal Tundra isn’t too exciting of an area compared to the Grizzly Hills, directly north of the Boreal Tundra is the Sholazar Basin. This tropical area caught me completely off guard, and within moments of landing here, Sholazar Basin swiftly became one of my favourite areas in Northrend, mainly because it was so unexpected to see a tropical area so far north. Previously, I’d only heard of such a concept in tales about the Northwest Territories: prospectors in search of gold would return with tales of fantastical travels, and it was rumoured that tropical forests existed in the Nahanni National Park area.

  • Today, it is accepted that those travellers probably encountered geothermal springs in the Nahanni, and imagined that on the other side of the mountain, it might’ve been so warm that thermal energy was seeping through the crevices in the rocks to reach them. Such tales, while fanciful, are still fun, although the Nahanni is also known for being the home of many mysteries, including the macabre “Headless Valley”, so named for the compelling forces that produced a pile of decapitated corpses from visitors who were brave enough to venture into territories unmarked.

  • Nahanni National Park is a tempting place to visit: tales of tropical valleys and an unknown force aside, the area is home to some of Canada’s most striking scenery, such as Virginia Falls (twice as tall as Niagara Falls), Ram Plateau (a series of plateaus that rise 1800 metres above the rivers below) and Cirque of the Unclaimables that have no equal anywhere else in Canada. For now, the Nahanni is an area that is a little above my skill to reach (the drive is 1500 kilometres north of Edmonton), so I’ll settle for exploring spots within my grasp (and checking out more fanciful spots in games like World of Warcraft).

  • In the end, I spent an hour completing quests here in the Sholazar Basin and sought out the flight master here so that I could fly here more readily if the need required it: Sholazar Basin is a spot I’d definitely be interested to revisit in the future.

  • Dragonblight was the next region on my list; it’s a quest hub for players looking to level up, and its western edge is covered in forests. The eastern edge is more barren and home to a massive tower known as the Wyrmrest Temple. Wyrmrest can be seen from a great distance away, and it dominates the landscape. While the tower is marked as being a meeting place for Dragons, the area was quite quiet by the time I reached it. Exploring Northrend, I experienced the slightest bit of melancholy; this was something I’d wished to do twelve years earlier.

  • I occasionally wonder if the group of us on my friend’s private server would’ve stood any chance at all against the dungeons and raids of Northrend: save for one of our friends, the remainder of us were complete novices on setting up characters properly for end-game content and utilising our abilities in a party setting. I’ve seen for myself that players can become very serious about raids and dungeons, to the point of kicking people from a party for doing five percent less damage than is optimal. I’d never quite gotten over that, and this is why I have a private server to begin with.

  • If memory serves, I used the Dungeon Finder to join a group at Shadowfang Keep, but my level 20 frost mage was not equipped with the best possible gear for that level, so my spells weren’t dealing much damage. After clearing the first room, the party kicked me, sending me all the way back to the Stonetalon Mountains. I’ve heard that this is actually a more common experience than I’d initially thought, and veteran players note that this sort of behaviour comes from people power tripping; it’s something players learn to ignore. However, since I’m only a novice in World of Warcraft, and since my goal is exploration, I determined it’d be easier to explore on my own server.

  • During the past weekend, I had a few errands to tend to, and these sent me downtown. Since I had some additional time before my appointment, I decided to walk on over to the building where my seminar with World Vision was held some thirteen years earlier. I’d driven by every day last year returning home from work, and seeing this building reminded me of the Stonetalon Mountains, in turn lighting in me a wish to return to World of Warcraft. The World of Warcraft today is radically different than the one I remember, and while the game has seen numerous improvements, there is a charm about Wrath of the Lich King.

  • Here, I set foot on the Storm Peaks, a mountainous and gusty area covered in snow and ice. The foes here are closer to me in level, and while I can still engage elite enemies my level, it is clear that were I to be surrounded by enemies, I’d be finished in the blink of an eye – my most powerful spells can do a reasonable amount of damage, and with the Hot Streak talent, I can potentially have an instant-cast Pyroblast. Pyroblast is the most powerful single-target spell fire mages have available to them, but also has an extremely slow cast time.

  • For most fights, I open with Pyroblast owing to its high damage, and then follow up with a Fireball and Fire Blast where appropriate. Because fire spells also deal damage over time, I can whittle down individual enemies very quickly before they can get within melee range. Besides these utility spells, mages also gain access to the Frostfire bolt, which is essentially a best-of-both-worlds type spell: the spell takes a slightly longer time to cast, but will hit the enemy for whichever element they have less resistance against, making it a versatile spell to utilise.

  • The Storm Peaks’ greatest sight has to be Ulduar, a massive temple built by ancient beings known as the Titans. Nothing in Wrath of the Lich King quite matches it in scale, and its labyrinthine interior is home to a raid dungeon. Upon exploring Ulduar’s exterior, I was absolutely blown away by how large everything was, but it was a little surprising to see it so quiet outside. In retrospect, this is quite similar to how Blackrock Mountain had been deserted on the outside.

  • With Ulduar done, I changed course and prepared to fly on over to the Crystalsong Forest. Here, I pass back over more ordinary terrain in the Storm Peaks – it appears that it’s always night here, allowing the aurora to be seen in greater clarity. It hits me that a large number of places in World of Warcraft have the suffix -song as a part of their names, although I don’t have any background on what the origins of this are within the lore.

  • After arriving in the Crystalsong Forest, I was greeted with groves of golden-yellow aspen as far as the eye could see. Running through these forests, a very peculiar sight soon greeted me: violet-white trees composed entirely of crystal, which gives the region its name. According to lore, dragons fought here, turning the once-normal trees into crystal when they died and released their magic in to the landscape, transforming trees into glowing, purple structures.

  • We are at the end of August now, and truth be told, I’ve been pushing my blogging to the limits this month, averaging a post every 2.2 days. With September fast approaching, the Labour Day Long Weekend will offer some time for me to write out a few posts I’ve had in the wings for a while. September is actually looking quite relaxed – I have six posts planned out for the month so far, which leaves me with a bit of extra time for anything unforeseen that comes up. I’ll kick off the September posts come Saturday, and in the meantime, focus on making a progress on the drafts that I already have.

  • Here, I’ve reached the heart of one of the crystallised forests – it looks like a photo negative of sorts, although my character and HUD still have normal colouration. World of Warcraft‘s locations have always been fun, and while the starting areas are pretty ordinary in design, levelling up would really allow one to check out the more exotic-looking places. This was what I’d missed out on with my friend’s private server, and now, having set foot in all of the places of World of Warcraft up to 3.3.5, I wonder if it’d be worthwhile to create a post-Cataclysm server. On one hand, a newer server would have newer features available, most notably, transmogrification and the ability to fly in Azeroth, which had previously been a no-fly zone.

  • The tradeoff is that the old maps have seen considerable changes, and in Mists of Pandaria and later, the spells and talents have been completely overhauled to the point where I’m not too sure how everything fits together. Returning to Wrath of the Lich King, the overall effect in Crystalsong Forest is quite pleasing: in some places, the ground has cracked, releasing an eerie blue light into the air. After I concluded with the exploration, I ended up flying up into Dalaran: the city has a no-fly zone; although players were allowed to fly up (as of Patch 3.3.5), once in the city, flying mounts would be disabled.

  • The last destination on my list was the sanctuary city of Dalaran. As it turns out, there’s a crystal in the Crystalsong Forest that can be used. Of course, being a mage, I could’ve created a portal here without any additional cost to myself, but I preferred to do things the old-fashioned way. Upon arriving, I found myself in a very peaceful and well-kept city floating high in the sky. I ended up finishing a few quests here for the mage quarter, before reading through a quest that led to a raid (and then turning it down, since I don’t have the ability to solo raids on my own).

  • With this, I’ve now finished checking out Northrend’s more peaceable regions. I did fly over Icecrown, home of Arthas the Lich King – a glance at the area finds it swarming with the undead, and they are numerous enough to completely overwhelm individual players. In fact, Horde and Alliance forces alike use airships to observe the area, so I’m thinking that flying here is necessary to reach Icecrown Citadel; the aesthetic in Icecrown is basically a frozen, icy version of Sauron’s Mordor. I will not be taking on Arthas myself – even in later expansions, where players become powerful enough to to solo entire raids on their own, the fight against him requires a group to handle the mechanics, so this is one thing I won’t be checking out for myself.

Having now explored Northrend, I’ve checked out all of the regions in World of Warcraft that would’ve been available to me back when Wrath of the Lich King was the newest expansion, fulfilling an twelve-year-old wish. I am aware that as a solo player, a great deal of Wrath of the Lich King‘s best content is simply not available to me; even the Molten Core was much more challenging than what I could handle on my own, and this was with level sixty enemies. It is evident that 25-person raids featuring level-appropriate enemies would be impossible for the solo player to attempt, and for this reason, I won’t be able to waltz into Northrend’s raids and slaughter my way to victory, the same way I’ve done in DOOM Eternal. This is one of the hazards about the most private of servers: without other players, much of World of Warcraft‘s most iconic experiences (gathering a party together and smashing up raids over the course of a few hours for the game’s best equipment) remains unknown to me. Having a private server means missing out on much of this experience. However, my interest in a private server wasn’t to experience the end-game content on my own; my original mission had simply been to revisit some of the experiences I had back as a secondary student, as well as try out some of the things that I never had an opportunity to. In this area, the private server has absolutely fulfilled its intended function, and I’m happy to have brought such an old experience back to life. With Northrend’s more scenic location now in the books, my mind turns to whether or not I’d like to try putting a Mists of Pandaria server together, or if I should take an even further trip down memory lane and get my old private Ragnarok Online server back up and running. There are stories behind both decisions, and both stories offer a bit to talk about, so I’ll recount them in more detail in their appropriate posts, at the appropriate time.

Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War- Part V Review and Reflection, Making The Choice and Wrongness From “The Right Side of History”

“We’ll do whatever it takes. Some of us will cross the line, to make sure the line’s still there in the morning. No one’s gonna brand us heroes or villains. They don’t know us. As for me, I’ve been chasing this ghost for thirteen years. That ends now.” –Russel Adler

Despite being wounded from the failed Cuba operation, Adler pushes Bell to recall what happened in Vietnam and administers a drug directly into his cerebral cortex, stimulating memories. The exercise appears unsuccessful as Adler finds no recollections whatsoever in Bell’s memories of Vietnam. After running through several scenarios, Bell begins to vaguely remember meeting Perseus, and that he had plans at a place called Solovetsky. Upon waking up, Adler explains to Bell that he’d actually been a Sovet agent that Arash had shot. Adler’s team had pulled Bell from the Turkish airfield a few months earlier and brainwashed him through the CIA’s MK-Ultra program in the hopes that he would give up secrets surrounding Perseus. Bell thus has a choice here: revealing the location of Perseus’ base at Solovetsky will see Adler and his team arriving in the remote Soviet island and destroying several anti-air guns. This allows the American bombers a clear shot at Perseus’ transmission array, and although Perseus himself escapes, he goes into hiding, his network of spies thrown into disarray. However, owing to Bell’s intimate involvement in the program, Adler deems Bell as being too dangerous to be left alive, and the pair draw their guns on one another before the screen fades out. Should Bell decide to betray Adler’s team, he will send them the the Duga array in the Ukraine. Adler and the team will realise this is a trap, and if Bell had radioed ahead earlier for support, will be able to count on the Soviet forces to arrive at the last moment. Bell defeats his old teammates and shoots Adler in the head, before activating the nuclear warheads. Europe is devastated, the United States is humiliated, and Hudson destroys all evidence that they’d been investigating Perseus, while Perseus himself works to continue undermining the United States from the shadows. Cold War thus becomes the first Call of Duty game to feature multiple endings, and while making the right choice means saving millions, Cold War casts a shadow on this victory with Bell’s ultimate fate; the price of being a hero is seemingly to be forgotten and cast aside when it becomes inconvenient for those writing the history books.

The ordinary ending of Cold War speaks to how doing what’s “right” has a cost: if, after everything that’s occurred, Bell elects to believe Adler and his team by being truthful, the team will head over to Solovetsky and utterly trash Perseus’ setup, thereby saving Continental Europe and tens of millions of lives. However, Bell’s origins as a Soviet agent means that he was never truly a part of the team, and his background could prove problemmatic to those in charge, so it’s easier to just butter Bell up and then shoot him dead. This speaks very poorly to the Free World and its ideals: one hand is extended for a handshake, and the other hand conceals a dagger. Even though Bell’s saved Europe and the Western world, there is little to suggest that Adler and his team won’t just find some other unfortunate individual to subject to MK-Ultra and do their dirty work for them, all in the name of democracy and human rights. In a way, Cold War‘s official ending would suggest that doing what’s right doesn’t mean a whole lot to those in power, as they are more concerned with their own worlds over the world that others live in. This is a haunting message that applies to real life; there are a lot of activism causes out there, some of which are of interest to those occupying the corridors of power, and in a given moment, these causes might be of value, so those in charge see the cause as an ally. However, the moment their aims are achieved, these same movements might be inconvenient to the people in power, who may then see fit to permanently suspend funding and support, or even leave these individuals to their fate. All of that effort and initial support thus amounts to nothing, and the cause ultimately loses. The lesson here is that, if one were to blindly follow a cause without thinking it through, the results could come to cost them greatly. For Bell, this means that despite saving millions of lives and becoming a hero, he ends up paying the ultimate price: a part of me did feel that the alternate ending, which sees Bell take retribution against Adler and his team before being given the honour of ushering in  a new era, was rather more satisfying than the true end, which perhaps speaks to the futility and precipitous nature of contemporary politics. While Perseus hasn’t been shown on screen until this final mission, once he meets with Bell, he greets him like an old friend and properly expresses gratitude for Bell’s work.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Before Cold War gets to the endings, players will have one more mission to go through: a flashback to Vietnam as Adler and the team desperately tries to work out what Bell knows. This mission is set in a different part of Vietnam and was a thrill to play through. After a helicopter crash wipes out everyone but Bell, he disembarks and picks up a weapon of sorts. Players will have the choice to follow Adler’s guidance or not. Some things are relatively benign, such as not picking up the weapon Adler mentions, but others will have a dramatic impact on what happens next.

  • In my case, I ended up picking up an MP5 first, but then went back to grab the M16A1 later anyways: I always prefer having two weapons where possible, as it leaves me better prepared for whatever I might face. There is a legitimate reason, however, for grabbing the M16A1 here: most of the Viet Cong are at a distance where the MP5 is less effective, and after the helicopter crash, Bell is made to recall fighting an entire armada of them. The M16A1 and its burst fire can take a soldier down in a single burst, making it the best choice.

  • By this point in time, I have no trouble at all with using iron sights, and after the firefight concluded, I followed Adler’s instructions of venturing further into the jungle, where a handful of Viet Cong await. This mission and the first Vietnam War mission share the commonality that none of the weapons have any attachments. Engagements in this mission, while fierce, are not overwhelming, and the base weapons will get the job done fine.

  • Upon reaching a mysterious temple, Adler will ask Bell to go right, but instead, I went left. I’ve heard that disobeying Adler is the best way to extend this mission, but in the end, I found that regardless of what choices the player makes, the outcome will always be the same, so players are free to explore to their heart’s content in this mission. As it was, I chose to disobey in the first scenario and then obeyed in the second.

  • As a result of my choices, I ended up in an abandoned village crawling with Viet Cong. To help with the firefight, I ended up switching out my MP5 for a Stoner 63. In reality, the Stoner 63A was a versatile weapon that could be configured as an assault rifle, carbine, a light machine gun or a squad automatic weapon. The light machine gun in Cold War is not to be confused with the Knight’s Armament Company Light Assault Machine Gun, which is a descendent of the original Stoner 63 and seen in The Division 2, where it occupied the throne as my favourite end-game weapon until I picked up Warlords of New York.

  • Looking back, Warlords of New York turned out to be a fantastic decision: I ended up tripling the amount of time I spent in The Division 2, and over time, I accrued a loadout that suited me as effectively as my six-piece Classified Striker setup from the original The Division. For now, the Manhunt seasons are repeating, and I capitalised on this to finish off the Jupiter Hunt for the EMP sticky bomb skill. I haven’t written about The Division 2 for a third of a year now, and with the Schaeffer manhunt now active, I cannot say that I’m too keen on going through things again for the fact I’ve already gotten a highly enjoyable experience. I did hear that The Division 2 is getting new content somewhere this year, so I could return to write about it then, but for now, I’ll stick to enjoying other titles in my library.

  • Back in Cold War, I’ve swapped over to the Pelington 703 for some long-range shooting, but as I made my way past a burning hut, I was nearing the end of scenario one. What followed was a surreal sequence where Bell is trapped in the corridors of some unknown facility, and unable to escape, can only venture deeper until he is recalled into the next scenario. Unfortunately, I learned that Bell’s choices have no impact on the mission length; I imagine this was to accentuate the idea that right now, Bell is most certainly not in control of his situation.

  • The second scenario has Bell starting out at the same crash site, only this time, it’s the middle of the knight, and players pick up a recurve bow. The weapon isn’t totally silent, and firing it will alert the Viet Cong to Bell’s position. Conversely, it is actually possible to sneak around them this time and only use the bow to pick off foes in Bell’s path: the weapon’s properties haven’t changed, and it’s still a one hit kill with reasonable accuracy.

  • The mission becomes increasingly surreal as Bell proceeds through again, as random computer monitors and interrogation equipment lie scattered around the maps. I imagine that the art team would’ve had fun with this mission: the juxtaposition between the humid jungles of Vietnam and machinery belonging in some secret lab somewhere is pronounced, giving players the impression that whatever it is that Adler wants out of Bell won’t be easily retrieved.

  • It turns out that obeying Adler will only reveal that Bell’s missing some of his memories about Perseus, and disobeying Adler will reveal that Adler was involved in brainwashing Bell via the MK-Ultra programme. This CIA-sanctioned bit of human experimentation was carried out under the cover of being legitimate research, but instead, was intended to determine how to control the human mind; its outcomes would’ve been used to extract truth from prisoners in interrogations and potentially rewrite individuals’ personality and memories outright. Unsurprisingly, the more extreme aspects of MK-Ultra were not successful, and today, the revelation that such a programme existed is a sign that despite their claims otherwise, the United States isn’t exactly speaking from the moral high ground on many claims about other nations.

  • The final scenario gives Bell the M79 Grenade Launcher, which is overkill for blowing away the Viet Cong soldiers in the rice paddies. Cold War did tax my machine somewhat: I’m running medium-high settings to maintain a smooth rate, and since my GPU dates before NVIDIA’s RTX line, it means that real-time ray-tracing isn’t an option for me. In spite of this, the game still looks serviceable – the world reflections in the water remain of a decent quality, and having a few of the settings set to high did not have an adverse impact on my frame rates.

  • The level begins turning into a bad movie set the further players go on their final scenario: interrogation equipment is sitting in the open jungle here, and everything seems frozen. Proceeding through the mission, it becomes clear that Bell was never in Vietnam, and something unusual is going on here. This sets the stage for the final interrogation that Adler administers to Bell before the endgame. However, before then, players get one final chance to have a bit of fun with the Pelington 703. There is something immensely satisfying about using this weapon, and I think it is for the fact that the Remington Model 700 (R700) feels like a hunting rifle.

  • I did a little bit of looking around, and it turns out that Meat Eater‘s Steven Rinella uses a custom-built rifle from Carolina Custom Rifles; for 4795 USD, the company will design a rifle from scratch, tailored precisely to one’s preferences and dimensions for maximum comfort and reliability in the field. Rinella cites the reliability and durability of his rifle as dramatically increasing his confidence while on a hunt, and the fact that all of the parts are machined to perfection. His description brings to mind the likes of the Avtomat Kalashnikov Model 47, the world’s most reliable and widely used assault rifle: during the weekend, I ended up watching Kalashnikov, a 2020 film on how Mikhail Kalashnikov ended up designing the weapon that completely changed the face of warfare. However, the weapon is the side-show, and what made the film particularly standout was how it presented Kalashnikov’s journey.

  • While Kalashnikov is presented as on the stubborn and blunt side, no different than Super Cub‘s Koguma, he is also dedicated and humble. It was inspiring to see him succeed, and while he often takes losses very personally (whether it was in his engineering or in his love life), the film suggests that Kalashnikov’s determination would win out. Overall, I enjoyed the film, and one nice bonus was how the film made every weapon sound powerful: like Cold War, the sound of the AK-47 firing on full automatic had a heavy weight to it, giving the impression that the weapon could deal real damage. However, most games do not capture this, and oftentimes, the AK-47 is a commonly found assault rifle with moderate handling and damage. Newer games present the AK-47 as a hard-hitting weapon thanks to its 7.62 mm rounds, but lacks the accuracy of something like the M16.

  • I’ve now skipped ahead to the final assault on Solovetsky – if Bell chooses to side with Adler, Belikov will provide some vehicles and allow Adler’s team to storm Perseus’ base. Bell himself gains access to the War Machine, inspired by the Hawk MM-1, which has a twelve-round drum and a firing rate of up to 30 rounds per minute. The multiplayer features the War Machine as a score-streak, limiting players to the real-world equivalent’s twelve shots before forcing them to discard the weapon, while in the campaign, Bell spawns with a staggering (and unrealistic) thirty-six rounds. Truth be told, owing to how short the duration is for which Bell can use the weapons (typically, to destroy guard towers and other vehicles), I think starting the weapon with twelve rounds would’ve been plenty.

  • Bell’s time with the War Machine is short-lived: a nuclear warhead is used to create an EMP that knocks out Solovetsky’s power, and subsequently, Adler’s team has a limited window in which to storm the base and take out the anti-air cannons. Bell begins the mission with the XM4, outfitted with a VisionTech 2x optic, laser sight and foregrip, plus a Hauer 77 shotgun. The former is set up for medium range combat, but the laser sight makes it useful at closer ranges, while the latter dominates at close quarters. While I’m now kitted out for CQC, wisdom dictates that it’s better to pick off enemies from afar.

  • Cold War‘s mid-range combat is immensely satisfying, and short, controlled bursts from the XM4 will do away with the foes here. When I watched TheRadBrad play through Cold War back in November, he remarked that the sight made it difficult to aim and promptly switched over to a Krig 6 lying around. Overall, the XM4 is less accurate at range compared to the Krig 6, and doesn’t hit quite as hard as the AK-47. However, in Cold War, accuracy is essential (especially in the run-and-gun of multiplayer), and the low recoil of the Krig 6 makes it a solid all-around weapon.

  • I ended up picking off the enemies that I could, entered the courtyard and then used the left flank to close the distance between myself and the first anti-air cannon. Bell and other allied forces only need to take out the anti-air guns so that bombers can flatten the communications array. In order to assure precision, the bombers will be coming in at low altitudes; low-altitude bombing ensures precision, but also puts aircraft at risk from guns. During the Second World War, to avoid flak guns, bombers would fly at high altitudes, above what the flak guns could reach, but the tradeoff here was that the aircraft could be seen by radar, and bombs would be nowhere nearly as accurate.

  • Today, precision guided munitions make it easier on pilots: since 1997, systems such as the JDAM or the Paveway allow bombs to be guided to their targets, but in the 1980s, such technologies were still being developed. I imagine for an operation such as this, then, it was decided to go with tried-and-true methods rather than chance things on a (then) fledgling technology. I was a little surprised that anti-air for Perseus meant using World War Two era Flak 37 88 mm guns; by the 1980s, the Soviet Union had access to anti-air missiles like the 9K33 Osa or S-75 Dvina.

  • It’s been suggested that Perseus is running a rogue operation, which would explain why his support isn’t as extensive as one would expect had he had state backing. Out of curiosity, I did a bit of reading to see where Solovestsky is, and it turns out that Solovetsky refers to a small group of islands in the White Sea, just south of the Kola Peninsula. There’s a large monastery up here, and it quickly becomes clear that this is where Perseus’ hideout is. The original monastery was founded in 1436 and flourished in the centuries following.

  • However, when the Soviet Union was formed, Solovetsky Monastery became a part of the Gulag that was closed in 1939. By 1972, the site was recognised as a museum and nature reserve, and the real Solovetsky is a tourist attraction now, being one of the best-preserved examples of a late medieval religious community. Folks who end up visiting will find themselves greeted by untamed wilderness and Russian Orthodox architecture. Such a trip usually lasts three to four days, and travel guides indicate that visiting Solovetsky by summer offers a superior experience.

  • To get to Solovetski, one must first fly to Moscow or St. Petersburg, and then fly to Arkhangelsk. From here, flights to Solovetsky’s regional airport are offered two to three times a week. Folks looking for a more authentic experience can opt to travel by train and boat, as well: this option is a little less expensive but also gives visitors a chance to really enjoy the Russian landscape. Upon arriving in Solovetski, I’ve read that Solovki Hotel is the best choice; rooms are comfortable, and meals are delicious. Having done the reading, it does seem like a solid vacation spot

  • The rationale for having the M60 soon becomes clear: Bell must fight off a soldier equipped with heavy armour here, and in the absence of explosives or the M82, it will take a considerable amount of effort to beat this one. Technically speaking, players aren’t running against the clock here, so there is the option to use the monastery’s basement columns as cover and blast the heavily armoured soldier until he dies. A look around shows that Cold War is indeed faithful to the real world equivalent’s function; cells can be seen, acting as a stark reminder of the site’s history.

  • Of course, if one were to visit Solovetsky in real life, there is no massive array of radio transmitters here: it’s pristine wilderness as far as the eye can see. By this point in time, Adler’s team informs Hudson that they should prepare for their attack run immediately, and that they’ll deal with the remaining anti-aircraft gun closest to the transmitters. A veritable army of Perseus’ men stand between Bell and the final anti-air gun, and the M60 I picked up proved useful in hosing them down. Moments later, I found myself a man-portable M134.

  • Known informally as the “Death Machine”, the M134 appears as a score streak in the multiplayer, and with 900 rounds available, it proves instrumental in helping Bell to deal with the last few soldiers surrounding the anti-air gun. A countdown timer begins appearing, and as soon as Bell plants the C4 to destroy it, a squadron of bombers arrive and flatten the entire area. The final cinematic begins playing, and this brings Cold War to a close. This is the ending awaiting players who choose to be truthful about Perseus’ location.

  • For players who feel a little retribution is on order and lied to Adler, Cold War will send the team over to Duga, where Perseus has prepared an ambush. This marks the first time I’ve played a game at the Duga array. This Soviet over-the-horizon radar was designed as a part of their early-warning system and broadcast a highly powerful radio signal that could be heard with shortwave receivers. Because the Soviets kept changing the frequency, radio enthusiasts would hear it at inopportune times and come to nickname it “The Russian Woodpecker”, even speculating the array was used for nefarious purposes such as weather or mind control (both of which are untrue).

  • Once Bell signals for the counterattack, there’ll be a chance to shoot Park, Mason and Woods in the head personally. My favourite line from this scene comes from Woods: “We’re gonna bury you, motherfucker!”. The bonus is that if one times their shot correctly, they’ll be able to blast Woods just after he finishes his line. Players report that they greatly enjoyed this “bad” ending: unlike most visual novels, where the bad end is genuinely bad (I’m looking at School Days as my example), Cold War‘s “bad” ending was surprisingly satisfying.

  • The sheer enjoyment I got from fighting the old team at Duga got me thinking. There are considerable parallels in the real world, and especially with all of the movements and causes out there now, I’ve always felt that it was worth looking at the people behind said cause before decisively determining whether or not it is a cause worth fighting for, as opposed to just jumping in. As Bell would find, supporting a cause without giving things a second thought, simply because said cause had flowery promises of a better world and doing what’s right, can cost dearly. This is not to say all causes will betray an individual, but rather, one should always exercise their own judgement on these things.

  • I typically do not share my opinions on politics or current events here; Cold War, however, offers me the chance to write about things. I am generally disappointed with the world’s direction, as people seem to favour social media presence over hard work, and I feel that most of the world’s current ills are amplified by social media. With this being said, I would much prefer to focus on what I can do for the world. Back in Cold War, I follow the trail of blood to Adler and finish my job off. Perseus congratulates Bell for having made the right choice, and offers him the chance to set off the very nukes that players had been trying to stop moments earlier.

  • With this final post on Cold War in the books, viewers have my assurances that the recent storm of Call of Duty posts (and the occasional reflection on what I believe in) will draw to a close. I do intend on playing the Zombies mode, since there’s a solo mode and potentially write about it in the future, but beyond this, I am finished the campaigns in full now. This comes two months after I’d bought the game on a sale, just in time for Steam’s summer sale. DOOM Eternal looks pretty promising, and if the price is right, I will likely pick it up. Finally, with the end of June rapidly approaching, I will also be writing about the finales for both Super Cub and Yakunara Mug Cup mo.

Through Cold War, it becomes clear that being on “the right side of history” is often the wrong choice. Choosing to save Europe will lead to Bell’s death. Honouring Bell’s original mission results in the deaths of millions, all in the name of communism. There is no optimal correct answer in Cold War, only death. This speaks to the pettiness and foolishness of the games that politicians ultimately play with one another; the end goal is not the betterment of the people, but rather, for their own gains. Whether it be leverage over another nation, or the chance to impose one’s will over a system, Cold War demonstrates that oftentimes, it is the everyman that puts in the effort, builds a system and makes a difference, only for those in power to take credit for their accomplishments and reap the benefits. With this being said, choosing one’s allies and fights carefully can mitigate some of the risk: being aware that the “good guys” don’t necessarily have clean hands, and that joining a cause will always have a price attached will help one to keep an eye out for trouble. Strictly speaking, this isn’t possible in Cold War once a player has decided to start the single player campaign, but the real world equivalent of not getting sucked in to a fight that is unwinnable by design is not to play: those who bought Black Ops for the multiplayer, Zombies and Warzone are not beholden to Adler or Perseus, and as such, do not witness the cost that is commanded with picking sides. It’s a rather clever metaphor that reminds players to know themselves, know their enemy, know their history and choose their battles wisely: rather than getting entangled in something without a clear value, one’s time is better spent on something else. Between spending eight hours a day on some insignificant Twitter cause, trying to win over the respect of people who care for none other than themselves and only succeeding in wasting one’s time in the process, I find that contributing to something that makes someone else’s day better is much more meaningful than acting as though cancel culture is synonymous with being on “the right side of history”. For me, this takes the form of my skill in iOS development, but I won’t begrudge the folks who spend more time in Warzone than they should, either: at the very least, these individuals aren’t spending eight hours a day spreading lies and falsehoods on social media for their own validation.

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.