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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare- Part II Review and Reflection, Cleaning House and Reflecting on Call of Duty’s Ascent

“I think second place is the first loser in the competition.” –Wade Barrett

Following the terrorist attack in London, Captain Price and Garrick raid an Al-Qatala safehouse and, after clearing it out, locate intel on the location of Omar “The Wolf” Sulama. This information is passed to the Marine Corps, and Sergeant Marcus Griggs participates in the attack on Ramaza Hospital in Urzikstan to secure The Wolf. While the hospital is filled with civilians, the Marines manage to clear out the hostiles without any collateral damage. Griggs disarms a trap and captures The Wolf. Once captured, his second-in-command, Jamal “The Butcher” Rahar leads a mob in attacking the American Embassy in Urzikstan. Price and Garrick work together with Farah and agent Alex to repel the attack, but the embassy’s defenses are overwhelmed by The Wolf’s men and the angry mob outside. They breach the embassy, and this forces Garrick to help the ambassador’s aide, Stacy, get to safety after the attackers kill the ambassador. Once Stacy escapes, Garrick heads back outside to fend off the attackers. Using a flare to illuminate the ground and a laser designator to mark targets for close air support, Garrick helps to keep The Wolf’s men at bay. Upon returning to the embassy’s saferoom, however, The Wolf has managed to escape amidst the chaos. Three more missions into Modern Warfare, the story becomes a little clearer – the game feels more like an interactive, visual retelling of the foreign presence in the Middle East, and when players see things from the eyes of the soldiers rather than from a well-practised newscaster, the impact of the seemingly unending conflict resulting from over a century of foreign intervention resulting from foreign nations/ desire to control the incredibly vast reserves of oil underneath the desert sands. The consequences have been far-reaching and devastating, and games like Modern Warfare becomes a powerful, visceral means of portraying the conflict well beyond the simple delineation of suggesting that the foreign presence in the Middle East is purely to stamp out terrorism and then offering no explanation of why extremism and terrorism exists to begin with. As Modern Warfare progresses, it does appear that this game is taking Call of Duty in new directions, adding a much-appreciated human side to what had previously been a bombastic romp across the globe (and even space) to stave off total warfare.

Here at Modern Warfare‘s halfway point, the game has shown a remarkable departure from the previous titles: besides the conflicts being fought over issues that are more relevant to contemporary politics rather than grandiose plans surrounding nuclear weapons and sweeping geopolitical demands, Modern Warfare presents a much slower pacing with respect to firefights. The fourth mission represents an excellent example of this: Garrick’s participation in a raid on an Al-Qatala safehouse demands slow, methodical movements as players accompany Price on a room-by-room exercise to render the safehouse safe. There is no room for impatience or impulsiveness: blindly rushing into a room results in being ambushed at by terrorists from underneath a bed or hidden behind a doorway. This gives players a chance to appreciate that with rare exceptions, special forces operations are almost always slow, calculated and methodical. Operators fire with precision rather than wild abandon, and firefights are often decided without the enemy even firing a single shot in retaliation. Similarly, in situations where foes are dug in, they will not be fighting with any sort of integrity; Al-Qatala has no qualms in using civilians as shields, and careless weapon selection can leave players at a huge disadvantage. For instance, curious players thinking it clever to utilise a shotgun when raiding Ramaza Hospital will find themselves civilians in the process. Details like these, in conjunction with the fact that there’s no additional information beyond subtle cues for discerning where foes are serves to create an atmosphere of constant vigilance. In order to succeed in Modern Warfare‘s campaign, patience and focus is demanded of players – this is a far cry from the quick trigger finger and swift reflexes that dominate the run-and-gun tactics of the game’s more hectic and close-quarters multiplayer.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Captain Price has commented that the use of IRNV goggles makes it “too easy” in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, but here in Modern Warfare, he has no qualms in using whatever tools are available to get the job done. With the goggles equipped, one is unable to aim down sights, and in the tight quarters of the Al-Qatala safehouse, it’s a slow going. This mission has the same aesthetic as the final assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound in the 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty, when DEVGRU members and SAD operatives carry out Operation Neptune Spear.

  • Playing through this mission was able to convey the suspense that accompanies such a mission: while the night-vision goggles offer good visibility, the uncertainty of what lies around the corner made for a very slow going. Since I’ve no experience in this sort of thing, the mission felt quite suffocating, and I don’t mind admitting that I died on several occasions because I didn’t properly check a room to see if it were clear before entering it. In the end, though, I got things right, and my appreciation for the sort of work that Special Forces do increases.

  • The pacing in this mission meant it felt more like reading a book about such an operation, rather than playing it. Games typically do not portray missions of this sort precisely because it’s so slow and methodical that typically, it wouldn’t make for good gameplay. Battlefield 3, for instance, has a similar mission in which soldiers breach an apartment to capture a HVT, but players take on the role of a marksman providing support from a distance.

  • Once The Wolf’s location is known, Modern Warfare changes perspectives to that of a US Marine, who’s got boots on the ground in Urzikstan. The phrase “boots on the ground” was a significant part of Modern Warfare‘s marketting campaign – it simply means that the game was marking a return to its roots and focusing on infantry combat with a traditional movement system. Previously, 2016’s Infinite Warfare and 2017’s Call of Duty: World War II had not been too successful. The latter was criticised for being unremarkable, especially in comparison to Battlefield 1, while the former’s movement system was counted as being a knock-off of Titanfall‘s.

  • Conversely, in Modern Warfare, everything about the game is a return to the game’s roots, and improving what was already respected. The end result speaks for itself – the gunplay and movement in Modern Warfare is incredibly smooth and polished, while at the same time, adding a few new features here and there. Having now played Modern Warfare and returning to try out Modern Warfare: Remastered, the differences are quite subtle, but still noticeable. This both speaks to the improvements the newer games make, as well as how well-done things were originally.

  • For this mission, players start with the M4A1 with the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher. This grenade launcher was introduced in 1970 to replace the M79 and fires a 40 mm round. Although games like Battlefield 3 would later swap out the M203 for the newer M320, the M203 remains in use, as the M320 only began seeing use in 2017. In video games, under-barrel grenade launchers add additional anti-personnel firepower at the expense equipping a foregrip, which improves handling and mobility. In a game setting, the choice of a foregrip or under-barrel launcher is purely dependent on the situation – the extra firepower is useful for the campaign, but for medium range engagements in something like Warzone, a foregrip would be more beneficial.

  • The brown skies and ground gives this mission a distinct post-apocalyptic feel – there’s a distinctly Mad Max style about things as I head towards the hospital itself. Without 3D spotting or a radar, I’m left to carefully pick my shots and ensure I’m only hitting hostile forces. The lack of visual indicators means that foes blend in quite well with the background, and this does make for situations where leaving an enemy standing can prove disastrous.

  • Again, this setup means that players must move slowly and methodically, looking down-range and ensuring the area is clear before pressing forwards. The minimalist UI in Modern Warfare means spotting foes is tricky, but a clean HUD also means information is immediately clear to players. Previous Call of Duty games had a graphics-based UI, which had made it difficult to ascertain just how much ammunition or resources one had left to them, but since Call of Duty: WWII, the game has taken to displaying amounts with numbers, which makes things significantly easier.

  • During the combat, I find an EBR-14, a battle rifle chambered for the 7.62 mm round. Firing on semi-automatic, this rifle is a reliable choice for medium to long range combat, and typically fares best in situations with open spaces. Here, it is equipped with a holographic sight rather than longer-range optics, and with its semi-automatic rate of fire, is surprisingly well-suited for dealing with the interior of the hospital, where enemy combatants conceal themselves amidst actual patients. The semi-automatic fire means less chance of hitting a civilian.

  • While civilians must be avoided, there are some sections of the hospital where the enemy has set up machine gun placements. These lock down an entire hallway, and one must make use of the side rooms to sneak up close and drop the operator. As one closes in on The Wolf, soldiers will make use of a snake camera to see what The Wolf is up to, and the urgency in the moment increases – The Wolf is preparing to execute American soldiers, prompting one to speed up their attack.

  • Once the hospital is clear, players will capture The Wolf, bringing the mission to a close: the American marines are saved, and with a pivotal character in custody, Modern Warfare enters its next stage. Throughout Modern Warfare, I have been noticing that my GPU appears to have trouble with rendering the play of light off one’s weapon under certain conditions. Those spots become pixelated and rough, standing in contrast with the smooth and crisp lighting everywhere else in Modern Warfare. This has previously happened with Cold War, and I’m not too sure if it’s a consequence of my running an older GPU: updating GPU drivers doesn’t seem to have an impact on this.

  • While having strange lighting textures is a little jarring, this bit of visual discontinuity does not otherwise impact gameplay, and overall, Modern Warfare handles very well even on a six-year-old GPU. The GTX 1060 I purchased back in 2016 still manages to hold up, which is impressive: this mid-range card might not be able to run today’s most demanding titles at full resolution and settings, but at 1080p, it remains viable. Of late, GPUs have finally begin sliding back towards the MSRPs, and moreover, stock for GPUs has begun returning: my local retailer now has both the RTX 3070 and RTX 3060 Ti in stock again, and the latter had been a GPU I originally considered kitting out my current desktop with, being a solid upgrade to the GTX 1060 for 1080p gaming.

  • With performance hovering around that of the RTX 2080 Super for half the cost, the RTX 3060 Ti is an enticing card that fits my requirements: when I built my machine, I’d been looking for a GPU that would beat the RTX 2070 Super. However, while it is tempting to go out and pick up a 3060 Ti right now, Nvidia’s next generation GPUs are on the horizon: it is speculated that the high-end Lovelace series could be out before this year is over, and by mid-2023, the RTX 4060 could be available. Since my 1060 continues to perform in a satisfactory manner, there’s no rush for me to go out and upgrade.

  • The exact performance and specifications surrounding the RTX 4060 are unknown at present, and similarly, there’s been no word of a MSRP, either. However, if trends are anything to go by, the RTX 4060 could offer near-3080 level performance in some cases, much as how the 1060 was only about 5 percent slower than the 980 despite costing half as much. Assuming this holds true, the RTX 4060 would truly be a suitable upgrade for the aging GTX 1060 and allow my desktop some longevity. Having said this, my gaming habits are shifting as other priorities become more prominent: I’ve not played anywhere nearly as much multiplayer as I would’ve even compared to five years earlier.

  • Since DICE dropped support for Battlefield V, I’ve found more enjoyment in single-player experiences. Similarly, there’s more fun to be had in being outside for a good summer’s day compared to sitting inside in what is colloquially referred to a “sweat lobby” and getting nowhere. However, while I do not intend on spending anything approaching a substantial amount of time in multiplayer portions of games, having a reasonable GPU means being able to play single-player titles at my own pace, especially on cold winter days where being outside is uncomfortable.

  • Back in Modern Warfare, I’ve gotten through the embassy itself and helped navigate Stacey to safety, so things return to a more conventional mode of gameplay – I ended up ditching my pistol for an Uzi submachine gun. Contrary to my remarks in the last Modern Warfare post, unless a mission demands stealth, I will almost always change off a pistol for another weapon to increase versatility. Usually, a marksman rifle or submachine gun will fulfil this role: assault rifles are solid all-around weapons for medium range combat but can be tap-fired to reach out further, so depending on the mission, having a weapon to act as backup at close quarters, or reliably pick off long-range targets means being prepared for more situations.

  • If memory serves, Halo popularised the idea of being able to carry two weapons at once. This trend has since stuck with modern games, with the inevitable result that versatile weapons like carbines and assault rifles become an indispensable part of one’s loadout. Prior to this, in games like Half-Life and DOOM, one could carry their entire arsenal with them and be instantly prepared for any situation. Both approaches emphasise a different play-style: having every weapon available means the weapons themselves become more specialised, while limiting one’s arsenal means one must make split-second decisions about what to carry and then live with the consequences of their choices.

  • This approach is why weapon accessories and attachments have become so popular in games – in multiplayer, it allows one to tune a weapon to match a specific play-style, and while unavailable in older campaigns, more recent shooters have given players weapon variants that subtly alter the weapon handles. Here, for instance, I’ve got the M4A1 with the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher: the added anti-personnel firepower is great for crowd control, and this particular M4A1 has a fifty round magazine which, while increasing aiming down sight time, allows me to stay in a firefight for longer before needing to reload.

  • Having good weapons becomes absolutely vital during the second half of the mission, as one must now repel hordes of Al-Qatala forces. The fight starts with use of a mortar flare to illuminate the dark grounds, and here, I’ve picked up the EBR-14, which is outfitted with telescopic sights for picking off distant foes. With a large magazine and good rate of fire, the EBR-14 proved to be an immensely effective weapon for this segment of the mission. The flares used here are not unlimited in supply, and after expending them, one must contend with Al-Qatala fighters hidden in the darkness.

  • When I first played Call of Duty 4 back in 2012, I was impressed with how the game conveyed a sense of vulnerability and need for tactical play, since until then, I’d grown accustomed to having the Master Chief’s Mjolnir Mark VI and its recharging energy shields, which allowed me to soak up damage long enough to return fire, as well as having exceptionally powerful anti-tank weapons. Call of Duty 4 lacked these and forced me to play more slowly, but looking back, it’s still a pretty high-paced game. Modern Warfare‘s 2019 iteration, on the other hand, encourages smart, tactical play even during heavy firefights; this game does indeed follow in respecting its predecessor’s footsteps while at the same time, improving things.

  • As the fighting became more chaotic, I ended up ditching the M4A1’s grenadier variant for one outfitted for slightly longer range combat. After the Al-Qatala fighters rushing the embassy begin lessening in number, I receive an update: fighters have now hidden themselves in the construction site adjacent to the rooftop I’d been defending from, and what’s more, their numbers are overwhelming.

  • Initially, I’d picked up a light machine gun in anticipation of a protracted firefight. Light machine guns were my go-to early in my Battlefield 3 career because they had a high capacity, making them great for spray-and-pray play-styles befitting of a novice. However, light machine guns are balanced by making them heftier: aiming down sights and reloading take longer, and moreover, their recoil is heavier unless one is using a bipod. They still have their uses, and in games like Battlefield, they’re an excellent choice for suppressive fire. In close quarters environments, on the other hand, they’re less viable.

  • For this mission, one doesn’t actually have to fall back on engaging hostiles in the construction site: players will be given a laser designator which marks enemy positions for close air support (CAS). The entire aesthetic of this moment brought back to mind a scene from 2001’s Black Hawk Down, during which a pair of Little Birds provide CAS for a group of Marines pinned down by hostiles. After a Marine braves enemy fire to properly mark the enemy’s position using a strobe beacon, the Little Birds unload with their M134s and Hydra 70s.

  • As long as one has access to the laser designator, it makes sense to continue marking enemy positions for CAS to conserve on ammunition, as well as swiftly down multiple enemies at once. With the fire support, even the technicals that the Al-Qatala field are quickly destroyed. Once the pilots announces that they’re bingo fuel (a term which means “we’re at the point where we have enough fuel to return safely to base without running into trouble”, this is basically a safety factor), CAS heads off, but by this point in time, there’s only a few stragglers left to pick off.

  • There’s something about this level’s aesthetic that brings to mind precisely the sort of environment that I saw on television during the opening days of the Iraq War, when America began a bombardment of Baghdad in March 2003 by firing forty Tomahawk cruise missiles at the government buildings as a part of their Shock and Awe campaign. As of 2022, each Tomahawk missile costs two million USD – to fire forty missiles means burning through eighty million over the course of several hours. Sun Tzu’s Art of War states that war is inherently expensive, and historically, a protracted campaign increases the odds that a nation will lose said war.

  • The costs of war mean that nations usually do not wage it unless the gains resulting from warfare are sufficient to justify it. The campaigns in the Middle East don’t appear to have much strategic value at first glance, and a country won’t fight a war over something of insignificance. Although it’s easy to suggest that resources like fossil fuels are the driver here, Modern Warfare gives the conflict a more human side by showing Farah and her brother as fighting for their homeland, but this conflict is compounded by the fighting from various factions. So far, I’ve not engaged any Russian forces yet.

  • Once most of the hostile forces are down, Garrick is tasked with taking out a mortar position. At this point in time, the intense firefights have left me down to my last magazine, and I was left struggling to find a suitable weapon to take over for the M4A1 in my hands. Once the mortar is dealt with, the final task is returning to the embassy and securing The Wolf. The mission here at Modern Warfare‘s halfway point is much longer than any of the previous missions – this felt like the first real level in the game, and I was left excited to see what was coming next at every turn.

  • In general, I find that missions lasting between a quarter hour to half an hour to be the sweet spot, giving me enough time to immerse myself in the objectives and take everything in, while not being so long that I begin wondering when things will conclude so I can put the brakes on – I game for comparatively short sessions of half an hour to an hour, and are happiest when I can play a few missions before setting the game down and taking off to do other things like housework.

  • In the end, I ended up looting a heavily-modified AK-47 off a defeated foe. Like the AK-47 from Cold WarModern Warfare‘s AK-47 is an incredibly satisfying weapon to use, although generally speaking, I tend to avoid the AK and its derivatives in campaigns simply because the recoil is intense; in a scenario where I can’t easily see where my foes are coming from, I’d rather have a weapon with controllable recoil so when I do place my targets, I can reliably hit them.

  • Upon returning to the embassy, to Price and Garrick’s horror, The Wolf is gone, having been whisked away by his men while Garrick and the others were occupied by the counterattack. With things escalating here at Modern Warfare‘s halfway point, I’ve chosen a curious point to put the brakes on: admittedly, I’ve been moving through Modern Warfare‘s campaign at a much slower pace than before. This is because August is seeing me host Jon’s Creative Showcase, and on top of this, I’m also working on a large number of posts left in the month. As it stands, I’ve got enough time for everything, and while I fully intend to make my way through Modern Warfare, it’s presently a game of balancing everything on my plate and ensuring that I can keep pace with everything in the works.

Representing a refreshing change of pace from previous Call of Duty games, Modern Warfare is the latest Call of Duty title to join my library. It is not lost on me that, despite being no proponent of the multiplayer, I play a great deal of Call of Duty titles. In fact, it is fair to say that for me personally, I am a fan of Call of Duty as much as I am of Battlefield. Battlefield has traditionally been my go-to for its large-scale sandbox experience, since the scope of conflict allows me to contribute in my own way. However, Battlefield campaigns are typically weaker, and while iconic Battlefield campaigns are still quite enjoyable in their own right (Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 1 are outstanding), Call of Duty generally excels at creating an immersive, cinematic experience that really connects players with the characters (consider that Captain Price is so well-liked that Modern Warfare 2019 brings him back). In recent years, since the failure of Infinite Warfare, Infinity Ward had gone and rebuilt their game engine entirely, resulting in significant improvements to visual effects and physics – the new engine is said to be something that Infinity Ward is trying to standardise, such that all future Call of Duty games offer a consistent experience. Assuming this to be the case, Call of Duty is in excellent hands: Modern Warfare‘s gun-play is satisfying, responsive and powerful, and the same could be said of Black Ops: Cold War. Ironically, Battlefield‘s Frostbite Engine is beginning to show its age, and despite DICE continuing to try and improve it, its complexity has meant that games developed in Frostbite have become highly inconsistent. It does appear that at, after almost a decade of DICE and Frostbite dominating, Infinity Ward’s own technology has caught up, and Call of Duty is now on top again, speaking to how nothing lasts forever, and that today’s leaders won’t always remain at the top – to recapture the upper hand, the only solution is to keep innovating and daring to push the envelope further.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare- Part I Review and Reflection, Rising Tensions and Initial Hostilities

“The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.” –Robert H. Schuller

On a covert mission to Verdansk, Kastovia to seize chemical weapons, Special Activities Division operator Alex is attacked by hostiles, who kill the marines accompanying him. They leave him for dead and secure the chemical weapons. Meanwhile, in London, SAS Sergeant Kyle “Gaz” Garrick is tracking a cell of suspected terror operatives from Al-Qatala. When these operatives launch an attack, Garrick is able to help the local law enforcement teams in stopping them. Alex arrives in Urzikstan and meets with Farah Karim, the rebel leader: she desires the overthrow of the Russian forces in the area, led by one General Roman Barkov, and in exchange for this, agrees to help Alex locate the missing chemical weapons. Alex assists Farah and the rebels in an attack on a Russian airbase, managing to secure both the airfield and armouries. However, the remaining Russian forces send in LAVs to attack their position, and Alex calls in air support from an Apache, which subsequently destroys the Russian vehicles. In light of these events, CIA Station Chief Kate Laswell gets in touch with Captain John Price to help secure the stolen chemical weapons and prevent all-out war with Russia. This is the first hour to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare‘s 2019 iteration, a reboot of the Modern Warfare series that released back in October 2019. Unlike previous Call of Duty games, which ventured into the realm of the comic, Modern Warfare‘s 2019 iteration (Modern Warfare from here on out for brevity) returns players to traditional boots-on-the-ground gameplay in a realistic, modern setting. In returning to the Call of Duty Franchise’s origins, Modern Warfare represents a major step forward for Infinity Ward and Activision – their previous games had swung between future warfare and World War Two, but was met with polarising reception from a player base that felt Activision was releasing titles annually for the sake of releasing titles annually. Besides creating games that are increasingly shoddy and poorly thought-out, Activision’s approach also meant that Call of Duty players would constantly need to keep buying the latest and greatest title in order to find populated servers to play on. Modern Warfare changes this approach; the game sends players back to a time when it was felt that Call of Duty was at its best, and then modernises everything from the mechanics and visuals, to the setting and narrative to create an experience more consistent with contemporary expectations.

The older Modern Warfare games had placed an emphasis on how much could be done through the will of a single man, and then presented a story in which one individual, with the right determination, charisma and madness, could deal indelible damage upon the world, forcing individuals with superior determination, resolve and fortitude to take up arms and cross the line to thwart these machinations. The franchise is characterised by large-scale conflicts, weapons of mass destruction and the simple will to get things done. However, here in Modern Warfare, there appears to be a significantly larger human piece to things. Call of Duty is a first person shooter, and therefore, the game’s mechanics are built around a sure aim and quick trigger finger. The campaigns in the games, on the other hand, tend to warn of the horrors and desolation that accompany warfare. From the very themes that each game conveys surrounding the sacrifice and loss of each conflict, to the death quotes one receives for succumbing during a campaign, it is surprising to see Call of Duty remind players that warfare, violence and death is unanimously undesirable. The gameplay itself, on the other hand, never conveys this, and as such, Call of Duty always gave the sense that as long as one is blowing up bad guys, there might be a case where force and violence is justified. Here in Modern Warfare, this particular message returns: players are engaging Russian forces in the fictional Middle Eastern nation of Urzikstan to stop all-out warfare from erupting, and through the eyes of both Alex and Garrick, spot the sort of atrocities that are happening under Russian occupation. It is easy to suggest that the Russians are the antagonists at this point, but warfare is never that simple, and I expect that, in typical Call of Duty fashion, the game will find a way to show that, contrary to the idea that a first person shooter is about aiming and pressing left mouse, warfare is significantly more complex, and cannot be judged fairly until one has a more complete picture available to them.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Out of the gates, Modern Warfare represents a much slower experience compared to Cold War – in the latter, the first mission was a firefight on city rooftops, followed by a pursuit down a runway to capture a high-value target. Here in Modern Warfare, the first mission drops players straight into the thick of things, as operator Alex infiltrates a site suspected to holding chemical weapons. After a tense moment moving through the woods, Alex finally reaches a viewpoint and begins spotting targets on the ground.

  • Unlike most titles I’m accustomed to, which adds a little marker over spotted targets, Modern Warfare removes this element and hit markers entirely to create a much more immersive experience. Similarly, firefights are gripping experiences: gone are the days of run-and-gun, as one must now carefully poke around corners and place their shots before retreating to cover. This is a novel experience for me, since in most shooters, I’ve got enough armour or some sort of energy shield that allows me to take a few more hits before worrying about finding cover.

  • The August Long Weekend in the past two years were characterised by extreme heat warnings, and of spending time escaping said heat in the coolest part of the house. In 2020, I spent the weekend playing World of Warcraft‘s Blackrock Dungeon and Molten Core on my private server, and last year, I split things between exploring Northrend in Wrath of the Lich King on my private server and playing Cold War‘s Zombies mode to unlock the CARV.2, which is modelled after the Heckler and Koch G11 and forms the basis for 007 Agent Under Fire‘s D17, the best weapon available to players.

  • By Sunday, the skies had cleared back up, and the high was forecast to be 31°C. It was under clear skies that we ended up taking a Sunday drive to the deep south of the city, where I had the chance to visit the field and parking lot where scenes from Pure Pwnage‘s third episode was filmed. I had come across the location completely by chance, and as unremarkable as it is, it was fun to check out the spot where Doug and Jeremy talk games. The day had originally began out of a wish to visit Waffle n’ Chix’s in-store location, but an unforeseen mechanical issue caused them to be closed for the entire long weekend.

  • Instead, I ended up swinging by the Calgary Farmer’s Market to try out Two Two’s Fish and Chips, which had also been on my list of places to check out; their fish and chips is coated in bread crumbs for bonus crunch, and therefore is counted amongst Calgary’s best. To try everything out, I ordered their Seafood Platter, a gargantuan plate with two large pieces of North Atlantic haddock, tempura shrimp, popcorn shrimp, calamari, seafood croquettes, breaded scallops and fried beans on a bed of thick-cut fries. A side of pickles was provided alongside their in-house tartar sauce and dill sauce. The dill sauce was out-of-this-world, and I’ve never been more impressed with fish and chips: the fish fell apart in my fork and was delicious, while the addition of other seafoods made this a complete experience.

  • Rounding things out was a tall glass of blueberry soda: the Calgary Farmer’s Market is not air-conditioned, and eating a hearty plate of deep-fried seafood in a sweltering room was quite the experience, so having a cool drink was remarkably refreshing. I do have plans to check out Waffle n’ Chix again at a later date, but for the present, my yearning for fish and chips is sated: since my trip to Denver back in 2018, I’ve been longing to enjoy a fried seafood feast after coming across the Mesquite Grill, which was located half a klick from the office I was working out of. Although the Mesquite Grill has since closed, I’m glad to know that there’s an equivalent experience right here at home that serves some of the finest fried seafood I’ve enjoyed for some time.

  • The first four missions in Modern Warfare are very short – they’re intended to be an interactive opening cinematic that introduces players to the story in the game, and while they are quite limiting in terms of gameplay, even by Call of Duty standards, they get the job done. The choice to go with terrorism and chemical weapons was a clear parallel to reports of Syrian usage of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War: Call of Duty had previously gone with a more conventional “rouge actors seize control of Russian nuclear weapons”, but in the changing face of warfare, Modern Warfare‘s story is meant to present a side of warfare that is more likely to unfold.

  • In the streets of London, players assume the role of Kyle Garrick, who’s investigating a terror cell and ends up being caught amidst a suicide bombing attack in London. Garrick is only equipped with a pistol, and the chaos of the moment accentuates why terror attacks are so difficult to respond to at the onset: the terrorists are often equipped with automatic weapons, and first responders only have pistols on hand to deal with them. Coupled with the fact that there are civilians everywhere, law enforcement are hard-pressed to return fire when they might cause civilian casualties, whereas the terrorists have no qualms in firing on anything that moves.

  • Modern Warfare is able to capture this sense of vulnerability: even though players are in control of a trained SAS operator, the lack of gear means one cannot help but feel underprepared to handle things. After shooting out a few of the terrorists that first appear, my first inclination is to loot an automatic weapon off them, and once this is done, I began to feel in my element. The way I approach a video game, however, is absolutely the wrong way to do things in reality: soldiers will not pick up enemy weapons because they have no way of ascertaining whether or not the weapon is safe to use.

  • Games will encourage players to stick with their starting loadout by equipping them with solid weapons: in Call of Duty 4, for instance, the M4A1 SOPMOD is an exceptional all-round weapon with good handling traits and low recoil. There is no incentive to switch off this weapon unless one’s aim was to try out different weapons, and even then, these other weapons have a great deal of recoil to them. In this way, while video games don’t actively prevent players from playing in the way they please, they do provide small incentives for players to experience things in the most authentic way possible.

  • For me, the starting G17 simply isn’t enough to deal with the terrorists that show up, so I ended up looting an AK-47 off a terrorist that I’d finished off. In extenuating circumstances, soldiers will make use of captured firearms, and in video games, the AI isn’t sophisticated enough to tell the difference between the report of a G17 and AK-47, so for the sake of getting through the mission in one piece, I’ll elect to switch over to other weapons purely for gameplay reasons.

  • Modern Warfare is said to be a reboot of the franchise, and so, all of the events that had previously transpired no longer hold true. In the original Modern Warfare series, Captain John Price is fixated on pursuing Vladimir Makarov and defeating him after the latter’s actions resulted in a full-scale conflict between the United States and Russia. The scale of this war was immense, and had far-reaching consequences around the world as during the course of the war, nuclear weapons were utilised at several points.

  • Conversely, here in Modern Warfare‘s 2019 iteration, things appear to be scaled back so that they are consistent with the sorts of conflicts that have occurred since the American invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror. The Cold War is in the rear-view mirror for my generation, which has never grown up with the threat of a full-scale nuclear exchange, and today, warfare is widely regarded as something that “happens in another part of the world”. Politicians have no qualms suggesting the use of military intervention as a means of forcing other nations to fall in line with their interests, but at the same time, fail to understand that if conflict broke out, the costs to all sides would be immense.

  • For me, my interest in military history, especially surrounding the Cold War and contemporary theatres, was largely an accident. As a child, I managed to find my dad’s books on the American and Soviet military systems, and became keenly interested in the different doctrines and equipment between the Western world and Communist bloc. This extended to curiosity behind why such an arms build-up occurred to begin with, and from this, I began to build my own knowledge base on warfare. While the means and tools that wars are fought with is complex, it is saddening that the cause of warfare is often over things that could otherwise be dealt with at the negotiating table.

  • I am, of course, speaking from a very abstract and limited position: no amount of education or theoretical background is enough to provide an understanding of the topic, and at the end of the day, what I have to say about warfare is merely my opinion of things. Back in Modern Warfare, perspective returns to Alex as he links up with Farah, a rebel leader with an extensive experience in the Russian occupation of her homeland. In this mission, what stood out to me was the fact that as Alex, players get to equip makeshift suppressors made from oil cans.

  • The video game portrayal of suppressors is wildly inaccurate: a true suppressor can indeed reduce the report of a gunshot by up to ninety percent, but it doesn’t make the shot whisper-quiet, as James Bond movies often show. Moreover, suppressors won’t actually decrease muzzle velocity or bullet damage. However, for gameplay purposes, suppressors act the way they do to mix things up, and this is a return to the age-old question of whether or not realism is preferable over entertainment value.

  • I’ve always been of the mindset that it’s possible to enjoy something whether or not it’s realistic, and as such, find arguments demeaning a work for lacking realism to be pedantic and unnecessary. With this being said, inaccuracies in fiction does provide for good discussion, allowing me to look into how something works before comparing and contrasting reality with the fictionalised portrayal. In some works, this lets me to understand a theme better, but in others, it simply lets me to understand design choices better.

  • The third mission in Modern Warfare entails accompanying Farah and planting explosives on Russian helicopters to provide a distraction. Here in Urzikstan, the portrayal of Russian forces is that of a brutal oppressor. However, having been around Call of Duty for as long as I have, I’m not going to be hasty in my judgement because previous Call of Duty games have always shown that among Russians, there are moderates with no desire for conflict, and ultranationalists who would see a return to the good old days of the Soviet Union. While the media is fond of suggesting that Russia is the latter, the average citizen is unlikely to desire conflict and Soviet conquest any more than the average North American would want a full scale nuclear war with Russia.

  • While Russians being the antagonists in film, books and games might be commonplace, one shouldn’t accept these portrayals at face value. In this area, Call of Duty does an excellent job of showing this side of the coin – the games generally show that it is ultimately the machinations of a few madmen that can lead to conflict, and for the most part, the “enemy” is actually just people similar to ourselves. As such, when countries find themselves at the precipice of war, Call of Duty shows Russian, American and British soldiers working alongside one another to defeat the real foes, the shadowy figures behind the chaos like Makarov or Shepherd.

  • With Alex now accepted into the rebel forces, he joins the rebels in assaulting a Russian airbase at dawn. Once the rebels fire their artillery and utilise RC aircraft as makeshift guided missiles, it’s onwards into the base itself. For this mission, I start with the AK-47 and the Karabiner 98k, giving me excellent options for medium to long ranges. The AK-47 is an iconic part of video games and cinema, but my first exposure to the AK-47 in a game was through GoldenEye 64‘s KF7 Soviet, which was a fast-firing weapon with low damage and poor performance. 007 Agent Under Fire continued with this portrayal: the KA-57 is the first assault rifle available players but is horrendously underpowered.

  • It is therefore refreshing that modern games like Modern Warfare and Cold War give the AK-47 a proper portrayal, being a reliable, hard-hitting and somewhat inaccurate weapon at longer ranges. There is a satisfaction about using the iron sights on the AK-47: as it turns out, the use of dedicated optics and attachments on a service rifle is something that video games tend to get wrong. In reality, infantry use basic weapons to cut back on maintenance, and it is only special forces that highly customise their weapons to fit whatever mission is on hand.

  • Training soldiers to use iron sights means the soldiers are prepared for situations where they might not have access to sights, and moreover, removes the need to send everyone out with a six hundred dollar holographic sight. Because of rendering issues in games, iron sights can be quite tricky to use, and players universally gravitate towards sights because they improve visibility. More recent games have dramatically improved how iron sights are displayed, and I certainly don’t struggle to use them as I did when I first began playing things like Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty 4.

  • The attack on the Russian airfield represents the first bit of all-out conflict in Modern Warfare: once the rebels utilise their artillery to provide a massive diversion and blast open the walls leading into the base, it’s a full-on firefight. The lighting and setting brings back memories of Battlefield 1‘s “Nothing is Written” mission, which similarly saw a dawn operation set in the desert. Modern Warfare released about a year into Battlefield V‘s term and represented a game-changer for Activision: for the past decade prior to Modern Warfare‘s launch, Activision and Infinity Ward had been on the backfoot with their Call of Duty games, whereas DICE had nailed every Battlefield.

  • With Modern Warfare‘s launch, the ball has returned to Call of Duty‘s court: while Battlefield V is still technically an excellent game, DICE’s dropping support for it, and the subsequent disaster of Battlefield 2042 has meant that Call of Duty (and Warzone in particular) has overtaken Battlefield. These shifts are quite normal in the industry: we recall how Intel held the advantage over AMD in terms of processors until around 2016, when they changed their manufacturing process and began emphasising a large core count. Intel’s latest win is with the Alder Lake series, putting them back ahead for now, but AMD is doubtlessly working on newer designs that will eclipse Intel. Similarly, it is plain that while Call of Duty has been on the backfoot for a decade, they’re not out of the game yet, and their latest successes come from innovating where DICE has gone stale.

  • Warzone lies at the heart of Modern Warfare‘s success; Modern Warfare itself is excellent (something I can now personally attest to), but a battle royale mode that’s proven fun for players is undeniable. I’m personally not a battle royale fan because the game loop doesn’t work for me, but for many, there is an appeal about being able to go into a game and match wits with others. Unfortunately for Warzone players, I’ve heard that Modern Warfare II will not carry over Warzone progress. Back in Modern Warfare proper, the logic of bringing a Kar 98k to the fight soon became apparent as I utilised its long-range optics to pick off snipers hanging out in watch towers.

  • At first opportunity, I swapped back from the AK-12 I’d picked off a Russian soldier back to the SCAR-H. On more than one occasion, carelessness led me to rush into combat and get picked off by stray fire, but as I became acclimatised to the controls, I capitalised on the game’s “mount” mechanic, which maps to my fifth mouse button. Mounting to a wall or corner allows me to peek it and reduce recoil for more accurate shot placement at the expense of mobility. At first, I was a little confused and hit the middle mouse button, which caused me to throw a grenade and blow myself to kingdom come.

  • As it turns out, ever since I picked up a Logitech G203, I technically have a gaming mouse with multiple buttons. I normally don’t use the fourth or fifth buttons, so it was a bit of an adjustment, but once I figured how to use the mounting function, it became possible to play more tactically, making use of cover to engage foes more smartly. After figuring this out, it becomes clear that Modern Warfare was meant to handle differently than its predecessors, and by the time Cold War was released, it marked a return to classic run-and-gun gameplay.

  • Once the second armoury is secured, the Russians will cut the power in a bid to disorient the rebels. There’s no IRNV equipment available, so players are subsequently subject to the frantic horror of firing on a seemingly endless number of foes. Inside the armoury, I ended up finding a MGL-32 equipped with incendiary ammunition. While effective against infantry, it deals negligible damage to the Russian armour that soon arrives. As the Russians threaten to overwhelm and destroy the rebels, Alex receives a call: an AH-64 Apache is on station, ready to do serious work.

  • The perspective subsequently switches over to the AH-64’s WSO, who utilises the 30 mm chaingun and Hellfire missiles to clear out the ground. For this fire support mission, the AGM-114 Hellfires are dumb-fired, which feels like a waste considering that most Hellfire missiles are usually laser-guided. In a matter of moments, the Russian forces are cleared out and begin retreating, giving Alex and the rebels a tangible win. With this, my Modern Warfare experience has begun in earnest, and beyond the campaign, I am looking forwards to messing around with bot-only lobbies for the multiplayer, as well as the various Spec Ops assignments available in Modern Warfare. We’re now into August, as well, and this means that I’m hosting Jon’s Creative Showcase for this month. I have a different format in mind this time around to accommodate the fact my schedule isn’t what it used to be, but despite the format change, I am looking forwards to seeing what submissions will come in.

Having now played my first hour through 2019’s Modern Warfare, the game appears to have set the stage for the larger story at hand: I’ve gone through four short, connected vignettes that were more cinematic experiences than chaotic warfare that has come to define Call of Duty, but given what’s been presented to me thus far, all of the elements are now in place for me to hop back in to Modern Warfare and see what lies ahead. The story here seems significantly more grounded, serious and plausible than the story presented in Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, so I am curious to continue going through the game and see where things go. My entry into Modern Warfare comes as a bit of a surprise. I’ve longed to play Modern Warfare since its launch, although after becoming intrigued with Cold War first, I elected to hold back on Modern Warfare. A chance sale this past weekend saw the game go on discount for the lowest price I’d seen since the game launched, and this represented an opportunity to give Modern Warfare a go. I’ve long been a Battlefield fan, but since Modern Warfare, it appears that the ball is firmly back in Infinity Ward’s court. This has been most apparent since Warzone’s release; the game’s runaway success stems from a combination of capitalising on Battle Royale right at the onset of the global health crisis, which gave players something to immerse themselves in when restrictions and lockdowns disrupted lives at an unseen scale in recent years. With the stability afforded by a new game engine, Warzone’s performance, ease-of-entry and high skill ceiling provided players reason to return repeatedly. While I’ve never been a fan of Battle Royale, its successes are undeniable, and has allowed Call of Duty to really improve its experience over that of its predecessors while at the same time, remaining faithful to what made the older games so successful. This largely forms my curiosity in giving Modern Warfare‘s core experience a go, and this unexpected sale has provided all of the encouragement I need to finally experience Modern Warfare for myself.

Reflections on Lessons Learnt From Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and A Turning Point in Kinematics on the Road to the MCAT

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

It had been a brilliantly sunny day, but this fact was entirely lost on me as I left my first physics midterm, utterly defeated. Kinematics had never been my strong suit, and I ended up flubbing enough questions to wonder if I would make it through this spring course in one piece. I boarded the bus and made my way over to my friend’s place: although this exam had been devastating, I had not forgotten my promise of delivering to said friend a pair of headphones. He was scheduled to visit family in China in less than two days’ time, and after my bus reached its destination, I cut through a footpath to reach his place. When I arrived, my friend had another request for me: this was back during a time when Team Fortress 2 still was open to idling, and at the time, my friend had been quite keen on collecting drops from a headless Team Fortress 2 client, with the intent of transforming duplicate weapons into scrap, combining this into reclaimed metal and ultimately, refining this metal with the goal of making hats. To this end, my friend had created no fewer than four accounts, and the ask had been simple: I would leave a headless client running while I was at the university and cycle through each account. My friend would leave for China, and I began the process of idling. During days where the cap was reached, I spotted that my friend had Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in his account, and curiosity led me to beat the game over the course of a week. In between finishing lab reports and trying to keep up with the new topics in my physics course, I saw Sergeant John “Soap” MacTavish fighting alongside Captain John Price and Bravo Team to prevent Imran Zakhaev from seizing Russian ICBMs and levelling the Eastern Seaboard with them. Throughout Modern Warfare, I was impressed with the sheer grit MacTavish and Price demonstrated: regardless of being outgunned after trying to make their way to an extraction zone, or pressing forwards with preventing ballistic missiles from hitting the continental United States even after they’re launched, Bravo Team never once give up; they simply soldiered on with a grim determination to get the job done. At this point in the summer, I had been more than ready to throw in the towel: in the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme, summer courses don’t affect the GPA calculation for things like the honours thesis or scholarships, so it would’ve been sufficient for me to simply pass physics and focus on the summer’s main foe, the MCAT.

With its uncommonly well-presented atmospherics, Modern Warfare completely immersed me in its story. When I reached the One Shot, One Kill mission, I noticed that the game presented all of the variables Price needed to account for whilst placing the shot needed to take Zakhaev out. I’d been a little surprised that the bullet drop would be that severe over the distance: at 896.7 metres, I imagined that with the M82’s muzzle velocity of 854 m/s, the bullet would still fly true en route to Zakhaev’s cranium. I quickly broke out the kinematics equations and worked out the drop: the expression d = v₀·t + (a·t²)/2 was sufficient to work things out, and if the bullet was in flight for 1.05 seconds, then assuming a vertical velocity of 0 m/s when leaving the barrel, we can assume that the only acceleration the bullet experiences is due to gravity (8.91 m/s²). With these values in mind, the bullet would drop 5.40 meters (16.4 feet), to three significant figures, over that distance. Spotting this, I was swiftly reminded that although kinematics might not be my forte, there was still relevance in studying it. I thus resolved to put in a more concerted effort for the second midterm, which had been a mere two weeks after the first midterm. Doubling down on my studies, I also spent my spare time going through the remainder of the Modern Warfare campaign, striking a balance between becoming comfortable with the physics work and experiencing an iconic part of the Call of Duty franchise as a means of unwinding. I felt better prepared for the second midterm, and walked away from this one with a greater confidence: two days after the midterm ended, I published a post about my cursory thoughts on the One Shot, One Kill mission and finished Modern Warfare. When my midterm results returned, I was surprised that I’d done significantly better, and by the time the final exam rolled around, I was able to perform. In this introductory physics course, I turned my grade around from a C- to an A-, and moreover, this course acted as a refresher for a major part of the MCAT: kinematics was very much a part of the physical sciences section, and with biology, biochemistry and organic chemistry still fresh on my mind, I had enough of a background to begin mastering the exam-taking techniques. Completing my physics course on a high note gave me the confidence I needed during the early days of MCAT preparations. When my friend returned home from China, I returned the Steam accounts and no longer had access to Modern Warfare, but the atmospherics and emotions lingered with me. I thus entered the MCAT with the same sort of deadly focus and resolve that Price and MacTavish had when staring down what seemed to be certain death.

Additional Remarks and Commentary

  • Modern Warfare‘s campaign represents one of the most iconic in gaming history, right alongside the likes of giants like Half-LifeHalo and GoldenEye. Games of this time period were polished and thought-provoking, and when I first set foot here, during the infamous “Heat” mission, Modern Warfare would’ve just turned five. As memory serves, I became interested in Modern Warfare while looking up ghost stories surrounding Chernobyl and happened upon a text that described the Pripyat missions as being ghostly in terms of atmospherics.

  • Watching footage of Modern Warfare on YouTube convinced me that this was a game worth trying, but when my friend asked me to idle for Team Fortress 2 hats, I ended up  having the chance to play the game on his account instead. This experience allowed me to experience the campaign to the extent that I wished, and over the space of a week, I finished the entire game. In those days, I had an older computer that, while not quite powerful enough to run Crysis or Bad Company 2, could still play Team Fortress 2 and Modern Warfare without any issues.

  • I had nailed most of the questions, but I still remember the final question had me licked. I ended up with a 65 on this first midterm as a result. Looking back, this was a consequence of my going through the motions; the introductory mechanics course was basically a revisit of kinematics from secondary school, and I’d fallen into the trap of thinking that, since I’d done well enough back in secondary school, my old knowledge must’ve still been intact. Coupled with the fact that I was moderately distracted by Otafest and Gundam Unicorn‘s fifth episode, my focus wasn’t fully on physics.

  • After the shock of the first midterm wore off, and with a series of accounts to idle for, I realised that the only way to get through everything with a passing grade was if I focused on my studies when I needed to, and to this end, I would sit down and re-structure my days. I would only deal with laboratory materials on Monday, then catch up with lecture materials after classes ended on Mondays and Wednesdays by doing review problems. Tuesdays and Thursdays were devoted to assignments, and any leftover time I had in the week, I would focus on revisiting any concepts from the week I’d been feeling less confident about.

  • Each day of the week, anywhere after 1700 would be my downtime, in which I wouldn’t look at any coursework. This was when I’d go through Modern Warfare, and later, when I finished, Portal 2. In this way, I would regain rhythm in my spring course, and in conjunction with the grit and spirit seen in Modern Warfare, I would come back around and decided that, rather than throwing in the towel, I would do what I could for physics. On this day a decade earlier, I would sit down to my second midterm, which had been a mere two weeks after the first.

  • After conquering the second midterm and performing as I had wished, I had enough momentum to push on forwards. It helped considerably that things like momentum, work and energy were concepts I was much stronger with, and I’d also been more comfortable with collisions and energy transfer than I’d ever been with kinematics. My old spirits returned to me, and this timing was critical: shortly after the second midterm ended, my MCAT course had also begun. With only two months left to exam day, I received a crash course on MCAT content and also learnt the means of testing more efficiently.

  • Because I’d been fresh out of physics, and having taken several organic chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology courses, the MCAT content ultimately wasn’t a concern to me: I knew enough of the basics to understand what was being asked, and testing thus became a matter of triaging the exam, keeping cool under pressure and managing time well. For me, strategy mattered more than content, and these elements were helped by the fact that by mid-June, I was simultaneously juggling physics and the MCAT course.

  • The strategies from the MCAT course would, curiously enough, carry over to how I took my physics exam, and I recall knocking out the final exam with a greater confidence than I had been. At this time, since I was still focused on wrapping up physics, I did not do well on the recommended practise MCAT exam when it became available to me. This performance was not yet worrisome, since I’d known that my attention had been divided, and that it was still mostly early in the summer.

  • According to the date-stamp on the screenshot, I would’ve reached this point in Modern Warfare on the same day as my midterm. Recollections elsewhere in this blog remind me that I had a lab on the same day, as well: spring and summer courses are far more condensed than fall and winter courses, and while this creates tremendous pressure to gain a satisfactory knowledge of the material, the flipside is that I wasn’t taking other courses, so I could focus on physics entirely. Whenever revisiting these missions in Modern Warfare, then, my thoughts always flit towards that June Wednesday back in 2012, during a time when I wished I were doing anything else with my days besides studying.

  • However, in retrospect, the summer of a decade before was ultimately what shaped how I approached challenges and adversity. In secondary school, and then for most of my undergraduate programme, I approached things with a brute force solution, resolving to learn principles and systems well enough to pass exams on my own. My cell and molecular biology course began changing this: being able to appreciate the context of a concept helped me to understand its significance. By the time my physics course ended, and the MCAT course had been in full swing, it became clear the old methods would no longer cut it.

  • Some of my friends, who’d already finished the MCAT, ended up holding study sessions for myself and a few other classmates who were staring down the MCAT. Outside of the MCAT preparation course and my own studies, we would meet up at the medical campus and spent hours going through exams together. In groups, I could ask questions and get a second set of thoughts on things. Even to this day, I’m impressed my friends went through this level of effort to get us through when they themselves had already finished the exam.

  • This is why, when my friends received their offers to medical school, I was thrilled; these are brilliant and compassionate individuals with the personality traits and moral fibre to be a physician. I myself would never make it to the interview stage: in feedback I received from my application, my commitment to ethics and sense of volunteering had been insufficient. In a private conversation with my friends, they felt that the day-to-day of a physician wouldn’t have been for me, and with a decade’s worth of life experience, I whole-heartedly agree with them.

  • While I would never again use my MCAT score for anything more than a conversational topic, the exam-taking process itself proved invaluable to me: I ended up performing exceedingly well in my final undergraduate year, and during an open studies term, I was able to excel in all courses despite being preoccupied with medical school applications and a lingering melancholy from the summer following the Great Flood. The same skills ended up carrying over to graduate school, which stand as some of my fondest memories of university: readers can actually spot this as when I really began writing for this blog.

  • Four years after the MCAT ended, I would pick up Modern Warfare for myself after it went on discount during the Steam Summer Sale. This time around, I’d been rocking a newer computer and was able to replay the game at 1080p: revisiting old maps brought back memories of the MCAT, and I found myself immensely glad to have finished. At this point in time, I’d also finished defending my graduate thesis. While this examination was supposed to be as tough as the MCAT, the main advantage I had was that, rather than only two months, I had a full two years to prepare for this exam.

  • In my revisit of Modern Warfare in 2016, I wrote of my enjoyment of how the game had remained highly immersive despite almost nine years having passed since its launch. The next year, Modern Warfare Remastered became available as a part of the Infinite Warfare: Legacy Edition. I ended up buying this because it’d been on sale, and because by then, five years had passed since my MCAT. The world is now a very different place than it had been since the MCAT, and in the past few months, I’ve taken advantage of the spring weather to revisit campus.

  • Some spots have changed beyond recognition: the library block and tower where I’d spent mornings doing revisions prior to the MCAT course (and where I watched Listen to Me Girls, I Am Your Father! during downtime) has been demolished and completely rebuilt. However, the building I studied physics in during mornings is still there, although the study spaces have now been repurposed as office spaces, and the home of my old lab remains as it had when I was still a student there.

  • In this post, I reminisce fondly of how Modern Warfare played a pivotal role in getting my game back together in physics, and how this would set me on a path to take on the MCAT with confidence. One would therefore wonder, had my friend not asked me to idle for him in Team Fortress 2, I would have never played Modern Warfare. I imagine that, while I wouldn’t have been as inspired or encouraged to make a comeback, the fact that I was more comfortable with materials in the course’s second half would’ve allowed me to still recover my grades somewhat, and since I’d just begun watching CLANNAD then, this, in conjunction with study sessions from my friends, I would still have some inspiration from other sources.

  • The short answer is that, even without Modern Warfare, I would have likely survived the summer, and had that occurred, I would likely have ascribed the outcomes of that summer to something else. However, it is the case that Modern Warfare did act as the catalyst for me to get my head back in the game and pull through physics: it is fair to suggest that Modern Warfare did have a nontrivial impact on how my summer unfolded: seeing Price and MacTavish motivated me to do what I could, and so, on this day a decade earlier, I was able to walk out of that second midterm with a much greater feeling of confidence that I did well.

  • After my second midterm ended and finals began approaching, my friend returned home from China. Although this meant my access to Modern Warfare would end, my friend ended up sending me a discount code for Portal 2 as thanks for helping him idle, and in downtime outside of my studies, we ended up playing Team Fortress 2, as well as MicroVolts. The games might’ve differed, but the outcomes were the same, and altogether, I would suggest that the combination of maintaining a balanced schedule, having things to look forward to on a day-to-day basis and support from friends would carry me through that summer.

Looking back, conquering the MCAT had a significant knock-on effect on my career trajectory: the techniques and approaches I used on the MCAT would prove to be immeasurably helpful during the final year of my undergraduate programme. I no longer worried about exams, realising that I could hit the principles and then reason my way through to solutions rather than attempting to memorise facts and figures, and used triaging methods to hit high-value-low-effort problems first. With this newfound confidence, I performed better in my final year than I had the remainder of my undergraduate degree, and for the first time, it hit me: doing well for the sake of doing well is meaningless, but when I changed my mindset to simply learn and appreciate the material, the pressure associated with scoring high on exams evaporated. I carried this confidence into graduate school; my medical school applications weren’t successful, but I would see another path I could follow. I thus walked this path with conviction, and ended up cultivating the skills needed to succeed in the realm of mobile development. It may appear to be a stretch that I say this, but if my successes on the MCAT imparted in me the know-how of rising up to life’s challenges more effectively, then turning my physics course around gave me the encouragement to do so, and this in turn was facilitated by the fact I was able to play through Modern Warfare and draw inspiration from the game’s progression. I would not have gone through Modern Warfare had my friend not requested that I help him to idle for Team Fortress 2 item drops, so it seems reasonable to suppose that my friend’s simple request set me on a path I certainly could not have foreseen taken. While some of my outcomes ultimately do boil down to what I brought to the table, independently of any external experiences I may have had, the fact is that having Modern Warfare to play through helped me in a tangible fashion: whether it’s Bravo Team surviving the assault from Ultranationalist forces, or MacTavish pressing onwards to stop nuclear-tipped missiles from flattening the Eastern Seaboard, I am irrevocably reminded of those breaks between a frenzied effort to stave off a poor grade in physics. Going back through Modern Warfare now, I am appreciative of the efforts I’d made back then, and the fact that nowadays, I can play though the game again without this particular weight over my head.

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.

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.