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Review: ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’: bored in the US

The United States of America: Boy, we are definitely exhausting.

That was the conclusion I came to after completing the single player campaign in the last “Call of Duty”, a realization that I don’t believe is entirely unintentional. These are games designed by global teams of hundreds of people, designed largely as multiplayer engines that make money long after the initial sale is made. But modern single-player “Call of Duty” campaigns are full of narrative tension that speaks to those the game publisher thinks are its intended players.

Contradictions are present in the last episode. The franchise can’t break free from its pro-American stance, and the latest, a game set amid the stress of the early 1980s Cold War, features Ronald Reagan as a movie hero who saw the presidency as the role of a lifetime. And yet, the game also wants to show America as flawed and its army as arrogant.

Can he do both? Of course, but not without sacrifices.

At the end of the game, an American agent states that sometimes military organizations have to cross a line to make sure that “the line is still there in the morning.” “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War” wants to follow a line itself, nodding to both a very complex narrative and large-scale arcade-style action sequences.

American agents infiltrate – and decimate – a KGB installation in the latest “Call of Duty”.

(Treyarch / Raven / Activision)

In other words, it wants to present fun, but it also wants to convey some of the now pro-forma guilt that all video games with guns must have – the underlying nod of which, yes. , we all feel at least a little bad. the $ 70 thing that we give you. I mean there’s no way to feel well about the game’s opening scene, where the Iranians only exist to absorb bullets, but I want to believe it’s there to argue against the game’s hardline US agent thesis.

It is a mistake, after all, to believe that a line can be held if it is crossed. “Black Ops Cold War” doesn’t hold up – in the end, it lands on the side that promotes patriotism above all else, even though it appears to be sticking its nose in doing so.

About two decades into the “Call of Duty” brand, the Activision-owned franchise certainly knows its audience. Maybe that’s why I flinched the few times “Black Ops Cold War” tried to pull me back into its fold, to say, “Hey, it’s nice and nice in here. Stay! ”I never had a bad time with the game and enjoyed the missions that took me to infiltrate a KGB fortress, which provided a bit of exploration and puzzle-solving attempts. . One scene towards the end was certainly aimed at “Apocalypse Now” inspired psychedelics when it showed how much the presentation of events and facts depends on whoever is manipulating. It’s a clever scene in which we piece together a memory, and the more we probe, the more foggy and artificial the worlds become.

This scene alone shows that there are ambitions here, as it’s taken for granted that “Call of Duty” games will feature moments that argue “the enemy is us,” but here’s a moment that seemed to call into question. not just beliefs, but the written history that comes after a war. Still, he felt held back, handcuffed by all the need not to stray too far from the “Call of Duty” of good versus evil of it all.

Essentially, the “Black Ops Cold War” single-player narrative didn’t seem entirely confident in itself. It’s a game, ultimately, on nostalgia, to look back to a time when we mistakenly believed that everyone felt a patriotic love for their country. We could make a drinking quarantine game with “Black Ops Cold War”: take a sip every time an American warns that the Russians are going to destroy our way of life.

The Russians – usually portrayed as ill-health figures who chain-smoke – give the same warning, but the only way of life shown to us on either side is one of oppression, murder, mistrust and broad generalizations. The American men, mostly wearing leather jackets, seem to belong to a “Boogie Nights” narrative; my female protagonist was warned to give one of those stereotypes, our gruff boss Russell Adler, “wide.” No one really likes anyone, and a brief protest that America shouldn’t break the rules of war is shot down by Reagan acting like John Wayne.

So stunningly, “Black Ops Cold War” goes, leading us into plot-fueled territory that draws inspiration from real life, and then pulls out stories worthy of a bunch of internet posts. One of the game’s first missions is titled “Fracture Jaw,” itself a nod to reported plan bring nuclear weapons to Vietnam – rejected in real life by President Johnson in 1968. The main antagonist is Russian spy Perseus, a mysterious figure whose name is an allusion to another mystery. Whether or not there was a real Russian spy with that name depends on who tells the story.

The narrative is delivered primarily in voiceover, as we move from fighting Iranian terrorists to chasing a gangster around an East Berlin checkpoint to infiltrate abandoned Russian military bases in mountain towns and even dive into Cuba, where our CIA agents fantasize about eliminating Fidel. Castro, all with the aim of finding Perseus. He is a threat because he has the power to annihilate Europe, thanks to the discovery of nuclear weapons that the United States has hidden in the name, supposedly, of self-defense.

We, that is America, as a flawed good guy, is a touchstone of the “Black Ops” line of “Call of Duty”, which is generally one of the more realistic games out there. and inspired by real life franchise. But as the game continues to twist on itself, ultimately revealing an intrigue revolving around the Central Intelligence Agency MK-Ultra Project, a covert and illegal operation of extreme mind control, the game tests our patience so as not to abandon our fellow operatives and side with the Soviet Union.

It’s a choice either / or given to us at some point, and there isn’t really a good option. We can help launch a hidden cache of nuclear weapons or attempt to take Perseus down, which can lead to an even more covert battle to spread disinformation, aka the modern world of “Alternative facts.” Both options, however, feed a conspiratorial narrative, a world of hidden stories where anyone other than us is suspect. Throughout the game our CIA chief Adler warns us of those who have “no true allegiance to anyone other than himself” but do so without being aware of his own smeared patriotism. .

“Black Ops Cold War” therefore challenges us, in its last moments, to change sides and put the Western world in ruins. As tired as I was at this point of hearing Reagan tell us that America’s greatest weapon is his freedom – have a drink! – that feeling, even for a video game in which I had personally murdered thousands of people, somewhat reckless and absurd. Here is a not-so-subtle statement, presented as a revenge plot, that a rejection of a blind belief in all things – America, even its war crimes, would end up destroying it and result in an even more hellish future than us. . can imagine.

No, I don’t think the developers of “Black Ops Cold War” believe it. I think they were looking for something more nuanced, hoping to show how the shutters of the Cold War permeated the world of 2020 and led to aspiring internet sleuths and dangerous paramilitary civilians doing things like responding to calls from our current president to “Liberate” Michigan.

Maybe – God forbid – the audience will eat this, but what I found was a story that just wanted to take a nap, a war game exhausted by the very nationalism of the country it is forced to, cheerleader year after year.

Call of Duty: Cold War Black Ops




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