Itâs an election year and once again weâre hearing a lot about Ronald Reagan these days. Here he is, introduced in the âCall of Duty: Black Opsâ series with the same grandeur and aplomb as actor Giancarlo Espositoâs reveal in âFar Cry 6.â
âBlack Ops: Cold War,â releasing Nov. 13, is a direct sequel to one of the most celebrated single-player campaigns in the franchise, and this is shaping up to be the most story-heavy campaign in the entire 17-year history of the series. âCall of Dutyâ stories can mostly be appreciated as thrilling tales about the âboots on the groundâ experience. For soldiers in war, itâs the mission, not the politics, that matter. But with its historical inspirations and the gameâs utilization of President Reagan, the story featured in âCold Warâ feels primed to stir up political controversy. And although the âCall of Dutyâ series has always dabbled in conspiracies, itâs a core theme for the 2020 update at a time when conspiracy talk has dotted discussion around the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
Reagan activates the Black Ops team, including a mix of old and new characters, to uncover Perseus, an elusive Soviet agent who threatens the foundations of democracy. In real life, Perseus is believed to be a Soviet spy who breached the Manhattan Project and gave the U.S.S.R. Americaâs nuclear secrets. Their identity was never learned. This game appears to be all about solving that puzzle and filling that gap in history.
âThese conspiracy theories almost develop a life of their own, and in some ways, that allows us to add an edge of excitement to our fiction or narrative,â said Dan Bunting, co-head at Treyarch. âAnd that was a big part of what we wanted to capture in this game, the zeitgeist of not only the original âBlack Opsâ but in the Cold War era, but also things that are happening today and making it relevant.â
In a press event revealing the single-player campaign, Bunting and âCold Warâ senior creative director Dan Vondrak of Raven Software showed off some exciting new changes in gameplay. âBlack Ops 4â famously didnât include a single-player campaign, and the two studios seem to be making up for that with a story featuring a number of familiar characters, including returning âBlack Opsâ protagonists Alex Mason and Frank Woods.
Treyarch also seems to be picking up where âAdvanced Warfareâ left off when it comes to more open-ended, emergent gameplay. The 2014 game (which starred Kevin Spacey of all people) saw a more open-narrow type of level design, giving the single-player campaign a few open areas to navigate with traversal options like a grappling hook. We saw gameplay for âCold Warâ in which players infiltrate a Russian embassy undercover as a double agent, picking dialogue paths and nonlethal ways to navigate tense social situations, moving around the complex while ticking off various objectives, all before descending into a classic âCall of Dutyâ shootout.
âCold Warâ seems to expand on this even more with branching story paths, promising multiple endings. Bunting would not say how many, and also didnât want to promise a plethora of endings. Beyond that, Bunting also promised that âBlack Opsâ will keep the series identity of being the hallucinatory, experimental brother of the âModern Warfareâ series. They showed off a part of a mission where the team returns to Vietnam, the setting of the very first âBlack Opsâ mission, where they discover a secret about what happened then, and how it ties the âPerseusâ mystery that drives this game.
That mission featured doors dropping out of nowhere, which made for a disturbing, twisted combat scenario unlike anything weâve seen since âSpec Ops: The Line.â Bunting also said that itâs not the only mission in Vietnam, a tantalizing tidbit for fans of the first game. Another intriguing mission found us in Ukraine, where the Black Ops team finds a secret training facility made to look like an American suburb. The ensuing bloodbath is backed by 1980s pop and neon lights, and looks to be an early highlight for the campaign.
The series also moves us back to a silent protagonist role, one that can be customized to a degree. Players can pick between three genders: male, female or âclassified.â The âclassifiedâ classification is meant for anyone who might be non-binary or doesnât want to identify a gender. The âclassifiedâ designation is also applicable to other fields in the bio form as well. The thinking from the developers is that rather than forcing players into a decision they donât want to make, people will appreciate the feeling of being shrouded in mystery and letting their imagination define their character. The developers also rerecorded dialogue to use them/they pronouns for the âclassifiedâ gender. Other character options include incidental background details that donât affect gameplay, like place of birth, and your military background.
âIf we donât find something that somebody wants, letâs let them leave it classified to make the mysterious, shadowy special operative Black Ops character they want to be,â Vondrak said. â So when it came to gender that same thing was thrown out. Why canât we leave that classified? Thereâs no reason we canât do that. Weâre already going to change the âheâ and ‘she,â so it was easy enough to use those different pronouns as well.”
Itâs unclear how much politics will actually play in the story, but the early reveal and marketing campaign indicates such discussion may swirl around the game regardless of the developersâ wishes. Reagan seems to be a prominent factor, and itâs hard to ignore the fact his policies are still hotly debated, particularly by those on the left, and used to score political points today. Just look at conservative PAC The Lincoln Project, which formed last year as an anti-Trump segment of the Republican Party, and how it continues to weave in Reaganâs words with the current climate and upcoming election.
The former Republican National Convention chairman Michael Steele just joined The Lincoln Project earlier this week, and stated on Tuesday, âI stand where Reagan stood. Where do you stand?â Many of the replies on Twitter indicated that they are tired of mythologizing the most consequential Republican president in modern times and questioned his legacy. Meanwhile, President Trumpâs son, Eric, also invoked Reaganâs name in his speech last night at the Republican National Convention.
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Itâs completely unknown outside the development studios of Treyarch and Raven Software where âCold Warâ stands on Reagan or anything political. In a question-and-answer session with journalists, The Post asked them, âGiven the real world political climate and prominently featuring Reagan, what considerations did you have in portraying the longtime GOP standard-bearer?â The question was submitted via an Activision-moderated chat, and when relayed to the developers it was paraphrased by a spokesman into, âWhat considerations did you have in portraying not only Reagan but other real-world people that you engaged in?â The developers gave a general answer about watching âtonsâ of Reagan speeches and talking to people who were close to him, including former Cabinet members, to get his character right.
Given how the series has treated historical figures, Reaganâs role in the story will likely be benign. The âBlack Opsâ series caused some controversy for the first gameâs portrayal of Fidel Castro, and Cuban state media called the game American propaganda. In the end, players assassinate a double of Castro, who died in 2016. It also invoked the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Benign or not, Reaganâs inclusion in the game â as well as 1980s conspiracies about American-Soviet relations â are sure to generate commentary. YouTube personalities and essayists took a shine to last weekâs teaser trailer, which centered on Yuri Bezmenov, a Soviet defector who fled to the West and became a prominent lecturer against Soviet Communism and KGB tactics. These essays seem to overreach in tying the current political climate and the anti-police protests to Bezmenovâs warning about allowing âall the schmucks to put a Big Brother government in Washington, D.C. who will promises loads of things, never mind if the promises are fulfilled or not.â Itâs unclear whether Bezmenov is a character in the story.
Without more context in the story, itâs hard to debate the accuracy of these readings, but itâs easy to see the gathering clouds of controversy. The politics of âCall of Dutyâ mostly portray U.S. military interference in foreign policy with little details other than James Bond-ian action and villainy. But even with all watered-down political posturing, war-based video games donât exist in a vacuum, and have appeared in Russian state media (mistakenly so, they say) to color the conflicts and unrest in Syria.
Infinity Ward, makers of 2019â²s âCall of Duty: Modern Warfare,â drew scrutiny for basing a setting in that gameâs campaign around an incident in which a military convoy was bombed by American forces. In the script for âModern Warfare,â however, the Russians were responsible for the attack, angering gamers in that country, including a prominent streamer paid to promote the game. âBlack Ops Cold Warâ is already being touched by the current geopolitical climate. Publisher Activision reshot the teaser trailer by removing the footage it used of Tiananmen Square after public outcry on Chinese social media channels. Chinese conglomerate Tencent also owns a 5-percent stake in Activision Blizzard, who got into hot water last year after banning professional âHearthstoneâ players for expressing support for the Hong Kong protests. The move prompted critics to throw âCold Warâsâ slogan (âKnow your historyâ) back at the gameâs maker.
The story may also paint America in a different light altogether, as the plot is largely driven by a new, shadowy and charismatic character named Russell Adler, a CIA operative that the developers called âAmericaâs Monster.â His early 1980s Robert Redford swagger belies his true intentions and why heâs so adamant in pushing Reagan toward a secretive intervention to find Perseus, whom members of the Cabinet believe to be a mere myth.
Based on what we saw, this is going to be the most explosive campaign yet for âCall of Duty,â which is actually saying a lot considering how much the series has ratcheted up the noise and fidelity. Time will tell what it actually has to say, if anything, about the zeitgeist of yesterday and today.
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World news – CA – Analysis | âCall of Duty: Black Ops Cold Warâ campaign drips with intrigue as it dances around a political hornets nest