The question was asked for the same likely reason Activision has never greenlit a Call of Duty game dedicated to The Vietnam war: The US military’s actions in Vietnam were atrocious and widely regarded as a massive mistake.
Fueled by anti-communist sentiment, the US government aligned itself with South Vietnam in the mid-1950s, and the conflict functioned as a proxy war against the Soviet Union and China, both of whom backed North Vietnam. With the world’s most advanced military technology at its disposal, the US obliterated Vietnamese soldiers and civilians for 19 years, while making negligible progress against the North and seeding deep divisions at home.
In Vietnam, US orders were best summarized as, “kill anything that moves.” During the infamous My Lai Massacre in 1968, US troops slaughtered more than 500 civilians over the course of four hours, stopping for a lunch break in the middle. US planes dropped the explosive power of 640 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs on Vietnamese military structures and villages. Throughout the conflict, US attack helicopters, carpet bombings and heavy artillery killed as many as 3 million Vietnamese people, 2 million of whom were civilians. By the end of US involvement, 58,000 American soldiers had died, many of them marginalized in everyday society and drafted against their will.
The US retreated from Vietnam in 1973, bloody, victoryless, and with a generation of traumatized soldiers to support — or, as was often the case, to completely ignore.
By nature, every war is gruesome, ruinous and inhumane, but Vietnam represents a particularly dark mark on US legacy. In Vietnam, this conflict is called the American War, or the Resistance War Against America.
Kraft, Cold War’s lead writer, acknowledged this history at the very beginning of the preview, saying, “We’re also going back to 1968, to a dark period of American history, the Vietnam war.”
If there ever was a moment for a non-lethal option in a Call of Duty game, the Vietnam war might just be it. It’s not like this is a new idea for the CoD squad — Infinity Ward implemented a non-violent option in the 2009 Modern Warfare 2 level “No Russian,” which allowed players to participate in a mass shooting at a busy airport. There’s also a Vietnam war level in the original Black Ops, also developed by Treyarch, and there’s no option to navigate that battlefield non-lethally.
It’s unclear just how much of Cold War takes place in this Vietnam war nightmare land, so perhaps it is laughable to consider letting players sneak their way through these scenes. Or maybe there’s a plot point tied directly to the number of Vietnamese soldiers that players gun down. After all, if Treyarch is aiming for authenticity, that would fit. As the US Army didn’t have a clear indicator of progress throughout the Vietnam war, it used body counts to measure the success or failure of any given mission.
Such a mechanic would be ridiculously tone deaf, even for Call of Duty. Overall, it seems Treyarch and Raven are approaching Cold War’s Vietnam storyline the same way they’d handle any other battle scene in any other installment: authenticity only to the point of entertainment. Discomfort isn’t the goal. Playability is.
To that end, the Vietnam scenes look engaging, lush and mysterious, with a surreal edge that makes them stand out from classic Call of Duty fare. History adds a twinge of unease to the scenes of US soldiers slaughtering Vietnamese people, but for the majority of players, it’ll pass unnoticed.
Besides, most people pick up Call of Duty every year for multiplayer, not the single-player campaign. To that end, Cold War will support cross-platform play, a new Zombies mode, and shared content with Call of Duty: Warzone, Activision’s battle royale franchise. Cold War and Warzone will have shared progression features as well — but that’s basically all Activision, Treyarch or Raven have confirmed for now. The Call of Duty Twitch channel will share more information about non-campaign things on September 9th.
There are three versions of Cold War available to pre-order today: the Standard Edition ($60), Cross-Gen Bundle ($70) and Ultimate Edition ($90). The Standard version unlocks the game on Xbox One, PS4 or PC, while the Cross-Gen and Ultimate bundles activate the game on next-gen console counterparts as well.
Treyarch and Raven were an unlikely pairing for Cold War. Sledgehammer Games was originally scheduled to create this installment with Raven Software, but that partnership fell apart in 2019 and Treyarch stepped in. This speed bump, alongside a global pandemic that’s shifted the business models of most industries, could’ve spelled disaster for Cold War. Instead, it seems Treyarch and Raven have firm control over their own version of the Cold War, and all of the atrocities they want to inflict on it.