I’ve come to acquire certain tastes and preferences about the games I play over a lifetime of gaming. The simple fact is that there are some things I favor over others — and perhaps always will. Many gamers are fiercely competitive and hone their skills playing online shooters; others might prefer more individual experiences and settle for a compelling story-driven game. Though it’s true what they say, variety is indeed the spice of life, I believe there’s something significant about our selective nature. And, as a recent epiphany I had playing a particular game has shown me, one of those supposedly minor predilections has a surprisingly vast amount of possibilities to explore. I’m talking about perspective.
Gears of War is in my eyes one of the best franchises to emerge during the current generation, and certainly the Gears trilogy stands proudly among its predecessors as a remarkable achievement in gaming. The aesthetic beauty of its crumbling architecture, the grim military setting that borders at times on sci-fi but remains very grounded, and a cast of memorable characters are just a few of the things that drew me into Gears. However, not all of these features — not even its brutal combat or tense, challenging multiplayer — are wholly the reason I enjoy the games so much. Comparing Gears with other popular shooters like Halo, Counter-Strike, or Call of Duty, I invariably lean towards Gears of War as my favorite for one simple reason: the third-person perspective.
I know this sounds strange. Why should the point of view of the game have such a large impact on my enjoyment of it? Do I prefer every single third-person game to a first-person game? The answer is both yes and no, and perhaps more subtle and nuanced than I can accurately describe. Suffice it to say, somewhere in my gaming DNA there is a gene that draws me to third-person games. I love being able to look at my character, seeing him or her walk, talk, move, shoot, and interact with the environment. Though I frequently play and enjoy many first-person games, I feel like I am better connected with characters and more invested in gameplay when I view things from third-person.
I don’t like horror games. Most other folks don’t like them either, I suspect. There is no enjoyment for me in creeping slowly along the corridors of a forgotten castle with nothing but a dying lantern; no joy in the slow shuffle through the fog of a town that seeks to reflect all my darkest secrets and fears back at me. Being hunted by a faceless man in a forest is not fun.
But I still play them, because not everything is about fun. This breed of game, at its best, is about mental challenge. Pushing yourself to overcome. Horror is discomfiting, invasive and dangerous; it is everything you hate coming to get you in the dark. This is, perhaps, what separates a truly horrific video game from those that simply pitch their tent in horrible places. When I play Dead Space or Resident Evil there is horror all around me, but I’m there to enjoy myself. I’ve been given the tools not just to survive, but to dominate the terror. Conversely, I actively avoid playing Amnesia because it’s in control. I need to work simply to exist in its world. For this reason an element of survival is always present in true horror, even if the only thing fighting to survive is the player’s state of mind.
Acid Wizard Studio seem to agree with my perspective, as they’ve created their own piece of survival horror in Darkwood. The game — which is looking for funds on Indigogo this month — has players wake up in a mysterious forest filled with all manner of unknown unspeakables and tasks them with surviving long enough to discover what might be going on. All of this from a seemingly innocuous top-down perspective.
On the 28th April 2013, yours truly paid for an apple tree on mobile game, The Simpsons: Tapped Out. As soon as this transaction was concluded, a feeling of regret emerged similar to that moment when you realise buying several batches of Lynx: Africa doesn’t actually produce some strange pheromone, whereby you’re inundated with bikini-clad beauties. In fact, were I not in a Starbucks at that moment, I may have indeed stood up and exclaimed with much gusto something like “bloody hell” or “balls”. You see, against my quite cynical nature I had embraced the idea of downloading a free game, only to be duped quite unceremoniously by the snake-like antics of these companies using “freemium” models, trapping their consumers into the mindset of paying to progress.
It’s akin to being given free cocaine or heroin with the promise that it’s not harmful or debilitating, then once you’re hooked being offered up an even more delicious and delectable grade of the drug for a minor fee. This, of course, builds and builds, progressing to a situation one can only describe as addiction. It’s a horrific business model, one that guarantees financial viability for the companies and assures financial instability for the consumer.
[Part One is here, if you're not keeping up]
You finally make it back to camp, outrunning whatever foul creature was causing that awful racket. Sitting down near your tent, you become increasingly aware of the unpleasant odour emanating from your backpack. The datapad you rescued from a pile of monster faeces is nestled between your survival kit and some other “important” junk.
Safe again, with food cooking slowly over the fire, you decide to turn the device on once more. The last entry you read was not a hopeful one; in fact, it was decidedly bleak, and knowing where the datapad ended up, you don’t hold out much hope for the author’s ability to turn his situation around.
“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
With audacious style and almost impossible fluidity, Geralt of Rivia, Witcher and monster slayer took out his silver sword, looked straight into the eyes of the wolf and stroke it down in one fell swoop. He scavenged the corpse, skinned the beast and walked on, leaving the pink, sinewy body behind.
I’ve experienced many games recently that have brought about the tendency to examine what constitutes the monster in a game. Video gaming, as a medium, usually presents its characters in an effective black and white cloak; you are the hero, he, she, or it is the villain. You are normally tasked with fighting on the side of men, helping the good triumph over the evil by slaughtering tens upon tens, hundreds upon hundreds, even thousands upon thousands of enemies in the ever increasingly glorious quest to kill relentlessly.
Now, admittedly, the process is understandable in certain scenarios. Halo’s John-117, for example, isn’t going to back away from destroying weaker enemies because he has to consider the psychological ramifications (although it would be nice for him to consider that which he shoots), but other games, particularly those involving RPG and open world elements, provide situations where you hack, slash and stab your way through slimy, smelly, misunderstood creatures simply to please some fat cat back in the local town who wants the meat of a creature to provide the nobles with local delicacies. The Witcher is an excellent case in point. An incredibly deep, well-thought out, occasionally politically inclined RPG that features a main character who’s function in society is to kill miscreants. He scythes through these abominations without remorse, manufacturing coin through their demise and yet he’s not the one we consider a monster.
It all started with a horse.
More specifically, horse armor — perhaps the first shot fired in the ongoing battle of Consumer and Developer, the great DLC war of this generation. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’s “Horse Armor Pack”, released on the fateful day of April 3, 2006, was one of the earliest DLC packs of this generation. For a hefty 200 Microsoft Points, you could outfit your steed in a suit of armor, coming in two stylish flavors: Elven and Steel. Little did we know, gaming would never be the same.
Despite the appeal of that new horse-armor smell, the response from gamers was less than enthusiastic. Fans, consumers, and media outlets alike criticized the DLC for offering no apparent value, despite the cost. The horse armor didn’t do much for your horse or your character, other than slightly increasing the health of the horse; it was, more or less, a vanity item. Gamers expecting an elaborate quest or a lengthy crafting process to create the armor were left sorely disappointed, you simply plunked down the Microsoft Points, talked to an NPC, and received your item. DLC as we know it was just getting its legs, but this was a shaky start.
To say Dark Souls is a cruel game is to do its design a disservice. The atmosphere is agonizingly tense, and there’s this bizarre synthesis of dread and exhilaration knowing that each step in the world moves you through and ever-deepening gloom. It’s an RPG that contains elements of survival horror demanding that you make use very limited resources in a world where you’re over-matched. It’s a game in which death is not so much a punishment as it is a learning tool, a digital koan to meditate on to better prepare yourself for trials ahead. A deft player can fight his/her way through almost any real challenge because the combat, however difficult, is rarely (if at all) unfair. It’s an exceptional masterpiece.
It also scares me—I mean genuinely scares me so much that at one point I had to re-think the time I spent with it. There’s something at the heart of that game that I find more than unsettling. Dark Souls operates outside the bounds of our average concept of video game horror that reaches a level on par with some of the deepest existential terrors glimpsed through Cormac McCarthy’s elegiac nihilism and H. P. Lovecraft’s mythic cycles. Deep in the recesses of that digital world, something stirs…and waits.
Not enough people played Stubbs the Zombie. This is true in a very literal and commercial sense, of course — the game wasn’t a big seller, and the only place you can find it now is buried deep in the bowels of Xbox Live’s Games on Demand section — but also in the sense that it is a game very much worthy of attention. Stubbs cast you as a freshly risen zombie participating in your very own undead apocalypse. Not only was it a chance to play as the other side of the equation, it also offered a nifty and twisted tale of the old world clashing violently with the tehnologically-powered and uncaring future. Not only that, but you could rip off your own hand and use it to possess police officers.
Alas, due to Stubbs’ unusual nature and many other boring business factors there never was a sequel to that brief but magical foray into the life of a 1950s corpse. Wideload Games went on to make little else of note and were acquired by Disney Interactive in 2009, who reassigned them to mobile games development. They were in charge of Avengers Initiative, which you probably haven’t heard of because nobody cares about licensed mobile games.
This post is not about Diablo III.
Tuesday, Kotaku reported that a bug which had found its way into Diablo III‘s 1.0.8 patch temporarily allowed some players to duplicate gold, unnaturally inflating the MMO’s economy. In the days since, Blizzard has regularly updated a forum post explaining to players the actions that are being taken to correct any damage the bug has caused. Apart from a few still-angry forum dwellers, the community seems to have calmed down significantly.
As I mentioned before, however, this isn’t a post about Diablo III. This is a post about journalistic integrity, the lengths to which we’ll go to ensure that we are heard, and my own close call with the “Dark Side.”
“Reboot” isn’t necessarily a word that people greet with much enthusiasm. Everything seems to be getting rebooted these days, from TV shows to video games. The worst culprits are the incredibly unimaginative people from the mythical land of Hollywood, who seem more than happy to ruin our fondest film memories to make a quick buck. Their lack of creativity and occasional disregard for fans of the originals have left us with many naff substitutes such as Planet Of The Apes, A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Wicker Man. Seriously, what were they thinking when they cast Nicholas Cage in that movie?
But, we’ve also had plenty of good movie reboots as well. The truth is that for every Pink Panther there is a Dredd to counterbalance it. The same is true for video games too. It’s never the case that all re-imaginings of our favourite things turn out to be bad. Sometimes the planets will align and we will be magically gifted with games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, DmC: Devil May Cry and Twisted Metal. All of those games had both positive and negative aspects, but they also had elements that fans of the original series could enjoy in some nostalgic way. But whilst those games were very good, it is my personal belief that the new Tomb Raider reboot by Crystal Dynamics sets the standard for all future reboots.