For my first post, I wanted to talk about something that’s bothered me for a long time in video games: Should they take themselves seriously?
I think this comes down to personal preferences, of course. The Call of Duty and Madden Dude-bro crowd may call anything with cell shaded graphics “For Kids”, and the most die hard “Just one more swap” puzzle game fan might turn up his nose at any game with a story because “Games are about having fun”. But really I think there is an important middle ground that serves the gamer best. Lets look at some examples, and see if the need to dial down the grimdark, or cut back on the slapstick:
I wanted to lead with this game because it’s pretty much the poster child for over the top. Right after “Press Start”, your character is sitting in a chair, swigging a beer, and holding a gun to someone’s head. Pretty Tarantino, right? Then, just like in Samuel “Say what one more time” Jackson’s scene, there’s a stressed out dude in a chair being interrogated by some men who seem to enjoy casual violence. Seems like a pretty tense scene, where you can’t decide between smirking at the Anti-hero’s attempts at witty dialogue or feeling bad for the man begging for his life in front of some clearly disturbed, gun toting individuals. This could be pretty heavy stuff. Then you kick him out of the airlock and your buddy starts talking about boners… Shortly after, there’s some sort of hardboiled revenge quest set up, and a few scenes where you and your friends try to launch a suicide attack on a ship, leaving them pretty screwed up. Next is a relatively srsbuisness flashback filled with story exposition. Then you’re dumped back to present day and given the tutorial explaining how shooting people in the nuts is worth extra points.
I think this game really suffers an identity crisis. It WANTS to be the over the top action shooter, but it also attempts to be a story based, “Cool tough guy shooter” in the same vein as Halo, but it doesn’t succeed at mixing those two very well. A great example of what they should have been aiming for is the Serious Sam series. The story is there, and serves as a framework, but never gets in the way of the games’ goals of being action packed and shooty. Bulletstorm ended up with this weird vibe where you were never quite sure where you would end up next. Kind of a turned upside-down version of the Only Sane Man trope, where the main characters seem to be the only batshit elements in what is a fairly serious world otherwise.
My Verdict: Pick a side, and focus, Bulletstorm.
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (All of ’em)
The CoD: MW series serves as an interesting contrast to Bulletstorm. It’s set in the real world. It’s modern, and based around modern issues we are meant to relate to. And for the most part, it takes itself pretty seriously. It tries to tell a story, and sometimes even mixes in REAL HUMAN DRAMA© occasionally. After all, this is the first game where you play a victim of a nuclear blast, slowly dying of burns and radiation. A real stark illustration of the horrors of war and all that jazz. Then you cut to the multiplayer where there are men wearing skull facepaint running around in full sprint, wielding two sawn-off shotguns and getting 10 knife kills in as many minutes while dodging bullets and mines. Then you go to the next game in the series and it explores the ideas of whether killing innocents is worth keeping your cover with the badguys in order to save even more lives. The good news about the Cawd: Muhwuh games is that they don’t do a whole lot of ping-ponging between ridicules and dramatic. They pretty clearly separate the two between single and multiplayer. Especially highlighted in the Treyarch Call of Duty games where you can dial the crazy up to 11 in co-op and kill Nazi Zombies with a partner.
My Verdict: You done good, kid. If you want to have both, at least separate them so you don’t have to deal with depressing, emotional scenes followed by zany dialogue and undead goose steppers.
- Team Fortress 2
And finally, my favorite. To me, TF2 is the greatest example of goof done well. This is a game of Rawket Lawnchairs, bows and arrows, shotguns galore, and slapping people in the face with questionably conscious fish. The game confines almost never try to tell a story, although they do subtly set up a (awesomely exaggerated) world around our cast of characters. This is more chalked up to Valve’s excellent talent for exposition without cutscenes than the game’s inherent silliness though. While playing, you are almost always thinking of ways to dodge incoming explosives rather than the motivation behind why two armies of infinitely respawning clones in different colored clothes are fighting over a pit of gravel. The “Meet the” videos are also a stellar example of crafting depth into a game without letting it interfere with the core gameplay. Now, I’ll admit the silliness level has ramped up considerably over time with TF2, but it’s something the devs have embraced wholeheartedly so it seems to work pretty well, I’d say. Mix in a heaping helping of biting Comedy and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a great game. And don’t forget:
My Verdict: You may have turned away some with your antics, but you can’t please everybody. And I think you’ve done a great job pleasing everyone else.
So if you’re noticing a trend, good on you! It seems craziness and fun tend to go hand in hand, and also holding hands in a weird 3-way handshake is Multiplayer.
It seems that Multiplayer just lends itself to story-lite gameplay, and everyone can appreciate a good “OH MY GOD DID YOU JUST SEE THAT” moment, which you rarely get in dour, story driven affairs. I can’t really see the likes of Heavy Rain or LA Noir having a multiplayer side (Although maybe co-op, that’s another entry for another time) outside of something ambient like you see in Dark Souls or the PSN game Journey. Whereas most single player games benefit from a little bit of world design, details, a cohesive story.
Any commenters have examples to the contrary?