"Gear queer" is a term in the gun community for people that geek out over the equipment aspects of shooting. What to carry your mags in, where to mount it, vest or battle belt, what sunglasses to wear, what knee-pads to buy, should I use a Surefire or a Streamlight on my Glock 19? These are things that the gear queer loves to obsess over. Reading about the newest piece of Velcro-covered black nylon to hit the market is the most exciting part of their day. I'm not really a gear queer but I do have my moments, because being a good shooter (or a good anything) means being performance-oriented. Having quality equipment that works well is important to your success equation.
With hearty enthusiasm I declare that the Japanese have the gear queer game locked the fuck down and I love it. In Japan it is almost impossible to legally own a firearm. Video games and Airsoft are their vicarious experiences of gun goodness. The Airsoft community over there is strong and tactically-oriented; military otakus, basically. They work on their equipment down to the last stitch. It's a "since we aren't allowed to shoot 'real steel', let's do the next best thing" kind of method. Their dedication to authenticity carries over to a lot of their games. A good example of Japan's acute obsession with the fine details are Metal Gear games. They were doing tactical reality before it was "in", AND before that kind of information was widely available on the Internet.
Every once in a while a game comes out that really has some meaningful details injected into it. Resident Evil 6 is one of these games, for better and for worse. I don't want to get into RE6 as a game so I'm not even going to say what I think of the game itself. It sucks and I'm glad I waited until it was 13 dollars. Ahh fuck, that totally slipped out by accident. I really just want to talk about one small part of RE6 that absolutely fucking blew me away: HOW AWESOME AGENT'S DESIGN IS.
I got this image from a dude on DeviantArt who goes by the name of Adngel by the way, so go check out his other renders if you are so inclined. -> http://adngel.deviantart.com/
Look at that shit. Black nylon for miles! Enough pouches to hold all your loot and still have room for a litter of puppies! Not an inch of exposed skin! So mysterious. So intimidating. So cool. It's like looking at a modern knight in armour.
Set the stage. You're about to get chest-deep in the undead, literally one of the most dangerous environments imaginable. Do you go in like RE4 Leon with a bomber jacket and jeans? Hell fucking no. You wouldn't even consider it. You'd go in like Agent. Let's take it apart piece by piece and talk about what all that great STUFF is.
Start at the bodysuit. Hard to say exactly what it is or what it's made of, but based on the appearance it's something like a diving suit. I don't know much about diving, but I can say that the perks offered by this type of suit (no extra fabric to snag on branches or objects, tear resistance, isolation from environment, form-fitting to show off your sexy bod) would be very worthwhile. Notice the spongy sections near the joints to improve articulation, and possibly ventilation. This is a feature that a wetsuit DOESN'T have, which indicates that it's something along the lines of an MGS sneaking suit. Unlike the gloves and boots, the elbow and knee-pads look like they are removable parts of the suit. Gotta protect those knees from bumps and bruises. Nothing is worse than trying to shoot a licker's face off while banging your patella on the curb. I speak from experience.
Touch his helmet. From how it looks, I expect it's made up of a couple different pieces. The top shell doesn't need any explanation, that thing protects your dome. As you can see, it has several mounting points on it for cool goodies like headlamps, NODs (night observation devices, often referred to as NVGs), or something more subtle like an IR beacon. If you're not familiar with the concept, an IR beacon is something you wear that gives off a visual signal when examined by the right kind of optical device. For example, if you and your team were conducting a night operation with NVGs, you need to be able to quickly distinguish who your teammates are. (The acronym for this is IFF: Identifying Friend or Foe.) If you look at somebody with your NVGs and see their IR beacon blinking, you know they are a friendly. There are even Velcro IR patches you can wear.
On the side of the helmet, you can see Agent's ear protection. Thanks to Hollywood and games, most people don't realize how ridiculously fucking loud shooting is, especially indoors. Outside, the percussion of a gunshot has a lot of room to expand and dissipate. Inside, those sound waves bounce off of every surface and right back into your eardrums. (If you've never been in the proximity of a gun firing even a moderately-sized cartridge, it's hard to describe. Not just the sound of the shot, but the actual pressure wave of the miniature explosion going off shakes you. You can feel it. Sometimes the impulse from a weapon can be so much that if somebody is shooting beside you, the recoil blast from THEIR gun can push YOURS off target.) I always make jokes when I'm playing a shooting-heavy game that by about 20 minutes in, every character would be deaf for the rest of their life, because none of them ever have ear protection. Hell, they don't even NOTICE all the sounds clocking in at a hundred decibels. Maybe they're already deaf. They can have full conversations over gunfire, or helicopter engines for that matter.
Anyway, it's guaranteed that Agent's earpro is electronic, and has his communications tools (headset/radio) integrated. Modern electronic ear protection intercepts noises over a certain loudness before they reach your ear and reduces those noises substantially. Aside from saving your eardrums, this allows you to maintain solid situational awareness by being able to hear teammates communicating, or an enemy sneaking up behind you, or other aural cues. Combine that with a team using weapons with suppressors and you got yourself a silent, violent team of monster slayers. The last two pieces of the helmet, the face-mask and the ventilator, are worth mentioning. The separate eyepieces are a bit vexing; I think it would be better to have one solid eyepiece across the face, to improve field of view. The mouthpiece of the mask seems like it could be an anti-CBRN measure, one that looks much cooler than those silly Cold War gas masks that HUNK wears. Put some anti-fog solution on those lenses before you set out and that mask is good to go.
On top of the bodysuit is a bit of load-bearing equipment and body armour. It's hard for me to say what kind of body armour it is or what level of protection it offers, but I can note that it offers good protection of the upper body as it fully wraps around the torso and shoulders, and has a nice high neck-guard, leaving only the armpits vulnerable. (Make no mistake though, the armpit is a very bad place to get shot because the entry of a projectile into that space means it's probably heading towards your heart, lungs, spine, etc.) It's probably rated for protection against pistol-caliber ammunition and has ceramic plates inside to protect against rifle rounds. How much ballistic protection do you need against the undead? I have no fucking idea but let's be super clear; if there was a chance of being BITTEN TO DEATH on a mission you would be like, "I'm not going out there without body armour." The armoured shoulder pads are a nice touch.
Now we can pick apart what he's got on his vest. Up on his shoulder is what I call the "Redfield Special," the big knife mounted point-up on the shoulder. This is a great place to carry a knife because it fits many criteria;
- it's easily accessible with both hands even in a confined space or in an awkward position,
- it comes out into a strong fighting grip,
- your hands stay in front of you while accessing it, which keeps you in the fight.
However there is one major problem with toting pointy metal in this particular fashion, which is that not only does it work for you, it works for anybody else that wants that knife. A shrewd opponent takes one look at you and knows exactly where your knife is and what he has to do to get it; just reach up and grab it. Imagine you're coming around a blind corner and somebody is right on top of you. He reaches out and grabs your pistol or rifle, pushing it back into you and averting the muzzle. You get into a struggle, and he gets the bright idea to use your knife on you before you use it on him. Once his hands get on that grip it will be almost impossible for you to retain that blade. He reaches up, snatches it out of the sheath and plunges it right into your throat. See the issue? If you're going up against enemies with low cognitive capacity, like the undead or small children, who aren't going to be taking your weapons away from you, then the Redfield Special is a sound idea. But if not, or you don't want to take the risk, you might want to find a better solution, such as stowing it behind or under your magazine pouches, or horizontally across the front of your belt. If that's difficult depending on the dimensions of the blade, stow a few different knives, so that each hand can get one and they're not too easy for an opponent to take. And for the love of fucking Christ, NEVER put them on your back! Forget the Sam Fisher knife-on-the-back-of-the-belt garbage. It's absurd. Imagine somebody coming up behind you; you've given them a weapon to kill you with. Think MGS3-era Big Boss as your strategy. You want that knife somewhere in front, where both hands can get it, and where it's ready to strike from as soon as it comes out of that sheath.
Beneath the knife are all his magazines, to feed those hungry hungry hippos. On the upper row are several pistol magazines in flap pouches, and under those are rifle mags in high-speed plastic carriers. That type of magazine carrier is actually supposed to be mounted with the bottom The rifle magazines are in a great place. If you are right-handed, take your left hand from wherever it is and reach towards your own stomach. This is a natural movement that you've performed thousands of times in your life. You've hardly got to move your elbow at all to reach your stomach, where those big ol' mags full of tasty rifle-caliber treats would be. The most important part of your equipment (which is going to be the high-powered ammo for your primary weapon) needs to be in the easiest place to reach. However your pistol ammo also needs to be in a good location because your pistol is what will save your life when you are really in trouble, such as when your rifle has stopped working (malfunctioned or empty) and the enemy is right on top of you. Putting them up high like on Agent's vest is not the greatest place and I can easily demonstrate why. Take your cell phone and hold it against your upper chest with one hand. Now, using your other hand, grab the very top of your phone with your fingers and imagine you have to pull it upwards to get it out of a pouch that has a big nylon flap in the way. Do you feel what a weak position that is for grabbing something that you might need right away? Weak wrist, weak fingers, and too much elbow articulation, not to mention you'll probably hit yourself in the jaw. Good luck getting a smooth reload from there. A better place to mount them would be either on the front of or beside the rifle magazines, or my preferred location which is on the belt.
How are we gonna get room to put magazines on the belt when Agent's belt is so loaded up with pouches already? Easy. Take the pistol off of the right side of the belt, and move it down into a thigh holster, then move some stuff from the other side of the belt into that real estate you just freed up. Now you can mount pistol mags on the left hip, which is another naturally strong place to keep them. Isn't that fun?
To wrap it up I just want to point out a few small details that really show Agent's design is a labour of love. On his belt he's got a nice assortment of stuff. A smoke grenade, to be used to signal a helicopter or as an obscurant. The pouch with the white flap on it could be for trauma supplies, since it's easy to spot. The drop-leg pouches? He's got them full of Kit-Kat bars, I don't know. The butt pack likely has a survival kit and other necessary items. Now look at the front of his vest and notice what he's got on both sides of his pistol mags. On one side is a chest-mounted lamp which is a fantastic idea. (If only you could turn that shit on so you could see in the absolute pitch blackness you stumble through for 70% of RE6.) But on the other side... what is that? I'll tell you what it is. It's a Combat Applications Tourniquet, pictured above. What a fascinating detail. Wouldn't it be cool if you could use it? Modern trauma medicine in the tactical environment has seen a great return of the "TQ" as a combat lifesaver. As shown in the Tactical Combat Casualty Care guidelines, hemorrhaging from extremity wounds causes up to 60% of preventable combat deaths. The first step to controlling extremity bleeding from trauma is to apply a TQ to the limb. An MA-121 Hunter bites your hand off? You'd better put a TQ on that sucker. To have a CAT-T on Agent's vest is almost like an Easter egg to me, because how many people could pick that detail out? Hell I never even noticed it until I looked at this image. I think that shows a really strong commitment to making Agent look as authentic as possible, which in turn makes him look awesome. If only they'd committed that level of dedication to every aspect of RE6...
All in all Agent has a pretty slick, high-speed-low-drag design that really puts a futuristic look on current day equipment. That's pretty much all I got. You could be a gear queer, or gear-curious like, "I wonder what all that shit is," or you don't give a fuck. No matter what, I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you want me to examine gear from another game just ask in the comments.
Games about a man killing scores of other men probably number well into the thousands by now. Games about a woman killing scores of men are obviously far less in number but still quite apparent in Tomb Raider, Heavenly Sword, blah blah blah.
Where are the games that star a woman who kills hundreds and thousands of other women? :s
When we talk about game combat, we always use words like "visceral", "satisfying", and "stylish", while rarely quantifying what those words mean. What does it mean when a game has satisfying combat? Is it visually thrilling? Is it slaking our long-repressed predatorial thirsts for blood? Does it appease our sense of accomplishment? This topic is so subjective that I am hesitant to even discuss it, because as humans vary so do our preferences, but there is something so alluring about the subject of fighting that I can't resist the urge to pontificate about it for a while, especially in the midst of all the mind-numbing high-art philosophizing that goes on about video games these days. Essentially, what I ask is, what is it that makes combat in a game "good," and can these elements be clearly identified? To avoid making this subject too broad, I plan to focus on the man-to-man/man-to-demon/man-to-robot/woman-to-man kind of battle, and only lightly brush shoot-'em-up, long-range or military kind of battle.
The Warriors, Shank 1 and 2, God of War, Devil May Cry, Dead or Alive, Dark Souls, Tactics Ogre, Uncharted, Ninja Gaiden, Sleeping Dogs, Batman: Arkham Retirement Community, Yakuza, Killzone, God Hand, and even classics like Super Double Dragon and TMNT: Turtles in Time provide me with an experience that I truly crave; gratifying and fun combat. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. You might not like some of these games, or any of them. I find that indescribably fascinating. Notice that in that list, I included a variety of genres, not just arcadey action titles. Even a few games based around shooting are included, because they have moments of enjoyable close quarter ferocity. My goal here: to enumerate formats of game combat that are distinct, but still being easy to blend with each other conceptually. (I also intend to figure out why we think each type is so damned great.)
That's enough hooplah. Let's get to the meat of it.
Dynamic combat is about keeping you on your toes. Fast dynamic combat is exemplified in stunning games like Ninja Gaiden Black, Devil May Cry 3, and Vanquish. Conversely, there is slow dynamic combat, like that of strategy-heavy games like Tactics Ogre and Valkyria Chronicles, and even Dark Souls. Aspects like varying range, number of enemies, the weapons you and your foes use, hidden dangers, or a perpetually changing battlefield make a game's combat dynamic.
I think we enjoy this kind of experience because it requires us to constantly be engaged in what's happening. Reacting to unexpected events and not knowing what is going to happen a few seconds from now is just so fucking exciting. Being successful at this kind of combat is rewarding because it tests our capacities to keep track of many factors at once, and always think ahead.
Where dynamic combat can fail is when it becomes a question of, "How can I meta-game this situation?" The moment we reduce (or are forced to reduce) a segment of gameplay to using exploits or relying on game-breaking weapons, we are experiencing game design that has failed to keep us interested in playing the way it was intended.
Delivering stylish precision at high speed is what it is all about here. Highly technical action is what we get in games like BlazBlue, Ninja Gaiden (yeah I'm gonna use Ninja Gaiden a lot), and God Hand. Perception and reflex-heavy, this kind of combat generally requires the right response at the right time, while adding your own personal flair, demanding your mastery of the game's systems and the controller.
We enjoy this kind of combat because it is truly skillful. I simply cannot watch a clip of buppa playing as Jin in BBCS without being in complete awe of his mastery. We all appreciate the effort it takes to be skilled at something, and we all love the feeling of being skilled. When you see that hard-earned S-rank pop up on the screen, ooooooh it is sweet.
Where technical combat blunders (and often does) is when we get to the point of having figured out that one move, that one technique that defeats all others or allows us to overcome a game that hasn't given us the technical options to overcome a situation. Anyone else ever spam Flying Swallow a time or two?
I chose the title "simple" only because I couldn't find a more appropriate word, so please do not misconstrue my meaning as meaning dumbed-down or empty. I find simple combat to be some of the most enjoyable combat to play. The Warriors, Metal Gear Solid (the CQC editions, of course), and Uncharted are all examples of games with simple combat styles. Confrontations are usually settled with only a handful of button presses, making them short, and when well-executed, sweet. Old side-scrolling beat-'em-ups like Battletoads are completely built around this beautiful format.
This combat type is great because it keeps our gameplay varied and well-paced, without being overly reliant on technical skill. It also often lets us appreciate our handiwork a little bit more because we can see exactly what is going on. The decisive application of your tools is the winner here, be it a swift crowbar to the back of the head during a gang brawl or a beautiful Superman punch to the face in the middle of a gunfight. While still being dynamic and technical, the recent Batman games have elements of simplicity to them as well, for example only requiring one button to manifest a river of strikes. That is not a harsh insult to the wonderful Batman games, it is a compliment. It is that simplicity that allows us to get competent very quickly.
Where simple combat fails is when it gets too simple. Call of Duty's lightsaber-knife is extremely guilty of this, as are the QTE knife fights with the bosses of Far Cry 3. Simple combat should still require the player's full commitment to the action. Killzone 3's melee knife kills in multiplayer have an exciting element of danger because you can easily be killed by somebody else while performing them. Just because I don't need a TON of options or variations doesn't mean I couldn't use a few to keep things interesting. Simple combat also runs the highest risk of becoming that dreaded adjective, repetitive.
Brutal (visceral?) combat is when we start to get truly subjective. Base, ugly, savage, all of these things describe the kind of violence we see in games like God of War, The Warriors, and Sleeping Dogs. Heads cracked open, bones broken, guts spilling, et cetera. I think it's pretty clear what I mean when I say brutal combat. Brutality is becoming more and more of a gameplay feature these days, to the point where it actually affects the combat instead of merely being eye-candy. Some play systems are based around how brutal you can be. Manhunt is a perfect example of a game where more brutality is the end goal.
Brutality can be many things; cathartic, horrifying, hilarious, I could go on. Context and the emotional investment of the player can really be the key when we talk about brutality. Killzone and Gears of War are games that deliver brutality in a way that feels good. I enjoy being stab-you-in-the-eye-socket brutal to the Helghast because they just deserve it so fucking badly. Hotline Miami's unique brand of mind-shattering violence is immediately enthralling, yet subtly leads us on a path to insight about the nature of barbarism in games. The Warriors is gorgeously brutal. I can't think of any games that let you smash a man's head through every piece of furniture in the house, bludgeon him to the ground, bludgeon him ON the ground until he's done, and then give him the ten-boot-salute with your boys until he pukes blood and stops moving. The delivery of the violence is so gritty (ugh, sorry) and believable that it still rocks me to this day. The bloody gang violence context works, and it works PHENOMENALLY. No other game has come close to duplicating that level of terrible reality, and it came out in 2005!
All that said, a game that is mindlessly brutal for the hell of it can come across as trite or pandering. I couldn't really tell you what happens to the monsters I kill in Ninja Gaiden games, because you take them apart so fast that it's over before you have time to even see what you've done. All you get are a hundred thousand flashing milliseconds of ultraviolence. I remember the first thing I thought when I saw the blood-soaked screenshots of Ninja Gaiden 2... "Nice marketing." God of War, while pushing an actual narrative, still stretches out the gore so much in every game that it has almost become slapstick, a la Itchy and Scratchy. (In spite of that, the utter atrocities you commit against your foes in the God of War: Ascension multiplayer are so very satisfying.)
Another side of it is that a game that isn't brutal enough can also feel just a little bit off. How many people do you ruthlessly slaughter in Uncharted games, without a drop of blood spilled? It sometimes comes across as a developer trying to play it safe, afraid to take that step, add that edge to their game.
I think this aspect is the one most people will disagree with me on. This is what I mean about the subjectivity of brutality. Some people don't need or want it at all, but some people crave it. For example, when I look at 2012 Metal Gear Rising footage and compare it to the 2010 footage of Metal Gear Solid: Rising, all I can think is how much cooler the game would be if you were cutting through men, not beating up cyborgs with a sword. The electrifying power of melting effortlessly through your enemies... that contextual brutality would truly have imparted a feeling of what it's like to be a cybernetic war god like Raiden, but again, that's subjective.
This kind of combat was the most difficult to find a one-word descriptor for. What I mean by this is combat that has awesome impact. Fighting that has a certain wallop, with ballistic hits, great sound, cool animation, realistic movement, reactive enemies, and interactive environments. This kind of design is rarely done perfectly, but even if certain aspects of it are nailed it lends so much credibility to the action. Batman: Arkham Whatever games absolutely smash this. Sleeping Dogs, Shank, Yakuza, and even retro games like Super Double Dragon do too. In my opinion, this is something that Dead or Alive games do better than every other fighter.
This kind of combat is so exciting because it can make us feel like we're really doing it. As human beings, we like having an "effect on target," and we love the feeling of acknowledgement we get when our environment is changed because of us. It adds a level of engagement when you can put yourself in the game a little and get some feedback for what you do, instead of just feeling like you're pressing buttons to make a digital construct move. It doesn't have to be realistic, either. Yakuza games are fantastic at pushing the boundary slightly past realism, allowing you to enjoy all these fantastic Tony Jaa feats, while still keeping it moderately grounded. Aside from the whole tiger-punching thing. Don't even bring it up.
Failures occur when we have NO tangible connection to what's happening in the game. Tales games are prime culprits of a lack of tangibility in battles. You have little to no discernible effect on the enemy other than that they fall over after you hit them with enough splashes of colour. This lack of impact on players keeps us from getting invested in what is happening because we can't feel any of it. It stops the game from being an experience, and the experience is really what it's all about when we want action. Other games like Dynasty Warriors often suffer from this lack of tangibility in a different way. By letting us easily hew through endless rows of indistinct, mildly-hostile soldiers that offer little resistance, we are constantly reminded that we are a collection of polygons riding through an empty box swinging polygons at other polygons.
I'd like to wrap it up there. Somehow, I spent the most time talking about the subjects that were the most difficult for me to define. I apologize beforehand for my clumsy writing. Thank you for reading, especially if you read the whole thing. What types of game combat do you prefer? Think of every category as a slider bar that can be moved to high, medium, low, none. Most modern games fit into at least two categories at the same time, and to varying degrees. Please comment with your ideas and thoughtful meanderings.
I bought one of the $180 PSV Assassin's Creed Liberation bundles on Black Friday from Amazon.com. Those deals were so hot, they only kept them up for a few hours. I had to use the US Amazon because Canadian retailers weren't selling them at the discounted price that the Black Ops bundle was selling for, which is fucking bullshit.
Not only that, but Amazon was selling the white PSV packages for 20 bucks OFF the already discounted $200 bundle price. So I scored the PSV bundle for a grand total of $197.97 USD. It'll get here in a bit.
Being a member of PS+, that day I also snatched Gravity Rush, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and Wipeout for the low, low price of FREE. A couple days later, Amazon e-mailed me a promo code for my free digital copy of All-Stars Battle Royale for the PSV. Nice photo finish.
So I guess for just under 200 bucks, I got my white PSV, five (5!) games, and the promise of weeping-tears-of-joy future content like Killzone: Merc and Dragon's Crown. Maybe Grand Knights History, if there is a god.
Not a bad haul if I do say so myself, and it'll be nice to have a device to replace my decrepit PSP with the X-button that's so worn out it feels like I'm pressing a button backed with Jell-O.