So here's the deal,
A couple nights ago I was perusing the old Rev Rants, and I saw the episode about truly non linear gameplay, truly open world games. Combine that with my thoughts on Splinter Cell: Conviction and BAM! We have some seriously philosophical shit bouncing around my head. I will explain.
I believe a wise man once said that creativity is born of limitation, and this will be the overarching point of this particular post.
Let me start out by saying that to get to the philosophical meat of this blog sandwich,
you will have to read through some pretty dry expositional bread, but i will try to liven it up it with some entertaining butter or mustard.
Before we begin though, let me preface this with the fact that I'm basing all of these opinions solely on the previews and dev diaries that have come out already. Though it may sound like it, I'm not trying to make grand assumptions about the final product of the game, and any way you look at it, however much I may bitch out Conviction, I'm really just using it as an example in my overarching argument about creativity. And ultimately what you have to remember is that these are simply opinions that I want to express, not facts that I alone have the ability to prove, and that you must follow. I'm pretty hard on this game, so try to remember that.
So for the past couple months, we've been getting more and more details about the next installment in the Splinter Cell series, and when gameplay footage came out, I was pretty nonplussed, and dismissed it as a Gears of War-iffied version of the Splinter Cell that I know and love, what with its cover systems and focus on visceral combat
What made me love the original Splinter Cell was the fact that Sam Fisher wasn't some short-wired murdering asswhipe that flew off the handle at any random henchman that he crossed paths with, which is what Ubisoft Montréal seems determined to turn him into with games like Conviction and to a lesser extent, Double Agent, where we were introduced more sharply to Sam's criminal side.
What I loved about Sam Fisher was that he was, at least in my hands, redeemable. He killed because he was told to, and if I could help it, he didn't even kill at all; it was more effective to stun or incapacitate foes and then drag them off into a dark corner or closet where their bodies couldn't be found. And this made me feel more badass than any Marcus Fenix/Sam Fisher love child ever could.
I don't want to pound a guy's head into a crate after rampaging my way through all his buddies, only to stab his hand into another crate and crank his twisted arm until he told me what ultimately useless piece of information he had in his head. That's not badass, that doesn't even feel that cool, that's just being an asshole. There is nothing redeemable about mass murder when in four previous installments, we have been shown that Sam has the ability to avoid this kind of conflict.
I don't care if the canon about Sarah's cause of death has been changed to allow him to feel this boundless rage. That's not an excuse to brutally torture and murder what is sure to be hundreds of relatively innocent people. I say innocent in the sense that most of the information they will die for - if it is indeed information and not simply Sam's bloodlust - will probably turn out to be either useless or a lie. And undoubtedly the point of the game will be to find answers about why Sarah was killed and who did the killing.
What I say to that is, well, what other character have we come across recently that murdered countless inconsequential people just to get to answers that they thought will quell their rage, even though they have the capability to do get those answers with infinitesimally less casualties, and possibly none if they cared enough?
And the answer is...
Yep, Alex Mercer ladies and gentlemen, in all his murderous glory. There are few protagonists in all of video game history that I find less likable, sympathetic, or justifiable in their killing. Even the truly evil ones. At least they did it with some form of integrity, at least they knew
they were evil. These Alex Mercer characters just hide behind their extremely flawed rationales and use them to justify mass murder that is enjoyable to them, and no more taxing on their emotions or psyche than stepping on an ant.
And Sam's massive desire to simply kill has evidently made its way into the gameplay, as central to the combat system is a "marking" system which auto-aims straight at the head of the "marked" target so, with no skill at all, you can simply eliminate the target. I think that says it all about this game, that one of the most talked-about new features is one that lets you kill with unprecedented speed and ease.
Now I could be wrong, but from what I've seen, this game will put a lot less limits on what it is Sam can do. It's harder to be detected, easier to kill, (one of my favourite parts of old Splinter Cells was the realistic aiming system that made it nigh impossible to hit your target - at least headshots - unless you were perfectly still, or Asian) and there are now all-out firefights where Sam can take cover and eliminate a whole bunch of people a whole bunch of fast.
And why have they done that? Ubisoft has basically said "you know what? Sam's honed techniques that he's practiced and perfected over the last decade mean nothing to him anymore. The techniques that got him through the four previous games are now superfluous, because we want you to go through this game using the method that was always the least effective. Stealth isn't cool any more."
The reason for this is one of two things. Either A, Sam's ability to control his emotions has been completely removed, which is almost impossible because there is no way that over the course of his career as what is basically an assassin, he didn't build up emotional walls or prepare for the fact that his attachment to his daughter could be used against him. And even if it did affect him in a major way, I refuse to believe that our stern, ice-cold hero would be driven to the brink of insanity by a death that he's already dealt with. Or B, he never had these barriers in the first place, which is also impossible, because then he would
be the fly-off-the-handle-asswhipe I described earlier
And while that is a bit of an exaggeration, stealth's role in this game does seem to have been significantly reduced and - here's where we get to the crux of my argument - it felt way better to pick of individual peons, turning off lights, setting up traps and staying undetected than it ever did to just run through and blow away every big mean mother hupper that stood in your way, partly because it was much harder to do the former.
And that's what made it special. The fact that I took the time to come up with individual strategies to pick off each and every patrolman in the CIA level of SC1. That's what made the Chinese Embassy mission one of the most satisfying levels I've ever played. You can't kill anyone and you can't be detected. Not once. And this quick shift from allowance for murder and a three alarm thresh hold forced you to get creative and calculating with your methods of dealing with your enemies, and I'm sorry, but the level would not have been half as good if I was allowed to blow my way through each and every one. It just wouldn't.
The restrictions that the game imposed on me forced me to get creative, and that's why the level was amazing. Yeah it was hard as f*ck, but it was worth it, every bit of it.
Allow me to stop harping on Conviction for a moment, which, might I add, I have no doubt will be a good game. It just won't be what [i]I[/] want out of a Splinter Cell game. But his is beside my main point. Conviction is an example that can stand for my greater argument, that restriction breeds creativity, and the creativity that comes out of those restrictions is much more rewarding than achieving goals without those restrictions. Hope you're still with me here.
Take Scriblenauts for example.
Up until you realized that you only needed about five different items to complete that game, each level was supremely satisfying because you were given all of these materials with which to complete a single, restrictive task. And the challenge levels were even better because they imposed restrictions not only on what had to be accomplished, but on the materials you could use to bring about that accomplishment. And while the sandbox mode at the main men was fun, ask yourself, which was more
fun, that, or the ultra controlled, ultra constricted challenges that forced you to be creative within the confines of your limitations.
Another good example is found outside the world of gaming. MacGyver was so interesting and so much fun because he managed to create these wondrous inventions out of the most menial of materials. It's the same point, the fact that MacGyver can make a bomb out of hair, matches and a spark plug is rewarding for the same reason that not being able to kill or not being allowed to be detected is rewarding in SC.
The sentiment can be expressed then in a relatively simple way: Thriving when directly opposed, and doing so in an non-conventional way, which is usually required, is much more rewarding than doing exactly what is expected of us when the odds are stacked in our favor,