I'm Panzadolphin56, here is where I write things. Sometimes they make sense, usually they don't. I also like to draw some things sometimes, and typically I like try and do things nobody else thinks of (I'm a lot like Noel Edmonds in that respect.)
I'd tend to describe myself as a guy who likes a bit of everything - whether it be books, movies, tv, games. I have a degree in Philosophy and English Lit so all the thinky boring stuff about games interests me greatly. I usually focus my interest on sci-fi and horror but I'll watch or play most things. I'm pretty much a story person when it comes to games, a good narrative regardless of gameplay style will always draw me in - though good mechanics and a unique or interesting art style has an effect on me too.
Most of what you'll see in my blog is either in-depth analytics, mediocre attempts at humour or personal asides about my own peculiar gaming interests (so don't hold that against me.)
Gamewise I like a lot of horror - Forbidden Siren 1 + 2, Silent Hill, AvP2, some 'political' and military stuff like Modern Warfare and Metal Gear Solid 4. That's sort of the gist of things, I could go on but we'd be here for hours.
I played a lot of games as a kid, and I mean A LOT, pretty much all demos really because we didn't have any money. Some stuck with me, some didn't. I have vivid memories of playing (and loving) Midnight Resistance on my cousin's Amiga, the early Sonic games on the Megadrive, Streets of Rage, Sol Feace, Revenge of Shinobi, Virtua Racing 32X. I'm leaving a lot out here obviously.
One of the games I remember most vividly though is Doom.
Doom scared the hell out of me as a kid (I think I was about 6 or 7 when I first played it), I remember booting it up and creeping through corridors, fighting off imps, rushing to grab the chaingun or a rocket launcher the first chance I got, and a cold shiver running down my spine at the oh so familiar cry of a Baron of Hell. I don't think it helped much that I first played it on the Sega 32X (FPS gamepad controls weren't up to much in those days.)
What I remember most about Doom though, and specifically the first Doom, was it's box art.
(check the gallery below for a much larger version of the picture)
As a seven year old confronted with the cover of Doom I was terrified. Though I obviously wasn't the man on the front cover (despite having the best damn six-pack of any child in the neighbourhood!) I could relate to him and feel the horror of his situation to the best of the ability of my child mind. Assailed from every direction by nightmareish creatures, desperately struggling to beat them back as they reach out to snatch him away, it was the stuff of nightmares.
I don't think it helps much that I come from a part of England that is sort of atheist, sort of agnostic, but values the Christian traditions as part of it's middle-class identity, so the idea of demons and angels were familiar to me, and here I was, a little kid, face to face with actual demons ...atleast as actual as a really good painting seems to a kid.
It made an impression on me, to be sure.
I think the one thing I remember most about the picture, and that sort of sealed the deal (so to speak), when it came down to scaring me, was the single demon at the forefront of the box, to the left, closest to you. He's not looking at Doomguy like the others, he's looking straight at you. An almost mischievous smile on his face (on one of the covers his tongue actually comes down over the border on the box, almost as if the box is just a window), and a knowing looking in his eyes. As a kid used to reading and watching pretty passive media, to be able to 'play' a game like Doom and to be looking at this piece of art that almost seemed to break the rules of how pictures worked (in the mind of a child) with a character looking at us, it offered the terrifying prospect that what I was seeing and playing might not just be entertainment but real aswell.
Even now the picture still unsettles me a little.
Why is this important?
I think box art for games is important, not just as decoration for the cover of your game but to draw people in, to excite them. We may not be kids anymore, excited by dumb stories about muscle-bound action heroes and princesses that need rescuing, but that doesn't mean as adults we've lost our imaginations. Why else do we play games? Surely we'd just mess with spreadsheets or wireframe games if all that mattered were the mechanics.
Games are about imagination, action, excitement, exploring fantasies and worlds we never could in real-life, and I think the box art of a game can say a lot about the experience you're in for.
Maybe it's because of the gaming era I grew up in in the 90's but 'box art' for me (and I include board game art, videogame art, book covers and CD sleeves in this) is about conveying a sense of what the thing is about, sure some games work best with non-descript covers but I think there are games that would benefit from a strong piece of art on the cover, and for the most part games seem to have forgotten that they can impress us.
Granted I'm now a jaded old man so maybe my judgement's a little obscured, but I haven't really seen a piece of box art that really blew me away in quite awhile. I should probably admit aswell that I am pretty biased towards the old-school oil paintings that primarily used to end up being used on covers. The Doom cover is a brilliant example, but I remember the cover art for Revenge of Shinobi, Streets of Rage, Dune 2, Golden Axe and X-Com the cover to X-Com especially I remember giving me similar vibes to Doom, with the alien seemingly lunging out of the cover.
I guess it's a part of the way the medium's changed that the covers have changed so dramatically the culture around gaming was much more nerdy and closeted in the 90's, and tbh sort of orientated around children and the idea that you had to capture the imagination of the consumer to get them interested in your game, which considering the graphics of the day and the attitude that most people had to games was understandable. The culture hadn't really grown up properly yet, people didn't really know where to look to really find out about games so cover art could be a big factor in whether a game stood out to you and piqued your interest enough to make you buy it.
So the art was a lot more over the top at times, and a lot more focused on emphasising drawing the viewer in (hence using the fourth-wall so much). Now things tend to be a bit more subdued, most people know about a game before they pick it up (atleast there are generally more people 'in the know' than there were back then), so games don't try to wow people so much.
I kinda miss the art though, like I said I think good cover art serves an important purpose with anything we consume, we can't instantly know what a book, or a DVD, or a game, is about, and having that visual element can be important to making a good first impression on the consumer. Arguably the rise of digital has reduced the importance of box art, but aslong as physical retail exists, and indeed aslong as publishers try to foist collector's editions on us, there will always be some importance to good box art.
I think the MGS games were probably the last thing to impress me with their boxart, though that's probably more because I like Yoji Shinkawa's art than because they really captured the atmosphere of the game or made an impression on me.
I was kind of hoping given the topics and themes it seemed to be tackling that Bioshock Infinite would do something interesting for it's box art, but then it just turned out to be a white guy with a gun, and I felt somewhat under-impressed.
I 'd love to see a few games come out though and try to impress you with their box art. I know it'll never matter anywhere near as much as anything else about a game like the graphics, or the gameplay, or the sound - and rightly so, but it'd still be interesting to see how the box art may in the end help shape the impression of the game that the player has.
So what do you think? Is there a piece of box art that you think really stood out to you?
So... there's this game that released this week, and err... it was kind of sucky...
Like, really sucky.
I am ofcourse speaking of: Panza's Creepy LovehouseALIENS: COLONIAL MARINES
As an Aliens fans, and an AvP fan (THE GAMES, THE GAMES DAMN YOU) I have to say I'm really, really disappointed. I was expecting, well yeah, a shooter, but maybe an intelligent one which maybe tried to make some clever points like Aliens whilst also being a lot of fun and a fitting tribute to a franchise of films of which about half I love.
It was not this.
It was so not this.
I don't want this to descend into a diatribe about the faults of the game itself, rather I thought I'd talk a bit about why the premise of the game sucks as far as I'm concerned. So, less 'hey, the motion tracker's useless!' and more 'why is this a dumb shooter?!'
Why is this a dumb shooter?!
I mean I get why it's a shooter Aliens has always been seen as action-heavy, and I get that Alien(s) is the sort of big-budget IP that a publisher would probably want to see out there as a AAA game, top-shelf material, and at the moment pretty much every best-seller is some sort of action-heavy, run-and-gun macho shooter.
I get that, and from the sounds of things the game has had a LOT of development problems. I just don't get why more generally there seems to be this notion that all you can make from the Alien(s) franchise is a straight shooter.
Don't get me wrong, I love shooters, and I'm not saying it shouldn't have been a shooter, I'm just saying why did it have to be this kind of shooter? Why a linear shooter? Why a game about a male white marine shooting stuff up? Why all the same clichι gung-ho tropes?
I mean I don't want to get pretentious sounding, or holier than thou about it, because at the end of the day Aliens is just a piece of fiction, an IP like any other, and I think a certain amount of twisting or contorting of source material to cross mediums is not necessarily a bad thing the series has had plenty of spin-off games that have taken liberties with the source material to do what they want, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that. One of my favourite Aliens games is AvP Arcade, a game that borrows from Aliens, borrows from Predator, mixed into together with a typical arcade game storyline and a host of stock game tropes (end of level bosses, heroic action hero characters, etc). It does all this in a very easy-going sort of way, taking a lot of liberties with the license (Dutch from Predator gets a cool cyborg gun arm!), and by doing so removes a lot of what made the movies the kind of movies they were (the atmosphere and realistic themes), and shifts the tone quite a bit.
However, it does this well.
It's fun for what it is. Which is the point.
Another of my favourite game's is Aliens vs Predator 2, released for the PC in 2001, it was an FPS that allowed you to play as all three races Aliens, Marine, Predator, but interwove a plot between the three campaigns and tried to add something of the cinematic depth of the films to the game, whilst still remaining A GAME. In doing so it added a lot of stuff but also changed things, it cut and merged the two universes until they fit, it took elements from the films and expanded on them the colony for example in AvP2 is much larger, and more like a mini-city than the frontier-town that the one in Aliens is.
In short it took liberties, but it did it in such a way as to capture the spirit of the films whilst observing the conventions of how a game works. It adapted the source material, but did it in such a way that it still felt like an 'Aliens' thing. It felt like it fit somewhere in the fiction, even if it wouldn't fit in the canon. Much like AvP Arcade.
While obviously the bugs, the poor graphics (at times) and the lacklustre narrative frustrate me a lot, they don't annoy me half as much as the apparent lack of thought and sense of integrity to the IP that's been displayed in Colonial Marines. Maybe integrity's the wrong word, it comes off sounding almost draconian, authoritative, as if there's only one way to make an Aliens game, and that's really not what I'm trying to say.
It's that sense of capturing some of the point behind the original films that matters so much, Alien was a horror movie, slow-paced, tense, agonising to watch; Aliens was a fast-paced scary action film, making a point about war and also the self-defeating aspect of human nature the corruption, corporate evil, that sort of thing. AvP Arcade was so good in part because it discarded a lot of that it wouldn't have made sense in an arcade game (though aspects of those points are brought up, just without the atmosphere of the films), it just made it about beating aliens and soldiers up, and cobbled together events that echoed parts of the film. AvP2, meanwhile, because it could make more sense (and make for a more engaging shooter) kept those themes, and explored them, using the starting point of 'well, what if Weyland-Yutani found an Alien planet and decided to put a research facility there, what would happen then?'
It's fun not just because the gameplay and levels are well put together, but also because there's an intelligent hook at work a story to reel us in. My biggest disappointment with Colonial Marines is that it doesn't have that. It just feels like a dumb shooter, designed to be a dumb shooter, with lots of fan service to an old film. Which is disappointing.
I think I could have atleast enjoyed it as a shooter if there had been sort of intelligent hook, or if the game had done something different compared to other games say had a black heroine as the lead, or multiple viewpoints to play from.
It's especially frustrating considering how fundamental challenge is to the franchise, Alien in part succeeded because it was challenging the norm in films at the time of the helpless heroine; with the monster as an allegory for the darker side of sexuality, and reversing the male/female dynamic; aswell as the different stages of the xenomorph life cycle having vaguely sexual connotations. Whilst Aliens was a reaction to the hawkish war-hungry attitude, the bravado, corruption and the sometimes self-destructive quality of human nature.
....HEY DEVELOPERS THOSE ARE REALLY COOL THINGS TO PUT IN A GAME!
ESPECIALLY AN ALIEN(S) GAME!
It's not even like you have to force them down people's throats, just have them going in the background, hinted at in dialogue or whatever. That's how AvP2 did it so well - most of the story you learn from overheard conversations or the occasional notepad.
At the very least they could have made you a female marine, as a nod to Ripley, or shifted up the dynamic in some other way. For example, with multiple marine characters, a story that branches, or perhaps a WY secret campaign, where you have to fight for the opposite side as a corporate merc, that unlocks after you finish as the marine.
Any of those would have been interesting.
It's terribly sad to me that the best thing to come out of Colonial Marines is that I found out that there was a 1984 game that was more imaginative about what to do with an entry in the franchise than Colonial Marines.
In 'Alien' you play as the crew of the Nostromo, and have to try and eradicate a single xenomorph. The interesting part being that it's a 'what if?' scenario, where the facehugger randomly attacks one of the crew members, and how you play, and how the game reacts to how you play, effects the eventual outcome whether you end up with everybody surviving or nobody.
Sure, it's simple, it's butt ugly, but atleast it's interesting. It's a 29 year-old game, that does something more interesting than a game that's been in development for 6 years and probably had dozens (if not more) of people working on it. That's depressing, SERIOUSLY. What's more, its a good adaptation of the source material, it gets the point of Alien and runs with it to create an interesting game. Why can't they do that with Aliens?
It's sad that we now have the technology, and publishers the resource might, to create really engaging, immersive worlds for games, yet instead of publishers saying 'this is what we want you to do!' or developers pushing for that themselves, seemingly the best thing they think they can make with the license is just a game where you move from room to room, shooting stuff, and waiting for your useless AI partners to open doors for you, because hey, if you could open them yourself then you'd be able to skip the boring combat sequences. Also, that might seem like choice or interacting with the world, and that's scary.
I think what Colonial Marines shows, apart from that buggy games are incredibly annoying, is that like with RE6, not everything can be a current-gen style, straight-shooter. Not every property or idea works that way. And note: I'm not saying that not everything can be a shooter, I'm saying that not everything can do things the way shooters at the moment do them and work not everything needs refilling health, waves of enemies, quick-time events, unlimited pistol ammo, AI partners, co-op, etc all that stuff. If something ruins the atmosphere or harms the point you're trying to make with your game it's probably a good idea not to stick it in, and you definitely shouldn't put anything in a game just because other games have it.
It annoys me especially because the fact they made the kind of game they did kind of implies that they thought that that was all they could do with the story and the gameplay, like as if somehow if they'd instead opted for a very claustrophobic, atmospheric experience with lots of build-up and downtime between fighting the xenomorphs, that somehow that wouldn't have worked. The 2010 AvP was a lot like this aswell, a very dull, middling shooter with really no sense of originality to it, that sort of felt as though it was trying to say 'well, what do you expect? This is all games can do!' Which I don't think is true.
I like the idea of the Spectrum Alien game, even though I think the game's probably long past it's sell-by date in terms of what consumers expect from a user interface and the graphics of a game. Still, it's interesting. I guess in the end what I'm saying is, of all the IPs out there I think Alien(s) is one of the most open to being adapted in all sorts of ways. Perhaps they could make a shooter with a branching story or levels; perhaps procedurally generated gameplay; perhaps a game with multiple characters to play as, each who add something different to the story, and give you a different kind of gameplay. Even if said game ended up being only a few hours long, if you could replay it over and over again in different ways and the plot was interesting, that would be awesome.
It's just generally a shame nobody seems to want to do anything interesting with the IP, so all we get is mediocre shooters.
5 random ideas for Alien(s) themed games that I think would be cool:
Corporate Exec you play a Weyland-Yutani corporate type (think Burke, you lucky dog you), and you have to move your way up the corporate ladder helping Weyland-Yutani collect xenomorph specimens, harvest eggs, avoid detection by the government, and generally being all sneaky and underhanded in order to exploit the aliens for the good of the company. With your end goal either being xenomorphs taking over the Earth (bad ending) or retiring to a tropical island somewhere (good ending) ...not long before xenomorphs take over the Earth.
Xenoworld Let's not kid around here: this is just Jurassic Park with aliens. You're the David Attenborough's brother of the Aliens universe and you're desperate to show everybody these super cool aliens you've found! Now try to show all those nice people what they look like without too much chest-bursting, lest the colonial space authorities come down on you!
Alien Just remake the Spectrum game. That sounds awesome.
Prisoner: Cell Block Xeno you run a prison, on a lifeless planet somewhere in the depths of space. It's desperately hard work, having to balance incoming funds against expenditures... I so hope a xenomorph doesn't pop up and ruin everything! WOOPS, spoke too soon. Now try running that prison without too many 'unfortunate prisoner accidents'!
Another Glorious Day in the Corps! This would be a bit more like a standard shooter, a bit like Battlefield 3 or Medal of Honor (the 2010, slightly less shit, one), only better: you play different marines, each having different experiences of some sort of xeno-infestation. Say, a regular marine, a smart-gunner, a co-pilot, the gunner on an APC, that sort of thing. Each sees something different that adds in a different way to the plot, and potentially you could use different characters for different purposes for instance making the gameplay for one horror-orientated maybe the co-pilot's involved in a crash and then has to survive with just a pistol, whilst another could be used for the full-on action sequences, say the smart-gunner. Also, the game would include proper female characters, not just ones shoe-horned in after the fact.
Nothing. The darkened passageway is empty. I'm alone. I relax my grip on the controller, letting my finger slide off the shoulder button, my view swinging back forward.
Then a roar erupts ahead of me, as a mishapen, lumbering form charges from the darkness, and I scrabble to turn and run before it can reach me. Hoping that if I can just overrun it then maybe the darkened corridor will hold some respite from my pursuer...
This is Hellnight. This is every playthrough of Hellnight.
Of all the games I had to pick up and play, I chose Hellnight.
A game designed to torment, to dangle the prospect of freedom before me repeatedly, before wrenching it from me at the very last second.
Escape is always only a few steps ahead, a stairway out, an elevator up, but over and over again obstacles are put in your way, and your progress is pushed back, forcing you deeper and deeper underground.
All the while chased by that thing, as you desperately try to figure out why you're involved in all this, and how you can escape.
As games go Hellnight is pretty interesting, and also relatively unique, forcing the player to rely on their wits over brawn (which even when you have it is relatively useless); it's also somewhat unknown outside of survival-horror gaming circles, and should never be confused with the film starring Linda Blair ever, ever.
Released back in 1998/1999 for the Playstation by Atlus, it's a survival-horror, puzzle game where you play the part of an anonymous male lead, who after the subway train he's on is freakishly derailed by some unknown creature, finds his only escape is to head deeper underground with the only other survivor of the crash, into the network of tunnels and passageways that lie hidden beneath modern Toyko, in a desperate attempt to escape their pursuer.
You spend much of that time creeping round corridors, desperate not to run into the creature. Aside from a few niggling problems (hello sloppy translation!) it's probably one of the most unique experiences I've had in a survival horror game; while what exactly it is the game manages to capture so well remains difficult to pin down exactly.
Is it the sound? The visuals? The atmosphere?
Maybe a little of all of the above. It's not a difficult game to explain, just difficult to effectively convey just how terrifying an experience it can be at times.
It's not even like the game is complicated, you don't have to push ten different buttons at once, you don't have to worry about micromanaging ammo or even supplies - there are none! Yet when it works, when you're in the moment, it's possibly one of the scariest games you'll ever play.
It's scary simply because of how helpless and weak you really are in it, one touch is all it takes to kill, and you'll never really know how long you've got between encounters with the creature, you just know you have to push on and hope it doesn't show.
Because you are the prey.
And out there, somewhere, is a creature whose sole intent is to hunt you down and kill you.
If you remember what it was like to be hunted by Nemesis in Resident Evil 3, then you're getting close to how it feels, but not quite. Nemesis had limits to where he could go, and you had guns. Here, the only sanctuary you have is the odd room or branching corridor, out in the open it can get you anywhere. And as the game progresses the threat from the creature increases, as it itself evolves into more and more deadlier forms.
You spend much of the game either exploring, collecting or figuring out the pieces to the puzzles that let you move ahead or running from the creature, slipping into rooms to hide and hoping that when you leave again it'll be gone.
When it came to deciding what I wanted to write about for this blog I had a few thoughts - I've had my fair share of scares with the Fatal Frame series, the Siren games, System Shock 2, REmake, and even Dead Space, but my experiences with Hellnight stood out.
It stood out because in all those other games I was at one point or another in control, I was powerful, even if momentarily, I had the upperhand, but I never do with Hellnight. All you can ever do is slow the creature, never stop it. You will always be running.
One of the most vivid memories I have of playing the game is from about midway through, when you find yourself in a sort of livestock area - a large open space that's been converted to house animals, with a series of small sheds and pens, all orderly arranged along a grid system, but equating to little more than an open maze for me.
I knew it was coming. I hadn't heard it, or seen it, but I knew it was somewhere out there in the darkness; I hadn't seen it for a long time, so I knew I was due a visit. So I was being careful: cautiously moving forward, never moving too quickly, lest I use up the stamina I might need in a tight squeeze. I felt ready, ready enough atleast.
I was wrong.
I had to search the sheds, one by one, explore every inch of the map. I had to escape but I didn't really know what I needed to escape. I'd left the shed behind me, having found nothing - most of them were empty, and I found myself absently turning and walking to the next shed, glancing over my shoulder, expecting it to come from behind me. Only to let go the shoulder button and hear the creature roar ahead of me. I found myself caught between pens as I desperately scrabbled to turn and run, to get out of there. To somehow escape back into the dark unseen.
Hellnight is the sort of game that would never have won awards for best graphics, or most bombastic, energetic, singleplayer experience even at the time, but it does something with its atmosphere, the sights, sounds, and gameplay, that most games never do. And that's without even getting onto the story, which though obscured by the poor translation hides a number of subtle nods to some classic Sci-Fi movies.
I remember Hellnight most though for those moments: those slow, silent pauses between the monster popping up (and it does literally seem to just 'pop' up); the ones when I'd run and hide, and find a piece of a puzzle; and those other moments when I'd leave a room, confident that I was safe only to find the creature right in front of me.
Because those moments, those are the ones that real horror stories are made of.
It's always been felt that games need a strong sense of identity to sell, especially mainstream ones, modern games tend to create that sense of identity themselves by creating characters and worlds that developers know will capture the interest of consumers. It wasn't always like this though, there have always been mascots and icons in games but there was a time when developers weren't as sure of creating their own sense of identity, or indeed weren't capable of because of the limitations of the hardware at their disposal. Borrowing from movies, or licensing movie rights, then offered a nice middle ground between creative freedom and a proven intellectual property.
In some cases this was more like inspiration or copycatting, Blade Runner partly inspired Syndicate and Snatcher, but also fed into the inspiration for a lot of games in the early nineties that never made it very far. Other games were able to license and officially represent the IP. This happened with various movie franchises, with varying degrees of success, one of the more successful examples being the Aliens Vs Predator series.
As far as I know Aliens Vs Predator started with a comics crossover, but then moved to games in the early nineties on the jaguar with Rebellion's Aliens Vs Predator (forewarning, this is literally the name of almost every AvP game, and it can get a little confusing without platform or year notes nearby). That original Aliens Vs Predator for the Jaguar was a sort of arcadey shooter that had some success; I won't go through every iteration in the franchise, but there was also a pretty decent side-scrolling, fighting game made by capcom for the arcades aswell, between that and the semi-sequel/semi-reboot in 1999.
The next AvP game (atleast as I'm counting them) was Rebellion's 1999 effort, a more modern attempt at an AvP FPS - it was 3D and let you play as all three races, with each having their own separate story. It was a very arcade-ish game in some respects, you didn't really have proper objectives and missions were very short but as the marine atleast it could be scary as hell and very challenging. Not everybody thinks it stood the test of time and truth be told its kind of gameplay has fallen out of favour these days but it still retains some of the fun it had back in the day.
AvP2 was a different sort of beast entirely though. Created by Monolith, who'd only just had a series of successes with games like Blood 2, Shogo and No One Lives Forever, it was a completely different experience compared to Rebellion's effort. It was narrative heavy and pretty scripted but also very cinematic and a lot more engaging compared to its predecessor. In many respects it emulated the experience of the films a lot better.
So what is it the game does so well?
I think probably the biggest thing the game has going for it is the quality of the story, not only is it solid and believable it also makes sense in terms of the context of the movies (atleast the Aliens movies), and in many respects it feels like a cinematic continuation of the story of the Aliens movies, just with predators involved, in a game.
I think it achieves this primarily because so much of the story is borrowed from the movies and then extrapolated on. For example, in the movies Weyland-Yutani pretty much fits the archetype of the evil, faceless corporation, with no concern for human life and whose only desire is to exploit everything and anything they can. As such the xenomorph to Weyland-Yutani is just another resource to be exploited, for whatever technological or biological advantage it may give them over their competition. Perhaps it's because of hubris or ignorance but they don't really see the xenomorphs as the hostile alien killing machines, the biological plague, that they are, because they want to exploit them.
This is probably the key motivating factor behind the events of both Alien and Aliens: Ash betraying the crew and manipulating them to further possible collection of specimens in Alien; and Burke ordering the colonists to investigate the ship in Aliens, leading to the small colony becoming overrun.
This is taken to the next logical step with AvP2. LV-1201, a jungle world, is discovered to be the site of a giant alien hive, home to thousands of drones, alien queens but also an empress, aswell as apparently ancient structures constructed by some unknown race (the predators). A large colony structure is then built, seemingly several times the size of the colony on LV-426 and called the P.O.C. or Primary Operations Complex, aswell as the Forward Observation Pods that serve as a hub for all research and development that goes on. Whereas the colony in Aliens is more like a frontier town, the colony in AvP2 is like a mini-city, with over a thousand inhabitants (atleast before the aliens woke up anyway).
The principal storyline focuses on an administrator and scientist, Dr Eisenberg, who is obsessed with exploiting the xenomorphs for everything that they're worth. His family influence puts him at the head of the Weyland-Yutani venture on LV-1201, and the large colony and research facility are built to service those corporate interests.
As the Alien you play the part of a rogue drone birthed through an accident that occurs when a shady blackmarket deal goes wrong and a shipping container breaks open allowing you, as a young facehugger, to escape into the colony at large. You then navigate the colony structure to find an unsuspecting host; as a newborn drone you then go on to cut your way through the P.O.C., assisting your fellow trapped xenomorphs as you do so, to get to Eisenberg, who is your final boss.
A big part of the Alien's plot is the story of the scientist, his motivations, but also the open secret of corruption and dirty deals that forms a central part of daily life in both the P.O.C. and the F.O.P..
As the Marine the story is a bit narrower, it focuses on the story of the marine contingent that comes to investigate the distress call of the P.O.C. right after it's fall, and specifically on the part a single soldier, Andrew 'Frosty' Harrison, plays in the events that unfold on LV-1201. It's pretty much your standard FPS campaign (or atleast standard for late 90's PC), though arguably it is done pretty well. Again the proportions are blown up, you see a lot more marines (die) than in the film, and a lot more hardware, so if you're a fan of the survival/military aspect of Aliens you'll enjoy that part of the campaign especially.
The Marine story is a lot more focused on the personal, human, element of what happens and though it does add to the overall story of the events on LV-1201 you don't really have an specific villain to go up against. Indeed the final boss for the campaign is an Alien Empress.
She doesn't really say much.
As the Predator you play a fairly young hunter, and it's implied you're of royal or atleast noble descent, perhaps a prince; LV-1201 forms the basis of the game primarily because it's a breeding ground for xenomorphs, with a vast underground hive buried deep beneath the surface, this in turn attracts predators to hunt there, that in turn (in part) attracted the corporation and people to the planet. Whilst hunting on the planet some of your fellow predators are caught in a trap laid by Weyland-Yutani soldiers, using advanced EMP weaponry.
The central fulcrum of the Predator campaign is a character called General Rykov, the infirm and drug-addicted leader of a PMC, the Iron Bears, who was once a colonial marine and the only survivor of a predator attack on an outpost. Rykov is left crippled when trying to make his escape, but somehow miraculously survives and goes onto walk again - apparently because of blackmarket connections, but is left a husk of a man, obsessed only with hunting down the creature that crippled him, and taking his anger out on any of its kin he should stumble upon.
If you hadn't already guessed it, you're said predator. Or atleast it's heavily implied you are through cutscenes and found documents in-game.
That's probably a little more detail than most would put into explaining the story, but I really think one of the strongest things about the game is just how solid the story is. It takes three completely different gameplay styles and characters and interweaves them all beautifully into a story that hangs together really well even compared to a lot of modern games it's still a very well-written story.
It's also worth noting that they've done a really good job of merging the two universes and deciding on which elements to pick from the movies to put in, to make it all fit together. There's plenty of nice little nods to not only Alien and Aliens and Predator but also Predator 2 and Alien 3.
It's also worth noting that the game has some interesting imaginative elements aswell, that seem like them taking liberties with the license to be creative elements of the colony design for example, the badass miltary power-loader you pilot at one point in the Marine campaign, and the combat synthetics. Some of this obviously inspired by the comics.
Regardless though it all contributes to making the game work that little bit better as both a homage to two old franchises and as an original property.
Another large positive worth mentioning is just how well put together most of the game is, you get a really good sense of atmosphere from most of the levels especially the Marine levels in the dead colony complex, the way that the xenomorph sequences are scripted and the way that the levels themselves are designed works well, and not only can it be quite tense but also genuinely scary, especially since aliens have a habit of coming out of nowhere to claw at you.
To this end aswell there are a lot of very good, large-scale set pieces at one point as the Predator a dropship swoops down suddenly in front of you before unloading on the landing bay you're stood inside; as the Marine you fight an Alien Empress, and this happens in an underground hive, just moments before you make your escape to the surface followed by swarms of drones; and as the Alien you have several boss fights with predators aswell as a tense hive-running sequence.
So there's a lot going on. At the time all this stuff really blew me away, but even now it's impressive how much effort they put into the game. There's obviously a lot of love in the game.
So what doesn't the game do so well?
I'm reluctant to say it but the graphics do look a little dated, I'm mostly reluctant to say it because I think they still hold up fairly well considering how many years have passed (like 12!). Sure it's obviously no Far Cry 3 or Arkham City, but the game still looks alright and is still pretty atmospheric considering its age, in-game characters look like people not weird block monsters and it's perfectly playable. Just don't get weirded out if you see corpses blink...
As a sort of secondary point, perhaps the biggest downside to the game is the reuse of game assets, and the element of error in some of those assets. (For the time) the game looked stunning, very, very, beautiful, and even now it does look pretty good, but it seems like that came at the cost of how many assets they actually made and the detail work that went into them.
They reused a lot of the NPC assets, especially the marines - there's one character in the game called Duke, who's like the comic foil, or Hudson, of the Marine campaign, always whining and complaining, but they use his character model repeatedly in place of generic marines. At one point you're moving through an underground system of tunnels and pass his corpses multiple times he even gets pulled into a vent at one point. And a few of the less prominent marines (who seem like they have unique character models) are re-used like this.
This would be ok, if not for the fact it's never really explained who's who, so when you're playing through you can be confused into thinking a character's dead when they're not, I mean after finding generic Duke dead it would be easy to presume the character were dead if it weren't for the fact he shows up later in the game.
It's also sort of compounded by the fact the story, though very well done, can be a little sketchy at times when it comes to details. You're part of a marine contingent, but it's never really explained how many of you there are, how the force is organised, or even what squad you're in. The only clue you have is that some guys have white shoulder pads, some red. In terms of gameplay it doesn't ruin anything but it makes the story a little confusing.
Also, I think there's maybe 7 or 8(?) voice actors in the whole game, and you will notice the same voices coming up playing different characters, that sort of adds to the confusion, though a lot of the voice-work is very well done.
None of this is enough to ruin the game in any way, but it does confuse things a little bit, it's hard to know what's going on sometimes.
Probably the only other major downside, and one coming from somebody primarily a fan of the films, is that the xenomorphs don't really act much like they do in the films. To be fair this was also equally true of AvP1 but it's still a shame. Xenomorphs don't really hide or sneak up on you, they just pop out and rush at you. It's still scary, just don't expect to get pulled up into the ceiling anytime soon.
On top of this, AvP2 swaps AvP1 one's random xenomorph spawning for scripted attacks, obviously first time through you won't know where they'll come from, but on subsequent playthroughs you'll know when to expect attacks. Again, it doesn't ruin the game, and given the age of the game it's forgivable, but eurgh, I'm being pedantic here so it matters.
Though the game arguably shows its age in a lot of respects Aliens Vs Predator 2 still stands up as a really solid, enjoyable experience, and a fitting tribute to both the Aliens and Predator universes.
Something that's seemed to dwell on my mind lately, returning from time to time, has been the subject of disability, disfigurement and disease in games, in particular the idea of losing a limb or some other seemingly integral part of one's body. From the TV shows that I watch, to the games that I play and read news stories about, to the disturbing fan fiction people post in community spaces, for some reason my mind keeps coming back to the subject.
It's not so much a morbid or gross fascination with the subject, rather that I keep being reminded by all these different sources of fiction just how important our sense of wholeness can be to being human, and indeed how integral to being human disability and it's relation to us as thinking, feeling but ultimately physical beings is.
I'm going to be a little broad here, I'm kind of focusing on losing a limb, but obviously disability covers a range of ailments, some short-term, some long-term, some physical, some mental. What ties them all together is a sense that they help shape who we are as people.
Understandably if your mental faculties deteriorate or you do lose a part of your body your capabilities do change, so you change as a person, and your entire life could hinge on that one moment ...or it might not. You could change completely or stay much the same dependent on how you react to the change to your life and indeed how the disability changes you - if not because of how it changes your outlook on life then perhaps because of the physical changes, how your needs change, the time out of work or school you take to adjust to a prosthetic and ofcourse any time you take out for physiotherapy.
Nothing about disability says it has to change you but that said there's a lot of potential for change there, considering how much about your life may change. People aren't defined by their disability, the disability is just a part of who they are, and there's so many other factors that contribute to who somebody is, from genetics, to life-style, to experiences, to their social interactions, etc. It all contributes. Yet despite this we never really seem to see disability, disfigurement, losing a limb, as aspects that can make their way into defining characters in games.
It strikes me as one of those areas where developers seem reluctant to tread, as if somehow having a lead who had at one point been disabled in some respect might put people off. Which seems silly really, we have had characters with various degrees of disability or long-term illness Big Boss from the Metal Gear franchise only has one eye, the lead character in Far Cry 2 suffers from Malaria, Joker in Mass Effect has Vrolik Syndrome, Huey from Peace Walker is in a wheelchair (as is The End in MGS3 at one point), so it's not like developers aren't aware of disability or illness, it just never seems to figure into creating good leads.
Like with issues of gender, ethnicity and belief, it just seems like a no-go area in terms of what can define a character, which seems wrong to me. Too much of what defines our fictional leads seems to be a desire to create heroic fantasies and unbelievable ideals rather than creating well-filled out characters with both a fantastical, unrealistic, list of accomplishments to their name and perhaps character flaws and physical and mental scars from the struggles they've endured.
So we tend to get these attractive male leads, who are handsome bullet sponges, capable of killing hundreds of men without batting an eyelid (or without the gel in their hair losing any of its hold), yet are mostly just one or two dimensional at best. When really what we should be aiming for is characters much more defined by their profession and their role in the game world; and their mentality and their look, should in part be defined by that.
Now obviously this depends a lot on the nature of game I'm not arguing Mario's hips should give out anytime soon from all that jumping so he ends up in a wheelchair or that Princess Peach needs an eye gouged out to show how dangerous getting kidnapped all the time is - that's just... no, just no. Rather, that because so much of gaming revolves around high-risk situations and events fighting in alien warzones, planetary conflicts, risky police work, trudging through post-apocalyptic wastelands, etc, that I think the characters from those 'worlds' should reflect the sorts of physical and mental hardships they would in reality encounter, even if at the end of the day it's only fiction. If only because it makes them more human characters.
Characters in general benefit from having depth of experience good heroes (or heroines) aren't bullet-proof, or atleast don't seem bullet proof even if they mostly are; not only do we need those characters to show largely realistic emotional reactions (fear, hate, anger, relief, etc) to events but also largely realistic physical ones, else they just seem like robots. And I think the way we treat disability is a big part of that; acknowledging that not only are some people born with disability but others gain handicaps through the lives they lead or the occupational hazards they face.
I realise there's probably an element of fear in why we don't see more disability in games, developers get harangued over pretty much everything, and when you're making a AAA game you're looking for safe margins and as little risk-taking as possible so you stick to the stories that have been done before for the most part, because it's safe and easy. It's easier to just stick to the attractive white male lead because you know the majority of your audience (seems) ok with that.
I certainly don't mean to single games out as the only kind of fiction that comes up short in terms of diversity of cast characteristics; I think popular TV, movies and even books suffer from the same reluctance to take a chance on having different kinds of leads, I just think in particular in regards to disability and literal physical hardship considering the type of material games tend to cover it makes more sense that disability would be an important topic.
Let's be honest: a lot of games are very violent - we have games where you dismember, games where you smash and crush, games where you can dig a guy's head and spinal column out of his back and take it as a trophy, and a lot of modern games focus on fighting wars of one kind or another. Modern videogames are terribly, terribly violent, and I say this as somebody who likes that excessive side of gaming, I grew up playing Doom and Mortal Kombat from a very young age, and I'd be sad to see that aspect of gaming die out. It's not really about saying those types of games are bad so much as that I don't see why the extreme types of fantasy violence we see onscreen don't inevitably lead to discussion about what happens when you do these horrible things to real people's bodies, even if we're only doing them to fictional people's bodies.
Perhaps it's because of the environment games (and gamers) have grown up in, where games have been berated by almost everybody in society at some point as 'evil', and because of that we've sort of closed ranks and not asked too much in terms of challenging topics in games in order to avoid criticism, and aware of this developers have tended to towards 'safer' character types rather than pushing for characters that challenge our views and encourage more debate over the sorts of experiences we play.
And that's not to say that the point of games is ever to cause debate necessarily, games are entertainment at the end of the day and don't really need to do anything other than entertain us, but all the same we do want challenging games even if games don't have to be challenging. Look at the success of games like Deus Ex or Bioshock, sure part of what made them successful was how they stood out from the crowd in terms of look and gameplay, compared to everything else released at the time, but I'm also sure a big part of their success was that they brought up interesting new ideas and challenged the established notion of what a game does.
Going back to the thing about experiences and the kinds of worlds videogame characters find themselves in, if popular mainstream games centred mostly around political intrigue and say detective stories, then I think my point would probably be pretty mute - sure there'd still be an argument for including disability because obviously disabled people are part of real life, but you couldn't really argue for what I'm arguing for, which is more akin to realistic depiction of environmental hazards, and the hazards of the occupations that developers choose for their characters. If you spend your days in a futuristic representation of trench warfare it's believable to presume you might pick up some sort of foot rot, could potentially lose a limb, hand or other extremity, or possibly have suffered from some disease at some point; likewise if you've spent your life being a detective in almost-lawless districts of a city it's believable you might have mental or physical scars from that. And that sort of thing is primarily what I'm arguing for.
I think there's also an argument for showing the results of violence aswell, while I don't think games necessarily have to show us worlds that are realistic I think if they do depict real-world type situations then I do think it's atleast a courtesy to depict those situations realistically like with the war thing again, obviously people will die but how many lose a limb, or suffer brain damage, or gain some other long-term injury? What's the real cost in people? When do we ever see these sorts of things in war-games?
It wouldn't necessarily have to involve adding whole sections to a game either, just that if the situation arises a nod in the direction of realism would be nice say if you're playing a war-game you overhear a character complaining of dysentery or some other ailment, or if your character passes through a hospital they witness individuals being fitted for prosthetics that sort of thing.
I'm not just talking about the main characters but those in the background aswell, even if the supernumeraries are just that, atleast pretend like the game considers them people, people who suffer, people who endure hardship and people who struggle, and are in part defined by all of that.
Personally I think a lot of games would be a lot more engaging if they spent more time creating worlds that are believable in-part because the people within them seem like real people with real worries from the god-like central cast right down to the disposable stooges who inevitably get cut down when the guns start firing.
So recently I've been getting into a bit of old-school gaming and replaying some games I really haven't thought about much since I was about ten. As a kid I was pretty big into strategy games, FPSs and action games, but we never really had a whole lot of money so I mostly learnt about a lot of games through demos or magazine articles. One game that particularly caught my eye as a kid was Blood 2.
Blood 2, and infact the earlier Blood aswell, were both games I'd played the demos of and the experience had stuck with me, so I ended up buying them recently and playing them through, and ok, I'll admit it now: I'd never been too keen on Blood. I played the demo but I couldn't really get into the gameplay, though it was by no means poorly made it just didn't gel with me very well. I'd grown up on Doom, a game which once you scrape away a lot of the attitudes and hysteria that have built up around it is a very simple and straightforward game. Blood wasn't like that, and I could never really get into the whole zombies, cultists and dynamite thing; Blood 2 on the other hand, I enjoyed a lot, and replaying it now as an adult, and getting to actually play the whole thing, brought into starker contrast why I'd felt so indifferent to the first game, yet enjoyed the second so much.
The Blood games were both shooters that tried to stand out from the crowd, if you imagine Doom, and the sorts of games it inspired, as the sort of 'archetypal', or 'standard', shooter, Blood and Blood 2 attempted to subvert that paradigm, and give you a different sort of gameplay experience. Just as any medium has it's conventions, even in the early days of FPSs, there were games that tried to turn that dynamic on its head, and in Blood's case did so by having you play as an psychopathic character who had little desire for anything other than revenge.
What I realised replaying Blood, but especially Blood 2, was how much they fit into a sort of cultural wave that covered most fiction film, TV and literature included, where a lot of developers, designers, artists, writers, and generally creators wanted to challenge or atleast open up the definition of what a story is and even what constitutes a good character, and tell the types of stories that have mostly been overlooked stories about outcasts, or losers, or even just people who think differently to the way we're told 'moral' or 'normal' people should.
It's not something most people really dwell on or even think about too much but a lot of what we consume as entertainment and media is designed specifically to appeal to certain aspects of our psyche and our baser (and higher) needs; it's why so much of what we watch is full of attractive people, it's also why sex and power play such a big part in dictating content.
We all know what a hero is, right? Atleast in fiction. We know that in the stories we read, or watch, or play, there are these guys (mostly guys unfortunately) who do courageous deeds, or fight hopeless wars, or save kittens from burning buildings, or whatever. We're used to the idea. As a story we tell ourselves it's extremely common, obviously though there are others, and sometimes they're intertwined. Think of jealousy, think of romance, think of betrayal, the chances are you have a clear idea of how that sort of story might play out on stage, on the big screen, in a book, or even on your TV screen, even though the particulars may change depending on medium and the way the individual story is told. Why do we have such a clear picture of how these things would play out? Well it's not because in real life these things are always the same, if you've been betrayed or been in love you know that real life is very little like fiction. No, we've learnt these stories, they've been told to us by society, by friends and family, by our education systems, by the media and literature we consume.
Action films tend to be the go-to when it comes to people lampooning cultural conventions, atleast on the internet and on TV. We have a very precise, very clear image of what an action hero is, which itself borrows from the archetypal general fictional hero. The action film hero tends to have an unbelievably good sense of comedy timing, not to mention a knack for puns, they're often overly muscular, and both are incredibly unlucky enough to always find themselves in all sorts of danger but also ridiculously lucky enough not to ever get shot.
We like these types of characters specifically because they appeal to our wants, we obviously don't want to fight a real war, or have to shoulder the very real emotional and physical pressures that accompany it, but the feeling of winning has a powerful effect on us. We like these almost inhuman characters because on some sort of very basic, very naοve level, they do the sorts of things that we wish we could do.
One of the complaints often levelled at games is that they indulge this sort of very fantastical kind of fiction Doom guy, Marcus Fenix, Master Chief, Nathan Drake. They're all examples of characters that defy the sort of real dynamics of the situations these men find themselves in, existing without PTSD or muscle damage or even any kind of physical or mental injury. Given the ease and good fortune with which they consistently escape danger it might be better to equate them with demi-gods rather than men. And indeed a lot like the demi-gods of Ancient greek mythology (Hercules and the like) they seemingly are a step up between real people (us) and how we would in reality fare in these situations, and how we imagine a god would fare in such a situation: still human enough to feel, just not human enough to crack or to break.
Ofcourse, then as people start to re-evaluate these sorts of stories the internal contradictions start to unravel even in the 90's people were aware of just how ridiculous a lot of these archetypal heroes stories were. And sometimes that was used to satire or parody them. Take, for instance, Rainier Wolfcastle from the Simpsons, or Duke Nukem as he appears in Duke Nukem 3D, or even Jack Slater from The Last Action Hero, all three are sort of tongue-in-cheek homages to the sort of over-the-top, unrealistic action hero archetype that we've grown up with. An acknowledgement by creators that yeah, those types of characters are ridiculous, and we know it, but we still love them.
Attitudes to entertainment, culture, fiction and indeed the messages that get disseminated amongst society in general from public figures or government have changed a lot over the last forty or fifty years, atleast in the West, and the rise of this sort of self-referential entertainment is proof of that. Whereas in the 50's or 60's a lot of the fictional output, especially in terms of cinema and TV, had a very central, singular message, the media environment today is very diverse. We challenge things more, and we also use humour to critique or ridicule things we don't agree with.
I'm a big fan of pulp Sci-Fi, and the sort of 50's/60's cheesy creature feature movies where some sort of monster (anywhere from the size of a man to a skyscraper) attacks. I love the simplicity of the stories, the outlandish monster design and the fact these inexplicable creatures even exist, yet as somebody's who's grown up in an incredibly complex media world I also know how unrealistic a story they tell atleast in terms of their relation to actual every day life. As a modern audience we're more sceptical than ever when it comes to the realistic aspects of our fiction and this forms a big part of why entertainment has changed so much.
It probably should be noted that internal critique or fiction that's aware of it's own failings isn't a new thing, like breaking the fourth-wall, writers have been using it for centuries, it's only with the rise of the internet and greater emphasis on consuming fiction in modern world that it's really gained traction in the way that it has.
Take for instance TV series like Buffy, (or any of Joss Whedon's stuff for that matter), they exist within a self-referential world, constantly paying homage to the very medium they're in. Buffy is littered with constant references to movies, TV shows and general pop culture. On top of this there's an almost 'self-aware' quality at times, and post-modern elements, as the show acknowledges with a nod and a wick the audience's expectations from watching so much TV how the scenario will play out a poignant action scene might play out, and the characters look deadly serious, only for the mood to be broken by the pointing out of a subtle flaw in the logic of what they're doing or a misunderstanding of some sort.
It's that little touch of acknowledgement to the medium that sets them apart and keeps the particularly media savvy audience intrigued. Scream did something similar, seemingly aware of the slasher genre it itself was a part of, and in-doing so keeping the story and narrative flow distinct enough from everything that had come before to keep the audience interested. Which is sort of what I think Blood 2 did, but within the mechanics of an FPS.
Caleb, the lead in Blood 2, has no sense of morality, no sense of right or right, only a desire for revenge. He has a purpose, Blood 2 isn't just a game about murdering random people, but there's no righteous just cause to hide behind anytime somebody questions 'well, aren't you just enjoying killing people in that game?' because the reality is you are. You're not a hero, you're not a 'good guy'. Caleb is a monster, he makes quips as he kills people, he brutally guns down innocents to sustain his own life, and in many respects he's the epitome of the nihilistic anti-hero, only interesting in his goal of revenge and the pain he can cause, but it's a fun game, and a well-made one at that.
I daresay he's a politician's wet dream for the whole 'hurr de durr, games teach kids to kill' argument, but he also a good expression of a society, and audience, kind of bored with the same old heroes (and note: I do mean that just in the masculine), whether we realise it or not the stories we tell to entertain ourselves and one another start to get stale after awhile. Nobody really wants to try new things, nobody really wants to stop doing the thing they know has been successful for so long, and characters like Caleb are the reaction against that. Because though we do want the same types of stories we want see them expressed in new ways we still want romance and action just like they did in the 50's or 60's, but now we want more nuanced characters and stories with more depth. In short, we want something different but the same.
I also think a lot of these characters spring from the fact we've generally realised as a society that there is no one dominant social message there is no 'right' way to live your life, so the overused story of the 'hero' who is the doer, who goes out, fights some sort of battle (literal or metaphorical) and comes back to be rewarded with power and success with the ladies starts to become questionable. Afterall, how do gay men or women fit into that? What about straight women who don't simply want to be the 'prize' for a man, who want to live their own kind of life?
A lot of this came to me after I'd put the game down, and started to think about why I enjoyed Blood 2 so much. I'm generally not a huge FPS person, but I love games that try to do something different, if you've read my blogs before you'll know I'm a little tired of the types of overused story elements we often see in modern games which isn't to say I don't like those types of games, just that I'd like to see more originality in them. For example, I'd love to play a Modern Warfare game where you were a black man or a woman, I doubt it'd make much difference to the overall story but atleast for me it'd feel like I wasn't playing exactly the same game over and over again, I'd love for race and gender to be more of a possible factor when they're designing characters, rather than just chin-size and beard density being all that changes. Also, I'd love to play more games like say Spec Ops where you aren't a paragon of virtue, where your morality or your deeds are called into question; or even games where you're the bad guy directly and unrepentant about it.
I like to see/watch/listen/play stories and experiences that do something different, even if it's just minor cosmetic differences I'm cool with that if it's change remember Streets of Rage 3's palette swapped costumes? Those were cool with me!
I think games need to explore that a little more, be willing to try having characters of different ethnicities, or characters that are out and out nihilistic or just weird, whether that makes the audience like them or not. It's about telling the same stories but doing them in a new and interesting way. Recently with film I loved Cabin in the Woods when I saw it precisely because I felt it tackled the hornet's nest of clichιs that the horror genre has become, which again is something I love, but also annoys the hell out of me. I think games doing something similar and challenging themselves and the conventions they obey is a good idea, we'd have more great games that way.
I think a big part of what Blood 2 succeeds at is being self-aware, being aware of the culture it's a part of, and knowing at the end of the day that it's just a piece of fiction, but at the same time still being a good piece of entertainment and something anybody can get into. You don't have to be ridiculously well-educated with a degree in Post-Modern studies to get the joke, like I was saying with Buffy or with Scream, there's a layer there in which they acknowledge they're just a piece of fiction and because the audience is in on the joke you can enjoy it a bit more. In short, you can be intelligent without being intellectual.
I ended up enjoying Blood 2, for much the same reason as I enjoyed (and still do enjoy) Dungeon Keeper, or Spec Ops, or Limbo or even Half-Life when it originally came out, because sometimes making a good game isn't just about quality, it's also about looking around at the competition and saying 'well, couldn't we do something a little different...?'