I started this blog to voice my opinions about the artistic merits and disappointments of video games today. I'm Canadian, so for anyone reading outside the Canada, pardon the variance in spelling. To give you a general sense of my experience, I've been playing videogames for over seventeen years. My primary console is the Playstation 3, though I also own all Nintendo, Playstation and Xbox platforms, along with a Macintosh computer.
George A. Romero, famed director of Dawn of the Dead, read the zombie-apocalypse genre as being about "revolution, one generation consuming the next." The idea of the living dead stems from social change, people fearing the downfall of one culture as another consumes it. The conservatives -- or the survivors -- are the ones refusing said change, as they attempt to quell the revolt. The dissent from the impeding social mores are then nullified by a shot to the head, or some miraculous concoction that cures the walking dead of their ailment -- a subversion of one opinion for traditional norms.
The spice Dead Space peppers on its decaying entrée is similar to the former, but varied by a focus on dismembering multiple limbs to subdue a hostile, rather than the trite mechanic of aiming for the head. This may be considered a simple gimmick to add nuance to a tried scenario, however given the importance of organizations within the series' narrative, this new convention actually manifests itself as a metaphor.
In the average zombie story the undead serve as obstacles for the survivors, merely trifles to be disposed of for the advancement of the narrative, and enforce the protagonists' persistence in preserving their ideals. Though the unimportance given to each zombie is utilized to express how the threat is social change as whole, across a body of shambling corpses rather than something unique to an individual. But in this syndicate's tangible manifestation the rising trend exists in an array of individuals, each brought to naught with a coupe de grace to the cerebrum.
But what if these individuals -- these zombies, represented something less than themselves, or the sum of their combined efforts? That's exactly the case with the Dead Space series as the necromorphs don't represent a change in the tides of society, but rather the consumption of society by organizations. In this case, the objective of the individual's malevolence is replaced by subservience to a cause greater than it -- a future it doesn't necessarily see itself a part of, but rather a reason it can't question or understand, leaving it in a state of blind obedience.
Necromorphs are therefore used as pawns, tools, or cannon fodder. Their sovereigns are earthly organizations that are familiar to players, yet hyperbolic nonetheless. Government, military, science, religion -- all the major institutions of civilized society attempt to harness the power of these brutes as means to their insidious ends. Naturally, their modus operandi is pure hostility, slashing and corroding everything in their path to impel a state of vulnerability in their prey. Consider this a breaking point, a place for the organization to employ the target when it's at its weakest. What follows is recruitment or, indoctrination if you choose to be cynical about the matter. In the most literal sense, this is the conversion process following the subjugation of the quarry, transforming the human into a necromorph. It parallels with how social inequities impel people to join particular groups. For example, the recruitment of the poor for military purposes, or the absolving sins and instilling hope by means of religion -- the diegetic counterparts being EarthGov and Unitology respectively.
Though the blind submission to organizations is coupled with a blind persistence, in which Dead Space uses mechanics to shimmer in its dingy halls in using dismemberment as metaphor. Isaac Clarke may be an engineer by trade, though, ironically he spends the majority of his escapades destroying everything in his path. Thusly, he is quite anarchic in nature by not only neglecting the conventions of his profession, but by disestablishing the puppets and constituents of organizations.
Disestablishing, is putting it lightly -- Isaac brutally tears apart necromorphs using the myriad weapons at his disposal. Decapitation does little to hinder a necromorph's intent as it relentlessly uses the resources it has left to inflict harm. Only by mutilating its limbs can the threat be put to rest. From the point of the game's narrative, the monster is made immobile by the lack of appendages. However, to look at the underlying imagery would show that Isaac destroying necromorphs in said manner is actually an allegory for disassembling an organization.
The destruction of an organization is a feat difficult to accomplish, but that's exactly what's exhibited in a necromorph's struggle: the attempt to survive without all of its limbs. Like a necromorph, companies will do everything in their power to survive despite the loss of their constituents. Though only through the disablement of significant partitions can an organization be rendered non-functional or non-profitable. The panned out view of the entire story reflects this core principle, as Isaac's strife in fending off the various organizations of the Dead Space universe are never enough to keep him out of harm's way, because as he cuts of one arm of organization, the other still swings.
It's by this metaphor for dissolving companies that Dead Space truly sets itself apart from the rest of the zombie stories littered across the medium. Instead of relying on the lumbering, pedestrian trope of acute gameplay through shooting someone or something in head, Visceral Games focused on delivering unique and varied gameplay that gave deeper meaning to the story, and efficaciously added depth to the antagonists through the absence of character in its pawns.
The Uncharted series is touted as the Indiana Jones of videogames; a globetrotting treasure hunt, complete with a wise cracking adventurer, an evil organization and a cheesy romantic conclusion. Working with the archetypes endowed by the Action-Adventure genre, the Uncharted series follows the same roadmap of any adventure flick, right down to presenting a supernatural element in the third act. But Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, to players’ bewilderment, didn’t overtly use any ancient magic to hammer in the gravity of the treasure hunt. It was just teased, a carrot on stick that’s never quite in full view.
Instead Naughty Dog took it upon themselves to practice subtlety, something they later mastered with The Last of Us. Supernatural elements are still present in the game; we see the jar holding the djinns during the final act, though they’re never actually shown to the player, merely used as a plot device. Instead, more complex supernatural elements are embedded in the composition of the characters.
Protagonist Nathan Drake and his father figure Victor Sullivan, find themselves in a variety of harrowing situations throughout the entire series, though by some stroke of luck they escape predicaments unscathed. Where their escapes are usually credited to the simplistic “good guys always win” rule, Drake’s Deception actually uses history aficionado Charlie Cutter as a manifestation of this divine intervention. Cutter takes the role of a guardian angel, watching over the duo and paving the way for their safety even in the most dire of situations. At the beginning of the game, he stages Nate and Sully’s murder so they could escape the scene while Katherine Marlowe, the game’s antagonist, leaves with a fake of the ring that she sought after. Later in the game he pulls a gun on Nate, only to wait for Marlowe’s right hand man, Talbot, to lower his weapon and become vulnerable to Cutter’s. Shortly after this trickery Cutter takes a hit so Nate and company can get away, ensuring once again, that the hero may continue his journey.
Talbot on the other hand, is more or less a devil figure, testing the bond between Nate and Sully in his every appearance. In a section of the Syria chapters, Cutter is drugged by Talbot and is instructed not to trust Nate. Subsequently a fight between Nate and Cutter ensues and as Nate is being strangled, Sully pulls a gun on Cutter, ready to fire if he didn’t let go. The immediacy of this action expresses Sully’s care for Nate; willing to murder a friend at blank range to ensure his “son’s” safety. In a tapered scene in Yemen, Nate is drugged by Talbot, and suffers a hallucination in which he sprints through a market filled with contorting merchants. When he awakens from his drug induced state he finds himself sitting down with Marlowe and Talbot, and much to his dismay, he realizes he told them that Sully knows where Ubar is — the lost city housing the mystical djinns. When Marlowe and company reach Ubar, Nate foils their plans and causes the city to ruin. Marlowe is buried in sand with the crumbling city, and everyone begins to escape the premises. However as the city falls, Talbot avenges her death, fighting Nate on a platform sinking into the sand. Sully then jumps down to the dilapidated flooring, shoots Talbot, and helps Nate avoid his demise, risking his life for Nate’s. One thing to note is how the relationship between Talbot and Marlowe acts as a counterweight to Nate and Sully. They have their own mother-son relationship, evident by Talbot’s hollering and need for revenge when Marlowe died.
Most interesting of all the characters in Drake’s Deception is Marlowe. She doesn’t carry many qualities beyond that of an evil witch. She doesn’t even add much to narrative by her personality — she’s just a standard antagonist, like the ones in previous instalments. But what separates this game from the others is how much attention is given to developing Nate, his history and the bond between him and Sully. Marlowe acts a conduit for this information, sort of like a ghost of the past threading Nate’s backstory to the player through her presence. When we’re first introduced to Marlowe, Nate and Sully are shot and the player is to assume that they’re gravely wounded. What follows is a flashback, showing how Nate came to meet Sullivan when he was a boy — an event she was a part of. In Yemen, after Nate’s hallucination, she berates Nate for living a fraudulent life, exposing his family history to the player, and how Drake isn’t even his real surname.
As a link to Nate’s past, Marlowe is also the instigator of both chases in the game — one when he’s young, and one when he’s an adult. During the flashback at the beginning of the game, Sully sides with Nate as Marlowe beats him for not handing over the key to a museum. A chase ensues, in which Nate escapes from Marlowe’s private army with the help of Sully, marking the beginning of their friendship. But as an adult, Nate breaks Sully’s trust in his drug induced state. In the chase that follows Nate is the chaser, going after Talbot to find out where Sully is being held — though he fails to save Sully, unable to return the favour done for him when he was a child. Through complementary distribution these two chases reflect each other as one brought Nate and Sully together, and another separated them.
I think it’s very possible that the reason why Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception wasn’t met with the warm applause dealt to the first and second game is because of the lack of any overt supernatural threat. It didn’t hit the same story beats, the rubric of the conventional action-adventure, and I imagine that’s what everyone wanted out of the “Indiana Jones of videogames.” Instead of relying on a simplistic plot composed of romance, betrayal, untold riches and the supernatural, Naughty Dog decided to give its audience a stronger, smarter, and more subtle narrative, allowing for the supernatural to exist in the form of conduits for character development, rather than a plot device.
Today, Nintendo revealed the Nintendo 2DS. Some people love it, some people hate, most of these people aren't the kids it was marketed towards. It looks like a child's calculator, bulky and coupled with bright colours. But the main feature is the absence one: the lack of autostereoscopy. A moot topic floating about the internet right now is whether this change in vision is indicative of Nintendo's plans for the future of its hardware. Will the next iteration of the 3DS be 2D also? Is 3D a feature that won't show up for an encore next generation? I'm thinking it will. This is a specific device for a specific market, with a lower price point to boot. Either way, the 3DS is selling just fine. Trouble arises with the Wii U's poor sales, and concerns arise with how to remedy them. But this new 3DS model begs another question, "Could Nintendo release a Wii U without the Gamepad bundled in, and at lower price too?"
The simple answer is no. Or at least not anytime soon. I don't necessarily care for the Gamepad. I can see why someone would buy a Wii U, and I can see why no one would care either. Now, if this question was posed sometime before the launch of the system, I think it would've been possible for Nintendo just to simply sell a model without the Gamepad -- though at the same time, some of the same problems that would plague a Gamepad lacking model today, would've caused harm to Nintendo last year when the system launched.
Nintendo immediately made it clear that the Gamepad is the lynchpin of the Wii U.
Peripheral Syndrome As much as it may seem, the Gamepad is not a peripheral. It's the core constituent of the Wii U. This is simply evident by the fact that Nintendo showed the Gamepad at E3 2011 and left us in the dark about the machine that runs it. The actual peripherals designed to work independently or in tandem with Gamepad are the Wii Remote, Nunchuk and Pro Controller. They're not necessary to play any of the games. You can see this from how games like New Super Mario Bros. U had Pro Controller support implemented through an update several months after its release, Pikmin 3 was announced to support it a month before its release, and how The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD still hasn't been confirmed to support the pro controller at all, less than a month shy of its release.
From the development side of the situation, things would only get more complicated. A model without a Gamepad would fragment the market and in a manner much worse than we've seen before. The Kinect sold well, and the PS Move... well, it sold some units. Both peripherals served as rather interesting pieces of tech, but didn't budge the needle in terms of how much they could bring to the table. Beyond first-party titles, both peripherals were an after thought for most games, serving some rudimentary functions in shooters or shoehorning in voice commands. Developers really didn't care. Their audience was shattered. Why should they spend time and money developing their games for a peripheral that the player can enjoy without? Well, that's why we got voice commands for Skyrim and motion control for Bioshock Infinite. This is the very reason why Kinect will be bundled with every Xbox One -- to avoid any dithering, and give developers a clear incentive for experimental and creative design.
Technology Let's take a look at the Gamepad. It's a brilliant piece of tech. It has a resistive 1080p touch display, mic, camera, accelerometer, and can even act as a screen for the game you play (I'm sure there are features I'm forgetting). Now imagine selling this as a peripheral. This is a $150 accessory, much too expensive to survive on its own. Imagine a child asking their parents for the $150 tablet, that isn't portable and is an accessory to a 150$ console (let us assume that a SKU without a Gamepad is half the price). It's a rather tough bargain, and precisely the reason why we haven't heard of a single game that supports two Gamepads. The other way around, someone might buy Nintendo Land, and think they could go home and play it, only to realize that they don't own the proper controller.
On Nintendo's side of the mountain, we can take another glance at the Gamepad itself. It's a whole lot of tech. A lot of work went into the research and development of the tablet, especially with how it's able to stream the game from the Wii U to the Gamepad, without a single hitch. We don't know how much it cost to design the Wii U, but Nintendo has always touted it as the sole reason to own the console. Remember when we got ports of Mass Effect 3 and Batman: Arkham City? Its whole pitch was that the experience is entirely different using the Gamepad, and that's why we should care. Whether it was different or not is besides the point. What should be noted is that Nintendo relied on this new tech to attract new audiences, and have its games contingent on the functions of the Gamepad. Nintendo put too much money and advertising into this controller, and ditching it is not an option for it.
Nintendo may have released Super Smash Bros. Brawl without any motion controls, but did so because the Wii was selling well, and thrived without a nebulous identity.
Appeal Alright, so I'm about to poke at a sensitive topic. If Nintendo didn't bundle the Gamepad, what's the point of it developing a console? For the most part Nintendo designs its game to fit its hardware. Analogue sticks, motion control, touch screen -- whatever. Super Mario 64 was designed with the analogue stick in mind, Wii Sports was designed with the Wii Remote in mind, and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass was designed with the touch screen in mind. Now, given the poor sales of the Wii U, what's the point of Nintendo holding the platform if they can't ensure each console will hold a Gamepad, and thusly, that developers know exactly what the player will experience? This turns the Wii U, into Nintendo's version of the Xbox 360/Playstation 3. There is nothing new it would bring besides its first-party line up. Which works for Nintendo's aforementioned competitors but the thing is, they don't need to do anything different, their sales are doing just fine.
Through a discussion on Twitter I heard a great point on how Nintendo's exclusive hardware wasn't always utilized to garner strong sales. Some of the points included how many NES games could've worked on the SG-1000, how few games came out for the ROB and how Super Smash Bros. Brawl didn't even have motion controls. Well the NES sold well regardless of ROB because of the games it had and the fact that ROB was a peripheral. As for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, it was released two years into the Wii's life cycle, and after the console sold 24 million units. At that point, Nintendo knew they didn't have to have motion controls for Brawl since the Wii was doing well, and the casual audiences had a myriad other games to play, namely Wii Sports and Guitar Hero. Nintendo could sell a unit without the Gamepad bundled in, but it'd have to do so very late into the cycle, when the tablet is almost entirely profit.
Third-party software is already a problem with the Wii U, with EA's ambivalent stance and Ubisoft backing off exclusive titles for Nintendo. They don't want to put effort into a console without an audience, and the audience doesn't want to play a console with very little third-party software support. Players already demand a reason to play the Wii U. If the Gamepad is removed from the package, any third-party support become the exact same as the other consoles ie. there isn't a reason to play Call of Duty: Ghosts on Wii U if there's isn't a difference between it and the other copies. I imagine there's a very small group of people who own a Wii U as a primary console. For them, the Wii U may be their only access to Call of Duty. But the rest of the populace has five other ways to play the game. If Nintendo removes the controller, they remove third-party interest in Gamepad support. If they remove that interest, they get a game that merely mimics the other versions. If the game is just a port of the Xbox version, well, then no one to buys the game except those without any other choice. Third-parties won't support a machine they can barely profit from.
I'm not saying Nintendo needs to make every game take full advantage of the Gamepad, I'm just saying it wouldn't benefit it to remove it from the package. In its last quarter, Nintendo sold a feeble 160 000 units worldwide, worse than the Gamecube did the year before the Wii launched. I always hear the sane argument for the Wii U; that it'll do much better when they release more first-party software. But those first-party franchises are for the die-hard Nintendo fans, and I can only imagine that everyone that wants a Wii U has a Wii U. I really like my Wii U, even if there aren't many games I'm interested in besides Wind Waker and Bayonetta 2. I think the only fans that have yet to buy a console are the ones waiting for Wind Waker, so if there's any quarter to act as a catalyst for Wii U sales, it's this one. For other videogame enthusiasts, Donkey Kong Country: Tropic Freeze and Super Mario 3D World will do the trick. I'm hoping, with the advent of more casual titles like Mario Kart and Mario Party we'll seem a jump in sales, and maybe the Wii U's lifecycle won't be as ephemeral as it seems.
Wait until you're growing ashen hair and wearing wrinkled skin. By that time, you'll be looking back at Spec Ops: The Line as one of the most important games in the medium's history. Something we lack in our world -- in our preferred story telling medium, is a concept that's been experimented with in every art but videogames: subtle reflexivity. Our ability to look inwards, to criticize, evaluate and properly understand this art through its own constituents, is minimal at best. However with the past generation, developers have dipped their toes into the reflexive waters of the interactive arts. Reflexivity's been excellently touted by the Bioshock series, and most recently, by Spec Ops: The Line.
The game serves as a comment on military interventions, post-traumatic stress disorder and an incredibly dark satire of the modern military shooter. Although, while Yager Development wrote an exceptional story, they bit off more than they could chew. Amongst the themes of violence, heroism and the absurdity of military shooters, Yager interlaces the subject of player responsibility. I can't say it was shoehorned in -- it's a theme that's enforced as the game progresses -- only it doesn't coalesce with the entire story.
Responsibility entails agency. It's an idea that's affixed to a person who has the ability to make a decision in a given context. Though for this concept to take any actual effect, the decision can't be the inherent playing of the game. In other words, the player can't be held responsible for decisions they didn't make, but were instead scripted by the direction of the narrative.
Yager wrote some truly gut-wrenching scenarios and for that I applaud them. There's a barrier where the player is forced to choose between the lives of two men to progress. I did feel responsible when I learnt that I could circumvent murder. There's a scene where the player has to shoot a civilian, enticing a crowd to disperse -- wrong again, I could've simply shot into the air. These were decisions I made, through stipulations I assumed, because that's the kind of rote thinking I had learnt from other shooters, and before playing this devilishly brilliant game.
But these moments, as astute as they may be, are in fact few and far in between. Therefore, decisions, and by that virtue responsibilities, are seldom burdened. I'd leave this minor dissonance between choices and overarching plot unscathed, however I began to reach points where the game would accuse me of actions the player has no control over.
There's a heavy emphasis placed on the gruesome mass execution of civilians by means of white phosphorus. It's a powerful scene enforcing once again, the absurdity of military shooters and the atrocities of war. It's an action played out by the protagonist, Martin Walker, however it's the only option the player has. When the player first reaches the white phosphorous, one squad-mate, John Lugo, proposes that another method must be available -- he claims "there is always a choice." To which Walker responds, "there's really not." So I spent about twenty minutes continually repeating the checkpoint as I scrounged about for a less deranged means to complete the objective. Unfortunately, this time spent looking for another avenue was in vain, as Walker was right, there was no other option. As horrifying as this scene was, I took my failure with a grain of salt as the narrative is clearly trying to convey a criticism of war and the videogames it influences.
But Spec Ops loses its balance as it begins to criticize the player through rhetorical censure sprawled across its loading screens. They try to divulge a reaction from the player, by taunting them for decisions that they can't be held accountable for. Upon loading a particular level, the player is asked: "How many Americans have you killed today?" This somewhat disrupts the overall goal of the narrative, by interweaving responsibility for ironclad plot points. The player had no choice in the matter; Americans were killed because they shot at the protagonist and retaliation was the only means to progress. In this situation, the label of "American" is stripped because the label of "hostile" takes precedence. It's a quick, simple, and cheap manner to evoke emotion, though it falls flat on its face. The player has no way to bypass killing "Americans" and thusly can't be held responsible for eliminating hostiles. These loading screens prove to be inimical to the rhythm of the game's narrative, and merely condemn the player for playing the game, lessening Yager's core intentions.
Another loading screen alludes to the alleged actions of the player in the aforementioned white phosphorus mission. The bottom of the screen holds text stating that the US military does not condone the killing of unarmed combatants, but the player shouldn't care because they're not real. The entire statement is an excellent shot at war casualties -- more specifically, in military shooters. But the problem with this statement is once again, the lack of control the player had in said situation.
Rebuking the player like this doesn't fit with the overall flow of the narrative and its aims. For the player to accept responsibility, the game needs to have consistent occurrences for the player to be held accountable. This is best exemplified by games like Dishonored, where non-violence is an option, or in Telltale's The Walking Dead, where the narrative has certain plot twists set in stone, but the player is wholly responsible for the protagonist's decisions. It may sound like I'm getting defensive about what the game accused me of, but my issues are actually along the lines of how the game -- for the most part -- failed to engage responsibility and therefore diluted its key objectives by suggesting the very idea.
In a reflexive title like Spec Ops: The Line, any occasion that plainly communicates with the player must be handled with absolute prudence. By continually trying to interweave responsibility within a game already saturated with reflexivity, Yager slightly harms the cadence of the narrative. Though despite any miscalculations that cloud its core intentions, Spec Ops: The Line is still an excellent example of how games can be used to study themselves, and at the same time, make a comment about the world we live in.
Upon loading Max Payne 3, the violins of the ominous menu music sent a chill down my spine. My mood was dragged down with each note as I began to speculate where this story could go. I was lost in the music, enamoured by imagination, by all the possible manners in which this foreboding score may complement the narrative. Max lost his wife, his child, and years later when he opened his heart again, his newfound romance was quickly added to his list of tribulations. Broken and vulnerable; Max had nothing to live for.
Which is exactly what coated my thoughts: where could this story go? Max Payne is dead. He's lost everything he cared about, and is left as the shell of a man, in every sense the cliché entails. The ex-detective's an alcoholic and a drug addict, living life as a slug about his apartment. Which is sad, of course, but this state of depression culls the game's most glaring issue: it goes absolutely nowhere.
You'd think a man who's had so much taken away from him -- a man who harbours his own lethal take on justice, may hold some character beyond the stereotype. Well, that's not the case. Max is the same hackneyed character you'd expect. Where the narrative abandoned Max in the second game was flawless. It was bleak, depressing, and perfectly conveyed Max's ironclad fate; he was destined to live an unhappy life.
As sad as his situation may be, nothing interesting comes of it.
Max Payne 3 beats a dead horse. Our protagonist has nothing to live for, no one to protect, and no one to avenge. The game's largest plot twist merely relies on his existence, as it establishes how Max's addiction landed him in his current predicament: fighting another man's war. The initial instalment in the series had him seeking revenge for the death of his family. The second, he fought for his life, and the protection of his new love interest. The latest title strings Max as a fly who was too drunk to notice the web he landed in. Skin the narrative even further, and it's simply the story of a middle aged man, attaining sobriety in the most arduous way imaginable.
Without drive, without direction, Max Payne literally and merely serves as a means for the player to witness the story. The entire narrative has little to do with Max besides the antagonist's plot to use him as patsy for his crimes. Fabiana's kidnapping is what carried half the plot, but only because it's Max's job to take care of her, and the rest of her affluent family. After her execution Max continues his rampage, seeking revenge for machinations he's completely dislodged from.
It's unfortunate to see a character with so much depth have his history almost entirely neglected.
Sad to say, but Max Payne becomes very similar to the infamously one-dimensional Kratos, from God of War. Both series began as tragedies, giving concrete reason and goals to their protagonists. However, by the third instalment they're both angry bald men with nothing to live for, apart from their lust for violence and self caused/justified desire for revenge.
Stylistically the story is well told, but needless to say, it's hindered by its impersonality. I assumed that this third piece would interlock with the original, that it may show an older Max Payne, trying to redeem himself by helping a family in need -- a kind of karmic compensation for not being able to save his own. Instead, he's left protecting a rich family with little to no compelling qualities, beyond the inherent shock value of how self obsessed one can be. Furthermore, the plot quickly accents his own ineptitudes and inadequacies, straying away from any subplot that may symbolize or allude to his prior futility in saving his loved ones. We could have seen Max Payne in his own personal hell; reliving all the misery he endured, and trying to escape the cyclicality of his misfortunes. But while the score paints a menacing backdrop, the story fails to complement the atmosphere.
The whole Tony Scott vibe coupled with Rockstar's finest shooting mechanics serve for an entertaining experience, only it put little emphasis on Max Payne's character. It doesn't feel like it was a game written with him in mind, but rather the gameplay mechanics of previous titles in the series. Hopefully the next game will make appropriate use of this once-compelling character, rather than rely on casting his husk into a dissolute and depraved setting. Max Payne's soul may be shattered, but it's still intact enough to warrant proper integration with the narrative.
There's this statement thrown around nowadays, praising the setting of a game, over its inhabitants. I've often heard people refer to Grand Theft Auto IV as a game about Liberty City, not about Niko Bellic and his plights throughout the metropolis. The same claim is affixed to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. But my issue with this argument is the fact that these environments are static. The locale may operate as a toy. Or, the setting may act as a canvas, the avatar as a paintbrush, and the player as a painter. With this expressionist mentality in mind, there is one glaring problem with open world games: perception.
Perception dominates the open world experience, shaping exactly what each player takes away from each game. This perception comes as a natural yield of the player's decisions. To some people, Grand Theft Auto IV is about committing endless acts of theft and violence. To me, it's about free will, the mindless futility of the American Dream, and a general comment about Western culture. By allowing so much choice, the impact of particular aspects of open world titles, are reduced. The setting becomes a toy (Grand Theft Auto), or a canvas (Elder Scrolls) to interact with.
Adjusting perspective becomes part of the gameplay.
DMC: Devil May Cry, takes these assumed roles, and flips them upside down. Limbo, the outré demonic dimension of DMC, takes the stage in this reboot of the revered action series. Though the game is as linear as they come, the narrow confines allowed Ninja Theory to appoint their creative talents towards the creation of this vivacious world. Thusly, the player has infinite freedom through the game's manifold combo system, while lacking any interface with the environment. Instead, the surroundings interact with the player, allowing for creative level design, that hinges on its animosity for the protagonist. These conditions promote Limbo as the star of the show, while overshadowing the characters to a point of periphery.
DMC's art direction places it amongst the most visually impressive games in history.
I know this is a trite complaint, but most games don't take advantage of the colouration that contemporary hardware can provide. Once in a blue moon, big budget titles like Uncharted 3 and Halo 4, offer vibrant level design but are still restricted by the realism demanded via brusque consumers. Then there are titles like Viva Piñata, which modestly solicits candy coloured animals, galavanting about a garden. Though nothing can compare to the harlequin level design featured by Limbo, in DMC.
Ninja Theory fears no persecution -- the game is drenched in colour. While other games continue to delineate warm and cold colours in favor of a harmonized aesthetic, DMC abolishes said pattern for a splatter of beauty in absolute dissonance. The forced collaboration of warm and cold, is deeply ingrained in the philosophy of DMC's gameplay, by means of juxtaposition. Speed versus power, angel versus demon, good versus evil -- it all comes down to using the collision of disagreeing elements to enrich the experience.
Distorted platforms cause for nuanced navigation.
The architecture of Limbo uses the lack of harmony quite literally, as it skewers perception through disorienting the player. Many games use oblique camera angles as a means to shoehorn the player into a difficult position, while adding a cinematic exponent to the equation. Naturally, this would force the player to maneuver in irregular patterns, as an attempt to take control of the scenario. At the same, this removes some of the agency the player once had in the given situation. However DMC is able to shake the player without pressuring them into any stipulated outlook, through the incongruent arrangement of its sets.
Upside-down, slanted, broken -- Limbo's architecture is off kilter in every conceivable manner. It's for that reason that the player is at sea upon a level's introduction. While navigating a chasm via floating rubble, the player may land on a horizontal structure, then the apex of a vertical edifice, all while adjusting to the fact that the ground sits in one corner of the screen, and the sun shines perpendicularly. To add to the utter confusion already at hand, the environment distracts and threatens the player through messages sprawled across its faces. Strange to say, but this literally gives the setting an ounce of character, as it entices the player to "come closer," or overtly expresses ire, stretching lines like "fuck you Dante" across its walls.
The dance floor pulses with fervor, as a distant radiance highlights Dante and his foe.
However, these frequent bursts of rage pave the road for Limbo's most distinguishing feature: it's alive. Palette and level design bind together to create beautiful environments, but at the core, Limbo thrives on its abrasive heartbeat. It moves, transforms, and kills. It's only motivation for drawing breath is to see Dante die, and is relentless as a result. Earth crumbles beneath Dante's feet, platforms in proximity tear themselves apart, hallways encroach personal space -- the list goes on eternally. What's to be noted is the fact Limbo is dynamic, and hostile -- not only affecting the art direction, but the gameplay as well. These adversities construct Limbo as a domain to be overcome, rather than simply navigated.
Though the level design's vigor doesn't end with the reorganization of its constituents. Limbo's colours dance to beat of combat, oscillating in harmony with the music. This is best exemplified by a location called Devil's Dalliance, a nightclub where no motionless textures exist. The veneer of the floors glow with movement akin to a lava lamp, while massive visualizers fluctuate in the background. Floors, walls, ceilings -- every texture breathes in and out, booming to the beat of the music.
Colour, level design and animation, all twist together to shape Limbo as a beautiful monstrosity. I don't mean to undercut the fidelity of open world games -- I think they're incredible feats of design. Though expansive worlds hinge upon the discretion of player, who might prioritize certain sections, but leave other territories uncharted. Therefore, focus is shifted to the interaction between the player and the world, instead of the world itself. In DMC: Devil May Cry, the world ambushes the player, regardless of their compliance. This allows for Limbo to channel the flow of interaction, leaving the player to succumb to its mandates. It's undeniable; the devil does cry. Though they aren't tears of suffering. Given the magnificent design of Limbo, I can only assume they're tears of joy.