Everything Looks Like a Nail…

4 thoughts on “Everything Looks Like a Nail…”

  1. Both Infinite and Spec Ops were successful at grasping the player’s emotions. That succeeded in getting me to replay both games a few times. With Spec Ops I definitely got engrossed in the story. (So much so that I finished it on hardest difficulty for the MFWIC achievment.) I realized that setting both games on the highest difficulty made them more of a slog and less fun, but I felt I needed to be able to die easily to complete the experience. I didn’t think either Infinite or Spec Ops were great though – no matter how much I replayed them.
    Spec Ops constantly took me out of the narrative because I just couldn’t accept the story, it was too fantastic. Both games stories suffer from the “point of no return:” Inifinite has you decide to keep jumping through tears despite not knowing where they lead. Spec Ops has you decide to go deeper after first contact with enemies rather than turn back and call in backup.
    In addition, Spec Ops has the same problem of violence as Infinite. Popping off head gets old after a while but the whole point of the game is you’re gunning down armed civilians who’re protecting their home and your brothers in the US military. Its the context of the violence that gets me the most. After every playthrough and every snarky loading screen it felt like the writer was saying “oh you like shooters, well how about *this* [insert brutal war crime/act of barbarism]” It didn’t feel like it was advancing any discussion about violence since the plot was so ridiculous. Am I supposed to sit down at the original CoD: Modern Warfare campaigh and think oh wow this violence is wrong? No. You are the good guy supersoldier and you are fighting the good fight. I suppose you do have a point about body count. Spec Ops makes you notice the body count because its *your* people/innocents you’re gunning down. I don’t mourn every Russian or Jihadi I’ve ventilated in CoD or BF3 – so if they wanted to make a point about how many “people” die in modern games, maybe that’s what it took. Doom was before my time, but I’m going to assume you slay a heck of a lot of enemies in that old game. Instead of pixellated demons, we’ve got lifelike pixellated human enemies. But again, I think its the contex that matters. Maybe we need to end the “supersoldier” concept rather than just decry violence. Playing Red Orchestra 2 or Verdun really brings the gravity of one bullet home to you. I’m rambling now but that’s part of why I don’t think Spec Ops has all that much to say to the shooter genre.

    (Battlefield: Hardline sounds utterly absurd btw. Thanks for linking to the R6 review. That and original Ghost Recon were among my first shooters! I really hope Ubi goes back to basics with the new R6.)

  2. Infinite was many things, a game that didn’t know what it wanted to be, a repetitive shooter, but I didn’t think it was “racist.” If by undertones you mean it tried to be a history lesson to show how racism is stupid and bad, then yes it did that by way of its caricatures. I my first playthrough I didn’t mele-murder anyone other than that first copper, just because I was shooting everyone. I was confused by reports of the ultra-violence of Infinite. Then I went back to try to get some skyhook kills. Sure they’re unpleasant, but the worst thing was not the graphic nature of a small portion of the kills. The worst thing was how the enemies really felt human, like every kill was murder – something I’d only felt in a few other games, such as the first 3 Splinter cells. I mean I was just walking into this happy floating paradise and murdering the civil defense force. They’re just trying to keep their people safe. Then its time to cut down the old soldier’s men in a pointless exercise in violence. And so on… I almost felt that Levine was taunting the audience (he’d already mentioned how the box art was to snare bro-shooter types) “Here’s a shooter, kill all these people and feel terrible!”

  3. “…but I’m discomforted by the sheer volume of killing the game expects out of its player.”

    Indeed it is often that case that otherwise moral protagonists leave behind staggering death tolls. To me this is a lack of imagination on the part of the developers. They fill their levels with enemies rather like how dungeons in Neverwinter Nights are filled with rooms upon rooms of monsters and traps, all accomplishing nothing outside of padding the game’s length. At a certain point all that’s left is the repetition of a single interesting encounter that is soon ground down to tedious routine. The game doesn’t go forward, it moves to the side and to the side and to the side until we fall off the edge of the earth and call it quits.

    Your example of Desperados is apt, but I have another. Uncharted is basically the same room full of enemies disguised and put back into circulation every time it is cleared. It is a game that becomes interesting only when there is no gunplay involved, but gunplay abounds. And the cheerful, Indiana Jones-y protagonist takes the bullets in his stride, killing god knows how many idiotic henchmen with barely a clue as to the cost in human life. (Distinctly aware of this, Spec Ops makes you understand how many you’ve killed by putting the few soldiers left alive in a single room, and uniting them in a devastating, ironic salute.) Uncharted may be good storytelling and fun all around, but in reality it hasn’t taken gamemaking anywhere it hasn’t already been. Nathan Drake pretends to be joyous. The game proves he is not, and that he can never be.

    What I believe is that games from Half-Life (Gordon the physicist is trained in weaponry but can’t solve a physics puzzle???) to The Last of Us have been trying very hard to put some kind of distance between the Doom marine and his hordes of demons. A useful lesson I can draw out of Doom is that it established in the most honest and direct way the relationship between the player and the opponent, all the while offering levels that remained interesting even after they became empty. The same can’t be said of a lot of its descendants. Action games haven’t advanced that much. They’ve just gotten good at hiding how much like Doom they really are.

    Desperados at least needs you to be clever before you slaughter entire levels’ worth of henchmen. It asks you to premeditate, and that’s an entirely different price for getting away with murder.


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