Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Getting all emotional

Maybe I'm a psychopath, but when I was presented with three Nazi prisoners about to be executed by the Russians in Call of Duty: EXTREME HARDCORE AAWWW YEEEAAH! (World at War), my immediate and unflinching response was to shoot them. Poor Gary Oldman; he's a fantastic act0r, but quite frankly he was taking far too long with all his words and sentences and whatnot. Even as he opened his mouth to speak, I had identified the situation as one that had to be resolved before the general violence could continue. So I shot them. And chuckled a little at the abruptness with which what was clearly meant to be a "dramatic" moment was brought to an end. It reminded me a little of Call of Duty multiplayer; of creeping along, watching your corners, keeping an eye open for snipers, staying low and quiet...
...only to have some little shit with an SMG come bunny-hopping around the corner, spraying you with bullets and utterly destroying your attempts to play soldier "properly".

"Wut iz morraleaty?"

Actually, you know what? Fuck you. I'm not a psychopath. I simply failed to connect to the sequence on an emotional level; I saw the entire scenario through the eyes of someone who knows how to make a skybox in UnrealEd. I saw it as that which it really was; a scripted event designed to regulate the flow of gameplay and ensure that it wasn't all run-shoot-run-shoot-quickload. And given that the run-shoot aspect is WaW's strongest component (and it should be, given that the entire game is essentially a WWII mod for CoD4, which had rock solid gameplay), I really didn't want the flow of such running and shooting and frolicking amid the corpses to be regulated at that moment.
Gary Oldman; I love you, but stfu, seriously. Just shoot someone. And then shout, "I. AM. VEWWY DISAPPOINTED!" like you did in the Fifth Element.

Penumbra, however; now that's a different story entirely. I was really very impressed with Overture and Black Plague; they showed not only a level of polish that is rare in indy games, not only a really interesting combination of the FPS and Survival Horror genres, but most surprising of all; they made me feel something.


For a game that uses the player character's isolation and claustrophobia as its primary weapon, I found the secondary characters to be the most interesting and engaging that I've encountered in quite some time. For the most part, they did nothing; they were voices, or text, or the occasional image. For the most part, their physical presence in the game was manifested merely in terms of the associated scenery; the places they'd been, the things they'd done before you arrived. And yet, I found myself actually giving a shit.

Perhaps it was the isolation that served to emphasise what little non-hostile life there was in the game, or perhaps the writing was simply fantastic (certainly, I'd put a few of Clarence's lines up there with HK47, given his tendency to call you "monkey"). More likely it was a combination of the two, and perhaps this is related to the small development team; a closer relationship between the writing, and the "physical" side of the game.

Dunt look like much, but this had me all emotional

Whatever the case; as much as I laughed at the prisoner-execution in World at War for trying too hard to be dramatic...I found myself quite unexpectedly speechless and rather sad at the conclusion of Red's story in Penumbra: Overture. In a world full of games in which I'd happily set fire to virtual opponents, and then throw their flaming flailing bodies at their friends before jumping up and down a bit on the remains...here was a game in which I actually felt a little shocked by such violence. I think it was the manner in which it was handled, in addition to the writing itself; there was no big cinematic effects-laden spectacle. Just a sad end to a pitiable character.

And in the end, I suspect that the easiest way for a game to trigger emotion in the player...is to not try too hard to tell the player what to feel. The trick is to understate the entire thing; if the player in question is capable of feeling something, they'll be more inclined to feel it with a subtle nudge that sets their imagination on fire, than a big foam hand being thrust in their face with the words "CRY NOW BITCH" written upon the finger.

Of course, another way to make the player emotional is to not let them play the game. The publishers of Dark Athena apparently like losing money; completely fucking up the game's PC release so that at least two online retailers no longer have the game's price listed, while potential buyers are having a hard time finding copies in the shops. I was rather looking forward to playing this, having been a fan of the last game, so I'm getting a tad emotional over the fact that the universe apparently doesn't want me to have it.
An emotional state that is compounded by the fact that I'm still waiting for Far Cry 2 to arrive, despite having been told that the item had shipped last week.

- An Emotional Brax


  1. I know what you mean, but I did get emotionally involved with Call of Duty WAW - just not in the places they forced on us. It was actually in one of the final levels, and at some point I thought - "this actually happened".

    Although admittedly I doubt there was bizarre rock music playing at the time.

    Penumbra's always been one I've thought was a crappy adventure game, a rubbish City Interactive title that some people dare to think are GOOD. Clearly I've done it a grave injustice as it sounds exactly the type of game I love but think there aren't enough of: first person horror.

    As for Riddick, I've told you where to buy it twice now! Although admittedly Game's online store seems to be the ONLY place to buy the PC version. They do free (and quick) delivery, it's the cheapest you'll find it and you don't have to deal with their (occasionally) dumbass staff.

    It's doubly annoying because the PC version is easily the best. I played the 360 demo and hated it, even thought the graphics were crap. Played the PC version and loved it, and I think the graphics are superb. What'cha up to Atari?

  2. Nick Brakespear6 May 2009 at 00:35

    To be honest, any sense of "this actually happened" was somewhat crapped on for me, because of the naff music you mentioned, along with the general "duuuude" factor of the gore and combat.

    What also killed any sense of history for me, was the fact that they took out all the awesome death-screen quotes, and the way they transformed the briefing and documentary-style videos from the previous games...into some horrible spoof of a WWII action film, full of "awesome" animations and snappy visual transitions.

    They just didn't show enough respect with the subject material.

    As for Penumbra; if you can ignore the occasional emphasis on corridors, I think you might find Overture and Black Plague to be really rather refreshing. And very fucking scary. I haven't been as tense in a game since the days of System Shock 2.

    Meanwhile Penumbra: Requiem is kinduva different product, and should be viewed as such; it's basically like Portal, but with a wider variety of physics-based puzzles and no portals. Same concept though; progressing through a series of "trial" areas, gradually uncovering scraps of story.