[So to break up the musty, academic-ish tone that this blog seems to have fallen into, I am going to start breaking it up with this semi-regular column reflecting on the games I am currently playing, articles I have recently read, and work I am currently writing. I'll try to post a new Game Diary once ever seven or so days. Let's see how that goes.]
Four title-colon-subtitle games have dominated my gaming hours for the past week or so: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (360), Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2), The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai (XBLA), and Pixeljunk: Shooter (PSN). I also read three great articles that were made no less great by the fact that I have not played the central game to any of them, and GameCritics.com took my podcast virginity.
Games I Played
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Somehow I entirely missed the hype that surrounded Modern Warfare back on 2007. I put off playing it for a long time, ignorantly labelling it as just another brainless, macho, pro-American shooter. Then I had a moment and realised that my disregard was no better than all the people who disregard Halo without playing it. Afraid that I was missing out on something as special as the Halo naysayers are, I picked up a cheap copy from GAME and gave it a go.
By the end of the first level, I remembered why I really enjoyed Call of Duty 2 back in the day. Certainly, Modern Warfare's story is cliche and even a bit crass (Russians and Arabs threatening The West with nukes, oh my!), but it was so excellently executed that not only didn't I particularly mind, I truly felt like I had a responsibility to this fictional world, to see the job done. In the final few levels, particularly, I really felt the urgency. Infinity Ward have done a great job of making you feel like "just another soldier" and, simultaneously and conversely, as thought the fate of the entire world is on your shoulders.
Key Moments: The game probably warrants its own post, but some high points for me were the opening credits, in the back of the jeep; the entire Chernobyl level; and the utterly brilliant final moments of the game. This is how you present a linear story in the first-person mode.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I dusted off my Playstation2 over the weekend and started a new game of Vice City. It took me awhile to get reacquainted with the archaic, auto-aiming controls, but one I did, I remembered why I loved this game so much. The style, the music, the script, all of it is so extravagant. I remember reading an OPS2 preview back before it came out that stated "the jump from GTA3 to Vice City is as big as the jump from GTA2 to GTA3". I couldn't believe this then, but now I must concede it is true. So many elements and mechanics still prolific in Grand Theft Auto IV can be traced back to Vice City, but no further.
Key Moment: Hooning down the beach on a PCJ600 with the sun rising over the water, the wind flapping through my Hawaiian shirt, and A Flock Of Seagulls on Flash FM. The urge to watch The Wedding Singer was almost irresistible.
The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai. XBLA is running some undead promotion at the moment and last week I was able to pick up The Dishwasher at half-price. It is unforgivingly hard, but the style is brilliant (if not a bit flat) and the pace is constant and fast. I am currently stuck on some kind of macho viking boss, but replaying past levels for more swirly currency is keeping me playing.
Key Moment: When my mindless button bashing transformed into frantic, deliberate combos and parrying.
Pixeljunk: Shooter. I have been meaning to play this game for I while. I have never played a Pixeljunk game before, but I have always been intrigued by their art style. Shooter has beautiful physics, beautiful music, beautiful charm. It is refreshing to see a dual-stick shooting game whose key goal is saving lives and puzzle-solving, rather than constant killing. The world reacts organically and predictably to your actions. I would like to find something to criticize about this game, but so far I have nothing.
Key Moment: Realising the ice encroaching from the bottom of the lake was actually forcing the water level to rise.
Articles I Read
"Bow Nigger" at Always Black. I stumbled across this older article thanks to a tweet of a retweet (you know how it is). Not only is it excellently written, but it deals with two things I am currently interested in: shared player/character responsibility to the fictional world, and etiquette between players in online play.
"The Delightful Absurdity of Just Cause 2" at Above 49. Nels Anderson's article went a long way in explaining why I enjoyed the Just Cause 2 demo as much as I did while simultaneously thinking how horrible it was. I found the discussion on 'camp' in videogames particularly interesting as it is something that has come up in my Film Studies at uni recently.
"Toy Soldiers" at The Supercollider. I found this article through Critical Distance's weekly blogroll. Overall, it is just a great read on war as represented in games and journalism. I have never played the XBLA title, but I downloaded the demo halfway through reading this article.
Podcasts I Listened To
GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 33: Games With Great Storytelling. The first podcast I have ever listened to! I became "that guy" on the bus who chuckled out loud because of something said in his earphones. After a 15minute rant about Ebert, the episode got into the meat of things about how games do (and more often, don't) tell great stories. I think they shot themselves in the foot more than once by pretty much admitting that the best videogame stories are 'told' through cutscenes and linear-ness and what not. I think they are just opening themselves up to rebuttals claiming that this is why videogames and stories are incompatible. Rather, I think they needed to make a point that videogames shouldn't try to tell stories, but should present stories. That said, they still make some great points about the fact that many game developers neglect the story until it is too late, etc. Worth a listen, if only for argument's sake.