Tag Archives: Dead Space

No More Zombie Games, Please

18 Feb

If the videogames industry is anything to go by, I’m the only person who isn’t sick of zombies. After watching the Dead Island trailer, which seems to be getting a lot of viral hype, I was remarkably underwhelmed. It was dramatic, probably overly so, and interestingly put together, but nothing altogether new. Adding a melodramatic score and the harrowing death of a child did nothing to move me. This must be what it’s like to be a Saw fan, sitting at the sixth or seventh movie, popcorn in hand, gleefully awaiting another grisly death in the hopes that my bloodlust is ignited. Dead Island just held no appeal. The apparent depth on offer was just cheaply achieved, with no real weight. I know the same methods are used to sell movies and such, but with zombies in a game, well, it’s just too late for me.

Capcom share much of the blame for the current zombie holocaust affecting videogames. Resident Evil was the first game to offer that horror movie experience, and did so very well indeed. By the time Dead Rising appeared the potential for zombies had been realised, they are easy to kill. Shambling around the screen slowly, human yet inhuman, mowing them down (literally with a lawnmower) en masse had a certain appeal, and I don’t criticise Capcom too much, because they have at least attempted to innovate, even moving away from zombies to slightly more human foes in Resident Evil 4. The villains of the piece, as usual, are Activision. Nazi Zombies gave gamers with little imagination just what they wanted, cheap, repetitive gameplay with a zombie twist. Plus they’re Nazis, all bases are covered. This has led to more zombie antics in the latest Call of Duty and a mission pack for the otherwise thoughtful and occasionally poignant Red Dead Redemption. Everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon, yet no one wants to do anything all that interesting with the undead.

Zombie game law #17 - Must have the word 'Dead' in the title

I may be a little harsh in making this assumption, but part of the reason zombies seem popular with developers, rather than gamers, is that they take the effort out of programming. There’s no need to give them any proper AI, they just shamble about, or move toward the protagonist. They can all look similar too, no need for much variety in enemy when they’re all grey, bloodied corpses. Left4Dead at least took a unique slant, giving some ‘personalities’ but they were simple in terms of actions. Humans attempt to use tactics, change approaches and may require complex interactions. Zombies are a facile way for developers to add mission packs and little more. It’s lucky really, that gamers seem so obsessed with the groaning hordes. There’s also the reliance on cheap shocks and gore, which are ever popular. Games seem to have, for the most part, missed the point of zombies in terms of storytelling.

Humans are interesting, there will never be a shortage of things to say about humans. We’re multi-faceted, with emotional depth. Games, movies and literature tell us about ourselves because we have personalities, and we can identify with characters. Zombies in media exist to facilitate the stories of people and society. George Romero understood this more than anyone. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead brought zombies to popularity in cinema, both of which dealt with social issues through the medium of horror. The former dealt with racism, particularly in its poignant closing scene, and the latter consumerism. The zombies were there to illustrate and explore aspects of humanity, rather than cheaply frighten. The tension was created by adding depth to the characters in ways Frank West in a dress could never have. Even Resident Evil knew this. The first two games were about the folly of man, the greed of large corporations and the lust for power of Wesker leading to an interesting plot twist.

Why are there always cornfields?

In their desire to appeal to the zeitgeist, developers have entirely missed the point with zombies, they have attempted to make them the focus, rather than looking at the humans involved. While comic book ‘The Walking Dead’ garners praise for its use of a tired concept in interesting ways, games fail to offer any compelling reason to keep playing the same thing. Games do have a certain amount of leeway to just create a fun experience, but Left4Dead and Dead Rising have covered that already. The subject material just isn’t interesting anymore. It could be if someone tries to tell a compelling story that just happens to involve zombies, and Dead Island may do just that. From what the trailer told me though, it’s just another zombie game, with the same old mechanics. The only difference is some schmaltzy emotional rubbish about a family, or some such nonsense.

Looking at gameplay screenshots only exacerbates my fears for the game, the ‘tank’ enemy of Left4Dead returns, but in a straitjacket. This is a game about survival on an island that wouldn’t have guns and the like. It wants to be taken seriously, but what tropical resort has a local mental asylum? Taking liberties with realism is fine, but not when you’re asking for an emotional response as that trailer does. That requires a certain level of consistency. Zombies can be interesting, and zombies can be part of a great story, but not unless the human element is the focus. Nazi Zombies may have been a fun diversion, but now developers seem more and more willing to structure an entire game around what is little more than a gimmick, no amount of overwrought drama playing out in slow motion and in reverse will make it worth playing.

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Why Dead Space 2’s Advertising is Insulting to Gamers

21 Jan

Dead Space was a good game, not great, but an entertaining way to spend a few hours. It was atmospheric, the plot wasn’t awful and the acting was of a reasonable standard. On top of that it offered the occasional moment of tension and well-timed set pieces which elicited a jump. It may not have been too original – a hybrid of Resident Evil 4, The Thing and Alien, but at least it wasn’t a sequel, and the zero gravity sections were unique for a game of its type. (Let’s just ignore the asteroid shooting.) At times the first game in a series being close to great is an indicator that with some refinement and investment, the sequel will get things right, remove all the irritating or dull elements and craft a classic. Super Mario Galaxy 2, Resident Evil 2, Dead Rising 2 and countless others have taken the core gameplay, which already worked well, and refined it into something altogether more enticing. Unfortunately, there are those games which do the opposite, and destroy everything that made the original work. Bioshock 2, Halo 2, Resident Evil 5 (as direct sequel to 4) and so on. Which camp Dead Space 2 ends up in remains to be seen, but if the advertising is anything to go by, it has huge potential to fall into the latter camp.

If you’re yet to see the ad, in which mothers of gamers are shown video clips of the game and react with revulsion and disgust, you’ll find it below this paragraph. Watched it yet? Good, now onwards and, I suppose, downwards. I’ll just take a second to mention, the ad is more than likely staged, but that’s fairly irrelevant to what makes it so utterly insulting to the intelligence of gamers. First, let me address the reactions of the alleged mothers. They begin by showing them wincing and grimacing, then move things up a notch (BAM!) with some choice quotes (one can only imagine that if they genuinely did have women come see the game in action it probably took hundreds to get the reaction the marketing team were after, so EA/Visceral – hint of sexism? J’accuse!) Beginning with “I think it done (sic) make a person become insane” and on to “This game is an atrocity” before we even see footage of the game in action, they really, really want us to think it’s going to be disgustingly, excuse the pun, visceral.

The game footage itself looks like the original with slightly improved graphics and more shooting, as if we needed more games like that, but it is an ad, so we’ll let that slide until the finished game is released. Next we’re treated to a voiceover telling us “It’s revolting, it’s violent, it’s everything you love in a game.” Wait… hang on, no it’s not, I like enjoyable gameplay, a compelling story, interesting locations and characters, impressive art direction and so on. I don’t care if blood spurts out of eye sockets in realistic directions, and I really thought no one did anymore. This is the same kind of moronic marketing that Mortal Kombat made its name through, but this is almost twenty years later and the boundaries of taste and decency have been pushed to the point that we’ve become jaded by violence. Most of us have realised that it has no bearing on the enjoyment of the game, in much the same way that it’s never been the violence in a horror movie that makes it scary, but what we can’t see, the tension and build up, the score and the characters and setting. Go watch some Hitchcock movies and you’ll see how it’s meant to be done. Once we see the monster or the blood we become totally desensitised anyway, so what difference will it make after ten minutes of play? It was the moments that made us jump that made the original frightening, not the monsters themselves, who looked like play-doh with the occasional claw.

The whole thing reeks of braindead marketers looking at the popularity of the Saw and Hostel movies and thinking they can have a piece of the action. I suppose the fact that there are enough Saw movies to fill a bodybag or two means that there’s money to be made, but Dead Space had the backing of a different niche. Even if the sequel was made to appeal to fans of video nasties, why would the developers move away from the core audience who bought the first game? It was the intelligent gamer, who was willing to risk their money on a new IP, who was willing to read about the game and make an informed decision who played it. My guess is the developers either have done nothing of the sort, or bowed to corporate pressure to produce something that appeals to the focus groups who sit eating popcorn while someone’s head is bludgeoned with an ice pick. The first game makes me lean towards the former, but the addition of multiplayer makes me lean toward the latter.

Of course, it’s just an ad realistically, but it gets worse. Remember – “It’s revolting, it’s violent, its everything you love in a game”? Will they continue with “And your Mom’s gonna hate it” Oh no EA, what have you done? I was starting to have some faith in your company, I really was, but the fragile glass of my illusion has been shattered by the sheer stupidity of that statement. Let me first remind you, as I’m sure you’re already aware, that in the US, the subject of violent videogames has been a topic of Supreme Court debate, focusing on the access of children to violent games. This, according to many in the games industry, was a proposition that affected the first amendment rights of developers and publishers. Of course, Europe already has similar laws, but the argument has merit. Anything that could amount to censorship, such as the case of Australia where mature gamers have to wait months for bug-ridden messes thanks to their draconian laws (Left4Dead, for example) should really not be considered, but games have yet to earn the artistic high ground that other media have.

EA are hardly helping move that process along. Who exactly, is going to play the game, and why would their mother care that they play it, when they’re old enough to do so. It is intended, clearly, for a mature audience, and the marketing should reflect that, if not for the sake of making an intelligent decision, at least for the smart business practice of aiming for your target market. In fact, the ad even ends with the voiceover saying ‘rated M for mature”. The mind boggles. If anyone over 18 is playing, their parents shouldn’t, and probably don’t, have any interest, unless they are gamers themselves. If the gamers are younger, they shouldn’t be playing in the first place. (Of course parental guidance is better than an arbitrary age of assumed maturity, but you get my point) Why then, do EA suggest “your mom is gonna hate it”? It’s aiming the product squarely at teenagers, and offering it as a rebellion of sorts. Basically, EA are telling us that not only are games for kids, but that what we should like about them is that they’re violent and disgusting and the squares who raised us don’t get it, man.

It’s insulting to gamers, basically, and handing those who would try to censor the content of games more reason to do so. It may be unnecessary, disgusting and trite, but the violence of mindless mainstream media like Saw and so on, allow violence to be used in artistic manners, as we see in novels like American Psycho or movies like Funny Games. EA are plainly unaware of this, and of the fact that debate is not facilitated by vulgar displays of idiocy, but by addressing the reasons violence needs to be confronted and examined in media. Not by every last piece of entertainment per se, but at the same time, we don’t need to be reminded of the dark days of Mortal Kombat controversies either. It’s demeaning and insulting to the very people who made Visceral’s original game a hit. I sincerely hope this was just an intellectual slip, rather than an active attempt to use the existing debate to increase sales amongst minors.

Again, it is only an ad, and the game is probably a lot of fun, but on this evidence, had I ignored the original, I would avoid Dead Space 2 like the plague. Even if it is a parody, and I just don’t get the joke (I doubt it) that won’t stop it being lapped up the people most vocal about how videogames are killing our children, and other such nonsense. Controversy is fine, but creating it to boost sales is another matter entirely. The ad closes with another ‘mother’ saying “Why would they even make something like this?” and I couldn’t agree more. She is talking about the ad, right?