Posts tagged ‘violence’

August 20, 2012

A few thoughts on Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Drake’s Deception will surely go down as one of the Playstation 3’s most beautiful games.  Along with its predecessors, the game offers stunning visuals, amazing details, and a cinema-like experience other games only wish they could emulate.  The story is top-notch and the

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October 1, 2011

F.E.A.R 3 Overview

As local co-op goes, I had done as much as I could with Borderlands and Resistance 3.  So when my buddy came over the other day, we headed down to Gamestop to buy something on impulse and see what happened.  The recommendation we were given?  Fear 3.  Or should I write it F3ar?  We’ll go with Fear 3.

It just doesn't look as cool when I write it

I admittedly haven’t played the first two Fear games.  I never really had the interest.  I’m usually not one to jump into the horror genre.  So the story was new to me, and I found myself profusely uninterested to find out what was going on.  There are so many games coming out with amazing stories, and so many games I already own with great stories, that I more or less just wanted something fun and gory to play on the couch with my friends.  So I’ll mainly be discussing the gameplay mechanics here.

Right off the bat, this game is seriously messed up

I’ll get the negatives out of the way first, and there’s really only two major complaints.  The first is your brother in the game, a sort of a narrator/voice-over helper.  His voice is just, well, too over the top.  Its so gravely it makes Christian Bale’s Batman sound feminine.  They tried too hard to make him sound scary, and he just sounds stupid.  Secondly, sometimes it’s difficult to tell where you are supposed to go next, so I found major gaps in the action while I was just wandering around, trying to figure out where to go (though in fairness, that may be my fault and not the game’s).

But enough of the nitpicking, lets move on to the positives.  This game has simply revolutionized the art of FPS AI.  The enemies in this game are just fantastically smart.  They call out correctly where you are hiding, they call out which gun you are using, they change cover repeatedly, upping the difficulty and the realism all at once.  Its great to see a game design opponents that are more than simple, Call of Duty-esque enemies.  Here, they don’t just pop up from behind the same cover and shoot at you, they actually move into better positions and work together in a manner many games would love to be able to achieve.  And not only that, but the cover they are hiding behind is often destructible.  The game doesn’t possess the level of destructible environments that the Battlefield series has attained, but by having it, to an extent, really adds to the gameplay.  Furthermore, the weapons are designed in a great manner and are fun to use, and there’s plenty of them.  The unique, over-barrel magazine shotgun in particular was my favorite.

Yeah, WTF is right

Since this is supposed to be a horror gore game, I might add that not only are the environments destructable, but the enemies as well.  Their limbs will fly off, and if they survive, they will continue to hobble towards you.  Zombies in the game will lose arms, cover their wounds, and continue on.  People will rush you with bombs strapped to their chests and dive suicidally at you when they are close enough.  And the soldiers will shout orders and discuss finding you, which adds to the immersive effects.  I honestly didn’t have high hopes about the game, but I was blown away by the realistic way the battles are conducted.

Is the game scary?  I don’t think so.  Its more creepy than anything.  Its got some pretty dark and twisted moments and you can tell the developers tried their damnedest to earn that M rating.  I think the scary little girl with black dirty hair cliche is too overused in media today though (too much of a throwback to The Ring).  Its not really a horror game as much as it is a well done first person shooter with some pretty bizarre and dark moments thrown in for good measure.  But the biggest compliment I have to give this game is the bullet time feature.  Its certainly a nod to the Max Payne series (which was also a pretty twisted FPS), but any time I get to shoot a room full of guys in slow-mo, I leave satisfied.  It certainly helps you get through the more difficult areas in the game (which I recommend only playing on the hardest difficulty).  Plus sometimes when you down enemies, they continue crawling towards you.  They must get paid a ton for that level of determination.

My only regret... is that I didn't get to see... the Sunsphere

Fear 3 is a good game for the place I’m at right now.  Its not addicting enough to interfere with my real life, but its fun enough to tide me over until some of the bigger titles come out, like Rage, BF3, MW3, and Skyrim.  Wow, there are tons of great games on the way.  I’d recommend Fear 3 for when you, like myself, find yourself in a gaming slump and want some gratuitous violence and pretty damn good graphics.  And hell, maybe there are folks out there, dedicated Fear franchise fans, who could add more concerning the story.  But for me, Fear 3 was more of a venture into a genre I don’t normally visit.  I was certainly not disappointed, but when its all said and done, I’m still more excited about some of the games on the horizon than I ever was about Fear 3.

September 29, 2011

Violence, Video Games, and the Law

In June of this year the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association dealing with how much the law can restrict the sale of violent video games, specifically to minors.  While I do have a legal background and while this conversation allows for an extremely lengthy discussion, I’m going to instead attempt a brief overview of the history of violence in video games and what the Brown decision means for the future of the industry.  This isn’t going to be a doctoral thesis, I’m sure you can find that elsewhere, and I’m certain most don’t want to read that anyway.  I know I don’t want to write it.  So lets begin.

The controversy over violence in video games is nothing new, and debate has centered around this very issue for as long as video games have had any sort of violent aspect to them, regardless of the quality of the technology or graphics.  The first real rumblings over violent games arose in 1976 over the arcade game Death Race.  In the game, you drive a car and attempt to run over gremlins.  If this doesn’t sound fun to you, just wait until you see the game in action:

I feel murderous already

Concerned that kids would play this game and attempt to kill people consisting of no more than seven pixels, parents and legislators alike began to look into whether violence in the games their kids play would have any effect on their children’s behavior.  They set out to do some research, well armed with preconceived biases and conclusions just needing facts to support them.  See, at that time, and to this day as well, the presumption among many was that video games were a medium solely, or mostly, consumed by children.  In fact, this presumption persists to this day in spite of overwhelming statistics that put the average age of a gamer at 37 years old.  Maybe many of these gamers were kids when they started, but as technology has improved and the gaming industry has exploded with capital, games are now aimed far more at adults than children.  This is because it is well known that males, 18-35, have the most disposable income, i.e. the most buying power.  It just makes good business sense to aim your products at the people most likely to buy them and kids are just not that demographic.  But facts be damned because many still cling to the idea that games are aimed a a young audience, and the violence therein will destroy those young minds.  Just look at the hysteria over the release of Manhunt 2 in 2007.

Not mentioned is the mediocre reception the game received, greatly hindering its sales in the US.  Indeed, and probably because of, the over-the-top and gratuitous violence and gore in games like Manhunt, which focus more on shock than on things that matter, like actual gameplay, the game just didn’t sell that well.  Thus less people played it, and as their logic would go, less people became mass muderers.  The problem with those who think violence in video games is terrible is that they make an assumption, unconsciously, that those who play these games are violent weirdos in the first place, and thus won’t be placated until something more extreme is released, ad infinitum.  Its the assumption that kids only want to kill, thus they buy the most sadistic game possible.  Not only does this contradict their own stated premise that these games turn normal kids into violent people, but it completely disregards the facts that games are popular because they are good games, and gameplay is not judged on violence alone.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the best selling, and in my opinion, most fun games out there are extremely violent.  But they stand alone on their gameplay.  Call of Duty is fun because of the graphics, the dynamics, the community, and the competitive nature of the game.  There are thousands of games out there where I can shoot someone, and some are better, some are worse, some sell more and some fall flat.  Its not dependent upon the violence.  Now, sure, violence is kind-of a must in a game like that.  No one wants to play Call of Duty in paintball mode (looking at you, Goldeneye), but people don’t play Call of Duty because they are angry, bitter, rabidly violent maniacs.  They play the game for the reasons mentioned above, and the violence simply adds to the realism and excitement.  To then make the leap in logic to say that that very violence will in turn make people want to kill or emulate that behavior disregards the very reason those games are popular in the first place, and insults those who consume these very games  by painting them as mindless and malleable.

Though those screaming on the other end of my headset will often lead me on a descent into madness

In the early 90’s when games like Mortal Kombat and Doom were released, it began to really catch people’s attention, as these games had graphics that were far superior to any Death Race.  Inspired by similar moves by the Motion Picture Association, the video game industry created the voluntary self-regulating authority called the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or the ESRB.  Because most retailers, by agreement with the distributors, would not sell non-ESRB rated games, this rating agency became the de facto rating agency and served to restrict sales of violent games to minors.  This move was done in part to stave off legislation that would regulate the gaming industry, out of fear of what public opinion and legislators far removed from the actual games themselves would attempt to enforce on an industry they didn’t quite understand.

And this was all fine and good for a while, but as time passed, technology improved exponentially.  Graphics were approaching realistic levels, games were allowing more freedoms, and with it the backlash against violence in video games increased.  People like ex-attorney Jack Thompson were consulted by various news outlets about games like Grand Theft Auto and Halo, more so after school shootings and other tragedies, as they attempted to tie in real world violence with its video game counterpart.  Jack Thompson, the famously level-headed attorney, filed multitudes of lawsuits against various video game developers and distributors, claiming all manner of illegal things were being perpetrated by the video game industry.  He was later disbarred for those actions, including filing frivolous lawsuits and engaging in slander and libel, not to mention a complaint sealed by the Florida bar where he supposedly depicted gay sex acts in his complaint and for which he was forced to promise not to file any more pornography (I’ll just let that sink in for a bit).

But Jack Thompson aside, many still continued to claim games like GTA would give points for killing prostitutes and other such crimes, exposing the true lack of understanding of video games past the arcade days of the 70s and early 80s.  Though GTA didn’t even include a point system and there were never missions that rewarded such actions, GTA was villainized in the media for those very accusations.  Its true that one could kill prostitutes in that game, but one could play GTA the entire way through without even once engaging in such behavior.  The game was the beginning of the modern sandbox genre, allowing you to do what you pleased, and in some people’s eyes, this allowed too much freedom because it allowed you the freedom to engage in behaviors they supposed the game actively encouraged.

When I play, I like to sit patiently in traffic

Thus in 2005 California introduced legislation that banned the sale of violent video games to minors and required labeling above and beyond what the ESRB had instituted.  This law was challenged by the Entertainment Merchants Association, which represents the video game industry, on the grounds that it violated the right to free speech as found in the First Amendment.  They would go on to win in district court on the grounds that the law indeed violated the First Amendment and that there was an insufficient showing that video games differed from other media.  Furthermore, the district court would find that there was not an established causality between violent video games and violent behavior.  The case would be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

The case was Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association and the decision was presented in July 2011.  The case in its entirety can be found here.  To surmise, because the decision was announced by Justice Scalia, not known for his brevity, the case was found in favor of the EMA and the California law was struck down.  But what makes the case noteworthy is that for the first time the courts recognized that video games qualify for First Amendment protections.  The court stated that

Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas–and even social messages– through many familiary literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world).  That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.”

Though the court upheld the long standing rule that obscenity could still be banned from being distributed to minors, Scalia stated that video games constituted speech, and speech about violence does not constitute obscenity.  The court further held that the evidence shown did not prove that violence in video games causes violence in children, and that shows like Looney Toons have as much effect on children as do games featuring guns.

This may be no big deal to some who are 18 or older and no longer have to worry about the ESRB or the California law.  But it actually does have long-reaching consequences.  Consider the rating system in Australia, which has the power to outright ban games from the country.  Recently, they found the modern iteration of Mortal Kombat had excessive violence and lacked any redeeming quality, thus banning the game from the country.  Not just for minors, but for everyone.  The fact that our Supreme Court has found that video games constitute free speech means that we are assured that no such outright bans will take effect in the United States (though in fairness, games that fail to receive at least an M rating will in effect be banned in America, at least in as much as retailers will refuse to sell it, and thus developers will refuse to create it).

Personally, I believe that some games out there are not made for children.  Tons of games include some serious language, violence and other things that just aren’t appropriate.  But so do movies and books.  Video games shouldn’t be treated any differently.  Moral panics about violent video games serve to do nothing except produce free publicity for those game manufacturers and generate interest among potential consumers.  Forbidden fruit is always more tempting to those told they can’t have the games, and their efforts are counterproductive.  Moreover, their worries are unfounded, considering that most games today, especially the violent and blockbuster games, are not aimed at kids, but instead adults with disposable incomes and the capacity to purchase these games themselves.  Not to mention that adults have the ability and experience to objectively evaluate games, and will mostly buy games that are reviewed well and actually have good gameplay.  Kids lack that experience, plus are blessed with the ability to be more easily entertained, so why try hard to make good games for them when the industry knows they will buy Pixar tie-ins and other crap.  The big money is spent on games adults will buy, and that is where the violent video game market is.  And with all that said, I must say that my favorite moment from Black Ops involved this scene:

There are shards of glass in his mouth, and you get to punch him. Nuff said

September 28, 2011

Mortal Kombat – 19 Years In

One of the few game franchises I absolutely love, to the detriment of all other games in that genre, is Mortal Kombat.  Some people are Street Fighter types and that’s fine, but for me, a fighting game isn’t worth playing if it isn’t the ole’ MK.  And on October 8th, Mortal Kombat will become 19 years old.  There have been tons of sequels and spin-offs, movies and a mini-series, and one awesome song that have sprung from the original game.  Some were bad, some were good, and few were great.  But when they were great, damn, they were great.

I don’t remember what year it was when I first played Mortal Kombat.  I was young to be sure, probably around 8 or so.  My friend had gotten the game on his Sega Genesis and we would all get together in his refurbished basement and play it.  He was the go-to friend when it came to violent video games.  We would also play Doom together and his parents would yell at us when they found out.  I’m not sure how a kid ended up with those games if his parent’s didn’t want him to have them, but regardless, we whooped some Goro ass in our day.  Some would favor Raiden, some would choose Kano, but I was a Scorpion man myself.  I learned quite quickly that duck-kicking opponent’s ankles over and over was not only a great way to win matches, it was also a great way to get your friends to stop playing with you.  Before the days when 13 year olds in Canada would scream at you over PSN for spamming the moves, you simply had your friends get mad and turn off their systems.  What could I do?  Go home and play my Power Rangers game on my own Sega?  Yeah right, I’d rather play outside.


Some will say that Mortal Kombat was revolutionary in that it used actual images of people as sprites.  I always thought the graphics were shitty, even then.  Some will say the blood and gore was extreme for the day, some may still consider it extreme.  But when an enemy simply ‘explodes’, and red-looking pixels and what I assume are bones just bounce around, it had no effect on me.  Maybe watching the Gulf War unfold desensitized me (kidding, I was desensitized by Ren & Stimpy) but then, and especially now, I just don’t see Mortal Kombat being the vile game that Joe Lieberman saw it as.  It just doesn’t seem like this warranted the formation of the ESRB:

As gory as a game made in MS Paint can get

But regardless of how some kid felt about it all, Mortal Kombat was certainly onto something.  A movie would be made in 1995, one that blew me away.  The theme song alone was worth it, and produces an intense effect when enjoyed over a gallon of Surge.  I remember even buying the sound track, and subsequently having it taken away when my parents discovered one of the songs had the word shit in its lyrics.  Scorpion’s weird snake-like chain, snaking through the trees while chasing Johnny Cage, was an amazing cinematic achievement, or at least I thought so at the time.  (And to be fair, I watched the movie recently, and while certainly not a good movie, its not bad, at least for nostalgia’s sake).

He would later go on to become the poster child for cataracts

And then life moved on.  We tossed aside Mortal Kombat for other games (like Primal Rage.  Sigh, no one remembers Primal Rage).  We grew up.  And while I knew there were new iterations of MK being made, I also knew they were derivative and crappy spinoffs, too far removed from what made the game great in the past.  They made games that only had new characters, a game that focused on Stryker (ugh), a game where the fighting style was in 3D, thus making getting hits nearly impossible, and a game where you could fight Batman.  For God’s sake, where was the controversy, where was the innovation of the first one?  Even though I wasn’t shocked and appalled as a kid, I still loved the first two games, but had near zero interest in revisiting this franchise.

Then last April, bored of Black Ops and reading the news, I stumbled across an article saying that a new Mortal Kombat had just been released that day.  It was a reboot of the series, a return to its roots, in all its HD glory and promising extreme violence and gore.  I headed to Gamestop and bought it on a whim, actually pretty pumped to play it.  Indeed, maybe absence had made the heart grow fonder, or maybe the fact that I had not played the crappy games in the interim allowed me to still have hope for this floundering series.

The game blew.  Me.  Away.  The mechanics were back to basics, fighting was easy and a challenge at the same time.  There were tag battles, the good old arcade towers, all the old characters and some new ones, a great online play system, the graphics were insane, and the violence was dialed up to 11.  The perfect game.  For months it was my go-to game of choice, whether I was having friends over (indeed, those same friends from back in 1992) to play some local matches, to tagging up to play online, to grinding it out myself, yearning for that platinum I never achieved.   Fighting online was tough; maybe its because my reflexes aren’t as great now that I’m 26, maybe because I had taken such a long break from fighting games, but whatever it was, it made winning all the more satisfying.  We would fall to our knees and scream when we lost and we would drink everytime there was an X-Ray.  It had reclaimed all that had made the original game so great from my childhood.  Honestly, it probably lands in my top three games of this modern generation.  Not only that, but I could finally say that I was shocked by the gore, and I loved it.

A real man's uppercut

September 21, 2011

Dead Island Review

I was at the beach with my cousin and his family about seven years ago.  We had just finished playing poker, and got off on a hypothetical run awry.  The topic was what we would do if a hurricane wiped out all connections to the island we were on, and everyone there was forced into a survival type situation.  It was one of the most entertaining hypotheticals we’d ever engaged in, and Dead Island, to an extent, helps one to visualize just such a scenario.  A number of things stand out about this game (which I admittedly have not finished yet).  First, there is a pretty damn good rap song at the beginning of the song.  Its great to hear a game with original musical content.  You stumble into a club while the song plays, drinking from a bottle of Jack while shoving dancers away from you.  A zombie attacks during the blur, then you wake up in an abandoned hotel.  That is all the introduction you get to the outbreak.  You have to walk through the darkened halls of the hotel while a siren blares.  It sets a wonderful atmosphere of tension and fear.  You can loot the many suitcases littering the halls, and this was my first indication as to what type of gameplay this will be.  It turns out my assumptions are correct, and this game is extremely fetch-quest based.  It also grabs another zombie-game stereotype, that of being insanely difficult.

As opposed to a game like Dead Rising, these zombies pose really difficult individual battles and when your up against a group it can be suffocating.  Many games put the difficulty in the overwhelming number of zombies you have to fight, but here things are spaced out a bit more, but with more strength per zombie.  Then there are more diverse zombies like thugs, which are taller and of course more maddening to kill.  Its easy to compare this game with other zombie games, and there is no lack of zombie games on the market.  Other than Nazi Zombies, which I don’t consider cannon in the zombie genre, I’m most familiar with Dead Rising, and so will use it as a comparison.  An improvement over Dead Rising is that when you die the game doesn’t take you back to the last save, but instead borrows a Borderlands style where when you die, you lose some money but not some progress.

So far the story is fairly typical.  There are safe houses scattered around the map, and you basically run errands for them, like getting food and medicine, in exchange for money and XP.  Of course there are more involved missions that help progress the story along, and in turn open up more of the map, but I won’t spoil any of the story here.  You also get trophy progress directly in your HUD which is nice when trying to figure out how many more miles or kills you lack for the next trohpy.

I just keep yelling "Get up out my face" like it will help

The game isn’t anything groundbreaking or new.  Hell, its pretty much the antithesis of originality.  The zombie genre has been done to death in recent years, but that doesn’t prevent Dead Island from having compelling gameplay.  It certainly does try its hardest to be immersive, including a sprint system with heavy breathing which can be rather realistic when running from zombies in the rain, dodging in and out of wrecked vehicles and rotting corpses.  Being attacked while swinging a cleaver wildly in a small bunker can be a frantic and claustrophobic experience, and certainly gives one that sense of actually being trapped on an island during a zombie uprising.  Moreover, this game has what I’ve always asked for in any first-person based game.  When you look down, you can see your feet!

The graphics are pretty great and the water looks incredible.  The blood, especially when strewn about in liberal amounts, gives off a terrifying vibe.  The gore and the horror are so well done in this game that its easy to overlook some of the other, less refined aspects, such as weapon degradation that, in my opinion, occurs too rapidly, and the extreme difficulty curve.  (On another note, its now reported that in Skyrim, weapons will not degrade, which is amazing in this writer’s opinion.)  But lets compare this game to my previous favorite zombie game, Dead Rising.  Take a look at Dead Rising’s gore from some image I found online:

And compare it to this picture of Dead Island I just took on my phone:

This game has taken the zombie genre, which can sometimes wander into the comical, and transformed it into a terrifying bloodbath.  And judging it by that standard, which is the only standard any zombie consumer can use reliably, this game has greatly succeeded.  I really do enjoy playing it, but for some reason its lending itself to more of a game where I play in spurts, not in binges.  Maybe I’ve played too many games like this recently, where you fetch someone’s lost bracelet for XP and grind it out for better weapons.  Maybe I’m just oversaturated with zombies.  But one thing’s for certain, its a hell of a lot of fun, and that’s all I’m really asking for in the end.