Sunday, 14 November 2010

Nablopomo and other aliens: Day 14

So clearly I really like sunsets.

I think I am about two thirds of the way through Red Dead Redemption. I am really enjoying it, and I think the decision to apply Grand Theft Auto IV's sandbox engine to a game set in the dying days of the wild west is brilliant. The scenery is utterly incredible and the horse riding is super fun.

But more on that at a later date. I mention Red Dead Redemption today because it is possibly the most serious game I have ever played.

Games don't tend to take themselves especially seriously. You see, unlike a film or a book, games really do have to be fun to play. There's no two ways about it. A game that isn't fun is a bad game.

They can tackle serious subjects, but in doing so, they must be fun. A game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare tackles its subject precisely by being fun. By setting a game during an ongoing conflict, it makes the player feel ever so slightly guilty about enjoying their experience of shooting other (virtual) human beings.

Games can be overblown and self-important (see: Halo), but at the core of any decent game is a fun mechanic. Because they must contain a central tenet of funness, it's a rare game that puts itself across with an entirely straight face.

It's not that Red Dead Redemption isn't fun, (I've already said it's a good game, so it must be fun), just that it takes it subject matter extremely seriously. This actually makes it rather heavier going than a game which is much longer and much more difficult but has a sense of humour, like Fallout 3.

Right now (it's Sunday and I've been working all day) I can't honestly think of a game as straight-faced as Red Dead Redemption.

Or one with such a graphic sex-scene.



  1. It’s not often I find myself not nodding my head in agreement when reading Well-Rendered but calling Halo overblown and self-important and then saying CoD: MW is fun? Really? Of the two games Halo is by far the more fun with much wittier dialogue as well as a number of “in” references and taking itself far less seriously as well, and that’s even before you turn on the IWHBYD skull! And almost inherently it’s much more fun to be shooting at some alien race (albeit one that is threatening mankind’s existence) than to be shooting at fellow human beings. CoD: MW on the other hand features executions, torture and deaths from nuclear blasts.

    In addition the gameplay mechanics of the two games make Halo much more enjoyable than MW. Whereas Halo goes with a limited number of enemies with varying degrees of armor/weapons etc in each encounter, MW went for the cheap and easy solution (in certain parts) by making an infinite number of enemies that are only stopped by having the player advance to a point on the map where further enemies no longer spawn. Thankfully this wasn’t the case in MW2 but it is back for some encounters in Black Ops which makes for an incredibly frustrating experience at times.

    Sorry well-rendered, but I’m going to have to agree to disagree with you on this one!

  2. Yikes! I never meant to say that Halo wasn't fun. (I blame national blog posting month for this). Things can be both overblown and fun. See: most heavy metal music and the oeuvre of Steven Segal.

    I still far prefer the CoD mechanic because I think the AI is better and I think the set pieces are more imaginative and engaging, and therefore more fun. Whilst Halo is also fun, I find the AI more predictable, and I find that there's less variety in the gameplay. That's just personal taste. I really enjoy the way CoD continually places you in the midst of the action and almost never takes the control away from you even in the most cinematic set-pieces.

    Case in point is the aftermath of the nuclear explosion in the first Modern Warfare game. You control a character who has been caught in the nuclear blast. Due to his injuries, the character has almost no abilities, he can only slowly crawl through the wastes. This is so much more effective than a cut scene because the player embodies the feeling of utter helplessness. We spend 99% of our gaming time playing as characters who are powerful in some way and playing as a character who is utterly powerless is extremely emptionally affecting. It is this torture/death of other human beings that makes the game such an effective use of, well, the game medium.

    This leads on to your other point about how it's more fun to slaughter an alien race than other humans. Well yes. There is no moral ambiguity to blasting a load of aliens. They are the bad guys. I know arbiter is a good guy in Halo 3, but there's still no question that the Covenant are the bad guys. With CoD, I find that its strength is in the very fact that you're doing something that should make you extremely uncomfortable, i.e. killing other human beings.

    I also found that the morally ambiguous quotes on the load screen of the CoD games re-inforced this for me.

    So, yes, I suppose it's a case of agreeing to disagree. I enjoy Halo, but for me, Call of Duty is a much mroe memorable experience, both for the complexity of the game mechanic and for its unsettling use of human enemies.

    Oh, and I have played neither Reach nor Black ops. These games may well change my view, watch this space.

    Thanks for the comment by the way, it's always good to spark debate!

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