Modern Warfare 2
I deliberately refrained from weighing in on the debate surround ‘that’ scene in Modern Warfare 2 until I’d actually played it – a shocking perspective, I know – and having just finished the game, I’m glad I did.
A lot of gamers will naturally jump to the defence of their hobby; how it’s an important step towards them becoming a respected and accepted narrative art form and blah blah blah. I actually disagree here. While Infinity Ward should have every right to put such scenes in its games and I applaud Tom Watson’s level-headed approach to treating adults like… well, adults, in playing it I felt that it was controversial for controvery’s sake. It could have been handled so much better – but I guess that wouldn’t have generated the column inches, which is the real crux.
It’s totally unnecessary, and an extremely heavy-handed attempt to shock, and as far as being avant garde with this stuff goes, the revolution in the first Modern Warfare’s opening stages was far more effective, catching glimpses of dissidents being executed and such. There’s nothing clever or subtle about four men with machine guns opening up on people and shooting someone as he tries to drag his wounded friend to safety.
It feels tacky already, but coupled with the fact that the rest of the game feels like a Michael Bay film – the scene comes immediately after this ridiculous chase, for instance – it’s hard to see it as anything but exploitative. Sad, really, because it does stand out more than it should.
That aside, though, I loved the game. Putting aside the online mode, it’s a five-hour rollercoaster. Like the airport scene it’s not subtle, but this time I mean it in a good way, like The Rock and Con Air, which find themselves imitated repeatedly. I played through most of the game in a single sitting and it constantly kept me enthralled and keen to do it again at a higher difficulty.
Is that too short? As I’ve said before, I’d much rather have a top quality five hours of gameplay than the same content stretched out over ten, and it’s not like the campaign is all that Call of Duty games have to offer. I think that this game is good enough to warrant playing through more than once, and I’m still yet to touch the online/offline co-op Special Ops missions, which are apparently a highlight. So even if one scene is rather tasteless, and even if Activision is intensely disagreeable and it seems to be rubbing off on Infinity Ward, I can’t deny that this is a great game. I love this series, and this is right up there with the best of them, and will be a fixture of my Xbox 360′s disc drive for months.
Proof That the Daily Mail Ruins Everything
I’ve been mystified about how the current controversy over Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross’s comments on the radio have been blown out of all proportion. What started as an admittedly crude but funny joke that was probably always going to provoke an apology somehow escalated into an official comment from the Prime Minister, debate in Parliament, the suspension of the presenters involved, talk of police involvement, and ultimately the resignation of Russell Brand.
But it was when I read this timeline that it became apparent who was responsible: my arch-nemesis, the Daily Mail. As if we needed more proof that it ruins everything…
What struck me is that when the controversial call in question was aired there were two complaints out of 400,000 listeners, and those were over the language (exact quote: “He fucked your granddaughter!”). Being that it was late on a Saturday night and also that there’s no fixed watershed for radio anyway, those complaints wouldn’t have been upheld.
But when it was reported in the Mail five days later complaints flood in, eventually reaching 27,000 at the time of writing… eleven days after it was broadcast. Clearly those people didn’t listen to it – the most they could have done is downloaded the podcast episode by choice – so why on earth are they wasting time complaining? Could it be another pile-on when the Mail smells blood in the water after someone on the BBC does something controversial? Hmm…
Admittedly there’s the argument about the licence fee and people objecting to ‘their’ money being used on this stuff, but I object to my money being used for assorted BBC shows, for different reasons, to be fair, including Strictly Come Dancing, Last Choir Standing, just about any other talent/singing/music show, Songs of Praise, and more. You know what I do? I don’t watch them and I certainly don’t lodge complaints having not seen them. Crazy, I know.
I heard the prank call in question on the podcast last week and thought it was funny, if possibly a bit tasteless, but you hardly listen to Russell Brand for insightful political discourse, do you? With any luck he’ll find a slot online or on satellite radio where the technological barrier keeps out the busybodies.
So with less than a week until its release, one of the PS3′s most important games has been recalled and pushed back, all because of one complaint from someone who has guaranteed himself a lifetime of hate mail after he made the post with his PSN ID attached. To be fair it’s not his fault because he just asked for a quick patch, not a full recall, but you only have to browse through that thread for the post-delay posts to see that people inevitably aren’t seeing it that way.
The fact that LBP was recalled after a single post from a Muslim player while Resistance’s complaint from the Church of England garnered only an apology does somewhat play into certain groups’ hands, though. Don’t expect to hear the end of that any time soon.
It does seem like an unnecessary reaction to me. Like the guy asked for, a patch would have sufficed for now, and the song could be properly removed from all future pressings. Everyone’s happy, and the handful who’ll buy it without online access and even notice could, I’m sure, just ask for an exchange for future ‘fixed’ versions. Now there are probably millions of discs that will end up being destroyed – or on eBay at hugely inflated prices – and the marketing effort will be disrupted as people go to check out this new game that they’ve seen the reviews for and it’s not there.
I’m deliberately avoiding the ‘political correctness gone mad’ and ‘I think we all know why this garnered such a reaction nudge-nudge-wink-wink’ rubbish that I’m seeing everywhere because I hate it and it’s a bit Daily Mail, but there’s no reason to ruin it for everyone else because of a song that’s generally available on iTunes, free to listen to on MySpace (‘Tapha Niang’ in the audio player on the right), and apparently won a Grammy.
Religion is a personal choice, as is listening to a pretty beautiful song and playing the game. I’m not going to get political with that whole debate about whether religion deserves to be put on a pedestal - it doesn’t, but I said I’m not debating it ;) – but please, don’t make Everest out of a molehill when the most people want is Ben Nevis.
The Token GTA IV Post
As much as I’d like to sit in my ivory tower and blame GTA IV for effectively shutting down the release schedule until June, I’m afraid I can’t. Unlike when I talk about Metal Gear, Smash Bros, and the like, where I’m objectively right (it’s true), anyone who says that GTA IV is anything less than a brilliant game is just being a cynical twat. Besides, if anything can stop this generation’s Nintendomination, it’s this. It won’t win, but at least the HD consoles can now say that they tried.
My first thought when I got to run around and actually play GTA IV was actually quite underwhelming. It was dark (turning up the brightness in the options definitely helps), the controls feel slightly old-fashioned in these days of twin-stick control, the cars felt heavy, and in which century do we hold a button to run? You do know what analogue control does, right?
But while some of those are minor niggles, they really are minor. Taken as an overall game, GTA IV is a phenomenal technical achievement and an improvement on the other games in almost every way. Significantly, the elephant in the room of the previous generation’s GTAs, the gunplay, is finally workable and even enjoyable. It’s not quite Gears or Uncharted because the cover system isn’t quite as intuitive, but given the significant improvements between GTA III and San Andreas (seriously, try GTA III’s shooting now and see just how bad it is), I’m hoping that by the time we reach this generation’s equivalent of Vice City, GTA’s biggest flaw could be a thing of the past.
Technically, it’s simply an astounding accomplishment. Having only just reached the second main island after over 13 hours of play, I’ve only scratched the surface of what they’ve miraculously fitted onto a DVD with room to spare. I know only a couple of neighbourhoods, and I’ve only been in one shop. I’ve already visited three different bars and there are bar games that are as in-depth as some dedicated games. I’ve been to the cabaret show three times and seen six acts, but I know for a fact that there are others, including a stand-up show from Ricky Gervais. There are 19 radio stations, and I’m still hearing new stuff on my favourites. Not to mention that the game reckons I’m only 31% of the way through. It’s unbelievable.
As with the aiming, the characterisation in the GTA games got better as the series went on and, again, it takes a massive leap forward with Niko. He’s an actual character, unlike GTA III’s Claude. He’s more sympathetic than Tommy Vercetti, who was a good character but about as likeable as Tony Montana (deliberately, I assume). And while CJ was streets ahead of his predecessors, I just didn’t enjoy the whole Boyz n the Hood thing. I suppose the fact that I liked a lot of the characters – all of whom are mass murderers to various extents – was testament to what a good job they did with that material.
Anyway, we’re talking about Niko. I’m not going to spoil anything, so I’ll just say that he’s likeable, funny, sympathetic, and by far the best GTA protagonist so far. Likewise, although some of the supporting cast fall into the usual mobster archetypes, they’re all exceptionally written. Little Jacob, the Rastafarian dealer, is just flat out hilarious. Think this scene from Airplane if you haven’t played it yet.
One other thing that deserves plaudits is the animation provided by the Euphoria engine. Wow. Gone is the canned animation of previous games as your character tried to make an epic leap over a knee-high wall, in favour of procedural animations, so Niko might steady himself after a short fall and roll to take the impact of a higher one. It’s seamless as he goes from vaulting a wall or fence to dropping into one of those animations, but it’s car crashes that provide the most impressive showpiece. When you hit someone who realistically crumples from the force, their head bouncing off the bonnet as they’re sent backwards, it’s the closest thing that I could describe as ‘sickening’ (in the nicest possible way) in a game as violent as this. Whereas in older GTAs I’d happily mow through the faceless pedestrians, here the fact that they don’t all look quite as identical and get taken out with such force makes sticking to the road during high speed pursuits something to do where possible.
I think it’s been made clear quite how good GTA IV is: it’s the only game I can remember that got perfect scores from all three major gaming sites and Edge. It’s one of the few next-gen ‘event’ games that won’t fob you off with a seven-hour campaign. Production values are through the roof, and rumours that it’s usurped Shenmue as the most expensive video game ever produced ($100m, up from $70m) are wholly believable. It’s a stunning game, and the first time in ages that turning on the 360 has become my first action on getting home, ahead of turning on the computer or going to the toilet.
Even if you’ve had misgivings about the series in the past, don’t miss out on this one. If something beats it to my game of the year, I’ll be very surprised.
Giles Whittell Attacks Gamers, Loses
The Internet never fails to amuse me with its funny way of delivering retribution, from the Xbox 360 thief who ended up with his whole identity posted online to that ongoing battle between Scientology and Anonymous (both as nuts as each other). It’s like it’s a big instrument of karma, capable of great solidarity when it’s not calling you a ‘faggot’ on Xbox Live.
The latest victim is a Times journalist, Giles Whittell. In a recent column, he says:
“I hate video games, on or offline. I hate the way they suck real people into fake worlds and hold on to them for decades at a time. I hate being made to feel hateful for saying so, and I hate being told to immerse myself in them before passing judgment, because it feels like being told to immerse myself in smack and teenage pregnancy before passing judgment on them.“
Maybe I’m editorialising, but I think that can be translated as: ”I’ve made my mind up, and I shouldn’t have to inform my opinion.” Don’t even get me started on that utterly ridiculous equation that he makes. Good journalism, then.
Thankfully, the wrath of Internet gamers has been both swift and (occasionally) witty. Giles Whittell has written several books, which are available on Amazon (I’m posting some of the reviews below so as to avoid having to publicise the books by linking to them), and Amazon has the handy feature of allowing people to post reviews, whether or not the readers have immersed themselves in the book. Let the games commence:
[On 'Spitfire Women of World War II'] “Reading this book, it’s clear the author researched this book without immersing himself in the topic. He has clearly never been near a spitfire, World War II or indeed women.”
“I can say that, without a doubt, this is the most colossal waste of time I have ever partaken in. And, in the true style of the author, I didn’t even have to read it to make that judgement. I’ll get back to my smack now.”
“First off, I can’t really claim to have read this book. To be honest I don’t think I need to in order to pass judgement on it. No, let me go further, I find it quite dispicable that Giles Whittel would expect me to read this worthless, time consuming book before expressing my opinions on it. Without reading it I can already tell that Central Asia isn’t worth my time.”
“I tried to read this book, on more than one occasion, but my brain is fried from all the crack, and I’m tired all the time from my teenage pregnancy. I wish I would have involved myself in something safe like video games, I guess it is to late for that now…”
“I’ve never been to Central Asia nor have I read this book, But luckly we dont need to in order to pass judgment on it. This book is full of lies such as Asia being located north of Canada and that all Polar bears are from Asia. If you enjoyed wasting your time with Crack and getting teens pregnant then this is the book for you!”
Given that the reviewers have as much experience with Whittell’s books as he does with games, that must make them just as relevant. Oh, how I love the Internet…
The Byron Review
“Hardly a day goes by without a news report about children being brutalised and abused in the real world or its virtual counterpart. Some make links between what happens online or in a game, and what happens on the streets or at home.
“These headlines have contributed to the climate of anxiety that surrounds new technology and created a fiercely polarised debate in which panic and fear often drown out evidence. The resultant clamour distracts from the real issue and leads to children being cast as victims rather than participants in these new, interactive technologies.
“It quickly became apparent that there was a big difference between what concerned parents understand and what their technologically savvy children know. [...] Put bluntly, the world of video games has come a long way since the early days of Pac Man. And while change and innovation are undoubtedly exciting, they can also be challenging or just plain scary.”
Do my eyes deceive me? Am I reading a report about games and the Internet that not only doesn’t immediately vilify the industry as corruptor of our youth or blame it for the collapse of Western society, but blames the media-led moral panics and goes on to say that risk-taking is an essential component of growing up? And this quote was taking from the first page!?
The Byron Review, summarised here or available in its entirety here, is shocking in that it is an independent look at how children can be protected from the dangers presented in games and online that doesn’t assume that gaming is a childish pursuit – as it says, games are no longer just Pac-Man – and doesn’t recommend clamping down on the industry and removing responsibility from where it should lie.
It recognises that children are raised by their parents, not games, and that if the opposite is true then it is the fault of the parents. The fact that the majority of parents couldn’t tell Facebook and Xbox Live apart doesn’t mean that we should descend into Luddism and ban the whole lot. We should look forward and recognise that today’s kids are tomorrow’s parents, and that letting them learn from their mistakes, as a kid who fell out of a tree one too many times would tell his kids that climbing trees can be dangerous, is how we’ve always done things and will mean that the next generation is ready to face a digital future.
As for the recommendation that all games carry BBFC ratings, I wouldn’t disagree. I think it’s been coming for a while, and it makes sense to use the same ratings for all entertainment. I actually like the clear iconography of the PEGI ratings, which are much better at describing the content than the BBFC ones, but it’s counterproductive to want parents to take an interest in what their children are playing but then make it difficult by using something other than the well-known film ratings. Most games with any objectionable content use both anyway.
Still, it hasn’t taken long for more exposés that – shock! – some games are violent from the usual sources, so some things never change. But at least we can’t complain that nobody’s given our digital entertainment a fair look. The difference here is that people are taking interest.