Play Nice: A Games Journal

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8/21/2018

What up worldwide web, it has been entirey too long since I last checked in with some game thoughts, or any thought. I think the last time was a massive (and probably too wordy) post about the end of Horizon: Zero Dawn. It’s four months later and I still can’t get that game out of my head. I’ve been playing other stuff, but really just waiting for some time to pass and putting a few games between my first and new game+ playthrough to see if my feelings change at all. I suspect they won’t, but part of me is nervouse that previously unseen flaws will manifest just becasue I have been playing more games and figuring the specific things that attract me to a game. Since I put Horizon aside I’ve started four games and finished three of them (can you really finish Destiny 2). I’m not going to say anything about Destiny 2 other than I like it (a lot) and I find myself coming back to it every week or so. The takes about Destiny 2 are hot and numerous so you can find find that elsewhere. I started and finished Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and struggled through 20 hours of Nier: Automata. I will devote my next post to those two games as I had interesting and unqiue experiences with each. But the game I do want to spend some time talking about right now is Rise of The Tomb Raider.

After finishing Horizon and not yet being ready to put more time into Breath of the Wild I was looking for a game, an adventure game, (preferably with bows and arrows) to get into. Going only by looks Rise could (and I waned it to be) provide the satisfaction that comes with the precise use of a bow and arrow, gathering resources to upgrade equipment, and earning point to upgrade a skill/ability tree. That stuff is all in this game but I was just never able to lose myself in its specifics and intracasies. To be very clear I was looking for a game to lose myself in, which is maybe not a fair expectation to have for this (or any) game.

I finished Rise about a month ago (probably more like six weeks) so the specifics aren’t as sharp, but the feeling of both the things I liked and the things that knocked me back are still there. There were two elements (I’m realy not sure what else to call them becasue they aren’t just button inputs) that came up many many times, that just weren’t great. One is an audio thing and the other is something required during combat. Starting with the audio elemet, this game has a pretty straightforward resource collection and upgrade system where you find plants or kill animals in the environment and use the skins or leaves or berries to create something useful. This mechanic is core to most action/adventure games but Rise has its own little (bad) twist. Every time you “skin” an animal Lara takes an arrow and shoves it into the animal’s chest, wiggles it around a bit and pulls it back out. There is accompanying audio as the arrow goes in that can only be the sound of breaking bones, followed by a bit squelching as the flesh is torn. I strongly dislike this whole loop, but I find the audio portion particularly unsettling. In the abstract, as a reflection on violence, it is a good reminder that killing an animal is a violent act. But in the context of this game, what purpose does it serve? This kind of leads into my next sticking point which is the way the armor system works in combat.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider, Crystal Dynamics

There are four or five different character models who have a unique sort of cold weather wilderness military outfit, and each model has a varying degree of armor that ranges from bulletproof vest to full riot gear. For the more armored enemies their helmets can be destroyed in order to expose their head (you see the helmets fly off which I assume means their heads become vulnerable). Your average enemy will take three to five arrows or bullets to the chest before falling down, leaving the headshot as the only reliable way to one shot them. Headshots (specifically those with a bolt-action rifle) even have their own achievement if you manage to perform 25 of them, or if you can achieve own from a distance of 25 meters. It’s fine that the game has achievements related to violent kills, Horizon does this as well and even tracks the number of headshots in the stats page, but why doesn’t a human headshot in Rise represent the violence of the act the way it does for an animal kill. There isn’t a bloodspray or a scream or really much of anything to remind you of the seriousness of what you’ve done. This might just be quibbling, but the inconsistency is frustrating and the reason Horizon passes is because it doesn’t emphasis the violence of killing animals or humans in any way (that game is all about defeating robots and its knows that). A lot of open world games don’t overemphasize the violence that the player character engages in (which is why this moment in Rise is a little weird from the start), and instead letting the playing indulge in a bit of power fantasy as the world’s most competent person.

Games let you image for two or three or eight hours at a time that you are one of the best runners, shooters, swimmers, jumpers, rock climbers, fighters in the world, and fair enough if a game doesn’t want to ruin that fantasy. But Lara, ostensibly, isn’t any of those things. She’s a girl looking for her dad who gets in way over her head. In that context, every kill (human or animal) would be a slightly traumatic or at least confronting moment that begs consideration. At the moment that violence becomes normalized for Lara she turns into Nathan Drake and a key element (for me) of her character is lost. Holding this in mind if we reconsider how the game handles the act of skinning an animal (is tied to a intense and gory sound effect) and that the game forces you to become good at shooting people in the head (with no accompanying intense sound effect or animation) then why isn’t there continuity between the treatment of those two acts. Why does the game not provide a vivid reminder of having shot a person the way it does with a dead animal. I know this seems like a very small detail to quibble about on the internet in regard to a game that was otherwise alright if a little frustrating. But if we we go back to the idea that games let you project, let you slip into the fantasy that the developers have created, then the presentation of violence should be consistent, and what does it say about the world you’re in or your character is in when it isn’t? I know it’s probably way to deep of a read but that human death is treated with less gore than animal death means something, either about the way the developers thought about Lara’s story or reflects the way death is often a trivial detail in so many games (even Horizon struggles with this).

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Rise of the Tomb Raider, Crystal Dynamics

I don’t mean to take anything away from Rise, I think its decently fun game with good puzzles, some good animations (Lara swimming or the way she rings water from her ponytail), combat that I found very frustrating, and a progression system that could probably be tweaked. When shooting a bow or gun the reticle really bobs around and it doesn’t feel connected to the analog sticks in that sort of tight and very precise way that it is in Horizon, or even in Breath of the Wild where shooting is tied to a single button. I really struggled with aiming and had to play the final three quarters of this game on the easy just to make it through. And in regards to playthroughs this game really wants you to go back after the story is finished and and explore its environments. In each main section there are a number of sections that are gated behind obejcts that you don’t aquire until later in the game. In some cases, like underwater caves and the breather necessary to access them, you don’t get the piece of equipment until very late (too late) in the game. It’s frustrating in the moment but if you’re down to spend more than 35ish hours in this world then it’s a good incentivizer to find all of Rise’s secrets.

I think (I know it did) this entry got away from me again, which wouldn’t happen if I checked more frequently. I hope to be back soon with thoughts about Mario + Rabbids, Nier: Automata and the game I’m currently playing, Bloodbourne. Until then, thanks for reading and be good internet.

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Horizon Zero Dawn™, Gorilla Games

 

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