As If Millions Of Voices Suddenly Cried Out
I don’t know if you heard, but the past week was Star Wars Week here on The A.V. Club. And despite some unique challenges it has brought upon reading and linking to comments (I was just as surprised as you), Keyboard Geniuses rolls on. As part of Gameological’s theme week contributions, Anthony John Agnello stopped by to remember the endings of Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic. Now, KOTOR famously allows you to determine which side of the Force, light or dark, your character will land on, and Anthony argues, it uses more entertaining characters and Force powers to tempt you toward the dark until it all culminates in two drastically different endings. Down in the comments, JD recommended the very specific path to experiencing KOTOR’s best story:
If you are playing as anything other than a light side female, you are getting the least nuanced story.
Light-side male: You were a great hero. You and your bro turned evil trying to rid the galaxy of war because the star forge is pure evil. Some hot girl saves you and redeems you by giving you a reset. As a light-side male, you bang said girl, redeem her from the dark side with your love, and then kick Darth Malak’s ass.
Dark-side male: You remember what war made you into. Then you choose to bang the hot evil chick and take over the Galaxy. It’s hardly nuanced.
As a light-side female some of your choices include: being betrayed by your close male partner over jealousy of your ability/career; romancing a man who’s wife you were responsible for killing and then saving the life of his son who has turned to the dark side; seeing your protégé captured and turned to the dark side just as you were then having to redeem her not with your magic D but with a nuanced argument as to why being good is worthwhile. And by offering her redemption, you achieve your own, or you’ll have to kill her because she is beyond saving. Getting that conversation right is tough.
Any mention of KOTOR would be incomplete without fans of KOTOR II: The Sith Lords praising the Obsidian Entertainment-developed sequel. Anthony mentioned that the original starts to toy with the idea of the Jedi not being the be-all-end-all force of good in the universe, but ~Swinton points out Obsidian took this much further:
I’m going to be That Guy and say that KOTOR2‘s handling of the Force and critique of the Jedi was much stronger than the original’s. I actually wrote about it for Unwinnable, though the bulk of it lies behind a paywall.
Thing is, the sort of simple space-opera adventure that comprises the original trilogy was perfect for BioWare, but muddling with Force mythology/ethics was what Chris Avellone (overrated as I think he tends to be) was born for. KOTOR2 was something like a sober, realistic depiction of how war permanently damages people and societies, but with Jedi and Sith and interstellar travel slathered on it. In the original, the Jedi are pretty cavalier, if you think about it. In KOTOR2, they are thoroughly outed as ivory-tower hypocrites and become villains in the story.
KOTOR2’s messy attempt to add philosophical complexity to Star Wars’ simplistic moral premise just reeked of displaced ’90s grimdark. Jedi Outcast, for example, asked the same questions as that game but did so in a manner that enhanced my appreciation for the original trilogy without outright contradicting the rules established within them. Kyle was a shell-shocked veteran in pain, suffering from a great loss and drawing heavily on the dark side before coming to a personal awakening about his place in the universe and choosing a better path for himself. Plus, Outcast was just a terrifically fun game, and you didn’t have to wait two hours on a mining station with another failed Han clone before picking up a lightsaber.
By comparison, KOTOR2 was a joyless slog through moral relativism with a “guide” whose viewpoint fluctuated between straw nihilism, and objectivist selfishness and whose role essentially consisted of telling you “You’re doing it wrong” unless you picked the non-canonical gray/antihero route. In other words, it was the perfect game for defensive adults who took Star Wars too seriously.
We ended the week with Ryan Smith’s review of Call Of Duty: Black Ops III. Ryan talked about in its campaign mode, at least, BLOPS3 seems like it’s aspiring to being something bigger and different than your usual first-person shooter but just can’t break through. ThePrederick thinks that’s an issue at the heart of most major releases these days:
I feel like that summarizes the majority of big-budget games at the moment. We’re seeing a clash between the attempt to create games with more nuance and ambiguity come crashing up against the limitations of what many of these games are expected to be. I feel like a real, major breakthrough might be coming soon for FPS games, though. At least, I hope so.
Unexpected Dave elaborated on that conflict and how to assuage it:
The key is thoughtful design of both the action and narrative elements. Sometimes it feels like the story is intruding on the action; other times it feels like the action is intruding on the story. The most satisfying games are the ones in which the action involves the player directly accomplishing their goals. When the combat is a distraction (like waves of mooks standing between the player and the boss), it undermines the narrative.
It’s really difficult to do this in an FPS because it’s hard to find a compelling story that is directly resolved by shooting hundreds of bad guys. Even the Mass Effect games struggled with this, especially Mass Effect 2. Many of the missions give only the flimsiest of excuses for their relentless firefights. (Thane’s recruitment in ME2 is probably the worst offender.)
And jyames recommended a game that found a clever way to justify all that violence:
Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger probably had the best excuse for shooting hundreds of dudes in any FPS I’ve ever played: The entire game is the semi-drunken and rather rambling reminiscences of an old bounty hunter angling for free drinks. He’s even called out a few times for inconsistencies or exaggeration, and it’s pretty strongly implied that he probably only ever killed a handful of people.
Elsewhere, the subject of BLOPS3’s bro-itude was raised. According to TheRadioCat, it’s been raised to exciting new levels:
The game is pretty bro-y (as expected). It’s almost satirical how over the top some of it is. When your character levels up, it plays shredding guitars, and when you lose while playing as the Ruin character, he harasses you and tells you to “Step the fuck up.”
It’s great how up front the game is about its bro-itude. Characters actually say the word “bro” when talking to each other, and there had to have been at least three occasions where one character angrily knocks another to the ground with a punch to the face, then says something along the lines of “…but you’re my friend, and we stick together” and extends a hand to help the other up. That hand is at a 45-degree angle, of course, so they can bring it in for a (robo)muscle flexing bro-shake afterward.
For those of you who haven’t played the campaign yet (I Redboxed it and made it through half, planning to drop another $2.50 for the other half this weekend), this game features a robotically enhanced Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni)!
Yes, everyone calls him Taylor for some reason and it takes place 60-odd years since the last appearance of Detective Stabler in Law & Order SVU, but with his Marine Corps background and fondness for doing whatever it takes to get the job done, is it that improbable that he would cryogenically freeze himself to be thawed out in the future to prevent sex crimes and also kill robots and CIA dudes? I don’t think so! I mean, the implications for a shared universe between Law & Order and Call Of Duty—they’re mind-boggling!
“Who do you think killed our guy, Detective?”
“I don’t know, probably the same guy who killed the other 45 dead noobs on this map.”
“You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin?”
*at the same time*
That does it for this week, folks. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!