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Comments Off In the cold womb of the ocean

Many would rather patrol genre borders than to explore their undefinied wastelands. This is why, perhaps, the reason Bioshock stirred such enthusiasm and weirdness in equal measure. A curious phenomenon, then, to see a game provoking philosophical discussion about free will but realizing that when it came to playing it, was about slapping around mutants wearing rabbit face masks who ran up the walls. All because Ken Levine took it upon himself much of the burden of claiming Bioshock was “simply” a first-person shooter while everyone elese talked about how it was “more” than that. Nothing new in ludic territory, then: once again we had a design of emergent pedigree (Thief, System Shock, Deus Ex) hiding bigger issues behind the simplicity of its play mechanics and once again we had a 19XX design becoming popular again in 20XX. To a certain elite of PC gamers, it was worthy of scorn; to the console gamer masses, it was a diamong shining brighter than the drab shooters they were used to.

Which was certainly a stroke of genius: above all, it was a way of saying that System Shock, over a decade later and wearing different clothes, was still a game capable of captivating us. If in this fast food world the greats of yesterday are the worst of tomorrow, and if certain games or genres’ lineage lose some of its power due to the continuous burial of our memory as if history were a disease, the game was enough proof that things don’t always have to be like that: it was (is) still possible to reconcile the past and the present. Far from perfection but very close to restrained ambition, Bioshock was more than enough evidence that design can be timeless while there’s a spark of savoir faire, and as such, was also more than enough evidence of Levine and Irrational’s talent.

A talent which seems absent of Bioshock 2.

Put it another way: Bioshock 2 is a better first-person shooter than its predecessor. It’s simply not a better game.

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Comments Off Context is Oscar Mike

“We will teach you the art of struggle
and the meaning of battle
and the lesson of peace”

- Samih Al-Qassem, “Atillu wa Asghu” (“Look Around and Pay Attention”)


I’m playing Modern Warfare 2. This is a traditional tale of unknown soldiers turned heroes, last minute villains, a war told in a fragmented vocabulary not unlike the fast-food terrorism we get from news broadcasting. It’s one hell of a ride, with a bombastic musical score raging throughout urgent levels that do their best to hide the corridor-like roots of Doom, that spunky grandpa of an entire genre that sits on the porch boasting about all the guts and heroism of his tenure during the war. ”In my day, we didn’t wonder if we could talk to the monsters, we just shot them”.

There are very accomplished moments. One level in particular has a remarkable use of direction and lighting: you’re powerless, sprinting across a series of rooftops dodging gunfire and all you have guiding you – outside your superior’s voice pressing you on – are lights and shadows, revealing just enough of the right direction as they fall across bricks and metal roofs. Another level sees darkness and rain becoming the real enemy and the lighting that emanates from small fires all around is more important to our survival than whatever military toys at our disposal. Moments like these would be ruined in the hands of lesser developers and could only be well executed by a scant few others, like Valve.

You also feel like the bastard child of Bond and Bauer playing around in Michael Bay’s backyard and who gets constantly beaten over the head in the direction of the next condescending objective, whether it’s an invisible checkpoint or a glowing object in the environment. It’s Call of Duty designed by committee, with the usual running around looking for shiny RPGs to down helicopters now with added military lingo. Vague terrorism, vague Middle East, vague Eastern Europe, vague motives. There’s also the odd little moment where the launch of a nuclear missile turns into a Square-Enix cutscene, in length and in over-the-top presentation. Characters that were never deeper than fortune cookie advices develop a misplaced sense of duty and pump out platitudes amidst a chorus of gun porn. It’s pure noise. It shows a studio incredibly confident of what they’re trying to achieve, yes, but it’s more about sound and fury than a cohesive whole like their 2007 prequel.

But still – one hell of a ride.

Until that scene.

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