Thursday, August 15, 2013

Why BioShock Infinite Left a Lasting Impression on Me, and The Last of Us Didn't ...

I'd like to preface this article by saying that I genuinely loved both games. I already wrote an article comparing them, but I don't want to get into direct comparisons and arguments about wether or not one is better than the other. The great thing about artistically strong games like these is that they are art. What I do want to address is why I feel BioShock Infinite left a bigger impression on me than The Last of Us did. Also, possible SPOILERS are ahead.


Sorry. I just refuse to ruin any of these amazing experiences for people who haven't yet played them.

Let's get going.

Familiar Territory

I genuinely consider The Last of Us to be the first big budget game to really nail the feeling of a zombie apocalypse in every sense; from story to atmosphere to tone. The realism in the game is astonishing and the tension is top notch. The characters are believable and the setting is beautiful. However, it's that very strength that is it's weakness. We've seen the zombie apocalypse. We've seen it done well. We're familiar with the archetypes of character's evolutions in these situations. We've seen these plot twists. It's familiar territory done astonishingly well, but it's familiar territory nevertheless. 

BioShock Infinite has the benefit of having a completely unique setting and story. We've not seen this is a video game before, or any medium for that matter. A city in the sky built by a religious defector of the United States who uses the manipulation of quantum mechanics to manufacture his status as a powerful prophet in the 1910s? It's unfamiliar territory, and it's new to us. BioShock Infinite has a lot to say and by the end of the game we feel as though we've just been through a mind bending experience. The music, the world, and the atmosphere all merge into this incredibly unique experience that I've never experienced in a game. 

Profound Ideas

By the end of BioShock Infinite we are left to contemplate so much. The game explores racism, religious extremism, revolution, multiverse theory, quantum mechanics, abuse of power, nationalism, political idolatry, time travel, humanity, rebirth etc. It asks profound questions. What is free will? Is choice an illusion? What is the difference between the malevolent dictator and the violent revolutionaries? Are we our own worst enemies? 

There are questions the player will have upon completing the game. It doesn't hand everything to you at the end. It leaves you with the biggest piece of the puzzle, but it's up to the player to piece it together. The second time playing the game gives it new meaning. You understand what the world of the game is saying. You understand the nuances that you may have missed before. Making those connections is a fascinating experience. It was much like the end of the original BioShock when you finally understand the significance of Atlas's particular way of speaking only on a deeper and more profound level. There is not a single thing in BioShcok Infinite that is in the game for the sake of being in the game. It's all there for a reason, and having completed the game 10 times and finally pieced that puzzle together, I can say that with the upmost confidence. 

Expect The Expected

At the end of The Last of Us we're left to contemplate wether Joel was a good person or not. Is it selfish to abandon the chance to save the human race in order to keep what you love intact, or is it smart? It asks us what we're willing to sacrifice and for what? Unfortunately, this is again familiar territory. We're asked to contemplate exactly what we were expecting to contemplate simply because the situation in which the game takes place is so familiar. Perhaps if The Walking Dead hadn't been so recent The Last of Us might've hit a little closer to home, but it doesn't break new ground in what it does so much as it breaks new ground in how it does it. The Last of Us, again, is the finest example of capturing the feel of a zombie apocalypse, but if they had just deviated from the norm just a little bit, it probably would have been even greater. 

To this day I think deeply about the ending of BioShock Infinite, and I only ever think of The Last of Us when BioShock Infinite is mentioned simply because the two were so closely compared for so long. The Last of Us is definitely an amazing experience and I very much doubt you'll forget playing it. It's one of those games that you'll likely remember several years from now, but in terms of leaving a lasting impression? In terms of blowing minds? In terms of asking unique questions in new ways? It's not likely to be something you'll think about too often. The Last of Us is a story to be experienced. BioShock Infinite is an experience that will make you think. If there's any reason BioShock Infinite left a lasting impression on me, it's this:

It's well beyond unfamiliar territory.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Is Call of Duty Finally Losing Ground?

  Back in 2007 we saw Call of Duty become a juggernaut in the gaming industry with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Ever since that year we've seen a slew of titles that have tried to emulate the series. It is undeniable that Call of Duty has left it's mark on the industry. Games like Homefront, Medal of Honor, even Crysis and Halo took notes. For a while it seemed Call of Duty was too big to fail. It was an annual series and consistently broke sales records with each new release.

  I'm going to be brutally honest here. I genuinely dislike the series. I owned Call of Duty 4 and I even enjoyed Modern Warfare 2 for a little while, but people can only handle so much redundancy. The games came year after year with such little innovation that it quickly became stale.

You know a game is stale when I can show you a 
screenshot and you can't tell which game it's from.

  Regardless, it still sold millions, but with E3 in our memories and the excitement of new hardware, new intellectual properties, and promises of greater experiences fresh in our minds, is Call of Duty finally on death row? This is the first time that I've felt confident in this answer but, I honestly think it is. We are at a point in time where we are demanding more from our games. For the next generation of consoles we want experiences that we haven't had before. Call of Duty couldn't be further from a fresh experience if it tried.

  The curse of having a popular franchise is that the risks that the developers are willing to take in said franchise are minute. If you change too much about the game it ceases to identify with fans and it becomes a different intellectual property and if a new intellectual property launches it lacks the name recognition of the series which will hurt sales. 

When you're biggest marketing point is the ability
to play as dogs, you should probably 
reevaluate the situation.

  This is the first year in what seems like ages that Call of Duty didn't have a presence at the E3 press events. The first we saw of it was at the official Xbox One hardware reveal and the promise of the developers was this: dogs and a deep story. Destiny promises open landscapes and persistent worlds in which players will travel through the solar system all without loading screens or starting menus. Dead Rising 3 promises a persistent online world without loading screens, the ability to use anything as a weapon, unique and varied artificial intelligence systems that learn from player interactions to create the best zombie apocalypse game in existence. Call of Duty Ghosts promises ... dogs. 

  Not only are there other games that are promising better experiences than the folks developing Call of Duty, but Respawn Entertainment, ex-CoD developers, are making their game better than Infinity Ward is. Have you seen Titanfall? It's Call of Duty + Mechs + Persistent World + Parkour + Jetpacks.

It's like Mirror's Edge, with Call of Duty, 
with Hawken, with Crysis.

  Titanfall is basically Call of Duty, but fresh, fun, and unique. This is exactly what we want. I wanna jet pack out of a giant mech, and latch on to the brain of an enemy mech and shoot it's brain until it explodes. I want to rip the pilot our of a mech like ripping a heart out of the enemy. That's just cool. I'll admit, I enjoyed playing Modern Warfare 2. It's mindless fun, running and gunning, and it's nice to just relax and not think too much when playing a game. I totally get that, but just because something is mindless doesn't mean it can stay the same forever. If you sell the same product to the same people every year, they're going to get bored. Titanfall is definitely looking up to being a great mindless run and gun game with some awesome twists and I look forward to playing it, because like it or not we can't run on games like The Last of Us. Sometimes we need to blow off steam. However, if Titanfall follows the same path Call of Duty is now on, it wont last. Annualizing Titanfall would be an awful idea and hopefully the folks at Respawn Recognize that. 

  I honestly believe Call of Duty is on the decline and if there's any game that's going to take it's place I have a feeling it's going to be Titanfall. Of course Titanfall doesn't release until spring of next year, so if anything's going to dethrone Call of Duty Ghosts in 2013 it's GTA V, but that's just my guess.

  Will Call of Duty still continue to sell millions? I don't even remotely doubt that. There will continue to be fans of the franchise who will pick up Ghosts by the millions, but I can say with certainty that in the year 2014, Call of Duty will not break any sales records and will fall behind. A 2013 sales record being broken for the franchise is more likely, but even that I'm skeptical of.