We all have our pet hates: little things that make us uncontrollably and unreasonably angry every time they rear their ugly heads. And now, dear readers, it's high time I shared mine with you. I hate launch day DLC. I don't understand avatar outfits. I'm not a huge fan of auto-levelled enemies in RPGs. And I'm utterly, completely bored of Zombies. But there's one thing a game can do, above all else, that makes my blood boil.
Making fun of genre conventions... and then gleefully falling prey to them at every opportunity.
It's hypocrisy, pure and simple - and to illustrate my point, I'd like to shed some light on a few games that managed to put my back up over these last few months. We'll also make the case for Bulletstorm being the most hypocritical game to have ever hit store shelves.
Deathspank: A Loot Grinder In Denial
Ron Gilbert's Deathspank was designed to be an anarchic, humorous and quirky adventure that promised to crush traditional RPG tropes under its weighty purple thong. To this end, the dialogue frequently references the absurdity of engaging in fetch quests for people you barely know, and even goes as far as calling one of the characters an "Arbitrary NPC."
This would have been fine if it had happened just once. Doing a single arbitrary fetch quest for an arbitrary stock character would have been a great way to provide contrast for an imaginative new structure... but Deathspank then proceeded to rely on this key concept for the rest of the game. Fetch quest after fetch quest after fetch quest. There are other major contradictions as well, from the clunky inventory system being just as irritating as every other action RPG and the action itself being as shallow and button-mashy as it's possible to get... despite promising us the exact opposite!
Torchlight showed us that, rather than trying to mock the basic principles of loot grinders, it's a far better idea to embrace the ones that work and improve on those that don't. It's an homage, not a parody - and one that provides a far superior experience to Gilbert's effort.
Deathspank also isn't anywhere near as funny as it would have you believe... but that's a rant for another time.
Eat Lead: The Return Of Every Cliche In The Book
Here's another obvious case in point. Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard is built around the idea of a cynical and jaded videogame protagonist taking the mickey out of the tired old shooter in all of its conformist glory, and as such, actively pokes fun at respawning enemies and boring cover-based shootouts behind masses of random crates. Goodness me, this would have been so very funny - and relevant - if the core action hadn't then completely revolved around these same principles. The fact that it also sucked did little to help its argument.
By doing so, Eat Lead stopped being a parody and became a main offender in its own right; a generic, thankless grind that fell prey to the very things that it desperately tried to mock. I had high hopes for this one, and it was found wanting by critics and gamers alike.
Bulletstorm: The Most Hypocritical Game Of All Time
But here it is: the most hypocritical game that has ever released. From day one, Bulletstorm promised to buck the trend of realistic shooters with overblown storylines ... and to illustrate their creed, Epic released a downloadable game called Duty Calls.
This was a mistake. And a big, turgid, engorged one at that.
This little marketing stunt merrily ripped the piss out of Call Of Duty and its ilk; criticising three main areas that Bulletstorm would purportedly kick squarely in the balls.
- Overblown, emotional storylines and character deaths
- Linear levels
- Arbitrary ranking systems and unlocks
"We're bored of these traditions!" screamed People Can Fly and Epic Games. "Let's make a game about awesome space pirates and badass combat that puts fun first and exposition dead last!" And lo and behold, they proceeded to completely miss the point.
Bulletstorm isn't a fun game about space pirates. The protagonist is (as always) an embittered ex-soldier with a troubled past who's out for one last chance for redemption, and the grinding unskippable exposition is laid on thicker than most other shooters I can remember. "I don't know if I can live with sensible," moans Grayson Hunt as you repeatedly bash the controller against your head in an attempt to forget the inappropriately heavy-handed dialogue and themes of betrayal and loss. Your best friend soon dies and your other mate becomes a shambling cyborg; stubbornly sticking to the emotional character death cliche as a major plot arc. Despite, you know, the fact that they literally promised to do exactly the opposite.
No, Bulletstorm is not trying to be ironic. That argument doesn't hold water. Epic's influence pervades and restricts People Can Fly's original anarchic idea at every turn - transforming it into just another gritty, overblown shooter that takes itself far too seriously.
And what about those linear levels and rank unlocks? Bulletstorm has those in spades. It's one of the most deeply linear shooters I've ever played, and splattering a few enemies in multiplayer rewards you with (all together now) arbitrary levels and unlocks. Just like every other game ever. I'm not saying that Bulletstorm is a bad game - or a bad shooter. But it also fails to uphold its promises and mission statement.
Finally, it's worth making one last point. Labelling other games as "pretentious" and going out of the way to ridicule them is - in itself - the highest form of pretentiousness. And when you fail to actually buck the trend, it's also the highest form of hypocrisy.
Developers, pay attention. We're as tired of the same old cliches as you are. But if you fail to break free from them - and fail to deliver a viable alternative - you're part of the problem, not the solution. Let's end the hypocrisy here and now.
Right, dear readers, it's time for you to have your say. Are we making too much of this issue? Or does game hypocrisy annoy you as much as the genre traditions that they fail to lampoon? Have your say in the comments!