The modern iterations of the Call of Duty franchise have consistently incorporated real world political facts and themes, albeit not always tactfully. More than mindless military shooters set to a simulacrum of modern politics, each Call of Duty reveals interesting aspects of American social and political fears and psychoses. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 continues this trend, touching upon themes of America’s economic decline, technological dependencies, and the loss of international political capital in the face of a costly empire.
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The Call of Duty series has become a kind of shorthand in many circles, many of which I frequent. It’s often the punchline whenever eggheads like me decry annualized sequels, toxic online communities, overly-scripted gameplay, and jingoistic stories about glorious war heroes. The latest installment, Black Ops II, doesn’t really refute any of this.
Outside of Madden, Black Ops II is perhaps the most mainstream traditional video game of the season. It’s the game that gets prime time commercials. It’s one of the titles that folks who only buy a couple games a year eagerly await. It’s a summer blockbuster in November, something carefully marketed and crafted to appeal to as large an audience possible. It would be completely understandable if the search for such a broad appeal led to a bland product; trying to please everyone usually negates a lot of interesting ideas.
And yet, I always look forward to playing a new Call of Duty game. The foremost reason being that the snappy controls and dopamine-inducing multiplayer progression system create a compelling one-two punch. However, I’m equally drawn to the bombastic, single player experience campaigns. Despite being squarely in the mainstream, Black Ops II broaches topics that few other games touch.
Calling a video game “realistic” could mean any number of things. Sometimes, it’s about graphical verisimilitude: does that virtual character look like a real human being? Other times, it’s about how something feels: does swinging this Wii remote remind me of swinging a tennis racket? Games like Sim City try to tackle a more mathematical version of realism: does building a city with good roads help the economy?
The point is that video games have a variety of ways of representing our world, thus allowing even the most fantastical games to resemble aspects of daily life. Dishonored does this, despite the fact that it’s a game in which you can warp through thin air and commune with a supernatural deity. Getting to know Dishonored’s world and the people that call it home felt very much like moving to a new town and meeting the neighbors.
The release of Halo 4 earlier this week put an end to both the excited and nervous anticipation of the renewal of a franchise in transition. Now in the very capable hands of 343 Industries, Halo is with us forever now or at least until the studio rounds out their own trilogy. The smooth transference of ownership—and more importantly the community’s positive reaction to it—reflects a continuation of the changing relationship between player communities and developers.
For fans of the series, Master Chief’s return has been a long time coming. Halo: Reach launched two years ago, but the game was a side story and mechanical departure from the standard Halo series. Master Chief has been slumbering for over five years since the release of Halo 3, longer than his actual cryogenic sleep between the events in Halo 3 and Halo 4.
Depending on when you read this, you’re either preparing for or recovering from the annual candy and alcohol feast that is Halloween. Well, what better way to get into a gruesome frame of mind or shake out last night’s cobwebs than a discussion of some holiday-appropriate games. It’s likely you’re familiar with horror classics like Resident Evil and Fatal Frame, as well as more recent hits hits like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Slender, so I thought I’d take a different angle and talk about a handful of games that were unexpectedly chill-inducing and the ways in which they strike fear into our hearts (and thumbs).