In the first few hours of playing the DC Universe Online Beta, I’d KOed Dr. Fate. Yeah, Dr. Friggin’ Fate. To those less familiar with reading DC Comics, I promise this is more impressive than it sounds.
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Yes, 2010 was full of sequels and other extensions of franchises, but it also saw some unique properties, some oddball worlds, and a few indie offerings that rounded out mainstream publishers efforts to refine, rather than innovate this year. Refinement is probably the major theme of some of the games that my Moving Pixels cohorts and myself chose as some of our top picks for the year. Games like Mass Effect 2,Super Mario Galaxy 2, Dead Rising 2, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (or even Red Dead Redemption if one assumes that Rockstar’s foray into the Old West is a broadly defined refinement of their typical open worlds) were all follow ups that tweaked, added onto, and otherwise built upon the foundations of previous franchise installments.
However, experiment, some smatterings of the avant garde, strong narrative and characterization, and other general weirdness were also present in new intellectual properties like Heavy Rain, Deadly Premonition, Enslaved, and Loved.
You know the scene in the movie. Our hero has just left something flammable or explosive behind. He lights a cigar, enjoys a few puffs, then tosses the cigar over his shoulder. As he strides slowly and indifferently away, an explosion of flames marks his passing. Pretty cool, huh?
Countless movies have riffed on this cinematic image. Richard Rodriguez’s Desperado, for instance, springs instantly to my mind, but there are countless others. There is a certain cockiness on display in these scenes that develops the hero as a badass in such scenes that seems driven by a number of the details of such a performance. Part of it is the cool and frequently slow walk away from the scene, part of it is that the hero never looks back at the destruction that he is responsible for. As a result, we are left with an image of self-assured competence and professionalism on the part of the hero. He is so certain of the outcome of his actions that he doesn’t even bother to check on his success and has no fear that the flames will reach him. After all, he understands destruction so intimately and so consummately, why bother?
Didn’t video games used to be about saving the world or at least a princess or something?
I ask this question as I consider the sorts of games that I have been playing lately. Sure, Fable III, Fallout: New Vegas, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood all contain elements that concern a civilization on the brink of disaster and the player’s role in providing a solution to that threat to the world or region or city-state. However, I have been noticing a tendency on my part when playing these games (especially Fable III and Brotherhood) to get much more involved in the economics of these games and my own investment in them than in paying attention to the noble goal (the common good) of the main plot.
Like the previously released DLC for Mafia II, Jimmy’s Vendetta, Joe’s Adventures largely consists of a series of more “arcade-style” missions set in the open world of Empire Bay. Also, like Jimmy’s Vendetta, most of these missions are only briefly backgrounded through textual introductions to mission objectives, mission objectives that mostly consist of perpetrating mayhem and violence in this fictional city that is the setting of Mafia II.
The extremely lean quality of the storytelling in that first DLC was very much to the game’s detriment, as Mafia II‘s strengths lie in its storytelling rather than in its fairly familiar third person shooting/driving gameplay. Indeed, I have argued that the limitations of Mafia II‘s open world actually complemented its story in many ways by emphasizing the ordered qualities of the life of Mafia soldier, Vito Scaletta (”Mafia II: the Boundaries of the Open World Experience”, PopMatters, 30 August 2010).
While many criticized the game for MAfia II‘s lack of “things to do” outside of the main storyline, in my mind Jimmy’s Vendetta laid bare the fact that side missions that may have been left on the cutting room floor to begin with may have been better left there. With only a loose sense of plot provided by few cutscenes and the aforementioned text-based intros alongside a pretty bland protagonist, the game suffered from redundancy and a bland “arcadey” style (”Mafia II: Jimmy’s Vendetta”, PopMatters, 22 September 2010). The game is more a series of side missions than a game interested in telling a story of any sort.