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Friday, Apr 17, 2015
We grow over the course of Battlefield: Hardline, not so much as a character, but as a performer.

Battlefield: Hardline opens with a brief shootout in a tiny room, and a frantic car chase that ends when the fleeing suspect crashes his car. Battlefield 4 opens with your team jumping/falling out of a building as a helicopter shoots it to pieces, and a frantic car chase that ends with you hanging out an open door and blowing up said helicopter with a grenade launcher before the car flips off the crashing wreckage and into the ocean.


One of these openings feels like an introduction, a brief tease of action that leaves plenty of room for escalation throughout the rest of the game. The other feels like a climax within itself.


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Friday, Apr 10, 2015
In Out There, the only enemy is the universe itself, and no one really expects the universe to be fair.

I like watching people play FTL, a roguelike space adventure in which we’re a lone ship fleeing a powerful rebel empire, but I don’t like playing it myself. The random nature of events that define a roguelike and that make it so much fun to watch also made for a frustrating and disheartening play experience. For me, at least.


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Friday, Apr 3, 2015
Coming in the wake of Ferguson and in the midst of a political discussion about militarized police, how could a game like Battlefield: Hardline, in which you play as a cop, represent anything but tacit support for a powerful police force? The answer: by not supporting the police

The first episode of Battlefield: Hardline ends with an action scene—and a cheesy joke. Nicholas Mendoza and his partner Khai are investigating a suspect’s house when they get attacked by gunmen. Khai gets shot in the shoulder, and I hold the wound closed while fending off bad guys. They blow open the front doors, then crash through the front wall with an armored truck, but I still manage to kill them all. As S.W.A.T. teams storm the house (where were you literally five seconds ago?), they find our suspect and ask me, “Who’s this?” Mendoza gives them a smile, “Him? He does spreadsheets.” Fade to black.


It’s a callback to a line from five minutes earlier, from just before the gunmen attacked. It’s a joke that’s entirely unearned: Mendoza is pretty serious up to this point, and these two men literally just met. They haven’t had a chance to grow into any natural cop/criminal buddy banter. It’s a cheesy joke that falls flat, and it’s the exact moment when I started to like Hardline.


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Friday, Mar 27, 2015
Disorder might have something profound to say, but it certainly doesn’t know how to say it -- or through what genre.

Braid made it look easy: Take one part platformer, one part puzzler, sprinkle in some “deep thoughts” between the levels, and presto—instant critical and commercial acclaim. But Braid only made it look easy. The puzzle-platformer may have become the indie go-to genre of choice in the wake of Braid‘s success, but that doesn’t mean that those kinds of games are easy to make, especially if they, also like Braid, aspire to be about something greater than their puzzles and platforming.


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Friday, Mar 20, 2015
The Cat Lady is a horror game, but it’s not about the horror of supernatural beings or serial killers or anything as flashy and shocking as that. It's about the horror of normal life.

There’s an episode of South Park in which one of the boys, Stan, starts an anti-bullying campaign. He needs a face for his commercial, so he starts to pressure another one of his friends to be in it. The joke is, of course, that he becomes a bully himself, highlighted by his appropriately inappropriate anti-bullying slogan: “Let’s make bullying kill itself!”


I had that song stuck in my head (oh yea, it was a musical number) as I played through the first few chapters of The Cat Lady, a point-and-click horror game by Harvester Games. In it, a suicidal loner named Susan Ashworth is forced back to life by a supernatural being in order to bring righteous justice to five “parasites,” i.e. serial killers. I knew nothing of the game going in, but I saw the entire arc of the game in those opening moments. Susan would see people die, kill others, and through her close encounters with death she would come to see the value of her own life. It’s a plan to cure depression through violence, not unlike Stan’s approach to bullying.


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