Let’s start with the positive. Halo is great at creating moments: daring escapes from collapsing spaceships or last ditch desperate offensives, sticking someone with a plasma grenade, the first time fighting a Hunter, the squirrelly controls of a Warthog, and the dogfights in a Banshee. Also, I still love the twisting paths of alliances and betrayals that makes up the narrative of Halo 3. However, there’s a reason that ODST and Reach remain the best games in the series. They’re both stand-alone games, self-contained stories with a beginning, middle, and end all in one campaign, complete with character arcs, narrative arcs, and mysteries that are introduced and then satisfyingly resolved.
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Party Hard is a rare kind of a game: a genuine dark comedy. Usually comedy in games is absurd in nature—think Monkey Island, Sam and Max, Stanley Parable, or Saints Row The Third—because the mechanics of any game are already absurd when taken at face value, so it’s a natural fit. What game mechanics represent are often pretty dark when taken at face value—casual murder, theft, and trespassing, to mention a few—and comedy helps undercut that darkness so that we don’t dwell on it. Be honest, did you even remember that the earth was destroyed at the end of Saints Row IV, or did you just remember that elaborate dance scene?
Puzzles and horror make a curious pair. This pairing has a real history in video games. When one thinks of “old school survival-horror,” one often thinks of an environment with lots of locked doors, hidden keys, and esoteric riddles. But why was it so often this way? Was this a mutually beneficial relationship, one in which the stress of the horror made the puzzles more exciting and in which the methodology of the puzzles forced us to stay rational amidst the horror? Or were the convoluted puzzles included simply to pad out the game to a more marketable length?
Horror is hard. You can never really be scared by the same thing twice, not in the same way. After that first time, you’re prepared for it. That preparation may be conscious—a knowledge of clichés and tropes that help you predict the future—or it may be unconscious—a subtle feeling of familiarity that turns something once terrifying into something merely scary—but either way the knowledge of a scare subtracts from its effectiveness. Combine that fact with the sheer number of horror related movies, games, books, and whatnot released in any given year… and horror becomes very hard.
But horror is a cakewalk compared to its little brother: The less scary, more abstract, tonally trickier sub-genre of the spooky story.
The Music Machine, by one-man-developer David Szymanski, does not go where you think it’s going. It sets up an interesting premise, then veers off in a completely unexpected direction. Usually that’s a bad thing, but in this case, it’s a very good thing. It goes from interesting to fascinating, and establishes a world that I desperately want to dig into more deeply.
// Moving Pixels
"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.READ the article