As a kid, I loved miniature playsets. If I had a choice between a full-size action figure and something the size of my thumbnail, I’d take the mini guy every time, which is why I have a soft spot for games that feel like miniature playsets. XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Anomaly 2, Deadlight, and Civilization V are a few that immediately come to mind. What strikes me about all these games is that even though they belong to multiple genres, they’re all largely designed around how we look at things rather than how we interact with things, and that’s an important distinction for this diorama aesthetic. We’re meant to look, but not touch.
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Aliens: Colonial Marines is a bad game, but it should still be played by people who love this medium because it’s bad in some interesting and uniquely ludic ways. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the death scenes in Tomb Raider might have felt more gratuitous than they actually were because of the gameplay around them, and the same concept applies to everything in Colonial Marines/ It’s a fantastically flawed game in which every poorly implemented system helps bring down every other poorly implemented system.
The most common criticism of the Uncharted games is the dichotomy between the tone of combat and the tone of the cut scenes. In combat, Drake is a killing machine, able to wipe out hundreds of lives with a smirk and smile, and the cut scenes never acknowledge this penchant for mass violence. Such a dichotomy was dubbed “ludonarrative dissonance” in a blog post by Clint Hocking.
On one hand, we can argue that Drake was fighting in self defense since the bad guys usually do shoot first, but on other hand, he does kill so many people. Either way, the criticism went unanswered by Naughty Dog, as each Uncharted fell into the tonal trap. However, The Last of Us feels like a direct response to that criticism because unlike Drake, Joel represents the perfect synthesis of gameplay and character.
Tomb Raider has been criticized for being exploitative in its depiction of violence towards Lara. It’s a valid criticism, but whenever it’s made, there are two death scenes in particular that are always used as examples: The scene when Lara is impaled through the chest by a tree branch while parachuting and the one when she is impaled through the neck by a metal spike while being carried along on a river. There are other horrible ways to die, but those are rarely discussed: She’s also crushed by a boulder, mauled by wolves, shot through the neck with an arrow, or perhaps the worst one, she falls into the ocean and hits her head on a rock and drowns while unconscious. With all the horrible ways to die, why are the impalings singled out as gratuitous or exploitative? I think that it has less to do with their content and more to do with their context.