Asura’s Wrath is a simple game that tells a simple revenge story. It doesn’t do anything new or interesting with this basic premise. This story progresses as you expect with the characters that you expect taking on the roles that you expect. There are no surprises… until the cliffhanger ending. Leaving aside the ethical issue of purposely cutting off the end of the game and selling it as DLC, this DLC is worth the price or at least a gander on YouTube (which is what I did) because the final four episodes take the crazy spectacle of Asura’s Wrath and mix it with some shockingly thoughtful themes.
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Like most RPGs nowadays, Game of Thrones begins with a character creation screen where we get to choose a fighting style and skill set and so on. It’s very standard until you start to pick your “traits.” These are permanent modifiers named in such a way that it encourages us to think of our character as more than a collection of stats (“Ambidextrous,” “Honed Reflexes,” “Gifted”), but the best part about these choices is that once we’ve picked three positive traits, we have to pick three negative traits that permanently weaken our character.
A few months ago Thomas Grip, co-founder of Frictional Games, the developers behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent, wrote a blog post about the ten ways horror games can evolve. Grip makes a lot of good points, but the first one that stands out to me the most because it almost never happens in video games is the idea of establishing a sense of normality:
In most games the player usually starts out in some strange and not very normal situation…However, much of the good horror in other media starts of very mundane. They build on having the audience strongly relating to what is taking place and being able to draw close parallels to their own lives. For horror games this would mean to establish a very familiar situation and then slowly introduce the horror there. The goal is for the terror to not just be inside the game’s virtual world, but to reach into the real as well. (“10 Ways to Evolve Horror Games”, In the Games of Madness, 26 April 2012)
Then, as if right on cue, Telltale Games released The Walking Dead, which does just that.
There’s a lot of good writing in Max Payne 3, from its handling of character arcs to Max’s self deprecating narration. I love the moments when Max stops narrating with a noir flourish and just calls someone an asshole. It’s a way of representing his exhaustion though the narration: he’s too tired to think of a metaphor. But what really stands out to me are the seemingly throwaway lines from minor characters that give those characters depth despite their little screen time.
This discussion contains spoilers for Max Payne 3.
Max Payne 3 is an exciting shooter. The controls allow for some impressive precision. The options of choosing how to target enemies in “hard lock,” “soft lock,” and “free aim” modes separate shooting difficulty from enemy difficulty (which is a great idea that deserves its own blog post). The combat scenarios are varied and interesting. On the whole, it does everything that a good shooter should do, but it takes a very different road to get there. Call of Duty, Gears of War, and the rest are also exciting shooters, but their excitement stems from their sense of empowerment. Playing them is fun because it makes us feel stronger than we really are, capable of going toe-to-toe with an entire army and winning. The same can’t be said about Max Payne 3. Sure, you still go toe-to-toe with armies and win, but just barely. Max Payne 3 is not about empowerment.
// Moving Pixels
"Sometimes stories need to end badly in order to be really good.READ the article