The rebooted Medal of Honor is supposed to be about the soldiers and not about the controversial Afghan war that serves as a backdrop for the action. The game was criticized for sticking to such a narrow subject matter; staying apolitical in this case seemed like a marketing gimmick meant to stir up just the right amount of controversy—enough to hype the game, but not enough to hurt sales. In retrospect however, after beating the single-player campaign, I’m confident in saying that this approach works for this game.
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Modern horror games have it rough. Not only is it hard for anything not obviously in the survival horror genre to be accepted as a true horror game, but even those games that do classify as survival horror have to face a discerning public that’s very picky about any mechanical flaws or inconsistencies. Unfortunately, one of those technical and artistic challenges is also a major staple of the subgenre, creating scary enemies that you can run from.
While I don’t believe that combat intrinsically lessens the terror an enemy can evoke, there’s no denying that weakness is scary. Going up against an enemy so overwhelming that your only recourse is to flee is frightening, but if you can successfully escape, then one has to wonder: just how dangerous is this enemy really? Running away time and time again makes even the scariest, most disturbing monster look stupid and non-threatening.
The vocabulary we use to talk about horror games is inherently problematic because a single subgenre has become synonymous with the genre as a whole. “Survival horror” is widely seen as a synonym for “horror” in general, but the truth is that “survival horror” when used in this context is a very specific kind of horror game that really only existed in a very specific era of gaming.
There’s a lot of nostalgic baggage attached to the term “survival horror”. The two words speak to a distinct type of gameplay and atmosphere: tank controls, weak characters, poor combat, inventory management, fixed camera angels, obtuse puzzles, limited ammo, lots of loading screens, lots of running, journals that fill out the backstory, etc. This type of game was popular on the Playstation and Playstation 2 and was also the only kind of horror game that was readily accessible in mass market gaming. Since there were no alternatives, it was only natural to assume that survival horror was the only sort of horror game, and over time, this kind of thinking became entrenched in the fans of the genre.
For a medium that revolves so much around killing, it’s sad that so few games show us the realistic consequences of violence. That’s probably why there are so few kids in games and why they’re always supernaturally protected from player created chaos: no one wants to sensationalize child murder. There were no kids in the “No Russian” level of Modern Warfare 2, and you can’t kill kids in Fallout 3 even though there are many in the Capital Wasteland. Despite this trend of avoidance, there have been a few recent and semi-recent games that deal with the killing of children explicitly and implicitly, and it’s no coincidence that they’re all horror games.
Ratchet and Clank know how to have a good time. Over the past few weeks, many of the big games that I have played have been disappointing in one way or another, but never Ratchet and Clank. Even after six console games and even more for the portable systems, the Ratchet and Clank games have proven to be consistently entertaining and innovative, and the most recent entry in the series (which I’ve only now gotten around to playing) is no different. In its controls, combat, and characters, Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time never forgets how to be fun.