A good menu can set the tone for the rest of the game to come, or when done poorly, it can be a nuisance that players try to skip as fast as possible every time that they boot up a game. Since the last time I wrote about some innovative menus, three more games have come out that I feel deserve special mention for how handle this normally bland part of a game.
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Medal of Honor was supposed to be EA’s big salvo against Call of Duty, an attempt at bringing down Activision’s juggernaut of a shooter at least a little bit. While I think the single player portion of EA’s game is far better, the multiplayer is surprisingly derivative for such a high profile game. It tries to marry elements from Battlefield: Bad Company and Call of Duty, making what probably sounded like the perfect shooter on paper. But Medal of Honor only borrows the surface trappings of these elements and none of the depth, resulting in a multiplayer mode that feels as if it was made by people who don’t understand why its peers are so popular.
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.
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.