Deadpool – Breaking the Fourth Wall (no spoilers)

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Being a fairly hardcore Deadpool fan, I was pretty skeptical when High Moon Studios announced they were tackling the infamous Merc with a Mouth and sticking him into his own video game. The Deadpool image has already been violated with monstrous representations of the character in the X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie, and with poor execution, a Deadpool video game could easily follow the same tragic fate. High Moon Studios, having only been up and running as their own studio since 2005, has a fairly decent track record with games like¬†Darkwatch and the Transformers line of games (especially Fall of Cybertron, play that shit), but they weren’t the hack-and-slash, humorous, games that Deadpool seemed to be striving for. Nevertheless, I put my faith in High Moon and picked it up.

My fear that the writers would make the same mistake that so many comicbook writers have made with Deadpool—

OMFGLOL, I wrote him so random! That’s why people love him, right?!!!!11!1!

—stayed with me through the first chapter of the game, but was eventually put at ease. The script was actually really funny and felt true to Deadpool’s character consistently through the game (I just looked it up, High Moon brought on Daniel Way as writer who has done probably my personal favorite Deadpool runs including Deadpool: Dark Reign, so that makes sense). Deadpool’s dialogue never got stale as the game progressed, and even the one-liners he’d spit out during regular combat had enough of a rotation that I wasn’t tired of hearing them. He frequently made fun of the High Moon developers about the game, often acknowledging cliche aspects or common gameplay mechanics that are used to allow the player to feel a sense of character leveling. He was the same old sex-crazed, psychotic, funny, shitty one-liner spewing guy that I remember, and I think most fans, and non-fans, can enjoy and be pleased with how he turned out.

As good as the dialogue was, I was most intrigued by how well the games utilizes the “breaking the fourth wall” device (characters acknowledging that they are in a game/movie or speaking to the audience). One of the best characteristics of Deadpool is his frequency to always break the wall in whatever he is featured in, it is among one of his most defining qualities. I assumed the game would play out like a regular game: linear story, bad guy doing bad guy stuff, dash in some humor, etc., and he’d occasionally break the fourth wall for cheap laughs. What I didn’t expect was that the entire storyline of the game is written around this device. It becomes the base mechanic for the storyline and for the gameplay.

Throughout the game you have essentially zero idea what you are supposed to be doing or why. Deadpool is aware that this is his video game being made, and carries around the games script as reference the entire time. All we can gather is there is this huge event that Deadpool plays the pivotal role in, but every time someone begins talking to Deadpool he begins daydreaming about Rogue’s boobs, arguing amongst his personalities (usually about boobs), or talking to the audience about something completely unrelated (boobs, mostly). Not even the player is brought in on the actual point of the game. Deadpool sets his own insane reasons for helping out, and they happen to fall in line with what the rest of the X-Men are up to.

Aside from story progression, it became an actual gameplay mechanic. At one point the player hits a gap that they can’t get across and Deadpool’s other two voices create thought bubbles that the player can use to cross like a bridge. My favorite instance of it is when the game, rather frequently, warps into an entirely different genre mini-game, like old-school 2D side-scrollers, or a Sonic 3D-esque “ring” collection slide because of one of Deadpool’s delusions, or arguing with the developers at High Moon about budget issues. They are actively apart of the gameplay and story progression, not just fun little in-game inserts to break up the monotony.

The rest of the gameplay was a bit of a disappointment. None of it was necessarily “bad” but it didn’t feel complete. The game plays like any classic hack-and-slash 3rd person with a lot of button mashing and feels like an early 2000’s arcade game in a lot of aspects. A feature I found neat that I wish the designers would have put more effort into was the “combo-flow” system (think the Batman: Arkham games) where you build up a combo-meter and counter as you progress, and bounce from baddie to baddie delivering forms of punishment. You can switch from 3 different types of melee weapons mid-fight, along with 4 different guns and 4 types of thrown or placed gadgets (grenades, bear traps) all the while utilizing Deadpool’s teleporter device to evade incoming damage. The game did a good job of allowing the player to utilize them all during a fight with relative ease and allowing for special combos depending on what you have equipped, but I often found myself getting frustrated when the game would get caught on itself and Deadpool wouldn’t respond to my commands, especially when getting swarmed by melee and ranged opponents, which is most of the time. There was also the issue I found with the ill placed ‘counter’ button being the same as the ‘holyfuckteleport’ button. You’d go to teleport away from an incoming huge shockwave, only to turn around and counter some insignificant melee fighter who happened to be attacking at the same time. All in all, from a design approach, the combat system was flawed. It had the potential to have the same smooth flow as the Arkham games, but dropped the ball along the way. I don’t often like to compare two different games, since each game should strive for its own image, but the combat systems felt too close together to not make the comparison.

There was also a lack of replayability to the game. Aside from finishing off the achievements, which most are actually pretty challenging or really funny and worth doing, or playing on a higher difficulty, there is no desire or incentive¬† to continue playing afterwards. There are little challenges once you beat a chapter, like survival modes and what not, but they didn’t draw me in like I had hoped. I’m actually glad High Moon didn’t try to incorporate a multiplayer feature to the game, since I foresee no way of that going well, but a little something extra to keep the game going would have been nice. I personally would have added something simple like different skins, or embracing the arcade mini-games and allow the player to replay extended versions of the side-scrollers and what not, which I’ll give it to High Moon, they did with the “pirate-ship” mini-game in the challenges mode.

All in all I thought High Moon did a pretty good job with what I assumed would be a disaster of a game. From a true fan of the character, they done good, give it a playthrough. I hope to see High Moon Studios continue to strive for better quality games and see if they’re capable of putting out an even better sequel in the future.

-Nick Thompson

@notnickthompson

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The Last of Us – Fixed Storyline Done Right (Spoilers)

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I finally got around to playing Naughty Dog’s, The Last of Us, after avoiding any forums and social media that even mentioned the game after its release, in hopes that I would be able to jump into the game with as few preconceptions of what to expect as possible. I knew the game was highly rated and well received, and it had a good storyline involving horror survival, but aside from that, I was going in with a clean slate.

I was originally expecting to sit here and write about how Naughty Dog took one of the most hated game mechanics, escort missions, and how they successfully designed an entire damn game around it but, as I sit here with the sick feeling left in my stomach after finishing the game mere hours ago, I decided to write about why I am currently battling my own inner turmoil and conflicts with morality instead.

When the story was first progressing, I thought I was going to be playing a game with a generic, but compelling, savior-hero protagonist that battles his way through dead monstrosities that served as a backdrop to his ultimate battle with the corrupt faceless government authority figures, like in many games. Joel was a man in pain, left to deal with the death of his daughter 20 years ago as he learned how to survive a ravaging plague. With Ellie in tow, no fucking government, zombie, or heartless thug was going to stop them from curing the world! NOT ON MY WATCH.

I was mistaken. The driving force of this story was moral ambiguity, and the lack of player choice was the guiding light.

The Last of Us showed that situations are never black and white. There was no good or bad, hero and villain. I wanted so desperately for Joel to take Ellie under his wing, to be the daughter that he lost. I wanted them to bond, to rely on each other to reach their goal. I wanted Joel to be the hero that I knew he could be. Sure he’s rough on the outside, but who wouldn’t be after what he’s been through? But I know he has so much potential for love and compassion! Well, I got what I wished for and was blindsided as a result.

This was a story about men. Men who have spent there whole lives around surviving an unbeatable plague. Desperate men. Naughty Dog did an excellent job providing character development to all sides of the spectrum. Through notes we find that the soldiers weren’t husks of men doing government bidding, but people just doing what they felt was necessary to get by. Through developing story we find the heartless thugs we’ve been killing at every opportunity were just versions of ourselves. Just like ourselves they came from all walks of life, all with different agendas. Some were obviously bad as they mowed down people in a Humvee, while others seemed good, but 90% of the time you had no way of knowing if the guy you were currently sticking a shiv into the neck of was just part of a group looking for food for their families, or some asshole in that group who gets off on raping and murdering as he survives.

Joel was no exception. The man I think we all hoped would be the hero that we wanted was as morally ambiguous as anyone. I was struck off by an early exchange between Ellie and Joel where she asks him how he knew the “injured” man was an ambush, and Joel admits to being on both sides, to killing innocent people. Personally, that made my stomach churn. Joel just became less of the hero that I had made him out to be, and more of the survivalist that he was. “But no,” I reassured myself, “This is a story about redemption!” Joel just needed to save the world, and then we can all sleep easy knowing that he just was doing what everyone else had to do to survive. Thank god that’s all behind us.

I was mistaken, again.

As Joel takes Ellie under his wing, just like I had hoped he would, we’re greeted with a man that is driven to protect the thing he has been avoiding for 20 years, someone he loves. Joel does everything in his power to keep Ellie safe.

As the game reaches its climax, I’m pulling the trigger on countless Fireflies, all the while thinking about how these are probably good men for the most part. They’re trying to save the world, like I was. I just spent the game trying to find them! Now I’m a man driven by blinding love. I hesitantly kill doctors who are working on a cure. I execute the leader of the would-be saviors who’s character development reveals her to be dealing with the same insane moral dilemma that Joel faces with Ellie, but chose a different path, arguably a better path.

By the end of the game, I am no longer guiding a character to achieve a morally sound goal that almost all of us would have picked if given the opportunity. Instead, I’m along for the ride as Joel does his own thing, and he does not give a damn about how sick his actions make me, or how much I yell at my T.V.

I’m left with a sinking feeling in my stomach as the credits roll and all I can think about now is, “How great was that game?!”

Thank you, Naughty Dog, for showing us that fixed storylines aren’t dead in an era where player choice is a mechanic prevalent in many games,¬† and the ones that do have a fixed story often make it clear what side of the morality spectrum the characters sit while playing.

If we were allowed choice throughout the game, especially in the ending chapters, the story wouldn’t have been an ounce of what it is. Stripping that freedom away from the players allows us to experience the game in a completely different way than one gets from the ability to choose. We had to experience and deal with what was going on, and didn’t get a say in the matter one bit.

-Nick Thompson

@notnickthompson