The Beautiful Game
Frank Sinatra. If only he could be resurrected to witness the sleek, theatrical acrobatics of one Umbran Witch as she effortlessly slays waves of angels to the tune of his classic. Fly Me to The Moon. I for one was being flown over it. Because finally -- finally! -- a living breathing human being, coexisting with me on planet earth, gave cathartic gaming voice to the insanity that we all know dwells dormant within us all. I was over the moon. This is what games were about! Adorned with four guns -- two strapped behind the lower shins -- and a sassy cocksure countenance, typified by a curvaceously voluptuous physique and a hilariously sensual strut of a walk, Bayonetta was exactly the sort of camp character videogames had now been sorely missing, and the game itself exactly the sort of work being frowned upon by an industry immobilised by a growing fear.
And not only did the game do away with the thematic status quo of "emulate reality (and please nothing too left of centre; heaven forbid creativity smears its costly backside across the picture; balance sheets people! balance sheets!)" but the game itself was a masterstroke in game design. A mechanic called "Witch Time" was the centre about which an incredibly smooth and deep battle system pivoted. And just like that the then relatively unknown Platinum games -- the new kid on the blog trying to get his voice heard over the roaring tumult of all those Behemoths -- proved everyone wrong. The critics loved it! And people loved it! And why wouldn't they? At what point did those mega gaming corporations begin to paint us -- we the gamers -- as having no taste for anything other than war-based shooters, sports games, or third person history-lesson RPGS?
It was all becoming too grounded. All the mega-hits were attempting to simulate reality, rather than create fantasy. And I would have myself not be taken the wrong way over this: great games they all are, the CODs, Fifas and Assassins Creeds of yesteryear and present. But there is something insipid about it all, this growing trend of doing away with eccentricity. Which is unfortunate in its own right, because then why bother having games if we cannot give some form of life to all those crazy ideas and wild fantasies of human imagining? An American solider in Afghanistan is fine, I suppose, but a Bayonetta lashing out blows with giant stilettos fashioned from demonic spirits, all to the beat of some cranked-up remix of an endeared 1960s classic is the crux of beauty. The archetypal soldier in any one COD might mutter some bland remark, but a Bayonetta would taunt "I've got a fever, and the only cure for it is more dead angels" all the while her body contorts in a jungle of sensual dance moves. It really does bring a tear to the starved eye.
Which is why Just Cause 3, the fantastic game it albeit is, did disappoint somewhat. The game played it too safe. Which in someway cannot be helped -- really the sandbox is by definition a safe bet of sorts. And even though the game has some personality, it doesn't brim with it, and instead we only see shades of idiosyncrasies, too afraid to bloom. In issue 289 of gaming magazine EDGE, the co-founder of Avalanche Studios Christofer Sundberg states the studios endeavour to "explore new ideas, but be relatively conservative with experimentation". Which again is fine. It was always inevitable that the great expansion of gaming would push games into a kind of creative limbo. But at least we can be resolute that greatness will grace us. Every now and then.
3/1/2016 John Nakhoul