Hall of Game: Third Person Shooters – The Line between Payne and Domain

I’ve wanted to play Binary Domain since the first trailer was released. The game was released early last year to decent reviews saying the game had solid mechanics and interesting ideas. I was the most enticed by the AV Club review of the game (now Gameological [and folded back in]), one of more consistent review outlets who praised the game’s humanity above all else. Humanity, at the core of Binary Domain’s story and mechanics, is its pulse and the reason for its success. You do not shoot or kill a single human being in Binary Domain, instead you work together using squad mechanics (aptly issued via voice command) on a gung-ho style journey of one character’s self-discovery.

from the sewers of Tokyo…

What makes any game great, is its ability to connect its core gameplay ideas with a coherent story. In Max Payne 3, coming in at the tail end of an extended shooter filled generation, the protagonist is one major cliche; a washed up alcoholic ex-cop/DEA agent turned private security.  The game, representing the height of its genre is shooting perfected. Max’s painkiller addiction fuels the player’s health, and with both the protagonist and player having experience with so much violence beforehand, the game is able to be fully appreciated it in all its gritty virtuosity.

… to the slums of Sao Paulo…

Spec Ops: The Line, on a much tighter budget goes the opposite route and polarizes the player and character. Functioning on a satirical level the game mocks other shooters with the use of similar mechanics such as rechargeable health, squad mechanics, and a binary morality system. The game transcends these cliches by giving an effective critique of the genre adding in the depiction of harshly violent consequences bound by player decisions the likes of which other shooters choose to forget. Like Max Payne 3, the game is a morally draining experience, but rather than being accepting of who he is and his anti-heroism like Max,  Captain Martin Walker the lead player controlled character of ‘Spec Ops’ presses on, insisting on convincing the player they are still  playing the hero, until they have led them down a hole so morally deep and corrupting that all that surrounds them is madness.

… to the sands of Dubai.

All these Third-Person Shooters intersect through multiple crosshairs. They were all marketed as typically glorifying, violent third-person shooters, catered to a mass market audience when they in fact, would’ve worked much better as the opposite. All 3 of these games were released in 2012 within 4 months of each other. They were intelligent shooters with a focus on character, that was better suited for a thinking person. The confusion with art house and blockbuster audiences can be attributed to the strength of the duality of games; the connection between the story and gameplay aspects acted as a weakness which allowed for some of these games to miss their respective audiences.

This kind of marketing mistake; one that has caused more damage to other games than the above mentioned casualties, represents a massive yet hidden hurdle that the gaming industry must climb over in order to thrive, one that it has yet to overcome. The challenge for marketing these great games, ones that can convey strong messages through memorable interactive experiences, is that they are being dumbed down and muted. I want my parents to look at games like these and understand that they aren’t just rotting my brain cells anymore. I believe that not only is the industry misrepresented in its ability to tell thoughtful, surprising and mature stories, but that this problem of misrepresentation is one of the industries biggest problems that has stilted the business’ growth and may eventually lead to another possible downfall. You just can’t tell right now because its happening in slow motion.

Credibility: I consider myself an unofficial “expert” on seventh generation console games, only because I own both an Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, have a relatively decent Gamerscore (approximately 25000G) and Trophy Count (Lv. 13), and because ‘X’ is an unknown quantity and ‘per t’ is a very small amount.

*It is understood that Max Payne 3 having shipped 4 million units admittedly does make for an exception to my case of audience misfire; as the deep pockets and insanely high production value of Rockstar Publishing house allowed it to gain much traction. I would however still argue, despite the game’s generally favourable Metacritic rating and commercial success, it has received some major backlash for its narrative and design choices (a nonsensical story coupled with very long load times disguised in overly long cut scenes that are draped in unnecessary exposition, would make me for one question myself as an investor, if the extended production of an above average game may have been worth the trouble).

Personal Insights and Tidbits – All of these games share cinematic interpretations from literary inspirations:

  • Binary Domain shares connections with Blade Runner (1982) and I, Robot (2004) which  are based off of stories from respective authors Phillip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov.
  • Max Payne practically mirrors the arc of John Creasy in the 2004 Denzel Washington vehicle Man on Fire. The exotic locale is switched from Sao Paulo to Mexico City and borrows many of director Tony Scott’s stylistic elements; random text popping up on screen lots of exposition, and frenetic camera work.
  • Spec Ops: The Line is an adaptation of Joseph Konrad’s Heart of Darkness which was earlier adapted by Francis Ford Coppola’s film ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1972) but I’m sure most of you reading this already knew that.
  • Alternate Title for this article: “A Hard to the Core yet Thought Provoking Analysis”

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