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Dare I Hope?

September 5, 2007

So I was skimming across the Internets when I ran into a new trailer for a game I hadn’t heard about before, “Battlefield: Bad Company“. Now aside from it’s stupid name-colon: name, which would do much better to simply be chopped down to a simple “Bad Company”, virtually everything about this game looks promising. Yes, yes, it’s yet another modern/near future shooter featuring a hypothetical and ridiculously implausible shooting war featuring NATO’s whole Toy Chest of Doom, but there’s something else here that is promising. Something cynical.

Now the big marketing buzz the game is trying to go for is its fully destructive environments. Hm. Where have I heard that one before? Oh yeah, I remember playing this game before, back when it was called Red Faction. Or maybe I’m thinking of the other three-dozen games that promised us this in the last 6 years. Hell, maybe I’m thinking all the way back to fucking X-COM, which if I recall correctly featured a fun little toy called the Blaster Bomb which allowed the player to level entire maps to smoking rubble. I guess the point that is coming into focus here is that “fully destructible environments” just doesn’t have that magical zing it used to. We’ve heard that claim before, or even its successor “we really mean it this time!” on too many occasions to get real thrilled about it now.

So why am I still excited about this game if its primary selling point so far seems to be a marketing buzzword that no experienced gamer would get excited about in this day and age? Simple, the story. DICE, the development studio behind this game, are being coy with the particulars of the story so far, but what we do know is this: the player assumes the role of one member of a squad of disgruntled US Army troopers who decide to go into business for themselves in the middle of World War 3, apparently without telling the Army before hand. What they’re after hasn’t been explicitly laid out yet, but we do know it involves money and revenge.

This idea is fantastic on a couple levels. One, the developers seem to have been smart enough to realize that on the tail end of a loosing war is not the time to be telling stories about teary-eyed heroism and idealistic struggles, and that kind of intelligence bodes well for the game as a whole. Two, all great war stories are at their core tales about the very worst parts of human nature, and having your protagonists abandon their duty to go off in search of personal wealth as the starting point of the story is a promising early sign that whoever they hired to write this game’s script understands that. Three, if they pull this off correctly, DICE may succeed in creating the world’s first anti-war war-sim. If that happens, we’ll have one more compelling example to set beside BioShock (which I’ll be getting to in a later post) in favor of the argument that video games are taking their first tentative steps into becoming a full-fledged art form complete with their own standards of aesthetics and moral statements.

So to DICE I say, in the unlikely event that you read this: please don’t fuck up.

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