Article: I'll Cry When I'm Done Killing

[Warning: Slight MGS4 spoiler below]

Ask yourself: Can video games be uniquely therapeutic when compared to other entertainment mediums? No other medium matches the catharsis of interaction.

Let’s take the extremely intense button-mashing sequence near the end of Metal Gear Solid 4. You must help the protagonist—Snake—pull his dilapidated body through a fiery corridor before he’s burnt to a crisp. As the clock ticks away, you must furiously mash away to assist him in his agonizingly slow progression to safety. One sweaty hand reaches forward slowly clutching the floor as a leg bends slightly to help push him forward a few inches. Bit by bit the screen glow an ominous red reminding you that death is imminent. Once I completed that particular experience and lived, I dropped my controller to the ground in need of a break! It felt like I ran a mental marathon dealing with all the emotions the sequence evoked. Nervousness, dread, anguish, excitement, and then finally relief were all there and all because of game play. No words or touching dialog to take me here and yet I felt exactly what the game wanted me to feel.

Can video games go the other direction? How about actually consoling the loss of a loved one? According to one man--who’s brother was unfortunately killed in Iraq--they can:

“I was fighting back too. Not from some watered-down, digitalized version of patriotism. I was inflicting retribution on the people and the ideas that had hurt Luis, working through my grief and my rage. It wasn't the real thing; I don't think I could survive twenty-four hours of patrolling the physical, flesh-and-blood Baghdad. But Call of Duty 4 was as close as I could get. By the time I'd reached the end, I felt a visceral sense of relief and satisfaction. And part of me thought: "This one's for you, buddy. Hooah."

"I'll Cry When I'm Done Killing" is an interesting read and I highly recommend it. Thanks goes to SVGL for the link.


The Godfather 2

Though I love me some 3rd-person shooter action, the original Godfather game bored me to tears. I just couldn't get into it! I know I know, some of you out there really enjoyed this game quite a bit--and I respect that--but it never struck a chord with me despite my several attempts at playing it.

I'm happy to say that The Godfather II is a little bit of a different story...for the most part. To be frank, it's not much to look at, but I found the overall game engaging enough that I was compelled to play it all the way through to the end in roughly 10 hours.

Initially the experience didn’t feel much different from the first as the game (slowly!) introduced all the gameplay mechanics, but in about an hour or so the game began to hit its stride and everything sank in. It turned out this game was deeper--gameplay-wise--than some most other open world games and I found that refreshing as it was unexpected.

The Don View (initiated by hitting the Start button) essentially pulls the game out to a 3D map of the mob world you're trying to take over. Here you will be able to control your game in much greater detail. You'll find yourself inviting people into your family for their beneficial abilities (like lock picking or demolitions), promoting them up the chain (which in-turn grants them additional skills), upgrading their abilities (there are roughly 15 abilities per character ranging from increased health to better aiming), purchase them new weapons and more.

The Don View also offers the ability to delegate tasks for your family by send some of your men to assist in defending a business of yours that's under attack, or bomb an enemies business to cripple a crime ring, or even to attempt to take over another business making it your own. It's a cool system that wasn’t as buggy as I was expecting it to be.

In one instance I was attacking a much needed trucking depot to complete a crime ring that would have added bullet proof vests to my crew. While I was waging war the game notified me that one of my other businesses--a bar--was under attack (the notification helpfully offers to take you to the action via the Don View at a press of a button). No problem--I simply instructed 4 of my thugs to help fortify the defenses at the bar. Once I was done taking over the trucking depo I quickly drove over to the bar to assist and as I arrived I could see my guys laying waste to the other family as they finished up the last few guys. It's a rewarding system that works really well and is easily one of the highlights of the game.

Initially I was worried that I was going to spend more time in the Don View than actually playing the game because I was under the impression that this game might have been part 3rd-person shooter and part RTS--but that was not the case at all. Though you do spend a decent amount of time in the Don View, you really spend the majority of your time running around and attacking other families. Also, it's worth mentioning that the Don View might offer enough options to make some peoples head spin at first as it has a plethora of options. I do feel like it could have been organized a little better or at least consolidated in some ways to make it a little more approachable.

There are three cities throughout the game: New York, Cuba and Florida. You can (and will) visit back and forth by visiting the airport in each city. It sounds like a pain, but the maps are small enough that I found it painless.

Without a doubt the most fun I had with the game was when I was attacking other families businesses cannibalizing them into my own crime rings. These rackets--which normally consist of several businesses--have additional benefits that are exclusive to that string of businesses. For instance one racket will grant you larger ammo clips for your crew. One of the bigger ones spans several cities and offers incendiary bullets doubling the damage of your bullets. It's a nice carrot-on-a-stick until the end of the game.

There are some annoyances in the game worth mentioning (some minor but I’ll let you be the judge). You will use the thumbsticks to navigate the world, but as soon as you enter any menu system--including the Don View--you must switch over to the D-pad--its inconsistence is an annoyance, and what’s further frustrating is that it doesn’t even offer the option to do so. Also, the game expects you to interact with the world by talking with people on the streets who need favors (and boy there are a lot of them), but there isn’t enough variation on the NPCs, their voices and the environment to keep in very interesting. The graphics never go beyond mediocre and are never impressive.

But I think the biggest gripe I have with the game is the severe lack of side missions or alternate activities to participate in. The whole idea of an open world game is to offer the player choice. In Saint’s Row 2 or GTAIV you have so many different activities or side missions at your disposal one could get lost for hours! You can (and in some cases are encouraged) to stray from the main story and get completely lost. That’s the joy of an open world game--you make it your own! Yes I understand that there is a specific story to tell here with The Godfather 2, but the other games I mentioned do as well. I just feel like there was a huge opportunity here to move this game into a more interesting experience than it is and in the end we get a game whose world is nothing more than an empty shell. Perhaps EA is hoping people will get lost in the multiplayer experience? Personally I have no interest in that portion of the game.