God of War installmentoriginal game Asura’s Wrath combines exotic Asian mythologies with over-the-top gameplay in an attempt to cash in on what I’ve come to refer to as “epicness pornography”. Will the game industry ever escape this downward spiral of bombastic bullshit? Apparently not.
I’ve tackled this subject twice before, but I feel the need to do it again, because, like the mysterious Bruce Wayne, I simply cannot ignore the Bat Signal in the sky:
Hiyah! Take that — oh wait… wrong one.
Whoosh! Be gone, evildoer! Err, wait…
There we go. Sorry about that, it’s just that it’s hard to tell those three apart.
“Epicness pornography” and regular pornography are pretty much the same thing. Namco’s slutty advertisements for Soul Calibur V, which zoom in on Ivy’s disproportionate polygons, tread the same ground as Capcom’s pantheocide. [Note to self: copyright “Pantheocide” if it hasn’t been already.] Like X-rated pornography, it’s obsessed with exaggeration, brutality, and gratuitousness. Indeed, it must be obsessed with these things because it must try to overcome the desensitization threshold in society. Whenever a new level of depravity is reached, people become calloused to it. If you can’t find a way to shock them again, they’ll laugh at your (relative) meekness and innocence. (See: Saints Row: The Third.) Of course, Asura’s Wrath isn’t trying to be sleazy and controversial, but it’s certainly aiming for “over-the-top” in typical, unoriginal fashion.
I’m tired of this competition to be the most “epic”. There’s nothing epic about tapping the circle button, okay? Tapping it in order to blow up a deity who’s bigger than the entire world isn’t epic, it’s the opposite of epic. Can you think of a more underwhelming way to defeat a living god?
Who would have guessed that accomplishing such “epic feats” could be as simple as pressing X and Triangle when the large, shiny prompts show up on the screen? What is this supposed to be, a fight to the death, or a Heavy Rain sequel? If you screw up, you don’t feel like it was deserved, because the game itself is to blame: it does a piss-poor job of informing you what you’re supposed to be doing, and then it punishes you for failing to follow its arbitrary demands. This is also why most Quick Time Events are so generous with their timing (slowing down action to give you plenty of time), forgiving when you screw up (go back two spaces), and obvious in their presentation (a huge button prompt taking up 1/4 of the screen, flashing wildly for your attention). Challenge-wise, beating a boss fight with Quick Time Events is the equivalent of riding a motorized scooter beside a cross country cyclist. The heavy metal soundtrack and earth-shattering visuals are just overcompensation.
Don’t get me wrong, I love when game designers try to create epic situations; however, the challenge should be proportionate to the action on the screen. I point to FromSoftware’s Dark Souls as a perfect example. Facing a huge demon in Dark Souls fills the player with dread. It requires all the skill, focus, and determination that you’ve got, and at any moment you could lose hours of hard work all. Strategy, execution, and bravery are all necessary, and the game doesn’t have to hold your hand to make you realize this. So, when I see YouTube comments on Asura’s Wrath like…
“(Dbz+God of War) x Chuck Norris = this game.”
I agree completely: it’s shitty, plus shitty, multiplied by boring. Thanks for summarizing it so well for me!
Stepping Up Your Game
I was talking with a friend about this topic, and he said games like Asura’s Wrath, the newest Castlevania, Darksiders, the God of War series, and Bayonetta (ie. epicness pornography) need to utilize Quick Time Events in order to let developers come up with crazy ideas for action, while still involving the player in what would otherwise be a cutscene. I’ve said something almost identical in my Rising Wish List. Scripted events and Quick Time are a way of circumventing the work of creating an actual, functional simulation of some crazy event that players will only experience once. But that doesn’t give developers permission to reduce the whole experience down to a few measly inputs.
Essentially, scripted events are best when they act as fully-fledged mini-games: simpler, but not stupid. The original Metal Gear Solid did this with the rappelling section, evading the helicopter and (for some reason) blasts of hot steam while descending the side of the tower. Nowadays this sequence would be reduced to series of prompts, and skip the whole mini-game feeling. Some would like this better, I’m sure. Personally I never got the hang of it, but I appreciated the effort and wouldn’t want to replace it. On the other hand, the torture sequence did require tapping a button quickly, but it was optional: you could give up and sacrifice the “good ending” if you weren’t good at tapping. If you died, you had to load an old game file and sit through another big section of gameplay; plus they created multiple endings to accommodate either outcome. In other words, it was an example of careful game design and a lot of hard work, not tossing in a half-assed Quick Time Event like we see today.
If you prefer timed button presses, however, there’s a way to make that epic too:
LOOK EVERYBODY, I’M KILLING A WORLD-DESTROYING GIANT — THROUGH THE POWER OF DANCE!
In all seriousness, watch that video and imagine he’s beating a boss in Asura’s Wrath. Now that would be epic. Each movement could correspond to an action on the screen, like dodging or jumping, attacking or resisting. Slap a PlayStation Move controller in his hand, and you’ve got a Full Body Epic Action Game Experience™. People would go nuts for it, I guarantee. There are plenty of options to make something epic feel epic. It takes work and creativity though, which is why nobody does it.
The Bro-verload Continues
I wouldn’t be bothered by Asura’s Wrath if I felt it was just another God of War clone. I wouldn’t pay attention to the ads of Ivy’s tits and ass if I thought they were just stray marketing gimmicks either. The fact is that gaming culture is being sabotaged, and all of this is the natural result:
Remember how threats to the Master Plan are dealt with? They take the worst of something and make it the center of attention until it can be discredited or outlawed. This method is being used to sabotage gaming. The culture around gaming is being flooded with stupidity, chauvinism, and frat-boy attitude in order to repurpose it into juvenile and offensive toys for morons, rather than a serious medium with built-in intelligence. …. Women, children, and decent family people are all vital pillars of the gaming world, but they have been totally neglected by the testosterone-fueled circus surrounding it.
Being shamelessly crass, juvenile, and anti-intelligence is not a simple trend. Game developers are afraid to explore good ideas and put hard work into their creations because feel the need to cater to the (artificially generated, entirely unnatural) frat-boy community that has come to represent gamers thanks to the propaganda of IGN, and its copycats.
This is why I’m so proud of Firaxis for developing a strategic, cerebral X-COM game. We’re not as depraved and horny as our testosterone-fueled representatives would have us believe. As the gaming population increases and gets older, I hope it will become increasingly obvious that, while there will always be percentage of players who fit the idiotic stereotype of a horny dumbass who would rather be patted on the back and flashed some cleavage than given a real challenge and treated like a person with a brain, there’s an even bigger population of decent, smart people who recognize this pandering bullshit for what it is. It’s sad that making a smart, clean, sleaze-free game is somehow considered a risky proposition by the producers of gaming today. Producers see the artificial culture, witness the general trend away from intelligence, and decide to follow the herd — all the way to its embarrassing dead end, right alongside Soul Calibur’s ads and Asura’s Wrath.
Sometimes it seems like it’s up to indie developers to make titles without aggressive, continuous, mindless action. I know there are exceptions, and that pop culture has always been flooded with stupidity, but why should it be surprising to anybody that there’s a huge market for innocent, clever, and nuanced gaming experiences? When will they learn that being “epic” does not mean being lazy in your design and absurd in your premise? Collecting the materials for, designing the layout of, and ultimately constructing an intricate castle in Minecraft is “epic”; planning and executing a brilliant tactical strategy in X-COM is “epic”. Even beating an extremely complex Dance Dance Revolution routine is “epic”. Tapping circle when the prompt is on the screen, is the opposite of epic.