[Metanarrative] Population: 1
Posted by Azuriel
What does Atom Zombie Smasher, Far Cry 2, and Xenogears have in common?
I don’t actually know what to call it. But maybe I can describe it.
Just recently I completed Atom Zombie Smasher, a pseudo-puzzle indie game with some rockin’ Hawaiian surf guitar music. You basically try and save as many civilians as possible before the zombies eat them, with only a handful of various mercenary units. The game looks like this:
At some point while playing it, I suddenly realized that this is the first zombie apocalypse game I have played that evokes the full horror of the scenario. The traditional vantage point is being the survivor hero struggling against insurmountable odds on your desperate run towards the helicopter.
In Atom Zombie Smasher you are the helicopter.
Specifically, you control where the helicopter lands, along with the deployment of snipers and artillery strikes and so on. Your life is not at stake here. All you have is your dispassionate duty to save 60 civilians out of the 125 in this section of the city. Other sections have higher populations, but the requirement is always a fairly low percentage of the total.
And that is when the horror comes in. When you see that lone purple dot making its way towards the desperate, waiting crowd of yellow dots. All it takes is one zombie; I’ve seen it happen. The panicked movements as the civilians catch on. They’re packed in so tight, so tight. The helicopter was just here – most of them are exhausted, having ran after hearing the fog horn from three blocks away. A single sniper shot would save their day. Their day, not the day – the 874th Rising Lightning sniper squad are the only thing keeping 5th and Main intersection clear of zombies, and the eventual airlift of the 50 civilians on the other side of town.
I make the call.
As the helicopter flies overhead and beyond the sight of the crowd, I like to imagine that all their faces stay turned skyward, despite the feeding frenzy beginning at their periphery. That the last thing most of them feel is not being eaten alive, but the fading sun on their face, followed by the merciful and cleansing fire of an artillery blast. I cannot save everyone, but I can save them from that fate. And… and… they are easier targets to hit than zombies.
May God have mercy on my soul.
Posted in Indie
Tags: Atom Zombie Smasher, Metanarrative
A Bridge Too Nier
Posted by Azuriel
I have completed Nier: Automata (N:A) all the way.
Again, the visuals were extremely good.
As I mentioned a few days ago, the major impetus for my buying N:A in the first place was the seemingly unrelenting stream of praise it received. “Best game ever!” “GOTY 2017, if not of all time!” Those sort of proclamations immediately actives my Bullshit Sense, honed as it is after the Bioshock: Infinite debacle. That was almost five years ago now, and I’m still mad that it gets any praise at all. Seriously, people, that was not a good game.
Suffice it to say, Nier: Automata is not Bioshock: Infinite. In fact, it is extremely good.
But does that mean N:A lives up to its hype? Well… yes and no.
When I look back on the games I view as true epics with moving storylines and compelling characters, I see games like Xenogears. FF7. Chrono Trigger. The Mass Effect trilogy. In this context, I did not feel that N:A’s plot achieved a spot on that pantheon. At the same time, I can also recognize that Xenogears was released in 1998, which is possibly before many fans of N:A were even born. So, in a sense, I can see how someone can view N:A as being the best story they have experienced.
However, pure epic story-telling is not the only prism through which a narrative can be judged. When I think about my experience with Far Cry 2, for example, I found it deeply moving and incredibly clever from a meta-narrative perspective.
Robotic hearts in the darkness.
Far Cry 2 was a slog of bloody, seemingly pointless firefights against interchangeable factions all the way to the very end. And that was the point. The gameplay itself was being used as an emotional vehicle for the player
to show themexperience the pointlessness of the conflict firsthand, and feel your own culpability in perpetuating a cycle of violence for ultimately selfish ends. When I was finally given the option at the end to either escape Africa or stay and sacrifice myself to save some refugees, the weariness and resignation I felt via the protagonist was real to me too. Staying behind to manually blow the bomb came as an immense, cathartic relief.
It is in this sort of reference point that Nier: Automata actually deserves the praise it receives. N:A is no Xenogears, but it is a Far Cry 2. Or Metal Gear Solid 2. Or Spec Ops: The Line. Not in the content of its message necessarily, but in its clever use of gameplay mechanics and subverting expectations to elicit emotions rather than relying on plot alone.
Indeed, one of the most poignant and moving sequences in the game occurs during the closing credits of the E ending. I went from rolling my eyes, to mild interest, to frustration, to finally… an emotion I had not experienced since Journey. And right at the very end of it all, the game asks a final, devastating question of the player, that I was not expecting nor prepared to answer.
And I blinked. Days later, I still feel somewhat guilty.
You would be forgiven for wondering why the above is not enough for Nier: Automata to take a seat next to Xenogears. I might just be obstinate. Or it may simply be as banal a reason that those PS1 classics came first, or were experienced in my more formative years, or both. But still, I hesitate.
Honestly, it is probably better for everyone to temper their expectations anyway. If you go into Nier: Automata thinking you will experience a 10/10, or something far and away better than whatever you view as your favorite game, you will probably be disappointed. If instead you go in with eyes open, acknowledging the fact that you will essentially need to beat the same game twice (from two different perspectives) before the “real” game begins, you will likely be more open to the emotional notes that the game elicits.
Plus, I hope you like action games. And twin-stick shooters. And… you get the idea.
And hacking! Can’t (ever) forget that.
Speaking of notes though, the soundtrack is every bit as amazing as they say. It is a complete aural experience, with familiar themes expanding during epic moments, or contracting when the action inverts for a hacking mini-game. Some soundtracks have a few good songs, but Nier: Automata is good the entire way through, at every moment. Haunting, melodic… perfect. It absolutely deserves a seat with Mitsuda’s Xenogears and Chrono Trigger, even if thematically they differ.
So, yeah. Nier: Automata is worth playing. It’s not perfect, but it’s so goddamn ridiculous and bold and eccentric and sometimes horrifying and sad. And, ultimately, meloncholy. There are bad bits, some boring parts, and some questionable design decisions. Yet, more than anything, this is a game that ignored what everyone else was doing and shot for the moon. That ain’t nothing.
Posted in Commentary, Review
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Tags: Far Cry 2, Metanarrative, Nier: Automata, Xenogears