Blood Splattered Dragons – Weekly Recommendations 14/03 – 20/03
Every week I give three gaming recommendations (very) loosely tied to something topical. These recommendations span platform, generation and genre and are all games that I have played, enjoyed and highly recommend. As always, comments are very welcome so please do chime in with any recommendations of your own. Check back each Monday for a new set, and click here for past entries.
The second entry in BioWare's mature role-playing series, Dragon Age, hit the shops last week. Some things have changed since the original, but one feature that remains is the over-gratuitous use of blood. Splattered everywhere, it is likely to cause a few initial chuckles, but it is part and parcel of the Dragon Age experience and I can’t imagine my characters without their accompanying splash of claret.
Whereas some games rely on violence and gore to divert attention from their less enviable traits, there are others, such as Dragon Age, which don’t allow their violent content to define them. The following three games certainly aren’t short on offal, but there is something of substance underneath all that blood that will/has enable/d them to outlive their notoriety.
1. Dragon Age: Origins – PS3, Xbox 360, Windows (2009)
Dragon Age Origins went a little overboard with its lashings of blood. However, once you get past the hilarity of two characters having a mundane conversation splattered in hemoglobin, you are free to completely loose yourself in the kingdom of Ferelden and the lives of your merry band of warriors.
While it isn’t quite as polished as Mass Effect 2, BioWare’s other blockbusting, morality based RPG, it’s just as deep, well scripted and addictive. The world of DAO is overflowing with character; rich in history, diverse tribes, cultures and creeds, all painstakingly recorded in the codex and oral tales scattered throughout the land. Such a remarkable back-story enables the world of DAO to come alive in ways that precious few RPGs ever have.
Starting with your initial character creation and choice of one of six divergent origin stories, there are so many different ways to approach Dragon Age Origins. What seems like a flippant remark in a strained conversation may prove to be something much more, affecting a relationship or even the final outcome of your quest. In this way, DAO keeps you hooked throughout thousands of conversations, ever mindful of the consequences of your carefully chosen words. Unlike other games, these interactions are never a chore and if anything, it is the combat which gets in the way of the winding narrative and not vice-versa.
For more on Dragon Age Origins, click here for my full review.
2. Manhunt – PS2, Windows, Xbox (2003)
The problem with video game and video nasties is that they are invariably little more than gruesome titillation, with very little in the way of substance. They garner attention simply because they are able to shock - a thinly veiled attempt to cover-up their significant shortcomings. Manhunt, as you are probably aware, garnered more negative publicity for its violence than any game before or since, held aloft as the crowning example of the immorality of video games; a serial killer’s interactive wet-dream that would be banned across a number of territories. What you may not be aware of however, is that Manhunt is also a rather excellent game, easily one of the most atmospheric of the Noughties.
Taking the role of convicted murderer James Earl Cash, you are spared execution only to be unwittingly thrust into a snuff film where you must perform grisly executions at the behest of the omnipresent Director, ably voiced by thespian Brian Cox. Viewed through a grainy lens, you must butcher gangs of sociopaths in an increasingly violent manner, thus sating the demands of your audience and inching ever closer to freedom. It is a game of stealth, with the ferocity of each take-down dictated by how long you are able and willing to charge the attack - a maneuver that leaves you exposed. Your tools of the trade include shivs, baseball bats and plastic bags, a brutal but very limited array of weapons which work to keep you in the shadows, rarely risking a head-on assault.
The carefully crafted atmosphere makes the whole thing that much more believable and disturbing, and it succeeds in making you an accomplice to the depravity. Time and time again Manhunt will leave you wondering why you went to such great lengths to brutalize a target, when a quicker and less painful dispatch would have been safer and far more humane. Manhunt has you orchestrating, performing and ultimately viewing scenes that, in any other setting you would most likely shun. Hopefully.
3. Dead Space 2 - PS3, Xbox 360, Windows (2011)
When it comes to establishing a sense of dread and helplessness, Dead Space is hard to beat. Pitted against a hoard of re-animated and deformed corpses known as the Necromorphs, with little more than a collection of mining tools and scant ammo, it was an unsettling and astounding debut. While Dead Space 2 doesn’t quite achieve the same sensation of overwhelming odds and futility in resistance, it does pretty much everything else bigger and better, including the OTT gore and ever more inventive ways in which our tortured protagonist, Isaac, can perish.
The Necromorphs are an unrelenting and nightmarish foe, forever chasing you down dark corridors and bursting out of the walls at the most inopportune moments, hoping to tear you apart and wear your skin. The squeamish need not apply, as the doomed space colony soon resembles an abattoir, where your only chance of survival is to methodically dismember the tentacled corpses. However, your weapons are not always up to the task, so you will be forgiven for putting your head down and simply running for the closest exit, hoping that whatever lurks beyond will be slightly less monstrous.
Dead Space 2 will not be everyone’s cup of tea, being gruesome, stressful and not ideal for prolonged gaming sessions. An overly long running time doesn’t help matters (it could have done with being an hour or two shorter), but it is an excellent example of how to make a genuinely frightening video game. When it comes to interactive horror, Dead Space 2 is in a class of its own.
Odds & Ends
1. I want to take this opportunity to send out my best wishes to those affected by the Sendai earthquake and tsunami. I've been in contact with friends and family in Japan and thankfully they are all well, though shaken by the experience and the uncertainty of what the coming days will bring. You can never fully prepare for a disaster of such magnitude, though in true Japanese fashion people seem to be getting on with their lives as best as possible.