I know, I know, I know. Nobody cares about an average, eight-year-old movie tie-in video game that didn’t even make much of a splash when it was released on the Playstation 2. Typically I wouldn’t even play it, never mind spend my valuable time writing a thousand-odd words about it. But, fate conspired to have me spot this title sitting in a shop window with a price tag of literally pennies, and I was compelled to buy and play it by a question which popped into my head immediately upon seeing the cover: I wonder if that one is better than Blood Stone?
As my suffering readership is no doubt well-aware, I love a video game which prompts an interesting discussion. And say whatever you like about Sunset Overdrive, the new open-world sandbox adventure from Insomniac Games, but it certainly does that. So let’s discuss the thing that’s been on my mind constantly since the first five minutes of it: How can a game so fun to play, a game with such simple, elegant mechanics, a game based around a single near-genius concept… how can that game make me want me murder every single member of its development team?
Well, let’s find out.
Remedy Entertainment and their games have always struck me as being smarter than most people give them credit for. They hide it well, admittedly. Max Payne, released in 2001, was on one hand a game about a man with a daft name and an awful shirt. On the other, though, it managed to combine the slowed-down akimbo gunplay of Chinese cinema with hilariously overwritten conspiracy-chewing noir, and it was a great time. Its sequel, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, released two years later, was better still. And the games knew this about themselves. They made time for moments of silliness and self-indulgence that other titles wouldn’t. In both, the player could approach television sets and watch short, weirdly detailed little made-up shows, like the soapy Lords & Ladies and the cartoon adventures of Captain BaseBallBat-Boy, who became an unofficial series mascot. Ask someone what they remember most about either of the first two Max Payne games and the answer will probably be one of those shows.
And then there’s Alan Wake, an underappreciated camp gem of the last console generation. Its eponymous hero was an insomniac writer (Alan Wake… A. Wake… Awake… Oh, Remedy) whose terrible writing formed the backbone of a paranormal thriller that stretched the well-thumbed pages of a Stephen King novel into a season of Twin Peaks. That game had TVs too, all showing episodes of a Twilight Zone-inspired anthology series called Night Springs. But it also had scattered pages of Alan’s prose, presented as collectibles. And he’s a hack. His writing is some species of feverish fan-fiction. Yet in the game he’s ludicrously famous. You can scarcely walk anywhere without being greeted by a cardboard cut-out of him. Nobody ever mentions that he’s awful, which is obviously the joke. And as the game progresses, Alan trying to frantically re-write its story (which he already wrote in the first place – don’t ask), you realize the whole thing is in on it.
Video games sure are weird. I mean, only in this bonkers industry could something like Dying Light even exist. It is, for all intents and purposes, the sequel to 2011’s Dead Island in all but name: it’s developed by the same team, it has the same kind of zombies, it has the same pseudo-RPG first-person gameplay, and it even has the same ridiculously stupid weapon degradation mechanic. It isn’t Dead Island 2, though, because that’s being developed by Yager (those’re the guys who made the excellent Spec Ops: The Line) and will be released later this year. So I hope for the sake of both games that they’re not as similar in reality as they look to be on paper, because otherwise the most oversaturated genre in media today will be further saturated by two versions of the exact same game.
Still, Dying Light does indeed exist, so as a fun little exercise let’s try talking about it without mentioning Dead Island every couple of minutes.