As the game industry gets flooded with cash and production quality soars, game developers have a harder and harder time balancing their foundations in violence with claims of progress and innovation.
But really, it’s always been about the nuances — figuring out just how many ways there are to skin a cat — and acknowledging that violence is a bankable jumping-off point.
This fall’s lineup has plenty of pious pretenses, but the following games freshen up their respective genres while keeping to their grizzly roots.
There have been a few games in recent years claiming to mark the second coming of first person choose-your-style games, but most have disappointed fans of the genre with their softened edges and lack of player freedom.
Arkane Studios’ “Dishonored” is the latest, and many believe the most promising, of these prophets.
“Dishonored” stands apart from the other big-budget boys in that it’s one of very few non-sequels to come from a major studio this year, but that’s not why it has people so excited.
It’s billed as a true-to-form immersive sim, a la “System Shock 2,” “Thief,” the original “Deus Ex” and the studio’s own “Arx Fatalis” — first person games with multiple layered simulations for the player to navigate.
Ideally, these games have robust systems allowing for the player to construct his own narrative free of scripted showpieces.
Each year one or two games come out claiming to recapture the magic of the old gold that defined the genre, but they usually fall short in one way or another.
“Dishonored” could just be the next in line, but critics who have played it so far say it may actually make good on its promise.
“XCOM: Enemy Unknown”
Not to be confused with the unnecessary first person shooter reboot of the classic series, “XCOM,” “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” is a fairly faithful modern take on the old “X-COM“ games.
“Enemy Unknown,” like its predecessors, is a squad-based strategy game that has you steer and micro-manage the global defense strategy against alien invaders.
This involves choosing what recovered alien artifacts to research, how you outfit your squad and which invaded areas to help. These all have organic, long-lasting consequences. If you lose a squad member, the guy is dead. No reviving. You have to hire a replacement and train him up fresh.
The graphics are borderline cartoonish, but the mechanics of the game serve to make the whole conflict terrifying — as it should be.
There’s a demo out on Steam for the game, but it does a poor job of teasing the game’s complexity.
A few people have had access to a preview build of the game, and they insist this game does justice to the original franchise.
“Assassin’s Creed III”
Seeing as it’s the third in the series, let’s run through the old Assassin’s Creed laundry list of features: You play as an assassin in an iconic, meticulously modeled historical setting.
What makes this one interesting is the change of scenery — for the first time in the series, you can climb around in trees.
This may not sound that impressive, but the Ubisoft Montreal people insist that it really, really is.
They redid every animation to make the player’s movement more tree-friendly, marking what they’re calling the biggest technical leap in the series. Sure, you can hop around the scaffolds of Boston and New York and the like, but then you’d be ignoring the hard work of Ubisoft’s mo-cappers.
Plus there’s new stuff like hunting and naval battles, and the American Revolution is in there somewhere.
Far Cry 3
The key to enjoying “Far Cry” games has always been compartmentalizing the nonsense.
In “Far Cry,” you had huge gameplay spaces and interesting artificial intelligence, but then you had those stupid mutants for the last two-thirds of the game.
In “Far Cry 2,” you had an even more open world powered by an engine that let you start wild fires. But then you had to deal with those instantly respawning enemies destroying your sense of progress, an incomplete plot laden with incomprehensible dialogue and horrible driving mechanics.
You forgive them though, at least you should, for the things they do right. Their moving-parts style enables some of the most exhilarating and unpredictable firefights this side of “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl,” only it crashes a lot less. They’re also really pretty.
The developers took serious cues from feedback on “Far Cry 2” and are hoping to make this iteration more rewarding and accessible.
This could mean good or bad things for the game, as the industry often pits its definition of accessibility against good, deep gameplay. Only time will tell if it all pans out.