December 02, 2005


Dark with an umlaut!

Wacky Russian street-acrobatics. It lacks subtitles for the phone conversation at the end, but I think that's probably for the best, as you can insert funnier lines of your choosing.

Such things of course remind me of the Prince of Persia games. The first two were, of course, classics in their own right, as they were an evolution ofKarateka on supersoldier serum. I never played the third, a stab at a 3-d version, but I'm assured it was forgettable.

Sands of Time was a very good modern version which I played through multiple times--one of those titles I hit a sort of Zen groove with after awhile. A separate dev team under the same publisher then made a sequel, Warrior Within, which was...not so good, inasmuch as they decided the thing that it really needed was a generic faux-heavy metal guitar-rockin' soundtrack, an early-game mini-boss who was an absurdly volutuous hellslut in stainless steel lingerie buttfloss getup, and enemies that included spastic s&m ninja chicks who would exhort you to spank them in the midst of combat. This was to make the title more "dark" and "gritty" you understand.

Now, as game design sins go, those are more silly than anything else; the worse flaw was that it betrayed a simple lack of polish, both in itself and especially compared to Sands. Audio samples that, in addition to being rather stupid ("YOU SHOULD BE HONORED TO DIE BY MY SWORD!!!1one1!" and the like), also didn't really synch up with the action happening at the time. What really defined my brief play experience with it was that the hero would periodically utter manly battle grunts that, while have the plus of not actually being idiotic lines of dialogue ("I AM THE PRINCE OF PERSIA AND THE KING OF BLADES!", I shit you not, some genius, or rather a committee of geniuses, had meetings about that and okayed it, probably enthusiastically), had the highly-polished knack of lasting, oh, two seconds or so. For a basic attack that might only involve a half-second of animation. It was the kind of thing that just oozed a "aw, fuck it, it's good enough" half-assed quality.

"Dark" in games, as in more passive entertainment, can certainly be done well. It's trickiest to do it well played straight-up serious, especially in games--not the fault of the medium itself, but mostly the unfortunate reality that writing in games rarely rises above the early-adolescent level. A grim, humorless early-adolescent level, at that. Still, there are exceptions. Planescape: Torment, for one. And...well, that's about it, really.

The more successful route is doing "dark" but with self-awareness of the silliness of it all. The best examples of that approach I find are the Grand Theft Auto games. Mind you, it's a quality that flies right over the pointy little scowly heads of its more outspoken critics as they whine about the harmful effects of such realistic adult violence. It's a whine that shall always baffle me, because the GTA series' violence is about as "realistic" as Looney Tunes cartoons. As I've stated elsewhere, the big you-versus-the-entire-law-enforcement-world police chases that occur could switch the soundtrack to playing the Benny Hill theme song and it'd fit perfectly--it's part of the charm, really.

Anyway, I've started to hear that the latest Prince of Persia title, Two Thrones or something like that, has recovered from Warrior Within's headlong plunge into Humorlessly Dumb. Here's hoping.

posted by Gar @ 5:39 PM
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