Picking apart the hype of new and classic video games.

2011: A Retro Odessey?

After years of slogging through gritty cover-based shooters, FPS fans may remember 2011 as the year developers rediscovered fun.

An increasing number of game companies are shrugging off the confines of reality and taking their projects back to the mid-90’s, a simpler time when all you needed to be an action hero was a neck the width of a California Redwood and an equally oversized gun. In these games, “cover” meant staring at a wall for a second or two while your BFG recharged.

Just yesterday Gears of War developer Epic Games and Polish micro-studio People Can Fly released Bulletstorm and have garnered quite a bit of acclaim from Wired, Joystiq and Gamespot, to name a few. The game has all the hallmarks of the mid-90’s bulletfests with over-the-top enemies, levels, weapons and (in a particularly quaint throwback) politcal rhetoric.

I’ll let you read the entire Fox News diatribe  for yourself, but here’s my favorite quote, taken from the second paragraph of the piece titled “Is Bulletstorm the Worst Video Game in the World?”

“The in-game awards system, called Skill Shots, ties the ugly, graphic violence into explicit sex acts: “topless” means cutting a player in half, while a “gang bang” means killing multiple enemies. And with kids as young as 9 playing such games, the experts FoxNews.com spoke with were nearly universally worried that video game violence may be reaching a fever pitch.”

Of course, FoxNews.com seems to ignore that the only way a 9 year-old can play this game is if they convince a parent (the game is rated 17+) to plunk down $60 without wondering weather a game called Bulletstorm may include depictions of violence or profanity.

The “think of the children!” argument has been old hat since Mortal Kombat, so let’s move beyond that. Instead, let’s think about the implications of Epic Games, one of the most popular development teams in the industry, returning to their run-and-gun roots.

There has always been a demand for nostalgic, over the top action. Serious Sam and People Can Fly’s previous title Painkiller both became cult classics on the PC in 2001 and 2004 respectively, and the sudden unearthing and pending revival of Duke Nukem Forever seems to indicate that developers are willing to dig into the bargain bin and pull out an old classic or two.

But does this mean the industry is being dumbed down? In my opinion, it’s quite the opposite.

Sure, the action itself doesn’t seem too cerebral and Wired reviewer Chris Kohler is quick to chide Bulletstorm for it’s uncomfortable fixation on male anatomy-related jokes, but where some might see a step backward, I see a refreshingly self-referencial sense of humor. Rather than digging deeper and deeper into the bummed-out world of grit where we see over the top melodrama (GOWII spoiler warning,) Epic Games is moving back into the realm of goofy escapism that made these games popular in the first place.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a giant robo-dinosaur with lasers. Your argument is invalid. See how much fun that was?

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