Environmental Issues

By: Paul Millen

Published: March 17, 2010 Posted in: PC Gaming Nonsense

You there, fellow computerized gaming enthusiast – come here at once.  Are you sick and tired of games filling your monitors with exciting, atmospheric locations only to go and ruin them with stories, “ideas” and other rubbish?  No?  Well damn you, I am.  That’s why, in this here feature, I’m going to address a few of the guiltiest urchins and briskly rub the muck from their faces with a spittle covered kerchief of mighty words.

In plainer English: “nice setting, shame the game buggers it up a little, and while we’re at it here’s a few glib suggestions on what I’d have done”.

Mirror’s Edge

Environmental Damage - ME

Ah, just like Meadowhall

Oh so beautiful, but like all things of great beauty it’s infested with annoying combat and disappointing indoor sequences.  The frustrating thing with Mirror’s Edge is that they so nearly nailed it, but then decided to overlay a solid concept with a plot about as necessary as a savoury toilet seat.  Of course, it being a computer game, playing the role of a renegade courier using parkour to deliver illicit material in a pristine dystopia is not nearly exciting enough to shift those units, but that’s the Mirror’s Edge I want to play.

I want the time to enjoy the bright, tranquil city.  It’s one of the most impressive locations I have ever visited in any computer game, and it was at its best when I was left in peace to drink it in rather than being harassed with all that shooting and chasing.  My Mirror’s Edge would simply be a ‘get from A to B platformer’.  You’d pick up consignments and deliver them, sans wanky plot.  If you get into fights, you’re doing it wrong – the levels would be designed so that all combat can be avoided with clever parkour.  The emphasis would be on planning out a route and, in your first few attempts, executing it with flashy perfection, not struggling over and over with nigglingly precise button presses.  This way, there’d be time to enjoy the city’s glorious ambience rather than chucking Faith at the nearest red thing to escape trigger happy lunatics.  And you’d be able to climb down and walk around at street level, just so you get an even greater sense of how spectacularly high up your roof leaping antics are.

Bioshock

Environmental Damage - Bioshock

Splicer – Cut.  Weapons – Cut.  Delightful scenery – you can stay.

I’ll risk critical castration by saying Bioshock would have been dull without Rapture, the undersea, man-made circle of hell in which it takes place; I didn’t find the combat particularly emotive and the plot was a bit B-movie really, wasn’t it?   Each of Rapture’s locations were so varied and rich with detail that I’d happily strip away all of the combat, and an overt plot, and simply make it a game of discovery and narrative invention.  Hell, I’d set it 50 years after the last splicer snuffs it with you playing the only being alive, trying to piece together what happened as you explore the detritus of Ryan’s creation and its tragic downfall.  I can imagine walking around simply exploring, with each locations’ wreckage providing fragments of the story, as Bioshock was able to do on the odd occasion you could survey it without shrieking nasties trying to stab your face.

The more I think about it, the more I can see a kind of morbid archaeology game, with the player sifting through Rapture’s remains for pieces of its story, trying to create some kind of coherent narrative from audio logs, newspapers, diaries and other relics of its ruined populous.  To underscore the spookiness, I’d include a psychological element as you discover more about Rapture’s past and it begins to invade your mind with ghosts and visions.  Bioshock did this, I know, but didn’t seem to pursue the idea beyond the early stages of the game.  I’d love to play something that messes with your character’s head and perception of events to the extent that you’re unsure what is true and what’s been imagined; confined to a silent Rapture, you’d be stuck playing a character you could begin to distrust, fear or maybe even hate.

Operation Flashpoint 2: Dragon Rising.

Environmental Damage - OFP2

It takes about 15 minutes to fly the length of Skira.

In the verdant pastures of Skira, there is only war.  Which is a damned shame.  OFP2:DR’s setting is such a beautiful depiction of a craggy, temperate, volcanic island that it’s sad to think it’ll only ever be host to Chinese and Americans shooting each other’s bits off.  None of the missions in the game make any effort to display Skira’s potential, successfully hiding it behind boring, blinkered objectives.  It was only when I was fiddling with the map editor, spawned a helicopter and took it for a spin at sunset that I thought: “wow, this place looks amazing – and it’s huge!”

There are so many interesting landmarks; a massive dormant volcano, a ruined monastery, flat marshy plains, small towns and weird isolated buildings – I probably had more fun flying my apache, landing and exploring anything that caught my eye, than I ever did when I was crawling around being shot at by unseen camouflaged bastards.  The names Bear Grylls and Ray Mears kept cycling in my mind, I wanted a survival game; battling the elements, seeking food and shelter while traversing Skira’s glorious terrain.  It would be a bit like Dear Esther crossed with Stalker but without the meta-narrative and mutants respectively.  Oh, you think that’d be dull do you?  Fine.  Include the mutants.

Paul Millen