Cliché 1: Lots of videogames and Paul Verhoven love to imagine a future where 102lb girls fresh out of high school can slug it out in the trenches as infantry units while wearing lighter and more revealing versions of what the men are wearing.
Cliché 2: Lots of videogames and most Hollywood screenwriters dislike or misunderstand military etiquette. Main characters almost never respect the chain of command. People who go in for the “Sir yes sir!” formality are usually throwaway extras or otherwise unsympathetic. Real heroes march to their own beat and don’t take orders from anyone. Real heroics happen when people disobey a direct order.
These two clichés are not terrible crimes against the plot. Butt-kicking females can be fun sometimes. A rogue soldier can be compelling. But writers have taken us down this road so many times they can’t seem to find their way back. The clichés are now tiresome. Just once in a while can’t we have a hero with discipline and respect for authority? Can’t we have a story where females fill an interesting and vital role without them trying to out-macho the men?
Quake 4 manages to sidestep both of these, and the result is that the story seems a lot more grown up and a lot less cheesy than you might expect from something with the name ‘Quake’ on it. While it isn’t a deep game and the story is not one filled with mystery and wonder, it does manage to tell its tale without resorting to sloppy or heavy-handed plot devices. Quake 4 is the story of a fairly large military operation – the invasion of an enemy homeworld. There are setbacks and surprises, but most of what captured my interest was the small details that gave the world some polish, with a nod towards realism.
|The player is assigned to the USS Hannibal, a ship which is roughly the size of a football field. The landing sequence is pretty cool to watch, but don’t stand directly underneath it. Trust me.|
The military looks like a real military. Your character is part of a real squad of genuine characters, instead of being sent in alone or part of a team of interchangeable generic guys. They are an able group of guys, and provide real help instead of getting in the way as NPCs often do. Through radio chatter the game hints about other things being accomplished by other capable marines, and how those actions are part of a larger operation. All of this gives it a nice touch of authenticity. The player plays a vital part in the operation, but they do not play the only part and they still need the help of their squadmates. Being a normal, average grunt isn’t a lot of fun, but single-handedly defeating the enemy forces doesn’t make sense. This game strikes a nice balance between those two extremes.
|Rhino Squad salutes the officers as they enter the room. How the writers were able to smuggle the closely guarded secret of “saluting” out of the military is still a mystery.|
The only breach of military etiquette that I’ve spotted so far is that my character is a corporal, but other enlisted men keep calling me ‘sir’. (This confused me at first. Every time one of them said ‘sir’ I would turn around and look for the officer he was addressing.) Still, this means the game is practically a documentary compared to most Hollywood military movies.
|Lt. Voss (left) checks out the room our team just secured, while Pvt. ‘Sledge’ (right) guards the corridor behind us. Because I’m a man of action, I volunteer to gather up all of the ammunition and healthpacks and randomly push all of the unmarked buttons.|
I’m sure these details mean nothing to some people. In the hands of different writers, the soldiers could be a bunch of long-haired bad boys with tons of cool, seething with attitude, covered in tattoos, who all have humorous phallic nicknames for each other and no discernable command structure. Thankfully, they went a different route and gave us something fresh. I appreciate that.
The Best of 2011
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2011.
PC Gaming Golden Age
It's not a legend. It was real. There was a time before DLC. Before DRM. Before crappy ports. It was glorious.
Punishing The Internet for Sharing
Why make millions on your video game when you could be making HUNDREDS on frivolous copyright claims?
Internet News is All Wrong
Why is internet news so bad, why do people prefer celebrity fluff, and how could it be made better?
WAY back in 2005, I wrote about a D&D campaign I was running. The campaign is still there, in the bottom-most strata of the archives.