If we want more from video games than shallow violence, we need to be willing to embrace the unfamiliar...
D4 is the latest game by Swery, the Japanese creator of cult hit Deadly Premonition. It released with basically no warning for the Xbox One in mid‑September. When I say ‘no warning’, I mean Microsoft did virtually nothing to promote it. While the company used it as a talking point at the Xbox One reveal event back in 2013, and then again at E3, the game released last month with no promotional backing. Indeed, even finding it in the Xbox One store is tricky business.
Swery is a notoriously weird figure in Japanese development. Deadly Premonition isn’t a perfect game – in fact, it’s janky as hell and ugly to boot – but it’s a cult classic nonetheless. Its status can be attributed to Swery’s surreal, Lynchian sense of humour, but the game is also incredibly creepy. Overall, it’s not the type of title that shifts units, nor is it the type of game the vast majority of game fans will enjoy. In other words, it’s a niche concern.
The thing about D4 is that it’s even more niche than its predecessor: In contrast to Deadly Premonition’s sprawling open world, D4 is basically a Telltale Games-esque point and click adventure. Oh, and it’s serialised as well. This model works well for Telltale, but it’s not the kind of experimentation we’ve come to expect from an Xbox One exclusive, and Microsoft is apparently very aware of this.
Why didn’t Microsoft really push D4 though, and what does that say about gaming at present? If the recent GamerGate controversy is any indication, it’s that so-called ‘hardcore’ gamers – those who self‑identify as such – are very conservative. Not only do they want an inexhaustible supply of the same Triple A blockbusters, but they are threatened by the prospect of games not fitting into their neat understanding of what a game is.
More than any of the other major console companies, Xbox is associated with blockbuster games. While Sony has embraced indies and Nintendo remains, well, Nintendo, Microsoft’s Xbox One is most closely associated with the ye olde mainstays in the Triple A canon: Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield and FIFA. Microsoft has its ID@Xbox initiative of course, and there is sure to be a stream of indie releasing for the platform at some point, but these fit into a neat classification: they’re indie versus blockbuster.
Where does D4 fit into that? It’s not a blockbuster, it’s not really indie, and it’s bloody weird as well. This is the type of game we should be championing for its ability to shed light on some of the medium’s possibilities. Not only that, but it’s a good opportunity for Microsoft to demonstrate how diverse its system is, but instead we get nothing but radio silence.
Which is really just a roundabout way of saying: play D4. There’s absolutely nothing else like it (except Deadly Premonition). Let’s prove that violent power fantasies are just a tiny part of what this medium is about.