D4ault Mode

If we want more from video games than shal­low vi­o­lence, we need to be will­ing to embrace the un­fa­mil­iar...

Australian T3 - - OPINION -

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.

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