Trig­ger Happy

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EDGE - - SECTIONS - STEVEN POOLE Steven Poole’s Trig­ger Happy 2.o is now avail­able from Ama­zon. Visit him on­line at www.steven­poole.net

Steven Poole looks for sto­ry­telling to ri­val cin­ema in Black Ops III

Black Ops III isn’t only laugh­ably in­fe­rior to Si­cario, it’s much worse than lit­er­ally

any film ever made

There’s a bril­liantly videogamey mo­ment in the moody drug-war thriller Si­cario, when Beni­cio del Toro, in­fil­trat­ing a drug lord’s com­pound, is seen as a tiny white hu­manoid fig­ure through aerial ther­mal vi­sion from an over­watch­ing drone. There are other tiny white hu­manoid fig­ures (en­e­mies) and a red tar­get­ing ret­i­cle over the main house. Once del Toro gets to the front door a ra­dio-sup­port guy an­nounces, through at­mo­spheric static: “Six re­main.” (He means peo­ple who are still alive in the com­pound.) Then the sup­port guy says, “Go­ing blind,” be­cause del Toro has slipped into the house and is no longer vis­i­ble.

This is an ex­am­ple in which videogames de­serve the credit for ex­pand­ing the cin­e­matic lexicon, while cin­ema de­serves credit for un­der­stand­ing the dif­fer­ent dra­matic pos­si­bil­i­ties of its aes­thetic bor­row­ing. This scene in Si­cario was heav­ily rem­i­nis­cent of the co-op AC-130 gun­ship mis­sions in Mod­ern War­fare 2 and 3. There, one player is on the ground, and the other player is the ther­mal-vi­sioned eye in the sky, giv­ing ad­vice and feed­ing in­for­ma­tion. How­ever, the dif­fer­ence is that the Over­watch player in the game also has three mas­sive guns to rain down deaf­en­ing ex­plo­sions on all those tiny white hu­manoid fig­ures who aren’t the other player. (As well as, amus­ingly of­ten, the one who is.)

In Si­cario, the drone doesn’t fire bombs and bul­lets; in­stead di­rec­tor De­nis Villeneuve has cho­sen this new per­spec­tive for its tones of sus­pense and de­li­cious para­noia. (The viewer won­ders: ‘Have I ever ap­peared as such a tiny fig­ure on the vis­ual feed from a CIA drone?’) There’s also FPS-style ther­mal imag­ing on the ground, along with green night vi­sion, as a squad nav­i­gates dark tun­nels – but there, bril­liantly, al­most all the shoot­ing hap­pens off-cam­era.

In Black Ops III – as the con­sumer expects and de­sires – all the shoot­ing hap­pens on-cam­era. The game also il­lus­trates all too well the asym­me­try in in­flu­ence be­tween to­day’s games and movies. Ac­tion thrillers can play with modes of vis­ual rep­re­sen­ta­tion that will be most fa­mil­iar to the au­di­ence from the medium of videogames. Mean­while, the block­buster games as­pire to be more and more cin­e­matic in terms of di­a­logue and plot.

The mystery, though, is that they seem to be pay­ing less and less at­ten­tion to how mod­ern films ac­tu­ally work. For one thing, if you want your game to seem like a con­tem­po­rary ac­tion movie, you should make sure that at least 30 per cent of the di­a­logue is to­tally in­com­pre­hen­si­ble be­cause the ac­tors are mum­bling. Si­cario is a feast of mum­blecore con­fu­sion in this re­gard – but it works be­cause the hero­ine, Emily Blunt, is mostly as con­fused by what is go­ing on as the viewer is. By con­trast, the di­a­logue in Black Ops III is all too clear. You can tell that this is a ma­ture videogame be­cause some­times the griz­zled sol­diers from the fu­ture shout “Fuck!” or hit ta­bles, or (when they’re really frus­trated) do both at the same time. But that is, alas, the height of its di­a­logic so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

Ex­pos­i­tory videogame scenes, of course, have many more min­utes and hours to play with than your av­er­age Hol­ly­wood movie. The tragedy is that de­vel­op­ers are so de­ter­mined to fill them all. Cutscenes that you can skip are one thing. Much, much worse is the en­forced slow-walk­ing in­ter­lude, when you have to fol­low sol­diers de­liv­er­ing bad lines badly while per­am­bu­lat­ing at the pace of a las­si­tudi­nous snail, with your ri­fle held butt-up­wards in front of your chest as the ex­po­si­tion drags on. You can understand why de­vel­op­ers don’t want the player to be able to shoot one of th­ese walk­ing in­for­ma­tion kiosks, but it would be nice at least to be able to walk around the room at nor­mal speed. Hap­pily, play­ing through the cam­paign with my co-op part­ner, we can at least make our own en­ter­tain­ment by quickly crouch­ing and stand­ing up over and over again un­til the scene is fin­ished. Even­tu­ally, be­cause this is af­ter all a Call Of Duty game, we get to shoot lots of men and ro­bots, un­leash­ing flesh-eat­ing fire­flies (“Say it with bees!”) or hack­ing the bots them­selves with our cy­ber­pow­ers (“Jazz hands!”). It’s quite a romp. But while our guns are forcibly pointed down to the ground, Black Ops III isn’t only laugh­ably in­fe­rior to Si­cario, it’s much worse than lit­er­ally any film ever made. Surely it’s high time to re­vive the tra­di­tion of text-only mis­sion brief­ings?

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