Friday, 20 February 2009

Is the lone hero dying?

One man against everything. The world on his shoulders, everyone relying on him to make that final critical call. He has despatched a huge wave of nameless faceless grunts to get here and now it is his final challenge. Risk it all to save the planet and most likely a girl too. Seems like a lot of effort to go through. Maybe you’ll get laid.

These situations seem to be slowly thinning out from games in the market today for many reasons. The sudden surge of co-operative games is fantastic because it’s better to enjoy games with your mates. It doesn’t half cut away from the sense that you went through all the hard work alone though. Your victory has to be diluted between other people.

It’s a bit like winning the bottle of wine in a pub quiz. Only you knew all of the science questions. Without YOU the team would not have received the coveted prize of the house red, so why should you share the joy? Probably because everyone feels the same way.

The games that used to cast you as a lone wolf are now introducing partners who seem to be walking bullet sponges and mass executioners in a neat little package of doom.

Take Half-life for example. In the first game you were Gordon Freeman, the scientist who was trying to escape from the over run lab full of monsters that he had managed to summon. Sure you would occasionally meet a desperate security guard who could help you, but more often than not they faced their mortality as soon as you trusted them not to die when you went to explore another room quickly. At the end of the day it was a solo effort.

In Half-life 2, again, it is usually Mr Freeman against the odds. Every so often however you would get to hook up with Alyx, Barny or Dog (an eight foot tall robot that can throw heavy things). You have a little more help here, but you are still largely the one who does everything.

Increasingly now however, we are being put in squads or armies, sometimes just another faceless hero among a sea of faceless heroes. Take the Call of Duty series for example. I can not think of many situations when you are alone. All of the really memorable bits come from the AI partners that are with you for 90% of the game.

Tactical squad combat is also rapidly becoming a flavour of the decade with the likes of Desert Conflict, Rainbow 6: Vegas and Mass Effect. Even Half-life 2 has elements of squad command in it, usually as sniper bait to protect your supple behind from high velocity unpleasantness.

Personally, I would not say that the lone hero is dead. Solid Snake for instance is generally famous for being a solitary hunter who moves through everything unseen, but even in MGS4 there were sections when he had to work with a team (usually the loud and shooty bits).

I just think it would be nice to have that hero factor back in gaming. I know that by now I will be sounding like a looping CD, stuck in a van that goes around the same roundabout at the same time everyday, but a new Zelda might pull the hero factor back in again. Then again so could a number of any other protagonists such as Samus, Snake or even the guy from Bioshock if you could really call him a hero. That depended on how many children you let him harvest.

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