At this point in the series’ history, it’s probably safe to say that nine out of ten people on the planet have played at least some of one of the Grand Theft Auto series. Every time one comes out, it sells like mad and garners almost universal praise. I started my journey with Grand Theft Auto III, as many did, and I’ve played through every iteration since, save the one they did for the Nintendo DS. Though I did hear that one was good.
Given that the Grand Theft Auto games are essentially a license to print money, it makes perfect sense that other game-design studios would want to get in on the action. This started relatively early, with such games as Driver, but probably the closest imitator was True Crime: Streets of LA, which essentially lifted the Grand Theft Auto template and rejiggered it for its own use.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Media has been imitating other media from the very beginning, be it orally told legends to blockbuster movies. The process is a little more obvious when it comes to video games, but only because video games are the new guy in town. What happens with them seems unique, even when it’s not.
The True Crime series spanned two releases and both were… okay. Though they tried to hit all the same beats as Grand Theft Auto, they were substandard in most cases. The games had their fans, but by and large people dismissed them as clones without much to recommend them. Better to just play a Grand Theft Auto game.
Having explored Los Angeles and then New York, the True Crime games decided to go exotic and they started in on True Crime: Hong Kong. This would be in development for a while until its publisher decided that it simply wasn’t good enough and pulled the plug. Japanese publisher SquareEnix swooped in at that point and saved the game — not a common thing, let me tell you — continuing its development and eventually releasing it in the form we have today: Sleeping Dogs.
I love snipers. I think snipers are the coolest. Next to ninja, snipers are right at the top of my list of fantasy occupations. Because, really, who wouldn’t want to be able to reach out and touch someone from 1,000 yards out in high wind? That’s pure, focused power.
Some games have sniper aspects to them, and in the more popular first-person shooters out there one can choose to grab a sniper rifle, climb to a tall place and try to pick off their fellow players. In those games, snipers are universally loathed and generally cleared out of their nests with hand grenades or rocket launchers. No one has any love for the patience and skill required to zero in on a target (often moving) at long range and put a bullet through his head. Even when playing with a controller this is difficult. Certainly much more difficult than peering down the open sights of some assault rifle and peeling off a few three-round bursts. But I don’t want to get off on some kind of rant. People like playing those games a certain way, and more power to them. As for the rest of us, well….
On the Xbox 360 you have basically two choices when it comes to games specifically about snipers. You have Sniper Elite V2, which has all its action set during the waning weeks of the Second World War, and you have this, Sniper: Ghost Warrior and its sequel, the only games that put players in a contemporary setting with modern, high-tech weapons and let them blow people’s heads off.
Let me first say about Sniper: Ghost Warrior that when it’s actually allowing you to do the thing it says you’re going to do (the aforementioned head-blowing-off) it’s a terrific game. There really is no other feeling in the world than the one you get after carefully lining up a long-distance shot, accounting for bullet drop and wind speed, and then squeezing the trigger, only to be rewarded with a loving, slow-motion tracking shot of the bullet speeding its way toward the target before splattering their brains all over. That part of the game never gets old and is probably more satisfying than is probably healthy. Cue Republican outrage over violent video games now.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years already, but way back in 1998 I discovered a video game that totally rocked my world. I’ve played a lot of games in my time, but this was one that pushed every one of my buttons so assuredly and repeatedly that even though I “beat” the game in just nine hours of play, I continued to play the game over and over and over again for the better part of 10 years. I loved it that much, and I still love it, despite the advances in video game technology in the intervening time.
What was this miraculous game? It was Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, a third-person stealth-action game featuring ninja where the focus was put squarely on sneaking through the maps to achieve mission goals, rather than just hacking and slashing through a horde of enemies. Tenchu even beat the critically acclaimed Metal Gear Solid to the market, which is why I get more than a little peeved when people claim that it was Metal Gear Solid and not Tenchu that inaugurated the stealth-action genre. Tenchu is more fun and has greater replay value, too, so there.
Anyway, Tenchu had numerous sequels and spin-offs, most of which are actually pretty horrible. We haven’t heard anything from the franchise in five years now and I expect that we never will. The era of Tenchu is truly over.
The thing that I loved about the game was that it made playing a ninja feel like being a ninja. There have been other video games that feature ninja as protagonists and these games have been, by and large, purely action affairs with nary a bit of stealth to be found anywhere. In Tenchu it was not only recommended that you spend minutes at a time scrutinizing enemy movements to determine the best possible moment to strike, but required. Getting into a straight-on confrontation with the bad guys was an invitation to quick and ugly death. Sneak up on someone, though, and assassination was as simple as a button press. Lovely.
Considering that the majority of Tenchu follow-ups couldn’t even get this formula right, it seemed like it would be impossible for any other developer to make a game that captured some bit of that feeling in a meaningful way. That’s why I found Mark of the Ninja to be such a pleasant and unexpected surprise.
I like doing reviews. I know I’m just some guy and consequently there’s no real reason for anyone to pay attention to anything I say about something I read or something I watched or something I played. If I’m “expert” at anything, it’s writing and even then I’m not some elder statesman of the craft. One could consider my entire blog an act of supreme hubris. Who wants to listen to some writer natter on about whatever’s on his mind? Certainly I don’t visit many other writers’ blogs. I just don’t find them very interesting. Sorry.
Anyway, reviews. I like doing them and the truth is that I write them primarily for myself. When I’ve finished off a movie or whatnot, I like to organize my thoughts regarding it, and I’ve found over the years that the best way for me to do that is in review form. Sometimes I even start writing reviews without knowing how I feel about a particular piece of media at all, I’m so on the fence, and in the process of putting words in this little text box I come to a conclusion one way or another. Those are probably my favorite kind of reviews to write.
I’ve found writing reviews even more satisfying ever since I bumped up their word count from 500 to 1,000. There’s nothing really wrong with my 500-word reviews, but there wasn’t enough time to get into any serious analysis before the limit was reached. One thousand words gives me much more room to breathe and develop ideas, and that’s enjoyable all around.
Some days, though, I just don’t want to write reviews. I have mentioned in this space before that I have a review backlog, which is why I generally try to post four reviews a week in an effort to catch up, but occasionally I’ll get up on a day like today and the very last thing I want to do is write a review of Our Idiot Brother. It’s not that I have something more profound I want to write, but just that reviews take a level of consideration and effort that I’m not necessarily prepared to give on the appointed day.