Red Dead RedemptionIf you’re not paying absolute attention during the early stages of Red Dead Redemption – or maybe if, like me, you’re just not that au fait with the history of the Old West – it can be difficult to pin down the time period that you’re in. Horses? Check. Guns? Check. Cowboys? Check. It all seems like the basic constituent parts of a Western are in place so the date is pretty much an irrelevance, let’s get to the shootin’.

As the game goes on though, whether through the dialogue, newspapers or the shock of seeing one of the new fangled automobiles, you realise that you’re actually in the early 20th century – 1911 to be exact. Of course, Red Dead is hardly a documentary and it’s set in the fictional area of New Austin, a US state on the border with Mexico. But like it’s sister Grand Theft Auto series, Rockstar’s game is very much about a real time period, a real location and the real-world America (not to mention Mexico). There’s a reason why the names of the countries have never been fictionalised in those games.

One of the themes that becomes more prevalent as Red Dead progresses is the encroachment of civilisation and order onto the chaos of the West. Our protagonist John Marston is the last of a dying breed as both a cowboy and an outlaw. Even though the player never ventures outside of the West it still becomes apparent, through visitors, newcomers and their attitudes, that the rest of America views them as a curio. The cowboy becomes labelled as a ‘noble savage’ in places and is increasingly lumped in with the Native American ‘Indians’ by the somewhat patronising heralds of progress. It’s an omen that foretells their marginalisation and eventual irrelevance.
Continue reading They Have It So Easy These Days

Blur

Bizarre Creation's Blur

With the recent and unfortunate news that Activision have closed down Bizarre Creations, now is a good a time as any to look over a couple of their games, starting with the recent Blur.

Closure seems like a strange decision from the point of view of Activision’s portfolio – the largest games publisher in the world is left with no developers that have any significant experience of making driving games. EA, their biggest competitor, have an abundance in that particular area while the only remaining quality racing game developers are at Sony, Microsoft, Codemasters and relative newcomers Disney Interactive. Bizarre seem to be suffering the fallout from recent releases that were at best mediocre  – The Club and their latest game James Bond 007: Blood Stone both suffered critically and in terms of sales. These two games were also both 3rd person action/shooting titles that were far removed from Bizarre’s usual driving or downloadable arcade games. When the studio stuck to what they knew best, as with the recent underrated Blur, they could still produce excellent games.

Blur was sadly overlooked when it came to sales though. New IPs, without a huge marketing spend, tend to struggle these days. The racing genre is much like the sports one – newcomer titles have a doubly difficult time. Creating a straight sim-racer to go up against the big three of Gran Turismo, Forza and Need For Speed would be the same as trying to make a non-licensed football game to compete with FIFA and Pro Evo. One solution to this problem is the route Codemasters have taken – create specialised realistic games that focus on one particular real-world racing code such as the recent F1 2010 or the off-road-centric Dirt series. By releasing games regularly and basing them on their Ego engine,  they spread the risk across titles. On the other hand, there’s the expense of the license(s) and the work involved in having to realistically model the cars and real-life tracks.

Continue reading Bizarre Creations part 1: Blur