Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Army of Too Soon?

In Fall 2007, mercenaries employed by Blackwater Worldwide, an American military contractor, killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. Iraqi officials were outraged, demanding the mercs be prosecuted under Iraqi law; in response, America muttered something about no-law-binding-contractors, extradited the contractors and kept mum. While the incident damaged Blackwater – it lost its goldmine contract with the Americans in Iraq; it changed its name to Xe – the gunmen escaped justice.

When the massacre occurred, Electronic Arts was still five months away from releasing Army of Two. By that point, millions of dollars had been invested in a shooter that barreled headlong into what was suddenly frontline news. Undoubtedly it occurred to someone that the game’s jaunty, arrogant, frattish tone was glaringly inappropriate. Hopefully, someone made the suggestion to reverse course – it wasn’t too late to eliminate the games more offensive patches.

If any efforts were made to blunt the game’s calloused attitude towards war, they were utter failures. Army of Two aggressively engages contemporary issues within contemporary conflicts, blundering past all boundaries of good taste and common decency.

In all fairness, I’m having fun with AoT. I laugh at is ridiculous plot, its mawkish man-love and cartoonish villains. It’s a more-than-competent shooter, delivering an experience that, while not transcending its contemporaries, certainly sets itself apart. I’m enjoying myself roughly 200 percent more than when team suck played Resident Evil 5.

That said, come the fuck on. I didn’t laugh at the cartoonish villains because they were clever; I laughed because they were basically unimaginative racial jokes, and I couldn’t imagine who among the sane, sentient and reasonably intelligent could let them be pressed onto a disk.
Want to make an Army of Two villain? Mix and match!

First Second
Ali Baba
Al Hussein
Aladdin bin Laden

Let’s assume they managed to name their villain with a modicum of sophistication. They’d still need to write into him a modicum of reality; for instance, would Aladdin Hussein really burst out of a garage, wave his chaingun in the air and yell “LONG LIVE SADDAM!”

Oddly enough, I’m okay with the bro-love. Politically-correct reviewers and pundits who never so much as breathed on a controller say it’s insensitive to give your pal a fist-bump after cooling a few dozen terrorists; if it’s insensitive, it’s also accurate. Read any account of the Iraq War, and you’ll find that wherever there’s a Marine traumatized by taking the life of an enemy combatant, there’s also one who thinks it’s fucking righteous. And aren’t they right? They just survived a firefight. They won. They did what our government paid them to do.

There remains the issue of using mercenaries in games. Look: it’s been done before, and well. Using a mercenary for your main character opens up design doors that might otherwise be closed, and it accesses an interesting moral dimension. Do you take the morally proper job, or the profitable job? The easy road or the high road? If Army of Two even approached these issues, I’d view its frattish attitude with more sympathy. Instead, it uses your mercenary status as a mere plot point and plots along in a linear fashion, knocking over the vases and dragging tastelessness all over the carpet.

Turning a contemporary war into an action movie is one thing; turning it into a Micheal Bay action movie is another. EA designers have promised to lend a more serious tone to AoT’s sequel, The 40th Day. I hope so. If not, they risk damaging not only their franchise, but the medium at large.

Props to Craig for the baller title. I got you in my eyesights, dawg.