Tagged: THQ

A little Weekend Writing about Darksiders.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Weekend Writing post. The last one was BioShock 2 way back in July, in fact. While I may not do it every weekend, it did inspire me to write about things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. This one is no different, but it also spurred from a conversation a friend gave me.

Anyone who checks this site at a cursory glance may notice I often write about about action games and shooters. Hell, the last post was Rambo: The Video Game, literally a light gun shooter. I’ve written about them so much that some friends have called me a “shooter guy,” which makes me feel like I don’t write about anything else.

Today, we’re gonna change that. This ain’t about a shooter even though shooting’s in it. This is a game that’s a weird cocktail blend of everything, yet somehow it works without outright falling apart.

I’m probably not the only one who’s confused this with a handful of other games that start with the name “Dark.”

Darksiders is one of many games I’ve bought several years ago and only just now got around to. I got a free code from GameStop’s Impulse service many years ago, back when I had written about Stoneloops! of Jurassica. I never got around to it in 2012, but did end up with an extra code thanks to getting the Humble THQ Bundle, back before THQ got swallowed up by some German conglomerate and before Humble Bundle became Just Another Digital Storefront. Man, 2012 was a much different time. I eventually passed the Impulse copy to a friend since it came with a Steam key.

I played Darksiders through the more recent Warmastered Edition, which was given free to those who already owned the original, which was a nice thing on THQ Nordic’s part. Warmastered Edition is one of several times THQ Nordic gave punny subtitles to the names of their remasters of Xbox 360 and PS3-era titles. (SEE ALSO: Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition, Red Faction Guerrilla: Re-Mars-stered Edition, etc.)

I didn’t play the original, so I can’t do a compare-and-contrast, but if I had to guess, there’s likely some polished graphics and optimization improvements but otherwise is identical to the original release. Perhaps the remaster has bigger impact graphically on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, where they likely run smoother than the 360/PS3 original, but I can’t say.

Darksiders’ story is fairly simple: It involves the spirits of Heaven and Hell fighting for dominance and causing the end of days, which Our Hero, War of the Four Horsemen, trying to stop and make sense of this. Eventually he’s dragged near death, but bargains on one condition: To figure out who done this, with the goal to be freed.

So much detail for something barely seen this close.

I’m gonna be honest: Darksiders’ story is really, really dumb. It’s something a 7th grader would’ve wrote doodling on a notebook while listening to Avenged Sevenfold. The whole game is trying to be edgy and hardcore with its story, but it comes off as incredibly silly. It alludes to The Four Horsemen and uses elements of Greek mythology in bizarre ways. Hell, War broods so much that even Kratos from God of War would tell him to dial it back a bit.

Granted, I did not get this game for its deep, impactful story. I heard it was a good hack and slash game with some elements of The Legend of Zelda, and while I do come off as “the shooter guy,” I try to dabble in other genres so I don’t get burnt out as easily. So let’s dive in.

Time to wreak havoc on these fools.

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Homefront and its ugly product placement.

Over the years I’ve written about games, I end up writing about games from a certain genre, and that’s first-person shooters. It’s my genre of choice, with enjoyable action romps like Doom and Quake to more cinematic experiences like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Though for every Call of Duty, there’s a clunker of a single player experience, such as Homefront, which I replayed recently.

I tried to play this earlier this year, but then the US-Korean conflict was fresh in my mind, thus it felt like playing it would be in bad taste. Christ, 2018 feels like it’s been ten years long.

Homefront is a game developed Kaos Studios, a development team consisting of people who made the popular Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942 way back when, were the ones who worked on this infamous game. Backed by THQ’s ambitious marketing campaign, the game had the chance to be something really, really interesting. Except it wasn’t.

Prior to Homefront, Kaos Studios only made one game: the middling Battlefield clone Frontlines: Fuel of War. After the lukewarm reception that game got, they soon were hard to work on a spiritual successor in Homefront. According to a retrospective over at Polygon, the game was meant to be strictly a multiplayer-only experience – which makes sense, considering the developer’s pedigree – but executive meddling caused a shift in marketing to add a traditional single player campaign, causing it to drown out the carefully crafted multiplayer they had made.

It’s hard to tell in this screenshot, but Connor here kept running in place, stuck on a rock.
I had to restart the checkpoint to fix it.

I decided to replay this, on PC this time – my previous experience was through the streaming OnLive service around 2012 or so – and it hasn’t gotten any better. If anything, it’s much worse than I remember.

All Ghillied Up this ain’t.

Homefront’s single player campaign checks off every single thing Call of Duty did, but somewhat worse: there’s a section where you kick open a door and shoot everybody in slow motion like in Modern Warfare 2, a portion of a stage where you’re picking off enemies as a sniper as you infiltrate an enemy camp ala “All Ghillied Up” from Call of Duty 4, even a section at the very end has you using a CUAV drone to pick off targets on the Golden Gate Bridge much like a section in Modern Warfare 2.

It feels like someone up top at THQ said to Kaos, “Hey! Remember that thing that Call of Duty did? Do that!” and did so without having a say in the matter. A shame, really.

But that’s not what I’m here to write about. I’m here to write about the game’s product placement.

This screenshot, from Remedy’s Alan Wake, features product placement from Energizer, slightly breaking the immersion.

Product placement in video games is a sticky kind of subject matter. I can’t think of any recent game that used it effectively short of sports games, and even there it can get pretty bad at times. Homefront is littered with advertisements for so many brands that taints the atmosphere of the game, taking place in a modest town in the middle of the United States. For being part of “the resistance,” you sure see a lot of product placement.

Kaos Studios’ lead level designer once talked about using brands in their game, and how they were allegedly rejected by several companies in doing so. Though it sounded like there’s only a brand or two in the entire game, there are many, many more brands than what they say here. It also looks pretty ironic considering in this interview they condemn Infinity Ward for making Burger Town, a fictitious brand in Modern Warfare 2.

As I played through Homefront’s campaign, I started documenting all the brands I saw. Now I don’t think I got every single bit of product placement here, there’s likely a few I missed because there’s shockingly so many of them. I’m ranking them from the least offensive to the most egregious in the entire game. It gets pretty ugly in spots, so strap in.

Homefront starts with a section where protagonist Robert Jacobs – a successful graduate of the “Gordon Freeman School of Character Development” – is shoved onto a bus ostensibly to be retrained as an enemy fighter pilot. That gets stopped short by the supporting allies of the resistance, Connor and Rianna. Though it does give a glimpse of a few Pabst Blue Ribbon banners strewn throughout the city before the bus is flipped over.

 

Not long after Jacobs escapes, they slip through a certain restaurant chain – more on that later – and walk past a Full Throttle vending machine. An energy drink brand by Monster, it’s one of two brands they own that are featured in this game, the other being NOS, which shows up a little later into Chapter 3. Oddly enough, Monster itself is a no-show here.

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