The Coup

In praise of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s most unusual level

On the Level is a series that closely analyzes individual videogame sections, examining how small moments in games can resonate throughout—and beyond—the games themselves. /// Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s (2007) writers understand brevity. Each loading screen provides a satellite image of the upcoming mission, accompanied by a terse overview. “Good news first,” explains SAS operative Gaz, before the opening level. “We’ve got a civil war in Russia … 15,000 nukes at stake.” It’s graceful. Like a soldier, on standby for mission go, while the player waits for action, she sits through an intelligence briefing. It’s economical, too. If…

Five Nights At Freddy's: Sister Location

Five Nights At Freddy’s: Sister Location is a glorious return to cheap, nasty horror

One can only sympathize with Scott Cawthon. Once a struggling game-maker, he seems concerned that, just as unexpectedly as it arrived, his recent success might disappear. So he’s been working it while it’s hot—inside two years, he’s put out six different Five Nights at Freddy’s games. But 2, 3, and 4 were all poor. To keep his audience hooked, Cawthon introduced side characters, back stories, and vague, irrelevant mysteries. He created a lore. FNAF became turgid. And its original, wonderful premise and mechanics were drowned by arbitrary plot twists. The newly released Sister Location marks yet another chapter in the Freddy’s…


The videogame that dared to question the War on Terror

If we can associate genres and aesthetics with film-makers (John Woo and action movies; Stanley Kubrick and deep focus) IO Interactive, especially in its prime between 2002 and 2007, was a game-maker defined by concerns about player agency. By constantly placing her in restrictive and alien environments, the Hitman series challenged the player’s typical experience of casual and unbridled progression. Kane and Lynch: Dead Men (2007), starring two legitimately unpleasant characters, undercut the prototypical videogame hero narrative—rather than saving the world, cast as a selfish villain, the player committed selfish acts and with selfish purpose. “My name’s John Ford and…

Hitman: Blood Money

The power of silence in Hitman: Blood Money

War games have consistently failed at making me feel like an invader. Their stories, almost always, involve Western troops on top secret missions behind enemy lines—myself and my AI squad mates are supposed to be interlopers, constantly vulnerable amid a foreign, hostile environment. And yet, we master our surroundings, and our enemies within them, entirely. On-screen objective markers tell us where to go. An arsenal of science-fiction weaponry ensures our safety. Videogames are sycophantic. We, the players, must always be comfortable. We must be provided with the necessary equipment and navigational tools so as not to become stuck (or even…


The inglorious nihilism of Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto V (2013) is a confidence trick; Rockstar is a fraud. They tell people to distrust capitalism and suspect politics—the entire world, and all its peoples, are venal. In the same breath, they promise sanctuary. “Are you young? Are you angry? Are you an iconoclast, too? Then Rockstar and Grand Theft Auto are here for you,” they seem to say. But it’s a con. Rockstar embraces cynics and outsiders, but only so it may reach a hand into their pockets. Generally, Grand Theft Auto is nihilistic, in a manner betokening not worldliness but arrogance. The chief villain of…

Binary Domain

Binary Domain and the importance of shooting robots

A third-person shooter in which you destroy thousands of robots using big guns and lots of bullets. That could be a description for both Binary Domain (2012) and Vanquish (2010). They’re both science-fiction and both published by SEGA. And each of them is styled in a way that might be described as “very Japanese.” But where Vanquish quickly gets old, Binary Domain is alive, vibrant, and keeps you hooked until its end. The difference is revealed in the characters. More specifically, it’s found in the cutscenes. As game-makers continue to explore new methods of interactive storytelling, I understand why cutscenes…


The triumph of despair in Life Is Strange

This article contains spoilers for Life Is Strange. There are several moments in Life Is Strange (2015) which, even now, weeks after finishing it, come into my head on a daily basis. First is the closing sequence of Episode One. As Syd Matters’ “Obstacles” kicks in, we drift away from Max and Chloe by the lighthouse and across the town of Arcadia Bay. We see vignettes of the game’s entire cast—Warren, Victoria, Joyce, Kate, Jefferson, Wells, Nathan. Some of them are working, some are plotting, some are crying. David Madsen, Chloe’s bossy and suspicious step-father, is working on his house.…

Resident Evil Remake

The desolate mansion of Resident Evil

Resident Evil, released in 1996 for PlayStation 1, is hilarious—it’s so funny. The voice acting is ridiculous, the plot is sensational and the live-action cutscenes look like they’ve come from a porn parody film. In fact, that’s Resident Evil in a nutshell: from the campy character and costume design through the cheap music and sound effects, Resident Evil feels like a high-end fuck film, only without any fucking. Look at Jill. Look at Chris. Look at BARRY. This is a cast of actors straight out of a Brock Landers movie. Resident Evil has become the beloved low watermark of videogame production value, but designers…


Speak Up, The Order: 1886

This article is part of a series called Shut Up, Videogames, in which critic Ed Smith invites games old and new to pipe down, or otherwise. In this edition, he looks at the genre defying third-person action-adventure, The Order: 1886. It’s no masterpiece—it’s the story of immortal knights fighting werewolves and vampires in Steampunk London. But The Order: 1886 (2015) is still more than videogame critics deserve. Its low review scores and petulant detractors are proof, once again, that games could never become art (whatever that would mean) because the people playing them and the people responsible for curating them simply wouldn’t allow…