While sitting drunk around a campfire talking about video games, my friend accused me of enjoying “mediocre sci-fi shooters”. At first I was taken aback, but then I started to think about the fact that I really enjoy science fiction, and I tried to reflect on why I believe it’s the superior sub-genre of action game. These are the best reasons I could come up with now that there is no alcohol in my bloodstream.
Science fiction is an escapist fantasy. When I sit down to play a video game, it’s because I want to escape from reality for a while. The world is a big scary place, and video games provide an outlet where you can get away from it. So when I turn on my console, why would I want to play something that reminds me of the nightly news? I much prefer being cast in the role of a larger-than-life hero with some kind of special powers. More “realistic” games (in the real world you don’t go back to a checkpoint when you get shot, usually) generally have you moving from point A to point B and killing everything in your way, but are restricted to a certain type of terrain and locale. Science fiction allows for a much wider artistic range of settings and stories written in a larger scope, usually limited only by the artist’s creativity. Why just save a town in Uzbekistan when you could be saving the entire universe while running to the end of the level?
Lasers are awesome. I really enjoy technology, and the more ridiculous firepower and technological gadgets I can be outfitted with in a game, the better. God of War might give you some chain blades, and Call of Duty might provide you with an M-1 Garand, but are neither of those cooler than a Spartan laser, Hammer of Dawn or a portal gun? Absolutely not. Since I was a kid watching Voltron and Star Wars, energy swords and laser pistols have always been armaments to aspire to wielding. Ever notice in any movie with an alien that regular bullets usually don’t harm them? Someone invariably shouts, “Our weapons are useless against them!” followed closely by an expression of horror as the pellets bounce uselessly on the floor. That’s because regular guns are boring. While I’m on the subject, helicopters are cool, but not nearly as cool as jet packs or hoverbikes.
Aliens want to kill us and eat our brains. Films like E.T. and The Explorers might try to make aliens out to be misunderstood wayward travelers, but the truth is that all they want is to steal our natural resources and liquefy our organs to create spaceship fuel. While my xenophobia probably stems from playing too much Xenophobe, I think I’m justified in believing aliens are the worst threat we’ve ever faced in gaming. A deadly and varied foe, extraterrestrials are more dangerous than Nazis, North Koreans and all other stereotypical Eurasian terrorists combined! Perhaps the reason I like Killzone so much is because that universe upped the ante by creating the ultimate bad guy in the form of alien fascists.
I’m not saying titles like Halo and Killzone are better than Call of Duty or Medal of Honor because of their mechanics. All of these games provide their own variations on the same core game play elements. These games are better based on the creativity of their artistic content since they’re not limited by the constraints of “realism”. It’s like saying Saving Private Ryan or Das Boot are better movies than Predator or Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan. They just aren’t, and if you disagree, refer back to the third paragraph.