Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Don

It was midnight last night when I decided, for the first time in my life, to watch The Godfather. As a film student I felt obliged to give it a shot, and to my satisfaction I found it thoroughly brilliant. As a patriarchal representation of Italian-American mobsters going about the trials and tribulations of day to day life in a late 40's New York I found it spectacular, but as an example of storytelling and direction I found it utterly magnificant. In particular the use of film language within the narrative to create tension and foreshadow upcoming events; an example of this being the brief moments before a death scene where the audience realise a murder is about to take place, most notably the initial attempt on Don Vito Corleone's life and the murder of Micheal Corleone's first wife Apollonia. To take Apollonia's murder as a more specific example, a mid shot of Apollonia's murderer fleeing the scene at the sight of Micheal then allows for the audience to witness a close up of Micheal as they simultaneously realise what is about to happen. This creates tension and allows for genuine shock as you can only sit and watch somebody be brutally killed.

After such an experience I will be hastily gathering the remaining two films in the trilogy for immediate consumption.

The film however also made me ponder another specific issue tied to a seperate medium of entertainment: videogames. I enjoy videogames more than any other form of entertainment, however they are often guilty of failing to deliver the sort of experience a critically acclaimed epic such as 'The Godfather' so expertly does. In 'The Godfather', the story is so well told through convincing acting and authentic representations that you feel immedietaly interpellated into the mafia way of life. You believe and feel for the characters in a way that games don't and maybe can't possibly achieve. Therefore reaching heights of such emotional engagement that videogames can only dream to someday match.

Lets take an example. I am currently playing the infinitely distasteful and frankly shit 'Grand Theft Auto' clone, 'Saints Row 2'. This is a game with similar themes in principal to 'The Godfather': revenge, power and friendship, however to compare the two would be like comparing a Citroen Saxo to the Apollo 11 space craft. One was the first vehicle to land on the moon, the other was an awful car. Nethertheless they were both built to accomplish the same thing(to get from point A to point B). The mission structure within Saints Row 2 allows the player to perform various tasks in order to earn 'Respect', a term that in my language translates to 'what a dick'. Such tasks include murdering litterers, spray painting gang signs onto poorly textured bricks and taking part in illegal street races. Each as cliched as the next and which don't help to advertise the already stigmatized medium of videogames. The narrative itself follows many stereotypes, including the characters themselves and the events that affect them within the game. Honestly this is the sort of experience which should be more accurately compared to such trash as Fast and the Furious or Lethal Weapon.

In short, Saints Row 2 is a game that disturbingly visualizes what things would look like if it wasn't God who created the world in seven days but in fact Mr Blobby. Who at the time was drunk. Just to point out also I am actually an Atheist.

So from this disastrous advertisement for sandbox videogames I contrast with Mafia 2, 2k Czech's in development mob simulator due out in early 2010. Once again it shares a plethora of similarities with other open world creations such as the Grand Theft Autos and the Saints Rows however this time attempts to inject a sense of consequence and responsibility to the player's actions. Actually this has been done before, ironically with the original Mafia that I myself thought was superb, an opinion which was unfortunately not unanimous resulting in mixed reviews for the title, most famously from Eurogamer.

The games mission structure is less obvious to the player, with events triggering in the world itself, appearing natural but in fact highly scripted for dramatic effect. An example of this cinematic system sees the player come face to face with a pair of thieving bastards in an alley who request you hand over some money or be stabbed rather violently in the gut. Here you have a choice, this is a game after all. You can succumb to the duo's wishes or pull out your firearm and use it to good effect. On the drawing of your weapon, the thieves run off leaving the player to then deal with a policeman who has arrived at conveniently the wrong time, taking issue with you branding a revolver in the street. A second choice ensues involving the player either showing the correct documentation for the weapon to Mr Law or hauling ass into the night in an attempt to escape punishment. If you then choose to flee you must break the line of sight that will cause the policeman to lose you, allowing for the player to change their clothes and continue the game without bother.

This use of realism, similar to The Godfather, allows the audience to immerse themselves in the representation without it feeling obviously simulated or extremely clich├ęd. It is unfortunate that in films and videogames there are ten Saints Rows to each Mafia 2 however if they were all that brilliant you would never find the time to consume them all. Causing terrible heartache at the enjoyment you may be missing.