Eyes on Blood and Truth

Rail shooters haven’t had a great time since arcades falling out of favor.  The Wii picked up a few good ones, which makes a lot of sense, as I’d guess that controller was tailor-made to mimic light gun games if I didn’t know any better.  But post Wii, what did we get?  We get Blood and Truth.  That’s what.  

Not just Blood and Truth, really.  The rise of VR opened up the genre all over again.  I can’t say whether they’re good or bad, ‘cause, you know, I haven’t played them.  But I can say that VR+Motion Controller+Rooty-Tooty Point and Shooty makes for something that’s just viscerally satisfying.  It feels good.  It feels right.  

Blood and Truth is a Playstation VR exclusive made by the same Sony London Studios that made the Playstation VR Worlds collection of quick little tech-demo games, and specifically, this game is pretty much an updated, expanded version of The London Heist from that collection.  The game has you in the shoes of Johnny Shootbangs (note: not his real name), a UK Special Forces soldier who gets a leave of absence and gets called home after his father, the boss of London’s largest crime family, passes away.  From natural causes.  Kind of unexpected given his occupation.  Anyways, you go home to do the family stuff, and one of your dad’s crime captains kills your friends and kidnaps your family-family so he can take over your crime-family.  So you have to go shoot everyone until things are better.  Just like in real life.

I didn’t actually say that.  FBI, please don’t add me to a list.

Anyways!  Big thing with Blood and Truth.  Think of action movies.  Imagine you’re the lead character.  This is that.  I would say this is inspired just as much by movies as it is by video games.  Except that’s almost certainly wrong, and I am never wrong except when I’m doing it deliberately for art, so I don’t say that.  But still, very inspired by movies.

So yeah, it’s a rail shooter.  Remember the arcades.  Like Time Crisis or House of the Dead or Virtua Cop or something.  You’ve got a gun that you can point and shoot.  Or you can do two guns.  If you’ve got the motion controllers, you’ve got two of them, and you’ve probably got two arms, so you can dual-wield like crazy if you want.  I want.  Makes me feel like a badass.  Like I mentioned before, the gunplay in this game feels fantastic.  Even better than those arcades.  Something about the nature of VR and the specific feedback this game gives really makes it work.  Normally, with rail shooters, the game controls the rate of your progression, but here, you do.  To move forward, you have to point at a suitable location and press a button.  So slightly more interactive than your typical rail shooter.  I really have to complement the game on its handling of accuracy.  Real-life aiming is freakin’ hard, but this game has it going to where it feels rather satisfactory.  There’s enough give that you point and shoot, it feels like you get some real action to it.  I’ve had mixed results shooting in meat-space, but here, I’m able to aim well enough to get some real progress, while still feeling like it’ll miss when I truly deserve it.  Even dual-wielding, which is near impossible in real life, is rather achievable here.  This game feels really good in gameplay as a result.  I don’t know that I can overstate it enough.  This game feels absolutely fantastic.  It’s visceral and hits a really great level of game-feel, like you’re getting enough feedback through sound and visuals that that it seems more than just like you’re some incredibly sexy nerd with a doofy headseat and weird controllers in your hands.  

As I mentioned before, this game feels like an action movie.  Which means a couple of things, different from your typical video game.  First is that there’s actually long periods of time in which you’re not shooting things.  Some games, that would be a bad thing.  Not here.  Honestly, they make incredibly good use of your non-combat time.  The dialog in this game is really good.  Sometimes you’re just spending time getting to know your siblings, or arguing with the CIA guy who’s interrogating you, or flipping off people you hate, and it works really, really well.  The characters, although they largely take up pretty typical archetypes on paper, actually feel rather unique and charming in execution.  The story, much like the characters, wouldn’t be much to write home about in summary, but honestly, in execution, it feels pretty solid.  In terms of writing, things really shine in the details of the piece.  I mean, we’re talking about larger-than-life professional criminals and killers whom we barely get any time with, relatively, but things feel surprisingly human in that.  It’s the little pieces, your brother’s sense of humor, your rival’s love for his brother and for art amidst his pettiness in his campaign against you, the mystery amongst your handlers and that weird woman working for the enemy, they take this story from a simple one-paragraph summary to something that you can build a connection with.  Second, the game is big in setpieces.  Every level has at least a couple of big, visual capital-M Moments.  Giant explosions or gunning down some sort of heavy enemy equipment or basejumping (which is an incredible experience when you’re using VR to treat a visual-motion disorder, btw) or making a daring escape by leaping on top of moving things that aren’t meant to be leapt on top of.  This extends even to the non-combat scenes, which some absolutely fantastic look-what-we-can-do-in-VR interactables that are seriously impressive and stand as examples of what other genres should be doing in VR, even when there’s absolutely nothing that you want to point a gun at.  

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The Line that Needs to be Drawn: The Used Games Issue


Sometimes, I wonder what the future is going to think of this decade.  We’re only three years in, and we’ve already had so many high profile fights about the nature of intellectual property in our new technology, and that’s not looking to change anytime soon.  America’s existing intellectual property laws are antiquated and in desperate need of updating, yet said updating could easily trample all over the consumer’s rights, as demonstrated by both SOPA and the recent Xbox One debacle.  This is an issue that we’re going to see rise up again and again in the coming years, and we’re going to need to be vigilant to ensure that the rights of ourselves as consumers are being respected.

Just a couple of hours ago, the guys at Microsoft announced that they’re backtracking on the whole online check-in/used games issue.  They will respect the standard ownership rights over physical property, and they won’t require the Xbox One to be tethered to an internet connection to function.  And on a side note, that announcement is the first piece of Xbox One publicity that looks to have had the PR oversight Microsoft’s been so desperately needing since the console was announced.  This announcement is a very good thing.  However, stuff like this is going to come up again and again.  There are many corporations, especially among the largest in the game industry, who will happily use their power to force through wildly anti-consumer practices.  We’ve seen it often in recent years with the advent of particularly restrictive and invasive DRM.  Luckily, the Xbox One’s change in policy also helps to illustrate what exactly we need to be doing when our rights are challenged:  we need to argue, and we need to argue wisely, loudly, and consistently.

That’s really the greatest tool available to us as consumers.  There’s not much else we can count on.  We don’t have a consumer protection group specifically for video games, and general groups such as the Better Business Bureau have systems that are pretty easy for experienced companies to take advantage of.  And while the Xbox One’s policy would likely violate the 1st Sale Doctrine that Valve’s been accused of breaking all around Europe, we haven’t had enough high profile cases on it in America to get an accurate gauge of which way our courts would go.  Besides, we probably don’t want it to get that far.  If it became a major case, and the courts ruled against it, the game industry would likely be motivated to try and get the law changed in their favor.  Most of the other players in the entertainment industry would have every motivation to back them, and while the Entertainment Consumers Organization would fight against it, they’re really no match for the entertainment industry’s lobbyists.  And Congress doesn’t exactly have a good track record of valuing the individual citizens over the corporations.

So in a practical manner, we’re on our own.  However, as the Xbox One Retraction shows, we can do a lot on our own.  The internet gives us a lot of power to not only argue our point, but to be heard.  It gives us the power to hit these corporations both in the ego and in the bank account.  It’s what beat SOPA.  Through our strong, vocal, and consistent objections, we gave SOPA’s opponents in Congress ammunition and caused SOPA’s supporters to back down.  And it’s exactly what protected our rights here.  The Xbox One gave companies like EA, Ubisoft, and Activision Blizzard exactly what they’ve been screaming for over years, yet in the face of our opposition, they all left Microsoft to hold the line alone.  And make no mistake, we made a difference in that.  In spite of whatever official statements they may make, if we had let the used games issue pass quietly, these companies would have heralded the Xbox One used game policy as the game industry’s messiah.  It was our objections that enabled Sony to make such a huge statement out of simply keeping the status quo with their next console.  It was our making our intended consequences of this policy know that led to the fluctuations of Microsoft’s stock price that, although not exactly huge, still would have made the execs take notice.  So pat yourself on the back.  It was through our collective work that we were able to ensure our ownership rights go unmolested.

But this will come again.  It may not be in the same form as the Xbox One, but another company will come along with more power than goodwill and try to take more ownership rights away from us.  And we’ll need to handle it the same way as we handled this used games issue, and as we handled SOPA, and as we handled SecuROM.  We need to make some noise.  We need to make sure the companies attempting to seize our rights, as well as those who haven’t yet been informed, know that we’re angry and why.  We need to articulate our points in a reasonable and sensible matter, so that the heart of the issue is better understood by all.  And we need to do something the internet is horrible at doing, and keep the pressure on.  If we’re going to maintain our ownership rights over the physical pieces of intellectual property we buy, we can’t compromise on that.  We can’t get bored and leave the matter behind us, nor can we take small concessions in place of the rights we once had.  The internet age has given us more power than we ever had before in communicating with large companies, and these companies are listening.  Begrudgingly maybe, but they are listening.  We need to stay vigilant, and make sure that we’re using our ability to argue properly to uphold our ownership rights.