THE ART OF COMMERCIAL WAR

Oh my god oh my god oh my god! A trailer was just released for XCOM 2! I’m so excited! I feel like a little girl about to meet some handsome boy band! Oh, I must be sure to sniff its hair and steal its sweatband.

But hold on, something is strange. Something feels… Different. I haven’t felt like this about a trailer for a while, but why is that? Let’s reverse-engineer this delight and compare it to something else I saw a trailer for recently: Star Wars: Battlefront.

Quite frankly, I didn’t feel fussed at all when I watched that one. Just kind of unimpressed, and a little bit annoyed. But that doesn’t seem right, surely? I have great nostalgia and love for both the Battlefront and XCOM games, I’ve sunk many hours into both, probably more into Battlefront, actually. So why now do I feel the need to stand on one side so firmly? And no, it’s not because Battlefront is made by EA. The game hasn’t been released yet, and if it’s good then people should buy it, because that’s what promotes good things and keeps people making them. If it’s a micro-payment littered pile of garbage, then I’m not interested, and yes, people should leave it on the shelf.

But I digress.

I think one of the reasons that SWB left me so limp (metaphorically speaking) was that there actually wasn’t anything new in there. No new angle on Star Wars as a concept, nothing to suggest any progression.

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“Look, I’m sorry, but I don’t kiss on the first date.”

It really is the same old thing. Rebels fight in bulky green outfits and all speak in broad American accents. The Empire is English-exclusive, and uses strangely-designed vehicles built by the lowest bidder. I’ll be honest, I’ve seen it all before, and then, just to give you no credit, Darth Vader and Boba Fett pop out of nowhere and for no reason, except to make all the fanboys swoon like women from a nineteenth-century romance novel. But where’s the twist? Where’s the movement forward? For a series based around travel across the galaxy, Star Wars really doesn’t want to go anywhere.

XCOM, on the other hand, gives us nothing but questions. The whole world appears to have changed since the last game, which was essentially the world we live in now, albeit subjected to the occasional alien invasion. But now we seem to be living with the bug-eyed monsters from Mars. In fact, the little sods seem to be in charge! I spent a lot of time trying to beat them back, I’m rather miffed about how easily they got in. Honestly, you leave for ten minutes and everybody just gives up.

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What you can’t see is the bumper sticker on the back that says “My other car is also a Porsche.”

I like the tone of the trailer as well. There’s a touch of Blade Runner and 1984 to the whole thing, with aliens stopping humans in the street for random tests, and massive TV screens smilingly telling us to do what our new overlords ask, with no pause to think for ourselves. THAT’S intriguing. That makes me want to play, to find out what happened. They’ve sparked my curiosity now. Not only that, but there’s new sorts of aliens to feast our eyes on. We see the Ethereals from the first game, making some strange messiah-pose on a billboard, but we also see a snakey-looking thing that wasn’t around before, power-armour soldiers who are unnervingly faceless, and what appears to be a big brother to the classic sectoid enemies. In fact, let’s be honest, that thing is absolutely terrifying. I think I’d rather be trapped in a room with a rampant muton beserker than left for a minute with one of those.

Scared isn’t bored, though. And I’m not bored, I’m fascinated. This world is one I want to explore, to find out about. I want to leap on board the giant XCOM helicarrier they showed us at the end, I want to pilot that angry little taser drone that zapped one of the bad guys, and most of all I want to give those aliens another good hiding. This has all made me ready for round 2.

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What do we think? Good news or bad news?

But Star Wars? Well, there’s a saying that fits. Been there, done that. The game might still be good, but the trailer didn’t get me excited for anything, I’ve done it all before. EA aren’t offering any new ideas, they’ve just put the old ones in a different game. And be honest with yourself, even though the trailer was made with the game’s engine, do you really think you’re looking at what the game is actually going to be like? I doubt it, because if the gameplay was that amazing… Well, they’d have shown us gameplay, not a movie wearing the skin of a video game.

Remember, neither of these evaluations are evaluations of the final product. Battlefront might be awesome, XCOM might be a load of old arse. But it doesn’t look like that here. XCOM is intriguing me, being rather coquettish and winking from behind its paper fan. Star Wars, on the other hand, has basically walked into the middle of the room and thrown off its dress, showing me everything it has, warts and all. And I don’t want warts. Yes, XCOM might have warts in the end, but it’s done a masterful job of hiding them, and I don’t think it only wants to do the missionary position, Star Wars. You could learn a thing or two here.

(Joel Franey would like to make it very clear that he has never paid for physical affection, except in the strictest sense of karmatic justice. He’d also like to make it very clear that women with warts aren’t necessarily doomed to loneliness and may still find love with another. Just not with him.)

I intended to release a longer piece on Dark Souls today, but this trailer came out a couple of hours ago and I thought was worth writing about whilst we remembered it. Expect Dark Souls soon.

YOU CAN WATCH THE XCOM TRAILER HERE, AND THE STAR WARS TRAILER HERE.

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