XCom: The Burro (spoilerific)
by Diego Beltrami
Recently I finished playing The Bureau. The Xcom spin-off that went through a serious identity crisis during its development. It’s a game that went from a unique take on first person shooters, heavily Bioshock inspired to a Mass Effect clone with a small semblance of squad combat.
The game per se isn’t of much interest. It’s quite competent in the shooty bits, something that most AAA games get right nowadays, but it doesn’t do anything that makes it stand out. The “story” is nothing to write home about. Pretty generic videogame stuff. But there was an interesting idea there.
HIGHWAY TO THE SPOILER ZONE
You see, while the game makes you think you control Carter from a third person perspective, it turns out you’ve been playing as an alien controlling Carter from a first person perspective. It’s an interesting twist that uses traditional game elements to its advantage. You only realize this after Carter starts to reject your alien self and you find yourself in the position of controlling the ghostly alien. It’s an interesting concept that sadly couldn’t be explored further in the game, as the implications didn’t fit the overall narrative, but it provides two interesting ideas.
The first is the idea of being a intermediary between the player and the character. It’s an in-game personification of the idea of the player. This player that gives commands and controls the character but it’s not him, it’s still an outside force. Consortium also explores this idea from a different perspective but interestingly The Burro uses the game elements, like the camera, to better complement this. Also I think that Consortium’s meta narrative doesn’t work as well for this idea as the Ethereal does in The Burro’s mythology. But I’ll talk about Consortium in due time.
Besides that we could also talk about this idea of the player character refusing and fighting this control. It’s the game rebelling against the player, and could be the source of an interesting dynamic in another game exploring the concept.
Both ideas hinges on the relationship between player and character. Most of the time the character is the personification of the player, his embodiment in the game world but sometimes this doesn’t feel right. There are times that it feels like the player is merely suggesting actions to the character. Someone who played Splinter Cell Conviction will know this feeling, you’re just ordering Sam Fisher to do something it doesn’t convey the feeling of doing it yourself. Take cover there, shoot that guy and the like. What’s nice of The Burro is that it makes that feel like part of the Lore, part of the mythology of the game, after all you are playing as someone/something ordering the character to do those things.
Sadly the quality of the writing doesn’t compliment this high brow ideas well. The story if filled with clichés, bland dialogue and generic characters to the point that it doesn’t seem that the same people could’ve thought of all those details that work so well in realizing the twist. And I must emphasise that it’s the realization that makes the idea stand up, the story’s twist isn’t that unexpected or surprising but it’s presented quite well. I was certainly tempted to say it was mere chance that it made me thing of all this but the craftsmanship in the presentation can be seen and you can’t deny there’s intention behind it. Certainly 2K Marin can achieve some interesting things with writting, it’s a shame that they ended up going the generic blockbuster route.