Tuesday, February 23, 2016

9 Times Video Game Violence Went Too Far

Just like violence in any other medium, there are times in gaming where certain bloody depictions cross the lines of taste. In many cases, these specific games aren’t even that explicit aesthetically, but go too far when the brutality itself is accompanied by dark subject matter or delivered in a way that doesn’t gel with the enjoyable, player-driven fun that most games strive for.

For the most part, video game violence can be pretty great. Being able to blow up, shoot or stab an endless supply of faceless goons (or faceless human players) provides a cathartic joy like nothing else, and let’s face it, for as much flack as it gets, digital claret is hardly the controversial topic the media has tried to make it out to be for years now. We’ve watched onscreen violence in movies for almost a century, so of course we’re going to enjoy it just as much when we’re put in charge of the wanton destruction ourselves.

That said, you won’t be seeing the likes of Bulletstorm or Mortal Kombat here. While those games are some of the goriest the industry has ever seen, their violence is so ridiculous and so over the top that it’s almost played for laughs – never quite touching a nerve on a deeper level.

Instead, these are the top instances where a game just got ugly. Either through sheer explicitness or because of underlying implications, the violent nature of these titles didn’t make make you scream in excitement or laugh in disgust – they only left an unsavoury taste in your mouth that made you want switch the console off altogether.

9. GTA V’s Torture Scene

For the most part, the Grand Theft Auto series has received way more controversy than it probably deserves. While yeah, all of the games let you wreak havoc in densely populated cities, taking down countless civilians in the process, the game is so tongue-in-cheek and over the top that the violence is rarely ever truly hard-hitting.

However, that’s not to say the franchise can’t get a bit ugly at times when it wants to. Especially with the psychopathic Trevor being introduced in the latest game, there were times during Grand Theft Auto V’s story where the visceral violence went a touch overboard.

Specifically, the scene where Trevor interrogates an informant by horrifically torturing him stands out as a particularly gruelling moment. Teeth pulling, water-boarding and electrocutions are all flaunted in this seriously gruesome set-piece. And because you’re actually partaking in the torture yourself rather than just watching it play out in a cutscene, beating a helpless guy to a near-death state in an oppressive warehouse really wasn’t at all fun or exciting.

8. Hatred
Destructive Creations

Although Hatred probably didn’t live up to the controversy that surrounded it ever since the release of its first trailer, the game still provided quite an uncomfortable experience to play through.

Pushed with the directive to kill everyone you see, the title has you taking the reigns of a rampaging serial killer out on a suicide mission to eliminate as much of the population as he can before he’s taken down himself. Although the isometric view doesn’t make the violence quite as effective as it could have otherwise been, the oppressive colour scheme and the lack of humour makes Hatred a grating and unenjoyable slog.

But even then, the violence would have been worse – and the game would have scored higher on this list – if the main character wasn’t so embarrassing. The brooding po-faced killer of Hatred comes across as a cringe-worthy basement-dweller throwing a tantrum rather than an intimidating and terrifying mass murderer, which makes his violent monologues and outbursts that bit more ridiculous the more you play.

7. Tomb Raider’s Abundance Of Death Scenes
Crystal Dynamics

The Tomb Raider reboot was all about survival. Although we saw Lara get beat up and killed off in increasingly extravagant ways as the game went on, it kind of made sense because of how on the back foot the character remained throughout the entire experience.

However, when the decidedly more fantastical Rise of The Tomb Raider came out and featured just as many instances of Lara being murdered in a variety of grisly ways, you just got the idea that Crystal Dynamics loved seeing the character in as much pain as possible. I get it; it’s supposed to be a way to show that Lara is a ‘strong character’ who can bounce back from anything, but there’s more ways to do that than by just constantly putting her through an uncomfortably violent wringer.

While other games such as The Last of Us also have outrageously brutal death scenes, it often feels more justified or in-line with the tone of their game worlds. The Last of Us tells the tale of an unforgiving post-apocalyptic dystopia so it makes sense that even the smallest mistake can result in a horrific end for the characters. The latest Tomb Raider series doesn’t have that same tone or narrative context though, and every time Lara is impaled or takes another beating it feels at odds with the more magically-inclined and optimistic nature of her universe.

6. Duke Nukem Forever’s Holsom Twins
3D Realms

Duke Nukem Forever as a whole was an ugly, ugly game. In tone, content and visuals, there wasn’t one part of the entire experience that felt fun in the colourful, offbeat way that the franchise had always been until then. Although nudity and violence has always been prevalent during the series, it at no point ever came across as mean-spirited or offensive – it was always just in-line with the exaggerated movie masculinity of the titular character.

However, Forever features one particular instance of violence that’s emblematic of how out of touch the latest game actually is with what made Duke so memorable in the first place. In one mission you find yourself blasting through an organic alien lair (that takes more than a little influence from Ridley Scott’s signature sci-fi horror film) before stumbling across two familiar characters who so far in the game have only been depicted as insulting (and outdated) sex objects.

When you find them, strung up and naked up in the heart of the ship, they confess to Duke that they were forced to have sex with their alien captors. A second later they’re ripped apart from the inside out while Duke cracks a one-liner. The entire scene, like the whole game, is just ugly – and the grimy visuals and dialogue make the violent end of the characters way more mean-spirited than it ever should have been.

5. Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s Chemical Attack
Infinity Ward

After Modern Warfare 2 caused massive controversy with its No Russian level that had the player gunning down an entire airport full of civilians, it was pretty much expected that the next game in the series would try to recapture that same feverish publicity with another, equally controversial moment.

And of course, Modern Warfare 3’s controversial scene more than lived up to expectations. During a cutscene, we watch as a child and her mother walk down the streets of London, recording a family day out in the English capital. However, the moment comes just after one of the game’s big villains is able to get away with a huge amount of biological weapons. Suddenly one of the trucks fitted with the explosive inside parks up at the end of the street. None the wiser, the child runs to play with the birds next to it, before the truck explodes, taking out everyone in the vicinity.

Unfortunately, the new game didn’t quite understand what made the original No Russian moment so memorable in the first place. Shooting up that airport actually had significance to the game’s campaign, setting up the title’s villain while showing the horrific extent that your undercover character was willing to go to. Modern Warfare 3’s scene had none of that context to prop it up, and overall comes across as an emotionally manipulative moment that was only included for pure shock value – being all the worse for it.

4. Hotline Miami 2’s Attempted Rape
Dennaton Games

For a game so colourfully retro, Hotline Miami is one of the most violent releases of the past few years. As you dress up in various sinister looking costumes, you’re tasked with going on huge rampages to take down floors and floors of goons by stabbing, shooting or smashing up anything – or anyone- in your way.

Knowledgeable of its own reputation, the sequel begins in a way that one-ups everything seen in the already blood-soaked original. Dressed as a grotesque serial killer in a pig mask, you make your way through a house as you clear out all of the guys on the first floor. Once you’ve finished off everyone in the first few rooms, you receive a call telling you that a girl – your target – is in the upstairs bedroom.

As you proceed to murder everyone else in the room you’re forced to fatally wound the half-naked girl herself. However, if that’s not uncomfortable enough, as the dying woman squirms on the floor the only way you can finish the scene is by pressing the action button – which results in the killer attempting to rape her. Thankfully(ish) this scene turns out to be part of a film shoot, and the director calls cut before you see the woman actually be assaulted, but you don’t know this while you’re playing it – and it makes for one of the most uncomfortable opening levels ever made.

Maybe that was the point, but when you realise the whole thing isn’t relevant to the game anyway, it feels like shallow shock factor just for the sake of it.

3. The Entirety Of Manhunt 1 & 2

It was hard to choose which Manhunt game to put on here. The violence in both is so unnerving but for distinctly different reasons, and as a result it isn’t easy to say which took its video game action the furthest. Instead, I’m just going to cover both.

While the violence in the original game is still ridiculously brutal, it isn’t a patch on the over-the-top action of the second release. However, the first title’s graphic nature is more affecting because of the context behind it. Playing as a death-row prisoner, you’re forced to take part in a series of snuff films for a psychopathic film producer. It’s not much of a plot, and its really only a framing device to give your horrific murders a small sense of purpose within the game, yet it’s a grim enough setup that it makes each and every kill in the game feel more hateful than it otherwise would have.

The second title’s narrative on the other hand is more conventional, yet its violence puts to shame anything that featured in the first attempt. The plastic bag in particular is used in a particularly gruesome way, and the subsequent beatings your character gives those he incapacitates can make for death scenes that you just can’t bring yourself to watch.

2. Postal
Whiptail Interactive

For the most part, the Postal series is home to a rather silly set of games. Like Hatred, the releases see a character “going postal” on a small population, as they’re let loose to go nuts and annihilate any unfortunate soul they comes across. Unlike Hatred however, Postal features so many ridiculous ways to eliminate the townspeople that you can rarely ever take it seriously.

However, even then there are a couple of moments where the cartoon violence goes too far. As you dice up cops and urinate on dead civilians, it doesn’t take long to realise that the violence in the game isn’t funny or pushing boundaries at all – it’s boring. With no background music or context to your killings, the violence becomes more uncomfortable as you realise there’s no point or reward to the slaughter. Because it’s not fun, the extravagant killing makes you question what type of person you are, as you realise you could be doing literally anything else with your time.

Even though the likes of Postal and Hatred are made to thrive off controversy and to push buttons, it doesn’t automatically make them significant pop culture “satire” or social commentary. More often than not, games like this chase the spotlight by being as reprehensibly violent as possible – which is all well and good if your game is actually fun.

But the Postal series isn’t; it’s mindless anarchy executed in the most boring way possible.

1. Custer’s Revenge
Who would have thought that the game that took its player-driven violence too far would have been the oldest on this list? Released at a time before the great video game crash of the 80s where developers were pushing literally any old toss out the door, Custer’s Revenge was one of the most expensive games of all time when it first released. And if you had paid top dollar for this game at the time, then you would have no doubt been running back to the store for a refund the very next day.

The Atari 2600 release sees you take control of one General Custer, a naked cowboy veteran who has to make his way past a barrage of arrows so he can, uh… have sex with a tied up Native American woman. The gameplay stays the same for the entire experience, and while the on-screen violence isn’t particularly graphic (unless you count those 8-bit genitals – which, actually, I do) the implications and questionable politics of the game can easily ruffle your feathers.

Not content with being crude, sexist and racist, the fact that your entire aim in the game is to avoid incoming arrows so you can receive your ‘reward’ – the 8-bit simulated sexual assault of a tied-up woman, let’s not forget – it’s easy to see how the title manages to be more offensive with its primitive violence than any of the seemingly tame in comparison blood-soaked games on this list.

Which violent video game moments or scenes really went too far? Let us know in the comments!


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