Sam gets down "to business"

Increasingly, games – particularly first-person-shooters – are guilty of using two words: Realistic and Cinematic. They’re kinda paradoxical in many ways, but used often nevertheless. Case in point: Far Cry 2, a great, albeit flawed shooter that trades on both its cinematic values and realistic combat. Of course, it fails somewhat at both, being neither cinematic nor realistic. But it trades on them all the same. Picking holes in realism is pretty easy. How can a game, for example, possibly be ‘realistic’ if it asks you to fix every single engine ever made with a short twist of a magically appearing screw driver? Only a mini-game would be less stupid. Cinematic meanwhile, is less easy to fault.

The obvious contender is – as always – Call of Duty, a game that actually requires fairly little input to look impressive. Take away the mighty graphics and the noise, you’ve got a game of very little brain. This must be ‘cinematic’. It’s big, dumb and (mostly) fun, but what started with scripted sequences in games like Half Life and Gunman more than ten years ago has been stretched and stretched until you’re left with games that have six hours of gameplay and two hours of ‘cinematic’ mission briefings. Like blockbuster action movies, these games confuse cinematic intentions with real depth, but while ‘real depth’ in a movie means character, narrative, script and so on, in a game it means gameplay.

Rather nicely, this brings me on to Serious Sam HD (HD means High Definition, fact fans), which has recently been re-released both on PC and via the Xbox Live Arcade. It is splendid, and it’s splendid because it reminds of everything that used to be good about first person shooters. SSHD doesn’t claim to be ‘cinematic’ or ‘realistic’, it is a game, and it makes no bones about it. Whereas Half Life says, “How can we make this bridge explode realistically”, Serious Sam laughs and blows it up by throwing angry exploding skeleton horses at it. When Bioshock asks, “What separates a man from a slave”, Serious Sam guffaws and fights hordes of men with exploding hands. Yes, there’s a theme here, and the theme is blowing shit up.

It’s twitch gaming at its utter best – a form of gaming that died out with Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament – and it doesn’t care. The irony is that had this been released at the turn of the last decade, it would have been panned as stupid and backwards, but now that all we ever get is ‘cinematic’ and sodding ‘realism”, it’s like breathing pure oxygen. Just don’t have too much, right?

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