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[Gamer Diary] What I’ve been Playing… October 2012

2012 November 1

This month I finally bring you Borderlands 2.  I took my time, I enjoyed myself, and I promised I’d complete at least one run-through before gabbling on about it, and that I have.

Borderlands 2, or ‘the Accidental-on-Purpose, not-so-secret, feminist game’

There really is a lot that can be said about BL2, and although I’m not going to say it all, I’ve picked up on some points I think are more relevant for BadRep.  It isn’t, however, as hard as you might expect to find good, feminist-friendly things to say about BL2. In fact, it’s probably one of the best AAA titles in terms of its ability to give players something quite egalitarian as an overall experience.

Basic game-stuff first, though: keeping to form, Borderlands 2 is beautiful.  Hand-painted landscapes, smooth animation, great character design, brilliant monsters and, like, a gazillion-billion guns and other loot items.  It’s an FPS/RPG that combines the best of both game styles; you can recognise the colour-coded scale of awesomeness for your loot alongside the superb right-in-there combat mechanics.  You can grind, farm, explore – whatever.  It’s fun.  A lot of fun.

Concept art of Ellie from Borderlands 2.It’s available on the three big platforms (PS3, Xbox 360, PC) and is big on multiplayer, though frankly it’s just as great solo. However, the one thing that annoys me with these big multi-platform titles and multiplayer is that we can’t interact with each other.

While I can play through Steam with one friend, my Xbox friend can’t join in and is left to languish alone with inferior loot.  Not the fault of the game – more the big console companies trying to keep their corner of the market isolated – but it’s still a letdown.

Anyway, these things aside, why is this such a great egalitarian game?  Put simply, it takes the piss.  Out of everyone.  On the surface of things, anyone is fair game, but(!) if you listen and observe, what I’ve noticed is that there’s a bit of a slant on the piss-takings, and it’s a positive one.  I’ll give you some examples, but from here on out, beware the spoilers.

My two favourite NPCs are Ellie and Tina. They’re both great examples of powerful, self-confident, self-reliant women who aren’t your average pin-up character and who represent integral, practical and useful components of the story & mission.

They’re not decoration over in the corner of the room; they’re key to your success.  Ellie is a mechanic (and a bit of a whizz at that) and she’s a larger woman.  She loves it, and so does the game and its creators.

In the book that came with my special edition game-pack, Inside the Vault: The Art & Design of Borderlands 2, one character artist has said:

Ellie is one of my favorites… I like that we have embraced a variety of different character shapes.

Ellie’s dialogue is snappy, funny and generally awesome.  Some examples include: “…they like skinny chicks ’cause they’s pussies!” and “My mom Moxxi always told me if I slimmed down, men’d pay me more mind.  Shows what she knows – I got these boys bending over backwards…”.

Tina from Borderlands 2And Tina.  Tina is an early-teens girl who has been orphaned and likes to spend time having tea parties and, uh, exploding stuff.  She’s the best explosives expert on the planet. Even the man leading the resistance defers to her.

Tina’s a confusing character to meet – her speech is a little discordant with her sweet appearance – but she nevertheless maintains BL2 hilarity while being totally badass.

Tina and Ellie are just two of the female NPCs (yup, there’s others!) but I gotta say, having played through, the women are very important in BL2. They’re powerful, proactive, and practical. They can fight, build, explode stuff and save the day – they are full and proper characters and they’re equal (if not more awesome) than their male counterparts.

Even a rather minor female NPC adds to the all-round feminine badassery by “accidentally” giving you coordinates to mortar a very misogynist fellow into tiny pieces.

What’s great is that while the game’s pleasing me by being fair with its female characters, it’s also very subtly passing on the message that misogyny and sexism isn’t cool and isn’t funny.  Plenty of anti-egalitarian types rear their heads in the story, but they all get punished in-game. I think that’ll go a long way to dissuading that sort of behaviour in the audience – and hopefully show other developers that women can be awesome too.

Deadlight, or ‘the obligatory, festivity-themed title that’s actually pretty awesome’

Finally, in the spirit of all things spooky, there’s Deadlight, which recently ported across to Steam from Xbox Live Arcade (released on Steam 25/10/2012). Developed by Tequila Works alongside Microsoft Studios, Deadlight is a tense indie zombie-survival offering set in post-apocalyptic 1980s Seattle.  You play Randall Wayne, who’s been separated from his wife and daughter, battling and evading the ‘shadows’ as he navigates a ruined, hazardous cityscape to reunite his family.

It’s a simple premise by all accounts, and we’ve certainly seen plenty of zombie themes in recent years across the entertainment spectrum – but don’t let that put you off.

Deadlight is a side-scroller with a dark, moody art style reminiscent of LIMBO . It doesn’t feel too distant from the survivalist title I Am Alive, which also requires you to focus on your stamina levels to avoid falling of buildings or running out of energy mid-fight.  Similarly, you have limited weaponry and ammo (only what you can salvage on your way) so a lot of the time you have to make do without, meaning you can’t go full force forward shooting everything that moves. Nor can you charge about with an axe and splatter everything, because that runs your stamina down pretty sharpish.

Running, climbing and hiding are some of the best options, but there’s also environmental elements you can use to your advantage.  Zombies aren’t smart: if you jump over a hole in the floor, they’ll just fall in it.

Without giving away too much, zombies aren’t your only problem in Deadlight, and not every moment is spent dashing about.  It’s good fun and manages to keep up the tension without being so nerve-racking you log off (I’m looking at you, Amnesia… you too, Slender!).

At under a tenner full price (£9.99) it’s not bad value either, but if you’re quick there’s 15% off on Steam until the end of today (£8.49), so it’s worth checking out for a little Hallowe’en amusement.  For those of you who prefer XBLA, it’s 1,200 Microsoft Points.

If you aren’t tickled by Deadlight, don’t forget, Thanksgiving is nigh approaching (22/11/12) so keep a look out in November for more sales all over the place from US-centric platforms and digital management systems!

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Steve B permalink
    November 1, 2012

    I just read that BL2 also features the “insane archaeologist Patricia Tannis” from BL1, and frankly that and this post are enough to make me look at buying it :)

    Although BL1 only had one playable female character (and she was invisible girl/sex assassin) it had some important female NPCs, including the Mayor of a big town. Plus, I’ll be playing a female character in BL2 because I really want to play the Mechromancer…

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