The Shadow and The Sword

Brendan Main | 19 Oct 2010 12:04
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This same model could very well suit a game like Shadow of the Colossus. Because, do you know what might put a dent in those big stone monsters? Some explosives! And maybe a grappling hook to scale them easily. No more scrambling around, trying to avoid being stepped on. And while you're at it, some armor would be nice - plate or scale preferably, but anything would be better than that threadbare tabard that Wander is running around in. Also, lasers. And in fact, certain items do exist to help you out - masks of power, electric harpoons, arrows that explode. Trouble is, they're unlocked much after you've beaten the game, as a reward for completing various time attacks. Serving as extra-credit rewards for excellence, these artifacts have an extracanonical feel to them - victory lap stuff. Meanwhile, in the real game, Wander has to make do with what he's got.


If this puts Shadow of Colossus in a minority, it is testament to how large a role weaponry serves in videogames. In a medium so dependent on combat in all its forms, games usually tend towards the exotic. We have weapons as gratuitous thrills, from Team Fortress 2's megasize-minigun "Sasha," described as costing "400 thousand dollars for twelve seconds" by a Heavy Weapons Guy long on mayhem and short on math, and Doom's quintessential "BFG," which set the standard for Gs that are Fing B. We have weapons as boss-mincing macguffins, Arthurian "Master Swords" that turn otherwise invincible big bads suddenly vincible. And then there is the RPG-style scavenger hunt for a steady stream of weapons, each more ornate than the last, that are understood not as concrete hunks of steel but as rock blocks of stats. Why wield Excalibur if Masamune has better damage? These are worlds with more kingmakers than kings.

Of course, all of these games are excellent in their own right, and each of these systems suit a particular purpose. But perhaps we've been spoiled with all this glamour and gilt. We're given swords made of light or darkness, demon-killing swords and demon-haunted swords, swords cast in the reaches of heaven or the fires of hell. There are sword hands, gun hands, guns that are also swords, swords that are also guns, +5 vorpal whateverbane swords. Perhaps the blame can be shouldered by games like Final Fantasy VII, which upgraded the longstanding genre of 'Sword and sorcery' into 'Swords-as big-as-a-human-being and sorceries-long-enough-to-make-yourself-a-sandwich-with-an-olive-on-top-and-everything.' Nowadays, though, this theatrical excess is the rule. Supplying that constant need to kill things and look awesome while doing it, gamedom will always have a steady stream of bigger and brighter weaponry, an arms race for the virtual set.

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