Archive for the ‘ Gaming ’ Category

Quick Hits from Mass Effect

The Paragon / Renegade meters drive me crazy. It’s not that I object to the game’s binary choice moments, since Bioware did a decent job of making either option credible for Commander Shepard. I just wish the game did not turn this aspect of character into an overt scoring system. I really wanted to create a consistent, believable Shepard, but any time a stat appears in a game, I start trying to manipulate it.

So when I face choices in handling a confrontation, I’m as likely to be thinking about my P / R scores as I am about what Shepard would do. The other evening I had to rescue some official from biotic terrorists and I made my decision on the grounds that the game was starting to think I was a goody two-shoes. “I’ve been too nice lately. Better throw in some renegade.”

Besides which, the whole dialogue tree (more of a dialogue-T) seems to be irrelevant. Whether or nor Shepard plays it tough or plays it like a counselor, my antagonists seem equally moved: “I guess you’re right.” I want something more like the tense, timed negotiations of Heavy Rain, where you’d navigate a series of conversation options and use a combination of cajolery and firmness to get what you wanted. Consequences did not directly flow from a single choice, but the steady accretion of small decisions.

I did face one dilemma that left me a bit conflicted. When given the choice between releasing or killing the last Rachni queen, a race that had terrorized the galaxy millennia earlier, I was completely at a loss. My Shepard is generally a tough, unsentimental martinet and ordinarily would have incinerated the thing without a second thought. But I’ve read Ender’s Game, and the situation was too similar. The fact is that the first war ended in a genocide and no communication ever took place with the Rachni, but now I was speaking to a Rachni queen who seemed regretful and even tragic. Morally, she was not culpable for the actions of her race, nor did I feel Shepard was bound by the genocidal decisions made earlier. Shepard might be one of the galactic Council’s special enforcers, but I did not feel that she was obligated to support some of its most heavy-handed decisions.

The benevolent Citadel Council: where the right solution is always the Final Solution.

So I let it go and for the first time had an action roundly condemned by my officers and the Council. It was an isolating moment. For once, nobody said, “I think you handled this right.” The most I got was, “I’m not sure that was our decision.”  But I must also say that Mass Effect did not make the Rachni seem like a real threat. According the game’s lore the Rachni were terrifying and dangerous in their day, but my experience ran counter to that. They were large pests that were easy enough to mow down once you expected them. It seemed unlikely that this race would ever pose much of a threat. The gravity of decision was not real to me.

But perhaps that’s just clever evocation of the game’s theme. Humanity is a young and brash actor on the galactic stage, while the older races seem exhausted under the weight of historical experience. Shepard is a young hero, and her experience has taught her that almost anything is possible and there is no problem that she can’t solve. So she’ll do as she damn well pleases, certain that she can always handle the consequences if it comes to that.

Tango On

This is a trite observation, but I am amazed by how much easier life is with friends around. Thursday night a WordPress update and a server error combined to sink this blog like the Lusitania and I was locked in a downward spiral by midday Friday. I couldn’t get the blog straightened out, I wasn’t getting anything else done, and I was falling behind on every front as I entered the weekend.

Then Cory Banks gave me a phone call out of the blue. He was here on some business and stuck in Boston with nothing to do. He had a place to stay in Arlington, but he didn’t want to go sit by himself in the burbs for four hours while working himself. So he got my number from Julian Murdoch, and I invited him over.

In no time, we’d discarded the whole idea that he’d be staying in Arlington. He would crash at my place throughout the visit, and I gave up on meeting any of my goals. But as we sat around drinking, he started fiddling with my blog until he had quietly fixed the problems and gotten it 95% restored. We were also half in the bag from supplementing the air conditioning with cocktails. That meant it was time to go have dinner with Julian and Jess, Dave Lennon and his wife, and Ken Levine and his wife.

I will pause for a moment here and simply observe that my life has changed a great deal in the last year. For me, people like Ken Levine and Julian Murdoch both existed in another world, providing entertainment and intellectual companionship through ice-blue Wisconsin winters. I treasured dispatches from people who cared passionately about the things I cared about, and did the kind of work I wanted to do. Sitting at dinner on Friday, it dawned on me that by some miracle, I find myself living in the world I chose.

The nine of us passed the evening arguing about the best squares along the Red Line, the dubious merits of Quincy, and the best way to dispose of old electronic equipment. Lennon’s company had the best solution: one of their employees takes old CRT monitors and server stacks out to a shooting range and proceeds to unload on them until they turn into modern art. After dinner was over, Julian and Jessica took us out for ice cream in Harvard Square, before leaving the MK, Cory, and myself to go bar hopping around Cambridge.

The plan for the next day was that the three of us would grab crepes and then meet with Julian at a games store in Central Square, but Julian and his family decided to go to a fair in New Hampshire. Cory adores the entire Murdoch clan, and while I didn’t really want to go hang out at a fairground, I figured, what the hell, it might be fun.

Which it was, because fun has a way of following Julian. The three of us barreled out of Boston after a late brunch, and an hour later we were being led from arcade to arcade by Julian and his son. I had my first funnel cake, heard about Julian’s life as a medieval battle re-enactor (is use the term loosely), and stole a few licks off MK’s soft-serve ice cream cone. Peter played air hockey against MK and they fought each other to a draw, but he didn’t have as much luck with me in skee ball.

Julian also made a point to introduce me to some truly superb pinball machines, like Stern’s excellent Pirates of the Caribbean.  There was a point where Julian, Cory, MK, and myself were all lined up at different machines, hunched over the flippers while we juked and twisted in a futile effort to control the ball through psychic energy. I also came away with a new appreciation for pinball: there’s a lot to be said for the tangible thrill of launching the ball into a nest of bumpers and watching the score counter go berserk while the machine shudders beneath your fingertips with the clicks and snaps of the machinery.

Finally, the three of us went out for an evening of food and drink. If you’re ever feeling a little low, I can only suggest you attempt to get a dinner date with Cory. Over burgers and beer he spent two hours finding alternately stroking my ego and demanding that I go get the work and career my talents deserve. By the end of the meal I was ready to call it a night and spend the rest of it writing pitches and taking on the whole Empire myself.

Today, Cory and I were too wiped to do anything more than stay inside playing Summoner Wars, hitting the Steam sale, and watching The West Wing, which he and I have a habit of quoting at one another. He and I wrapped up the weekend with pizza, a stiff cocktail, and the opening episodes of Season Two. It wasn’t really the weekend I wanted or planned. It was quite a bit better than that: just a series of delightful surprises from great friends.

Us Surrender? Aw, Nuts!

Some people like to be buried before they are dead. A friend of mine started calling himself an “old man” at fraternity events within fifteen minutes of graduating. He’s younger than I am, but that doesn’t stop him from taking stock of his diminishing powers and and freedoms every time we meet for drinks. I fear he’s willing his youth away by constantly telling himself that it’s leaving him.

Wargamers and hardcore PC gamers can be like that. Like Elves they talk in weary, faraway voices about the world that was before the age of metal, steam, and consoles. They lament the vanished kingdoms of SSI, Dynamix, and TalonSoft while constructing the ships that will bear them to Grey Havens. The industry has changed. It has evolved. Things will never again be as they were. We understand.

Julian Murdoch observed on a recent Three Moves Ahead that most people like to be on the bandwagon, on the winning team. But strategy gamers and wargamers always seem defeated, evangelizing with all the charisma and conviction of Eeyore. “You probably won’t care. I couldn’t blame you. But Scourge of War: Gettysburg is out. It’s pret-ty good. It’d probably bore you. You probably just want to play Red Dead.

Sometimes we are guilty of this on TMA, but on balance we spend far more time celebrating strategy and wargames and checking out under-the-radar projects like Gettysburg and AI War. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we make strategy gaming sound cool (in what universe are Bruce, Julian, Tom, Troy, and me at the “cool kids’ table”?). At least you can tell we’re having a lot of fun, and you’re invited.

Grognards, seen here fending off an aggressive probe by mainstream gamers.

On the other hand, when Alex Macris, the publisher of The Escapist, writes something like this, I get a little frustrated. I am in complete agreement with him on most of his points. Like him, I sometimes feel alienated from gaming’s mainstream. Like him, I have been a harsh critic of the industry’s drift toward the blockbuster business model, and I’ve expressed that opinion at The Escapist.

What bothers me is the fact that Alex Macris laments the slow death of the type of gaming that he loves, but he of all people is in a pretty good position to champion it. Yet you would never guess, from looking at The Escapist, that the publisher is an old-school PC gamer and a dyed-in-the-wool grognard.

It’s not that The Escapist caters solely to mainstream interests. If you look at the features and columns they run, to say nothing of their video series, you’ll find quite a lot of diverse content. They review all the major AAA game releases, but you’re also likely to find some reviews for manga  and the odd indie puzzler. Just about the only things The Escapist ignores, in fact, are strategy and wargaming.

So when Macris writes:

I don’t blame Creative Assembly or Matrix for adapting to the new ecological realities. They needed to in order to survive. I’m the one who hasn’t evolved.

So at E3 this year, I’ll be prowling around like some sort of saber-toothed tiger of videogaming. My food supply has grown scarce; my days as an apex consumer are limited. I’m rated E for Endangered.

I can’t help but think, “Well I wonder why.”

Is there no room in The Escapist for a grognards’ corner among the science column, the tabletop RPG column, the game design column, the movie column, etc.? Is the publisher of The Escapist so resigned to going extinct that he won’t use his platform to try and reproduce? Surely, if he is still buying games from Matrix he could take space to review one or two of them.

More grognards, deploying for an attack on the marketplace of ideas.

Admittedly, it’s easy for me to say this. The only thing I publish is this here blog, and I’m my only employee. I know my readers by name, and I pay my hosting fees with change I find underneath the futon. Nor am I responsible for churning out the volume of content that The Escapist editorial staff have to manage. And I will absolutely confess to feeling proprietary toward The Escapist, a combination of pride that I’m a part of it and frustration with the fact that it is not always the exact site I would have it be if I ruled the internet.

Still, it’s disconcerting to see the publisher of a major games site acting as if he has no agency when it comes to the decline and disappearance of his favorite types of games. The least he could do is tell readers what he likes. Maybe a few of them would decide they like it to.

I know a few of mine do.

Update: Irony

A couple days after writing the above, I dropped by The Escapist and noticed a new column, “The Game Stash”, by Steve Butts. This is exciting for a couple reasons. First, Steve Butts was the only person I ever made a point to read regularly at IGN, and I’m glad to see such a good writer showing up with a column at The Escapist.

Butts is also a great wargame and strategy reviewer. He kept reviewing them at IGN and was one of the few people I could trust when I came to gnarly, hardcore wargames and strategy games. I remember that the guys at the Wargamer forums used to go batshit when he teed-off on a Matrix game, screeching that he was being unfair to wargames and IGN wasn’t fit to review anything deeper than Peggle… but what really drove them nuts was how fucking right he so often was. Butts didn’t slap wargames around for the hell of it: he knew that they were mired in outdated production values and design philosophies, and that the standards for videogames had gotten tougher in a lot of areas. He was unwilling to grant the “well, it’s a wargame” absolution that so many grognards dispense.

I don’t know whether his column will be focusing on strategy and wargames, nor do I know what types of games he will be reviewing for The Escapist. But from his past record, I can only believe that Butts’ arrival at The Escapist will go a long way to plugging the gaps I mentioned above.  I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with the space.

A Stack of Previews

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that I have a trio of previews up at GameShark right now, and there are actually a couple more on the way. This is the harvest from a press event I attended at the start of the month in San Francisco. These are also the first previews I’ve written, so again, constructive criticism welcome.

1C  games are hard to get a handle on, especially in the constraints of an overbooked presser. Interface and intuitive controls are not the hallmarks of the brand, so the demo experience is a lot of , “Okay, what the hell do I do now?”

However, you have to check out my Captain Blood preview. You may never heard of Captain Blood or maybe you just don’t care about it, but it was hands-down the most fun game to preview. I have no idea whether all the ridiculousness on display will add up to being a good game. But writing about it was surreal.

I was also pleasantly surprised by Death to Spies 3, which had kind of a neat Three Days of the Condor vibe going. You could be churlish and say it’s derivative, but who really cares if its derived from good predecessors?

Go take a look over at GameShark, and while you’re over there, take a gander at the terrifying tsunami of GameShark E3 coverage that’s hurtling toward you as we speak. And keep an eye on my Work page, as more stuff is going up soon.

Seriously, though. Read the Captain Blood preview.

Pat on the Head, Kick in the Ass

If you cruise on over to The Escapist this week you’ll find that my latest piece, “The Player and the Pusher-Man“, has been reprinted in the “Best of” issue this week. I’m pretty certain this is because The Escapist editorial staff absolutely cannot get enough of my work, and when they don’t have anything new to publish, they like to roll around like Scrooge McDuck in piles of drafts I’ve submitted in the past. I don’t think it has anything to do with the fact they were all at E3 last week and probably too busy to put together an issue. It’s all about me.

It’s flattering to have a piece singled out as one of the best, but it’s also strange when the piece selected is one for which I have complicated feelings. You always find things you could have improved, that’s the nature of writing and having deadlines that force you to relinquish control. That’s every piece I’ve ever written. But with this one, I never quite got within hailing distance of the article I originally envisioned, and I know why that is.

When reread this piece, I see the many, many interviews that didn’t come through, and know that I should have been more aggressive with getting some of my subjects to commit to a time and place to chat. When I read my section on ZT Online and the rise of the free-to-play business model, I get frustrated because I spent so much space rehashing observations that Soren Johnson had already made, and with greater insight. When I find that I have a brilliant behavioral economist explaining Skinner’s conditioning experiments, I know that I failed to cover all my bases during background research, and I didn’t develop my story quickly enough to delve into more advanced subjects before I ran out of space.

On the other hand, there were some great experiences writing this piece. Soren Johnson confirmed my assessment of him as one of the nicest guys in the games industry… and maybe on Earth. He raised some very good points in our conversations and pointed me to some excellent resources that I might not otherwise have found, in addition to putting me in touch with some of his contacts.

One of those contacts was Jon Blow, who spent a lot of time discussing rewards systems and what designers should be trying to provide to players. It was one of those interviews where you just want to paste the entire thing into your article, because every other exchange has something provocative and perceptive. I also appreciated that Jon was so forthcoming, despite the fact that he seemed like someone who is used to getting calls from reporters who are looking for a bomb-throwing quote, and patient with me when I had trouble finding the right phrasing for a question.

So it’s not that I’m particularly unhappy with this article, but I saw a lot of things during the writing process that sent me into a period of rather harsh self-criticism. Now that it’s been republished, it’s time to stop fixating on what went wrong. The big challenge now is addressing some of the shortcomings I’ve spotted in my work habits.

You can read it here. Comments and criticism are welcome, even more so than usual.

Niko Bellic

There must have been a moment at the beginning, where we could have said, “No.” Somehow we missed it. Well, we’ll know better next time. – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

One widely-held complaint against Grand Theft Auto IV is that its protagonist, Niko Bellic, is presented as a decent man, but the gameplay and the story render that portrayal untenable. Niko is a brutal and vicious murderer, and the we find him reprehensible and repulsive no matter what Rockstar tell us we should feel toward him.

This critique has come up again in connection to Red Dead Redemption. People bring up Niko Bellic as an example of failed storytelling, one that Rockstar corrected with John Marston in Red Dead Redemption. I went through GTA IV a few weeks ago, however, and came to suspect something else. The reaction to Niko Bellic is a failure of criticism based on a misreading of the game. GTA IV never presents Niko Bellic as anything other than what he is: a self-deceiving golem.

Certainly the game initially wants players to be on Niko’s side, just as the people who surround him initially welcome him. Niko is sympathetic: his life is marked by misfortune and tragedy: he had an abusive father, his childhood ended with the Balkan wars of the 1990s, he and his fellow soldiers were led into a massacre from which he is one of three survivors, and the postwar economic collapse made it impossible to make an honest living. He hopes things will be different for him in America and we hope so to. But we do not know Niko yet.

His comments regarding the war are instructive. Early on, he remarks to his cousin Roman that war is a lie told by the old to the young and gullible (or something to that effect). Later, when he finally confesses the details of his wartime experience to Roman, he explains that his unit was ordered into an ambush and that someone within the unit had sold them out. All his friends and comrades died, except for Niko and two other men. Niko is on a mission to find out which of the two betrayed them. All very understandable, but there is also a common thread in these stories that reveals something important about Niko. Niko believes what he is told, does as he is asked or ordered, and views the consequences as something for which he is not responsible.

In this he is a perfect videogame character, similar to Bioshock’s Jack. Jack, it was revealed, had been conditioned to respond to code-phrased commands, which is why Jack follows his mission prompts exactly as the player does. Players don’t have agency in a game, and neither does Jack. He is led along a path, same as the player. In a similar fashion, Niko takes orders from anyone who could plausibly give them. But the key difference between them is that Niko really does have choices and alternatives.

We tend to forget this because we, as players, do not typically have agency in a game. The narrative is fixed and our job is to play through it. But Niko does not know that. Within that narrative, Niko can do as he wants. The path he takes is one he is free to choose, while our choices are constrained or nonexistent. What Niko does with that agency, however, is obey and kill with little conscience and almost no self-interest. He denies this, of course, and his denial fools us at first. This was why a lot of players rejected him. This was not “their” Niko. Rockstar had betrayed the relationship it created between player and character.

But there are two problems with this assessment. The first problem is that players and critics seem to feel an exaggerated sense of ownership of their characters. In controlling an avatar, they end up projecting a non-existent relationship and identity onto the character. When the character frustrates this desire, they find fault with the game. I can’t quite make up my mind on the validity of this desire. The medium is interactive, after all, but it only very rarely has allowed interaction with a character’s nature. It strikes me as narrow-minded to reject playing as a deeply flawed character on the grounds that he is deeply flawed, but in games we are asked, as we are not in other media, to act as and for the character we control. Michael Corleone deserves the icy hell to which he has confined himself at the end of The Godfather II, but Coppola does not ask us to inhabit Michael and commit his evil for him. On the other hand, The Godfather’s appeal is based in large part on the degree to which we are made complicit witnesses and spiritual accomplices to the business of the Corleone family. A videogame merely concretizes the relationship between audience and character.

The second problem is textual: in GTA IV self-presentation is deception. That our protagonist is no exception is not a creative failure on Rockstar’s part, but a clever expression of the game’s theme. From the moment Niko arrives in America, he tries to frame the narrative for himself and the people he encounters. He is hopeful for the future and weary of the violence that has marked his past, he wants to turn over a new leaf, but he is also possessed of a tragic worldview. This is what audiences respond to, in much the same way that Niko’s friends and loved ones respond. This is the Niko that Rockstar couldn’t sustain because of a ridiculous story and relentlessly violent gameplay.

It’s also bullshit.

The moment the bullets start to fly, another Niko rises to the surface. We tend to discount contextual dialogue in videogames, but we shouldn’t. It is the only way we see the character reacting to what we do. In GTA IV, we find that Niko is enjoying the killing just as much as the player, if not more. When he unloads a submachine gun into someone in a warehouse, he’ll scream something like, “YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE FFFUCKED WITH ME!” or just a simple, “Fuck you!” Hiding in cover while bullets streak overhead, he’ll just begin spewing threats and obscenities at his tormentors. “I am going to rip out your heart!” Toss a grenade a blast someone out of cover, and he might just start screaming, “YEAH? YEAH? YEAAAAH?” His accent thickens, his voice breaks and becomes guttural, and you can almost see the red mist descending across his vision.

This is every bit as revealing of Niko as some of his monologues to other characters. He doesn’t just commit murder because he’s paid or because that is his only skill; Niko finds release in killing that gives lie to his protestations that he just wants things to be different. That rage has to go somewhere.

The same goes for his sense of morality. With the exception of a fanatical and unbalanced devotion to his closest friends, Niko is no longer capable of being guided by laws or customs. When he levels a gun at the driver of a car he wishes to take, he will often say something like, “I grew up in a war. This means nothing.” He’s not lying. Killing a stranger for a car is an act that carries almost no weight with Niko, especially as he grows more desensitized to violence.

It’s also revealing that less than halfway through the game, Niko no longer has any reason to continue doing contract killing, yet he does not stop. When he finishes up a bank heist with the McReary family, his cut comes to a quarter of a million dollars. This score is what will finance Niko for the remainder of the game. Nothing else he does will ever be so profitable.

It’s discordant. Niko is sitting on a massive pile of money, but you still see him negotiating hard for a five grand hit that will almost certainly turn into a bloodbath. He does work for men who are obviously fools and incompetents, and he does it for peanuts. Toward the end of the game Niko talks about retiring from crime and starting afresh, the same way he was talking when he arrived in Liberty City, but he’s already had chances to quit. He never did.

His justification for most of the game is necessity. He is looking for the two men who may have betrayed his unit during the war, so he needs to work with people who have the resources to track town his targets. Or he is being blackmailed. Or the people who hire him won’t let him quit.

But the justifications wear thin. Early in the game he hooks up with the character who will help him find his enemies, a federal agent who has a lot of dirty work that needs doing. This man even advises Niko not to do business with most of his associates, because they won’t be able to help. Yet Niko keeps working. A corrupt police captain spends a lot of time blackmailing Niko into assisting him with a cover up, but the idea of Niko Bellic being blackmailed is laughable. The man has done nothing but leave corpses scattered around Liberty City, and he would not hesitate to kill someone who threatened him. The same goes for anyone who tried to turn him into an indentured servant. He acquiesces, however, because Niko never acts for himself.

Niko’s biggest weaknesses are evident in his dealings with the Pegorino crime family. The Pegorinos are Alderney (Jersey) gangsters led by a whining, paranoid fuckup who dreams of making the Pegorinos one of the Five Families of Liberty City (New York). By the time Niko starts working with him, his organization has already been ravaged by informants and is down to a skeleton crew that sees feds in every shadow. Yet Jimmy Pegorino has a plan to turn everything around: he’s going to ask a more powerful family to let the Pegorinos start doing business in Algonquin (Manhattan). After all, Jimmy explains, the Pegorinos let these guys operate in Alderney. It never occurs to Jimmy that the Pegorinos no longer have the power to prevent anyone from doing business in Alderney.

From the first, Jimmy blunders from one disaster to another. He wastes his remaining manpower and shrugs off the losses. He turns against a top lieutenant. Throughout everything, Niko keeps Pegorino’s head above water. Things finally come to a head when Pegorino demands that Niko go make a deal with a Russian gangster who has repeatedly tormented Niko and his family. When Niko demurs, Jimmy threatens Niko and tells him that this is a favor owed. Niko lets Pegorino leave thinking that they’re on the same page now.

This is the conversation that sets up the tragic finale, and Niko is passive throughout. He feels nothing but contempt for Jimmy, that much is obvious, but he never actually sets Jimmy straight. He retains his posture of deference, even though Jimmy Pegorino is a floundering third-rate mafiosi while Niko is unquestionably the scariest motherfucker in Liberty City. He could easily say to Jimmy, “I’m through working for you, and if you think you can threaten me you should consider how many people have promised to kill me, and how many of them are still walking around.” He doesn’t. Niko doesn’t talk back.

Nor does he ever take charge. Niko is clearly more perceptive than most of the people he works for. He could easily supplant Jimmy and the Pegorinos, or the Russian gangsters in Hove Beach. By the end of the game, his best friend is a major drug dealer, he has the backing of an absolutely fearless family of Irish hoods, he is sitting atop a massive pile of cash, the capo di tutti capi owes him a stack of favors, and he’s about to wipe out most of the Russian mob. Niko could be a boss, if he wanted.

That, or quitting, would be the smart thing to do. The last thing he should do is keep taking orders, but he does. He learned nothing from the war, and he learns nothing during his life in America. He and his friends were led into a slaughter by following orders and trusting the genocidal gangsters who led them, and when he comes to America, Niko still leads his friends to slaughter and obeys gangsters. Niko is a skilled fighter and is, in some ways, a shrewd judge of character. But he refuses to think for himself or act for himself. He prefers simply to work, even though he claims to despise it.

Maybe this does make him despicable, but I still find Niko more tragic than anything else. Because there are things about him that are genuine, and one of them is that he cares fiercely for his friends and loved ones. In fact, the only times we see Niko reject orders or start taking action on his own is when he his motivated by loyalty. He kills everyone who harms Roman. His pursuit of the traitor from the war is motivated by the fact that Niko can neither forgive nor forget the fact that most of his childhood friends died before his eyes in that ambush. The game ends in an orgy of revenge killing. All Niko has is the family he attempts to construct around him, and it is that family in which he places his hopes for the future.

The tragedy is not that Niko does not get his fresh start. We know that’s impossible, even if he doesn’t. The tragedy is that Niko’s habit of obedience creates the circumstances that will destroy his family. Throughout the game he follows orders that place him and his friends in increasing peril, but he will not attempt to shape events. He will take revenge, and he will act in a crisis, but he refuses to do anything more than react. That is why the game ends with payback and no comfort. Love and loyalty might be his primary motivations, but hatred and rage are all that can move him to self-directed action.

Somehow they always seem to take him back to the exact same place.