Thursday 21 January 2016

DreamWeb vs Metrocide: The Illicit Dreams of Adolescence

I made a recent return to Metrocide that reminded me of things that I had left half said the first time around. I originally had a bit about a game called DreamWeb in it, but I cut it out so that I could expand on it here instead of leaving something half said.

The story goes sort of like this:

There are certain key-phrases, attributes of the setting, and elements of presentation in Metrocide that reminde me of 1994's cyberpunk, top-down adventure game, DreamWeb. A game that was refused classification in Australia, which is something I wouldn't know until I read a 1996 article on Australian game censorship in PC PowerPlay. I'm fairly, but not entirely, certain about that. I remember the article, but we're reaching deep into the way back here. Regardless, it was at the time of consumption that I'd had the game for two years.

Had Australia had an R18+ rating for games at the time, I'm pretty sure that DreamWeb would've received classification, even though there are some aspects of the game that might even prevent it from getting classified under the new system.

While the violence is far less realistic than modern games, it is far more immediate. Far less removed from the world we live in. There are also some scenes of said violence, including interrupting a couple mid coitus so that you can kill one of them while the other hides under the bed, and performing a mercy killing on one of your victims that you've already fatally maimed, that might see it refused classification under the new system.

I should explain.

In DreamWeb you play as Ryan, who is either saving the world, or a serial killer who has a dysfunctional relationship with reality and/or sensory input. It's all kind of left open for interpretation.

I remember going back and forth on it throughout my two playthroughs. I remember a lot of the thought processes involved with the playing of that game. I remember the discomfort at the tasks at hand, and I remember trying to wrap my head around what was going on.

I also remember having this distinct sense of dread right up until the end of the game that I would be expected to kill Ryan's girlfriend. It seemed like the kind of thing that the game was going to ask me to do. It was already full of unreasonable justifications for some fairly appalling stuff, and I was genuinely relieved when the game ended, and it had never come up.

It is clear that the developers' intentions were to make the player uncomfortable.

In the prevention of the apocalypse, you're committing some fairly straightforward murder. You might be saving the world, but you aren't fighting most of these people. You're navigating their security systems, while they hide from you, because you're there to take their lives.

It's not the immediate kill or be killed scenarios that games normally present you with, and then there's the potential that Ryan's brain cut loose some time ago, and you're just riding his whole scene into the ground. You aren't a warrior. You're a killer.

Metrocide is similar in this regard, except your killings are less elaborate. You're stalking your 'contracts' with a much more mundane sense of purpose. You're not saving the world, and you're not going to extraordinary lengths. You're getting paid, and you're leaving them on the asphalt. It's less complicated.

This is something to which I am not desensitised. In either game. It's still a jarring experience. Well, I haven't played DreamWeb in close to two decades, but thinking about some of the scenes still makes me uncomfortable. Metrocide is a little more straight forward. It's easier to play. Right up until the game tells you that your mark is on their way home, and that they were carrying a picture of their husband and a carton of milk.

If you're anything like me, this is enough to turn you on the armed gangs in the area in order to achieve your goals, who it is much easier to hold responsible for the state of affairs in which you have found yourself.

Despite these similarities, the approaches are entirely different, and the genres reflect this. DreamWeb is a story and you're there to hit the beats. You're Ryan, doing what you're told, and you're only real choices are whether or not to keep playing. You're a witness. Metrocide gives you a goal and a set of rules, and then it leaves you to make your own mess.

In this way, Metrocide is more reminiscent of the early Syndicate and Grand Theft Auto games, which is a comparison I drew in the review. DreamWeb, on the other hand, is not like anything else that I've played.

If you're interested in playing DreamWeb, it is still illegal in Australia (it was never granted classification), but it can be downloaded for free from the ScummVM (which you'll probably need to run it) website. There are some other games available for free on the site, inclduing the incredible Beneath a Steel Sky, which is another amazing science fiction game.

Metrocide, if you're interested in that fairly excellent thing, is still available through SteamGood Old GamesHumbleGreenman GamingGamersgate, and the App Store.

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