Can Gaming Take the 80s Seriously?
When I first saw that Wayforward was giving Double Dragon the bedazzled treatment of the 1980s in Double Dragon Neon I went out on a limb and declared that the next big thing in videogames would be the 1980s. More credit is being lent to that very statement with the release of Far Cry 3’s Blood Dragon expansion, which dropped earlier today.
Most gamers these days have a strong amount of nostalgia for the cheesiest of cheesy decades since most were either born in or grew up in the decade home to epic Saturday morning cartoons and loud colourful graphics. However I wonder is the 1980s setting a serious place for games to explore or is it just another joke that will be quickly beaten to death as developers try and cash in on all that glorious neon.
We’ve seen 80s inspired visuals and themes in both the aforementioned titles but the 80s have also been invoked in games like Retro City Rampage and Hotline Miami. While Retro City uses the decade and its aesthetic to comedic effect Hotline uses the decade to illustrate the brutal violence and drug use that were also very common in the 80s. Two very different takes on a relatively similar theme one is funny the other is not which tells us that not everything about the 80s is funny. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon does little more than re-skin a great game with a healthy dose of neon lasers, but is it delivered with nostalgia or irony and a what point does it just start to hurt your eyes? You can’t just wash your game with neon paint and New Order tunes and expect people to laugh. If a game highlights the ridiculousness of the time then it can work but if a game is simply presenting itself with a sparkly coat of paint there’s no joke to be found.
Come on developers, this is the 1980s were talking about here there’s plenty of fodder for comedy, there’s the Iran-Contra scandal, the ridiculously drawn out “War on Drugs” and of course 80s cartoons. Most games opt for the cartoon approach as seen in Blood Dragon but are we playing through an 80s themed nostalgic cartoon or simply having an art style shoved in our face. Developers need to be mindful that the 80s may be full of jokes but the 80s themselves are not a joke, well at least not a good one. While there this is a welcome change from the generic sci-fi or WWII setting there isn’t a lot of depth in the 80s but some developers may try and find some.
One game that might actually take elements from the 80s and use them seriously and effectively is Cyberpunk 2077 from the developers at CD Projekt RED. While the game it self is obviously set in the future most reference material used in a cyberpunk setting was written in the 80s from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, to William Gibson’s Neuromancer. It looks like that Cyberpunk 2077 will be the dark gritty hard sci-fi 80s inspired adventure that gamers have been waiting for. We got a taste in Deus Ex: Human Revolution but I think that Cyberpunk 2077 will really nail down the decade in a serious manner and treat the 80s with some form of respect.
There is a part of me that is glad to see the 80s come back since it is one of the most influential decades in my life but older gamers who weren’t children in the 80s or younger gamers who were born in the 90s will either respond with yawns or miss the joke entirely.