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Just cause 2 and moral choices done right? (or is it possible?)

So recently I've been playing through Just Cause 2 and really enjoying myself whilst doing so - admittedly I have not done any more than the first faction mission available, but the other several hours have been thrown into '100%ing' as many of the locations as possible (yes there is a trophy involved) 
Now i know what you are saying -  
"But Omega, this is titled really misleadingly, making me believe there's a discussion about the implementation of morality systems in games, yet here you are talking about trophy whoring an open world game!"  
And this far you are correct, however bear with me, this story leads somewhere! 

The foreplay  

So as i mentioned before - this game so far for me has been a sandbox city takeover simulator, however one particular aspect of this game that can kind of grate on you especially on the hardest mode, is that once you generate HEAT (wanted level) it is kind of hard to lose it without dying and starting over.  
The reason this occurs is that usually to '100%' an area, you must blow up a substantial amount of targeted buildings which count towards your completion, so whilst your simple item collection may go completely peacefully and un-noticed, as soon as you blow up that first radio mast or gas station? it is ON motherfuckers! 
 Another water tower meets it's firey demise (i know i don't get it either) 
 Another water tower meets it's firey demise (i know i don't get it either) 
So after raiding a military base last night i managed to escape my HEAT by stealing a Helicopter (sorry Ryan) and flew over the skies of Panau.  Casting my gaze over the horizon a thought dawned in my head,:- 
"Wouldn't it be totally awesome if i just flew over all these areas that have shit for me to destroy, and use this helicopter to blow the fuck out of everything in advance" 
Knowing full well that my superior piloting skills (and unlimited missiles) would help deal with whatever Panau's finest could throw at me i decided this was naturally the best way to go about business, and made my way towards the nearest town. 

The Crime

 As i neared the edge of the small ill-populated shanty i hungrily eyed the generators and petrol station sat near the docks - normally upon blowing these up the coastal patrol boats would go nuts and i'd be hosed with 50. cal before i could get my parachute a decent distance from the scene of my crime, but not now not this time!  
I levelled my chain guns and missiles at the general area of the buildings and squeezed my l1 and r1 triggers the resulting explosion and chaos reward was every bit as satisfying as i hoped. 
Naturally the Heat appeared and taking out the approaching patrol boats, soldiers, nuking the streets of the town and taking down anything that remotely looked like a helicopter (including one particularly unlucky albatross) led to me being the victor, the HEAT disintegrated almost as quickly as it had appeared, and a calm descended over the wreckage of my labour as the sun gently lowered over the ocean.

The Aftermath

I still needed to scour the area for collectibles, now able to do so peacefully without worrying about pissing off any popo-50 i landed my helicopter in a vacant field and made my way through the streets. 
The fire from burning vehicles, both civilian and military was strewn across the streets - bodies lay piled on the road twisted under collapsed portions of towers and stations - I stopped to take stock of the scene, and felt.... nothing, nothing at all! i picked up any collectibles in the area and once the meter read 100%, jumped into my cockpit and flew a km or so to my next target - the story repeated. 
So after the 'cool story bro' above i began thinking to myself about why i had felt no remorse in my - lets face it - act of mass genocide, maybe i was de-sensitized by all the brutally violent TV/FILM/GAME i had been fed?
No that cant be it 
Ok maybe i was influenced to do wrong by good for nothing musicians in rebellious rock groups or Gangster rap? 
Nah probably not.  
I came to the conclusion that the reason I did not care was because I had not yet been given a reason to, these 'people' this 'populace' were merely window dressing they held no weight in the world which I was immersing in other than to try and dissuade me from going too nuts, and to maybe add a little bit more authenticity to the world. 
At the end of the day as long as I got what I wanted out of my experience, I was willing to do whatever the hell i wanted to this population with no fear of repercussion.

 Another group of 'innocents' about to sacrifice themselves in the glorious name of Omega
 Another group of 'innocents' about to sacrifice themselves in the glorious name of Omega


In other games

So taking this one step further, are there actually any games that do the opposite? are there any titles out there able to successfully make you hesitate on the trigger - to think about your actions before following through? Most follow a tried and tested format of  
  •  Kill the terminally ill charity donating organic lovable rogue and get his awesome green shirt
  •  Don't kill him , remain green shirt-less however have smaller horns and people don't shout 'JERK' at you as often
Its a tough decision that has troubled us for generations but perhaps the Penny Arcade guys had it summed up best in a comic referencing Infamous

No Caption Provided
Whether in treatment of NPC's, or scripted 'Moral events'? i had a hard time coming up with a list of games that in my eyes qualified as 'effective' in this area. Here's a run-down in no particular order of the games that i think manage it well.

Games that 'pull it off'

 1.  Fable 2 
Fable 2 is a bizarre entry here, and if i had the time or willing i would add it to both this and the 'ineffective' list, however I'll spare the multi post and give both accounts here there are times when Fable 2 is so cookie-cutter format in its execution of morality that it's almost a no brainer - do you help the nasty thief steal something or tell him to go away!? decisions decisions (although one particular quest involving the jilted ghost lover really did take a nasty turn)
However due to the 'generation spanning' that the game features, the effects are more on a grander scale, investment in property and control on prices and other general attributes can all cause dramatic shifts in the landscape as the game progresses - by the time i got towards the end game of Fable 2 i had spent a significant amount of time checking all my constituency territory and making sure all residents were as happy as could be while remaining profitable - I'd even managed to stay faithful to my 2nd wife - after learning my lesson with the first, who left me with the kid after I returned with an std from a semi-bored trip to a lady of the night, and informed me she was leaving me.  
 Not to mention the 'Dog' element.
 Not to mention the 'Dog' element.

Whilst the minor characters such as the dog, any potential family, and the residents of any land you owned were by themselves, relatively small enough that any impact any individual one could have would be unimportant, they all added up to a world in which you may at least find something to care about - even if it is for purely financial gain. 
2. Heavy Rain 
Now before we get into this, can i just make clear that this is not one of the ' OMG THIS IS THE CITIZEN KANE OF GAMES' kind of impressions, i do love this game dearly even with it's flaws - but for now the discussion is going to be on the way it makes the player consider their options and interactions with the world around them using solely the set-up of scenarios, its portrayal of characters and the way you really can't 'sit' on a decision that doesn't always necessarily have the desired outcome. 

Whilst being as vague as possible to avoid spoilers, there was a scene in the game in which a character I had just started interacting with was getting edgy - His personality was hard enough to read as it was and my presence was not helping matters. 
I wanted to get some information out of him, however my dickhead partner began to take things into his own hands and getting heavy handed on the subject. 
His gun was prized free and a stand off occurred in which i found myself tossed up with the decision of taking a shot at this lunatic  -or trying to talk him out of it. 
I'd already had some success with negotiating earlier in the game and decided to try to be the diplomat once more, but the camera angles were quick and constant in change - the music shrilling up to a crescendo of panicked violins, the buttons determining my options became fuzzy and out of focus and were moving rapidly, i was finding it hard to find the right thread needed to calm this situation down and began to wonder whether I should pull the trigger, as voices and tempers rose I appeared to have locked in on this guy - when all of a sudden he turned and reached into his jacket. 
I went to take a shot, and fumbled my controller.  
What happened next made me realise that there are unforeseeable consequences in this game and that every person i interacted with, no matter how minor their involvement in the overall plot, needed to be treated with the utmost care if i wanted Ethan Mars to find his son. 

 Lets play
 Lets play "Good cop - Asshole"
Of course none of this event would have mattered if the setup had not been as stellar as it had - early on in the game i found a good understanding with each character, i saw their motives, i saw their feelings and i saw how i wanted to mould them for my story - for that was Heavy rains beauty, every character to an extent was a cliché - however there were MY clichés.  
The world was so well realized, the characters so endearing, and the environment so intractable that you could quite literally take a character and live the experience through them - that twinned with the weight carrying throughout the whole game that at any moment you could mess up  -people could die, the outcome could be bad- you COULD fail the game but not get a game over, instantly gave this game a level of care that made me weigh every decision against my moral compass. 
The Hitman Series 
 So this is a surprise huh? what on earth is a series of games, made before this whole morality system malarkey became fashionable? But once again there is method to my madness ahead. 
 The hit-man games are all about killing- killing lots of people, for money. Not your typical place to find soul searching and to a degree this is kind of a red herring entry, there was no emotional attachment to 47's state of mind as regards killing innocents (he has no emotion)  
The Npc's were not so well realized that i felt bad for killing a single mother, a widowed father, an orphaned child, nothing of the sort - in fact , sometimes people would end up more hurt or framed for my involvement in their existence. 
No, what made me think more about killing innocents, or treatment of particular characters in a level than in almost any other game out there, is the fact that going nuts and killing people was just not professional

 1 grenade and this would be a very different picture
 1 grenade and this would be a very different picture

For each mission there were ratings associated - based on whether you killed a lot of people or whether you left them sedated - on whether you slaughtered innocents at will, or whether you walked in met the target and walked out without anyone noticing.  
Maybe it was the perfectionist in me but I was unable to settle for anything else but a silent assassin rating in any level they gave, enemies were no longer all instant kill threats that I would do away with whether I needed to or not ( Splinter cell conviction is a recent game that is the opposite of this) i began to go through levels aiming to minimize casualties, both hostile and civilian - and if there was ever an occasion where a stable boy may have to die in order to not witness a crime, or a cellar sweep needed to lose his conciousness so i could have his uniform it was always a last resort. 
Maybe that entry is cheating a little seeing as it was all for personal gain that i tiptoed my way around and let people live - however it was a lot more effective in getting me to act differently than in titles such as Infamous or Bioshock in which my moral actions had no real effect on the world, and were based solely on which trophy run i was doing. 
4. Dragon Age Origins
So maybe an epic ass RPG like this is kinda at an advantage already when it comes to this kind of thing - however similar games in the genre reduce morality to 'Kick out of a window or not' choices. 
Dragon age managed to earn a spot here by doing away with a morality meter altogether - maybe it was careful planning that the grey wardens occupied the grey space between right and wrong, or maybe it was a coincidence - but the fact that there was no inherently 'correct' option in any particular situation made me react solely based on personal feeling on the scene rather than :- 
"I'm playing the good character this run through so ill click on don't kill the virgin mary option"  
And most of the time a lot of consequences came out of things I would never have anticipated - similar to Heavy Rain.

  How to spur the advances of a Bi-sexual elf...       
How to spur the advances of a Bi-sexual elf...       
There were of course two more aces up Dragon ages sleeve - one of them being that the nature of the decisions made was far above those normally faced in a game. 
Stumbling upon a defenceless succubus - draining the life from a mortal man who was destined for nothing would normally result in me painting the walls crimson with demon blood, however when it turned to me and reasoned that this man was not going to achieve much in life .
He was destined to be poor, to be ill and to eventually fade with nothing, while in the comatose state it had put him in he was rich beyond wildest dreams, he would live a lifetime in blissful ignorance in his mind where he had a family, a loving selfless wife and a life that is far beyond anything he could achieve in reality, until the point it had drained him dry. 
This reasoning caught me off guard and forced me to think about the difference between the 'mercy' life he was being handed at the cost of his own - versus the fact he was essentially being murdered - the man had no say in the matter and all i had to go on was my own judgement - for your curiosity's sake - i let that succubus live. 
The final thing that gives Dragon age its flavour is the personalities it paints for the characters - they are all so varied and there are so many of them that you are able to custom build a party of your favourite personalities to accompany you through your journey , the banter between them and the ability to put as much effort into developing them through personal missions gave you the ability to create as much a relationship as you wanted, without it ever seeming forced and most of these characters were an absolute joy to have around (until Morrigan decides to start turning into spiders for fun - bitch) 


Looking over this little blog I think there are  ways to make interactions with characters, whether major, minor or NPC's important, there are ways to make your interactions with the game environments more meaningful and immersion that little bit better. 
Sometimes we may need to cheat and that 'care' may be based solely on a personal level (see hitman) however examples like Heavy Rain or Dragon Age provide ample development at a level far beyond :- 
Option A = better loot so that! 
But for every game that does it well, there's a game for which moral choices are literally a tick in the check-list of requirements for games nowadays - do you think it would be better they were not implemented at all if they were not done to a deep enough level? or is the ;window dressing morality' a harmless addition to a game as long as it doesn't intrude on fun? (a la just cause 2) 
Special mention goes out to the Playboy X / Dwayne scenario - while i didn't care much for Gta4 - The story between those two was good enough that i decided that Playboy was a complete Punk bitch 
Yeah i iced that fool too