I can’t think of many things more horrible to endure than war, but it is often portrayed as something heroic. Jarhead breaks down this notion by showing the sheer boredom experienced during one and also criticizes the way films that strongly oppose war are still seen as supporting them. The scene where the soldiers shout and cheer during the Flight of the Valkyries chopper sequence in Apocalypse Now shows how easily the point goes over people’s heads. However, no one could mistake the message of conscription.
Conscript is a WW1 survival horror game set deep in the trenches. At Gamescom I played a demo, and a more detailed version is now available for free on Steam. The horror is immediate and suffocating. WW1 is such a perfect setting for horror that I’m surprised more games haven’t used it. Above the ground, as they pass through the trenches, artillery shells rain down constantly, shaking the screen as bullets whistle overhead. Shell-shocked soldiers bar future paths, swaying from side to side, detached from the horrors around them. It’s a fantastic way to take the real consequences of war and represent them in a game. In the mud and tunnels that soldiers have cut through the earth, everything feels claustrophobic and ghostly whiffs of mustard gas can quickly turn a safe haven into a grave.
Conscription is styled like the original Resident Evil, which means clunky controls, a tight inventory, and cumbersome movement. It ensures that every swing of your rusty ditch shovel, every shot of your gun and every dodge away from danger has to be calculated. You have to aim and then attack, which gives you a few seconds to think about the action you’re about to take. It makes everything more meaningful and thoughtful. This isn’t a brilliant shooter, it’s a painstaking battle.
The sound and animations add weight to everything you do too, and that weight crushes the main character. A blast from the shotgun will send enemy soldiers in front of you flying, but it will also send you staggering back from the recoil. This isn’t an action hero, he’s probably just a boy, conscripted and sent out to fight other boys for king and country.
The retro graphics mean that the characters are mostly faceless and hard to read. It puts a distance between you and the game. It perfectly represents the millions who were sent to slaughter, forgotten and never to be seen again. How can someone who has not been in war really understand it, or those affected by it?
Despite this distance, Conscript drives home the point that you are fighting humans, and in doing so, you become monstrous. Guttural screams resonate through the tunnels and animalistic grunts echo from soldiers as you attack them. At first it seems like something supernatural is going on, but this is exactly what war changes people to. These are not demons, they are men compelled to do evil deeds.
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