REVIEW: “Clues in Highland Park”

For the past few episodes, we’ve mostly talked about the strengths of Human Revolution, arguably one of the greatest games in human history. But even with a Metacritic score of 90, no game is perfect – and the chapter we review today encapsulates how the game suffers when it strays from the pillars of feminist gaming…






Hello, and welcome to the fourth episode of this miniseries.

As you know from prior episodes, we’ve been playing “Human Revolution”.

For the past few episodes, we’ve mostly talked about the game’s positives.

After all, this is a game that revolves around empowering players.

You play Adam Jensen, security chief at biotech firm Sarif Industries.

Some of your scientist co-workers disappeared in a mysterious attack.

Now your job is to find out what became of them, assuming they’re still alive.

However, this isn’t a game where you solve problems by gunning people down.

Rather, you have a choice in how you do your job.

In fact, the easiest way is usually to not kill people.

You can ask people for information, negotiate for their help, or just avoid them.

Sounds fantastic, right?

After all, feminist gaming isn’t only about female characters.

It’s about choosing the character you wish to be.

Does a game force you to be a gun-toting sociopath, like James Bond?

Or can you choose a higher path, where you treat others like human beings?

For the most part, “Human Revolution” encourages player choice.

However, “Human Revolution” isn’t perfect.

And the game suffers when it wanders from its choice-driven foundation.

The biggest example would be the boss fights.

Here, we’re facing the game’s first boss, Lawrence Barrett.

Lawrence is one of the mercenaries who attacked Sarif Industries months ago.

You can see we have no option to talk him down, or sneak by him.

We can only fight him, which contradicts the game’s ethos.

Predictably, these fights were critically reviled upon the game’s release.

To be fair, the developers did admit those fights were poorly designed.

In 2013, they updated the game to add more freedom to boss fights.

Here, we’re able to hide in an air vent, so we can attack Lawrence from above.

Still, the game requires us to kill him.

This is uncharacteristic of a franchise that revolves around player choice.

Later, fans learned these fights had actually been outsourced.

To save time, the developers had hired an outside company to design the fights.

This explains why the boss fights differ greatly from the rest of the game.

We can only hope future sequels will avoid repeating that mistake.

The shallowness of the fights points to a deeper issue.

The fights are shallow, because the bosses themselves are shallow characters.

They’re trying to kill you because as mercenaries, it’s their job.

And that’s pretty much it.

The bosses have no real depth to them, aside from generic, cartoony villainy.

Another problem is the lack of female enemies.

This pertains not only to mercenaries, but all factions in-game.

Sure, the game has female civilians, co-workers and scientists.

But apart from Yelena Fedorova, every enemy with a gun is male.

This applies even to mercenary military contractors.

Keep in mind this game takes place in 2027.

Look at how many women veterans today already work in combat roles.

You would expect future military forces to be even more sexually integrated.

Perhaps the absence of women is a developer oversight.

Or perhaps the developers ran out of time, the way they did with boss fights.

Either way, they seem to have learned their lesson.

Previews for the 2016 sequel, “Mankind Divided”, do feature women enemies.

It’s a sign of a studio willing to learn from mistakes.

Visibility and representation are issues we’ll address in our next, final episode.

For now, thanks for watching.

In the meantime, we’ll end with some footage from our final episode.

Enjoy the drama.

As this five-part miniseries nears its end, we’ve begun analysing lessons learned from doing this miniseries, and applying them to our next one. Some changes include updating the design, as mentioned in our prior post, but most of these changes involve rebuilding and optimising workflows behind the scenes – not just for computational efficiency, but to make the project more approachable to newcomers. To confirm a point we’ve hinted at in the past, we will open-source this project to the world once we’ve finalised the series design, so other feminist YouTubers can use them to generate their own gaming content. For this to happen, the project must be easy for non-professionals to pick up and use.

To be fair, rape threats are probably the biggest impediment to aspiring feminist vloggers. But even in this digitally democratised era, technical barriers are still a factor, with the cost of vlogging going up every year. The era of finding success by talking to a laptop webcam is long behind us, and the tools necessary for modern vlogging are only marginally more accessible than they were eleven years ago, when YouTube was born.

So this semester, we’re transitioning this project away from expensive, proprietary tools like Adobe and Final Cut. Instead, we’re rebuilding the project as its own free, open source platform – meaning later this year, we can release all our tools to the public so other feminist gamers can make their own vlogs. Our upcoming series on Mass Effect 3 will be the transition period, and our Bioshock Infinite series after that will mark the end of that transition. From then on, we’ll focus on assisting other vloggers with making their own videos.

Why the focus on gaming? Anyone who watches online videos will notice gaming is the single most popular category on YouTube, aside from music videos. Sadly, anyone who studies gaming also knows that women, despite comprising over half of gamers, are a tiny per cent of YouTubers. Hell, women YouTubers are themselves a harassed minority on YouTube.

Hopefully we can do our part to rectify this.

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