Apocalypse Now Coming to a Console Near You?
Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope will team up with some of the talent behind Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity, The Witcher, and many more to make an Apocalypse Now game. The game’s Kickstarter has a goal of $900,000 and a proposed release date of 2020. This would be a year after the film’s 40th anniversary.
Apocalypse Now impressed critics with its brutal – sometimes psychedelic – portrayal of war. The 1979 film gave us some of the most iconic images and quotes in film. It may be on many ‘top 100 films’ lists, but it’s not the most obvious choice for a game adaption.
But Francis Ford Coppola said in a statement that he’s “been watching video games grow into a meaningful way to tell stories.” He’s clearly “excited to explore the possibilities for Apocalypse Now for a new platform and a new generation.”
The Horrors of War
The development team behind the game have described it as an ‘immersive, psychedelic horror RPG.’ Instead of traditional shooter gameplay mechanics, the game will include elements of survival horror. Players will have to manage their limited resources as they travel from Saigon on their mission to assassinate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz.
They’ve stated that “this is not Call of Duty in Vietnam,” showing their commitment to provide alternatives to traditional war games. Instead, they will have an emphasis on “combat avoidance and stealth.” An itchy trigger finger will get you in trouble, affecting the relationships with people around you.
Although you’ll be stepping into the shoes of Captain Benjamin Willard, the game won’t follow the events of the film too closely. Players can still determine the outcome of their story. It’s up to them to survive the horrors of the war and shape a protagonist who’s “already nearly insane.”
A Complicated Relationship
Video games and their depictions of war have not always been very straightforward. The industry has often come under fire for their treatment of historical conflicts in particular. The very idea of making a game out of some of the world’s most traumatic conflicts has always been a bad idea for some.
In the past, critics have accused games of irreverent and disrespectful depictions of war. Franchises like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Medal of Honor have multiple titles that focus on real wars from the past century. The brutal, and often sad, reality of war doesn’t seem to fit well within the parameters of these games. They’re meant to be fun and fast-paced, with little story, lots of action, and almost no regard for consequences.
These games use the big, bombastic patriotic spirit of war to sand off its rough edges. Conflict is never black and white. However for the past couple of generations shooters largely ignored or misrepresented that reality.
War For Entertainment
The culture that surrounds these types of games, particularly online, encourages jokey camaraderie and juvenile put downs. Again, this doesn’t go hand in hand with a sober look at how wars have affected lives or the impact of combat. Many would argue that they don’t look to video games for this, and use it purely for entertainment.
For many players, war games are a chance to be a hero. With mindless heroics, explosions, and increasingly varied arsenals of weapons, it’s easy to get swept up in the action. Games like Gears of War and Halo have science fiction settings to remove the combat even further from reality. This way, players can mow down scores of non-human enemies and not associate this combat with real life conflicts.
There are games that take a closer, more intimate look at war. Valiant Hearts: The Great War, Ubisoft’s puzzle adventure game, succeeds in telling a heartbreaking and insightful story about World War I. By featuring multiple characters and different perspectives, they show what war was like on both sides. Although the gameplay was straightforward and the animation cartoonish, this didn’t take away from the game’s impact.
Battlefield 1, the newest edition to the DICE developed franchise, attempted something similar. The game featured vignettes of different characters and their experiences. This focus on people and their stories brought a human element to the game. DICE didn’t shy away from the awfulness of WW1, showing the carnage of combat. The team behind Battlefield 1 tried, and in some cases succeeded, in creating a more realistic shooter. But they were still caught in the pitfalls of the genre.
This War of Mine offered a completely different perspective, focusing on the experiences of civilians. The game takes place during the Bosnian War, and confronts players with difficult decisions as they try and survive. The events of the game vary depending on the players’ decisions, making it personal and affecting. Like in life, the game has no set rules. Anyone can die at anytime, for no reason.
However, Spec Ops: The Line is most relevant for the Apocalypse Now game. Although its generic third-person shooter mechanics threw a lot of people off, Spec Ops actually used the basic structure of Apocalypse Now – and its literary inspiration Heart of Darkness – to tell a very psychological war story. The game subverted a lot of the tropes of standard video game war stories. It did so largely through focusing on the psychological trauma and toll war can take on soldiers. Apocalypse Now could return the favor and take a lesson from Spec Ops.
Games might not always get it right, but they are taking steps in the right direction. Not every game has to be an educational experience, just as not every one has to be completely enjoyable. There are many different types, and it will be interesting to see what type of experience Apocalypse Now chooses to be. With exceptional talent behind it, this adaptation could be a massive leap forward for war games.