Can’t Be Helped: Gravity Bone

Testing testing 1 2 3A mere three years late to the party, I played Gravity Bone this afternoon. Quite the literal party, too, since the game opens with you walking amidst people chatting in small groups and waiters ferrying drinks. For the record, since this game is now three years old, I’m not going to worry about spoilers in this post, so you should go play the game first if you plan to, it’s certainly well worth it.

At its heart, Gravity Bone answers that crucial question: what would it feel like it James Bond died about twenty minutes into the movie at one of those innumerable moments when it seemed as though his death was imminent. Until it wasn’t. The answer is that it feels like a strange combination of exhilaration and a deep sense of peace.

The game hooks you in by behaving something like the Hitman series. You’re an operative, you’re doing cool operative things like delivery spiked drinks and taking top secret photographs, jumping between balconies and using freon to break padlocks. Bad ass. The game thus sets you up with a particular view of the world you’re in. In particular, you’re a bad-ass operative with various cool tools at your disposal and you’re having your way with the laughable security systems of whoever these other jokers are.

Then you get shot. It’s actually a pretty shocking moment. At the end of a job, you’re merrily hitting the elevator button to take off when another operative shoots you in the back and steals the documentation you’d just been stealing yourself. Remarkably you’re able to get up after this. What do you do? You give hot pursuit, damnit! What else would you do? Go cry?

The game leverages a bunch more game-y tropes in the chase sequence, diving out the way of trains, rooms suddenly full of people and so on. You slip into another view of the game, a more action oriented style of play. And just as you’re becoming comfortable with that reconfiguration of “what the game is” you round a corner and get shot again. This time you go flying off a high balcony.

As you fall, you see what I assume are memories from your past. A car chase, a foot race, interleaved with your slow motion fall, interleaved with your disbelief. It’s comparatively rare to find yourself “in the moment” in a game (most often I have it during particularly interesting visual settings), but this remembering-falling sequence achieves it very nicely. At the end of the fall, you’re dead, and that’s it.

Then your gamerness kicks in. Indignant at your badassery going unrewarded, you play the game again. Once again you’re the operative in charge, the world bowing to your wishes. But now there’s a weird tinge of doubt. You reach the moment just before you’ll be shot by the other operative and try to avert it. You hit the operative with the hammer you have, but sadly to no avail. You try to break a window to escape a different way, but the window won’t break for you. Shoulders sagging, you press the elevator button and get shot in the back. The operative steals the documents. You rise. You can’t leave the room any other way except to give chase.

You give chase, and feel the whole the specter of your own death. Dead man walking. At the final corner you pause and look around you. A city scape rolls along, trains pass by, cars drive on the road far below. You can see the spot where you died. You inch around the corner to see if maybe you could get a reprieve. But all too suddenly, almost impossibly soon, the gun shoots and you’re falling back from the balcony, remembering your past.

You’re helpless like a child.

You smile.

16 May 2011
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