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Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Video Games Featuring Black Protagonists (Part 2)

This is a continuation from a previous article I wrote (read it here!), when Mafia III was still fresh. Maybe Mafia III wasn't what we all hoped it'll be, but one of the best elements of that game is still Lincoln Clay, the protagonist. In the first part, I list the specific rules by which I choose these names. Among the most important rules, as an abbreviation, the games must have some semblance of a story, the character needs to be a protagonist and playable at least one chapter, and the character must be obviously black. Again, I repeat from my previous article, I do not have an agenda, this is for informational purposes only. I am aware of the fact that there are too few games to give people of black heritage a proper representation and a major role. In fact, that's why I took upon myself to make this list, otherwise it would be too much to handle. Well, I also initially thought this would be a simple endeavor, but it is not easy at all. I missed a few games, and thus ruined the alphabetical order a bit, but I knew that from the start and wanted to take a bit more time on the second part to make sure I wont bobble it again. There will also be a third part, maybe even a fourth part. I will not be reprising the games I missed this time around. I will leave those for the very end. All this being said, let's get on with it!

Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death
This is the kind of game that should've been great by its premise alone. It's centered around a 1970's blacksploitation/grindhouse theme, but not as a parody or in a satirical manner, like Black Dynamite, for example, but more like the developers really wanted to make something in the veins of Foxy Brown with an afro supernatural spin. The gameplay is insanely similar to other hack and slash games, like God of War, which I think the game emulates a lot, but I found it much more similar to X-Men Origins: Wolverine The Game. On that note, I personally think X-Men Origins Wolverine is the superior game, but it's also better than the movie it's based on, so that's saying a lot. Marlow Briggs himself, the titular character, of course, is neither funny nor cool. There's a magical tiki mask who gave him his powers and follows that guy around, and that's more charismatic than the main lead, while the enemies and main villain aren't anything noteworthy. On the upside, the game is surprisingly short and linear to finish in a couple of sittings. Marlow Briggs, both the character and the game, had a great potential, but suffers from poor overall design. The combat is kinda boring, although subjectively, the level design alternates from the Amazonian jungle and Aztec ruins to rusty industrial facilities. In fact, everything has a bland color palette. It is a shame, because the game has some sparks of originality, which gaming is always in need of.

Mass Effect: Galaxy
Released as a spin-off to Mass Efect 2, Mass Effect: Galaxy was a game for iPhone and iPad only and, as far as I know, was withdrawn from the itunes store and it cannot be purchased or played anymore. Another game that's lost in gaming history limbo. Galaxy is a top down shooter role playing game that followed Mass Effect 2's Jacob Taylor, had hand-drawn cartoon style graphics and that's about all I know about this game. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to play it, which is sad, because I heard it was actually good.

Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction
I have to admit that I never had a PS2 or an original Xbox, so I never had the chance to play the first Mercenaries game. All I know is that, at its time, it was a very impressive piece of digital tech in which you could demolish any building, including your own base of operations, in an open world game. Among the mercenaries you could choose to play as, a smarmy former Swedish Navy soldier (voiced by Peter Stormare, yes, the actor), a female MI6 agent (played by Jennifer Hale of Mass Effect fame), there's also a black Delta Force veteran by the name of Chris Jacobs (voice by Phil La Marr). As you can see, there's a powerful star force going on, in a time Pandemic Studios could afford it, under LucasArts.


Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
Ah, Mercenaries 2, the game that almost killed Pandemic Studios, before The Saboteur finished the job. It's one amazing and highly underrated game. An open world game of mayhem and destruction, very similar to Just Cause 2, before Just Cause 2 was even planned, maybe. The first Mercenaries game had a great fan base and an immense demand, ans since EA had to get some of that open world GTA clone stuff, which they're still foaming to find to this day, they've bought Pandemic Studios and the Mercenaries IP. Surely as Sun rises every morning, Mercenaries 2 failed because EA wanted it as soon as insanely possible, so it was a great game overall with a lot of soul, but obviously unfinished, rushed, poor AI, and awkward gameplay mechanics, like repetitive QTEs and overpowered melee attacks. Anyway, you can still choose among the three heroes, played by the same three cool voice actors, with the serious and brooding Chris Jacob played by Phill LaMarr. Honestly, even with all its flaws, I still think it's an amazing game that's worth played and that still holds up to this day.


Men of Valor
Men of Valor is one of those games that's reminisced by older gamers once in a while, but there's nothing noteworthy to further talk about. I remember playing it for a while, but since there was nothing to draw me in, I never finished this game. It's a tough game, you die a lot, you can die from one well placed bullet and the enemies are hard to see. I don't know if it's because the developers – 2015 Inc (who also made Medal of Honor Allied Assault), - wanted a realistic war shooter or just because the game was incredibly ugly even for 2004. Which is sad for two reasons: one, because it was made in Unreal Engine 2, and two, because it was set in the Vietnam war, and it's a setting I really think was never profusely depicted in video games. In Men of Valor, you play as Dead Shepard, a black US Marine who, alongside his squad, must fight his way in a straightforward story based on historic events.


Mortal Kombat II
So this is about Jax, or Major Jackson Briggs, as far as I know the only playable black character in the Mortal Kombat game series, up until Mortal Kombat X. I never played all the MK games, so I didn't know if I should or shouldn't list all the game in which Jax is playable, but apparently all these games I'm listing have a storyline in which Jax plays a huge part. As usual, I'm only going to point out the main game, not every re-re-release NetherRealm Studios put out. So, following the controversial and successful Mortal Kombat from 1992, a year later comes out Mortal Kombat II with sleuth of new characters, among them Jax, who was supposed to appear in the first one, but was scrapped. In MKII, Jax plays a special agent sent on a mission to find his Special Forces partner, Sonya Blade, “who had gone missing in Outworld while attempting to apprehend Kano” according to the Wiki.


Mortal Kombat 3
Just like in Mortal Kombat II, the story is told through text cards, but it's still effective. It is in Mortal Kombat 3 when Jax gets his iconic metal arms, which are implants he chooses to fit himself with in an attempt to even the odds against enemies like Shao Kahn, who has now completely invaded Earthrealm and prepares to take over the entire Earth. With the help of Raiden and his chosen warrior, Jax has to fight in Mortal Kombat to foil Shao Kahn's plans.


Mortal Kombat 4
The most popular Mortal Kombat game, at least back in my day, before the 2011 reboot came along, MK4 has Jax and Sonya dragged back into the fight against a new menace trying to destroy Earth, a fallen Elder God of the Netherealm, Shinnok.


Mortal Kombat: Special Forces
In advance, I have to say that from this game included and up to Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe I have not played any of the Mortal Kombat games. According to the Wiki, “Special Forces is chronologically the first game in the Mortal Kombat storyline”. The game follows Jax alone trying to capture his long last enemy, Kano, and his stupid gang of numbnuts who call themselves the Black Dragon. As it seems, Kano is after a powerful artifact that holds the key to other realms.


Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance
Deadly Alliance features both Sonya and Jax who must fight a cybernetically enhanced Mongolian crime lord named Hsu Hao, with the help of rogue (and possibly blind) swordsman Kenshi, who joins their Special Forces ranks. After destroying their HQ, it is revealed that Hsu Hao is only part of of the Red Dragon, a rival cland on Kano's Black Dragon. As Hsu Hao is sent by his leader, Mavado, to kill a warlock named Shang Tsung, Jax finds out that Hao is the least of his problems and need to team up yet again with his former friends to fight the... deadly alliance... between Shang Tsung and evil necromancer Quan Chi.

Mortal Kombat: Armageddon
After missing from the playable roster in Mortal Kombat: Deception, Jax is back in Armageddon to kick some ass alongside many of the Mortal Kombat heroes. In this story, “Sonya sends Jax to lead a unit in search of survivors after destroying Sektor's Tekunin warship, but they later vanish and are captured by the Tekunin”, according to the Wiki.


Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
This is a non-canonical game in the Mortal Kombat universe, or any universe, for that matter, and the treatment is applied to Jax as well. Jax is one of the eleven Mortal Kombat characters to be featured and his origins of his implants have been retconned. The story is about Shao Kahn invading Earth at the same time as Superman was at odds with Darkseid. Superman shoots Darkseid into a boom tube with his laser vision and somehow Shao Kahn collides with Darkseid, fusing them together into the entity known as Dark Kahn... and merging the two Universes. The Mortal Kombat heroes and the DC superheroes realize that the two universes cannot coexist and one might have to fall, thus pitting them to fight each other until they obviously find a better solution. It sound ridiculous when you read it, but the game is actually quite fun.


Mortal Kombat (2011)
In 2011, NetherRealm Studios rebooted the Mortal Kombat series with a fresh start and a better knit together experience. The story mode is especially very well done, with each playable character having a unique and expanded chapter, albeit back to origins. Jax and Sonya work for Special Forces, a unit specialized in taking down the worst organized criminal organizations. One of these organization is the Black Dragon. While led to one of the Black Dragon operations by their informant, Kano, the Special Forces are ambushed and it is revealed that Kano is actually a big fish in the Black Dragon clan. Duh, they should've played the previous games. So, after many of their comrades parish in the ambush, Jax and Sonya swear to capture Kano. This leads them to a secret martial arts tournament, called Mortal Kombat, on Shang Tsung's secluded island. There, Jax is captured and Sonya forced to participate in the tournament. However, Raiden helps them and reveals the hidden truth behind Mortal Kombat and the dangers they must face. It is a retelling of Jax's story from both Mortal Kombat II and Mortal Kombat 3. The game looks amazing, sounds amazing and its gameplay is obviously amazing. It is, without say, worth the great reception it had.


Mortal Kombat X
In the direct sequel to the 2011 reboot, Mortal Kombat X features not only Jax as a black protagonist, but also his daughter, Jaqui Briggs, which is a great new addition to the MK roaster, alongside Cassie Cage (Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade's daughter), both of which work for the Special Forces, and many other new and interesting characters. There are many spoilers, since the story follows the previous game directly, so all I can say is that after Jax snaps out from a tragic event in the first chapter, he retires from all this and lives a peaceful life. After a while, he finds himself back in action side by side with his daughter, Jaqui, who followed in his reluctant steps. She even has some nifty arm bionics. Again, NetherRealm made a great game and whatever they do in the future with the Mortal Kombat series, I'm excited for.


MotorStorm: Apocalypse
While I do own the game, I barely played it and I do want to get more out of it because it is a great racing game. It is also the first game in the MotorStorm series to have an actual storyline. The story is presented from three perspectives, that actually represent the levels of difficulty as you progress through the story. Mash “The Rookie” is the first character you will take control of, he is also a black character and the funniest fellow of the bunch. He's also the “tutorial” character through which you learn all the mechanics in the game, and the presentation makes light of his “rookie-ish” driving skills. The other characters are Tyler “The Pro” and Big Dog “The Veteran”, who also serves as the narrator, but I doubt these guys will be just as fun to play as. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic urban area known as The City which is most likely based on an earthquake devastated San Francisco, while you have to participate in the events of the Apocalypse MotorStorm Festival.


Mr.President!
"Can you take a bullet for the soon to become President of the United States of America? You play as Dick “Rock-Hard” Johnson, a bulletproof man, the best bodyguard money can buy. He is sworn to protect the most hated presidential candidate of all time, Ronald Rump." This is the exact description of this silly game, and yes, it's a physics-based parody game like Octodad and Goat Simulator. Fun and comedy is subject to subjectivity.


No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle
Yet another game I've never played, nor the first one, but I really want to someday, since I really love Suda51's crazy game design. In No More Heroes, the first game, Travis Touchdown, the witty protagonist assassin, is forced to fight Sinobu, real name Scarlet Jacobs, a young assassin who believes that Travis killed her father, Master Jacobs, a mysterious character who's actually idolized by Travis. Travis isn't our main focus here, but Shinobu. In No More Heroes 2, she returns as a playable character for just about 2 levels, but with equal weight to the story. We're not really revealed her true nationality, but it is implied that she's American. She was trained from a very young age in martial arts by her father, Master Jacobs, who is never shown. Also she's voiced by actress Kimberly Brooks. No More Heroes fans consider Shinobu one of the most awesome characters in the series.


Papo & Yo
Created by Canadian indie developers Minority Media Inc., Papo & Yo tells a depressing story about child abuse masked under a fun fantasy adventure platformer in the veins of Ico and even The Last Guardian. I dare say that, even though The Last Guardian was still in a myth phase back in 2013, when Papo & Yo was released. Set in a Brazilian favela, the game focuses on Quico who deals with his father's alcohol abuse and violence. He escapes reality in a fantasy version of it, where the favela is a weird shifting world inhabited by fantasy creatures. He finds there a Monster who's typically a very gentle and helpful creature, but gets terrifying when he eats frogs, to which he's very addicted. There's little subtlety, don't get the spoiler wrong, the hint is in the title, but the game is just as fun and amazing as its allegorical theme. And Quico is a kind of character you'll easily get attached to.


PAYDAY: The Heist
In PAYDAY you get to pull off spectacular heists and look dope doing it. The game was created by now very popular Overkill Software, a subsidiary dev of Starbreeze Studios. In PAYDAY you can take control of one of four professional robbers, one of which is Chains, who is never referred to by his real name. While the story is barebones, we do get some backstory to each character and their motivations, mainly money. Chains frequented a lot of juvenile detention centers as a kid and later in life joined the Navy, which didn't last long, for Chains has an extremely volatile temper and an itchy trigger. Became a gun for hire and met his ragtag team through Bain, their mission handler. So begins a beautiful friendship. Chains is both portrayed and voiced by Howard Thompson, this game being his first listing as an actor. The game has 6 mission, plus 3 more from DLC, but due to the complexity of each heist and the level of replayability, the game is lengthier than it seems.


PAYDAY 2
Chains returns in PAYDAY 2 as one of the original crew members, with the exception of Hoxton, who was caught in the first game and replaced by a rookie who took his mantle, or mask. Payday 2 not only expanded in missions, having no less than 17 heists, but also 17 total characters to play as. Among them, professional assassin John Wick and Ron Perlman as Rust. Chains, like most of the original characters, with the exception of Wolf, has had a change in voice actor, now being portrayed by Damion Poitier, who appeared in big Hollywood movies like The Avengers and Captain America: Civil War. As you can see, the star power runs deep in PAYDAY 2, a game which looks better when written in all caps.


The Princess and the Frog
A direct tie-in to Disney's The Princess and the Frog animated movie from 2009, released the same year for Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS and PC, the game follows Tiana's story, while co-op partners can take control of 3 other characters from the film. The game consists of 25 mini games based on events from the movie and online flash games popular with small kids. It's a fun game for little snots and it's still a noteworthy game for this list, but it's no historical Disney game, you know, like Aladdin.

This should be too much already for now. Please comment anything you like about these games and characters, or maybe if you think I may have missed a game in this list. Stick by to read the next entry.