If you’ve been watching TechRaptor at all today, you’ve probably noticed a wave of Not A Hero coverage – our review was a bit late and we spent some time on some side stuff like my failure video, and the first impression video was held up a bit so we could coordinate it all.
I want to bring that up because, while we have a plethora of stuff on it going out, another plan wasn’t planned for today. I mean we have 2 videos and a review on what we thought was a pretty good game. However, sometimes things happen and there are things that one cannot unsee. For me, that was Polygon’s review of Not A Hero.
Shockingly, this is not due to moral outrage, but due to a combination of two things: completely missing the point and an absolutely awful video inclusion.
Let’s start with the latter, the video in the article. I don’t know why it’s included, but from the context of it, it appears to be several months old. It is an “early build” – presumably not the final pre-release one – and he has had only a couple hours into it according to the video (the time is mentioned off hand part way through and the build at the end). That, however, doesn’t excuse the flaws in it, especially given its inclusion in the review and the cluelessness it shows on several mechanics. Worse, some of those misconceptions are not cleared up in the text.
The issues begin with, and continue throughout, with some complaining about it being an action game. There are repeated jabs at it there – perhaps as attempted humor or perhaps just wanting to play OlliOlli 2 some more. Part way through, the host says to the reviewer says regarding the game play, “If I could make one note, [there is] very little time for questioning them, or giving them a chance to back off or come on out with your hands up.” While the reviewer replies that, “I’m not a cop, and I’m not a hero, it’s a shooter,” (in reference to the character) the quote there represents a certain tone throughout the video and a lack of understanding that the person went into it with. It is not much less absurd than if the host made a similar comment in Hotline Miami about not letting the people you are shooting surrender in that game.
Of course, the host isn’t the specialist on the game – that’s the reviewer one would think. One would hope at least, that such a person would be versed in the mechanics enough to be able to explain them accurately. Sadly, the video has repeated demonstrations that beyond the very basics, the reviewer at this point hadn’t grasped simple things like the fact that the time limit stuff was almost all side objectives – good for better approval rating and to unlock things, but not needed to beat the level. At least this point is addressed in the review proper though, as he mentions them as secondary objectives to max out Bunnylord’s approval.
The same cannot be said for the more grievous error of saying that all power ups are random. Now, it appears in context, he is talking about bullet power ups and not special items, so we should bear that in mind. However, that is still incorrect as even early levels have some pre-placed special bullets around, something that he should have ran into if he was into the second set of levels as claimed on the video. There is no correction anywhere for this in the review proper, nor is there any talk about identifying power ups, something which he repeatedly failed to do in the video (which, is pretty simple for most bullets).
I think including a video like that, one of early impressions with a lack of knowledge and downright wrong information into the middle of a review, is intentionally misleading. The writing around the video doesn’t preface the fact that it is an older video, and there is nothing until half way through that tells the watcher it is a first impression. Also, it is not until the very end that the watcher is made aware that this is an early build of the game, presumably different in some ways than the final release. In fact, given the commentators mistakes on things like ammo, it’s possible that his comment on Jesus killing hostages was an earlier build thing changed – or even the ammo changed since that time. That information is now wrong however, and they are presenting it as fact, in the launch review – on a site that often updates reviews post-launch – as a video companion. There are so many easy ways around this – link to it separately as a first impression video, or at the very least give some preface and address what has changed since then if you are including it.
However, while the video is bad in the general sense of a review, the review as a whole tends to miss a lot of the point of the game. For a site that likes to brand itself as socially aware and progressive, Polygon does a wonderful job of missing the mark with this game. Not A Hero, beyond just its cover shooting, is a biting satire of politics which I touched lightly on in my review. I didn’t want to get into it too heavily as I think a lot of the fun of it comes from thinking about it.
However, to get into it here I think I’m going to have to pull out the spoilers to some extent as well as the explanations. Polygon has in the past attributed messages to games with light to no messages, but apparently the reviewer here was caught up in some of the surface mad libs type stuff to miss the messages underneath. No one escapes from Not A Hero’s satirical grasp without a jab or two taken at them – not the media, not voters, and definitely not politicians.
We start here and we get Bunnylord’s voice – a grating sound that is hard on the ears. I think this is an intentional choice to make it fit the way people think about politicians – speaking but not really worth hearing. It’s noise, chatter, and nothing more. When viewed that way, some of Bunnylord’s quotes have strong jabs at people ignoring what’s around them.
This opening segment continues with the statement about the whole world blowing up if Bunnylord doesn’t win an election. Pause for a second – while its being said more literally here, this is common style of rhetoric in political campaigns, especially in attack ads prevalent in many countries. “This person will ruin the country if they are elected” is used in various formats or for policies they are associated with. Pull out your personal favorites perhaps and toss them in the comments — there’s a ton of them out there.
Now, obviously politicians in the real world tend to be slightly less hyperbolic (most of the time), but the point is the same. It is blown up to another level with Not A Hero’s absurdist satire, but it continues the jabs at things we see in real life. Just a bit past that we get some of the good old “tough on crime” satire with them talking about kicking criminals in the face. There’s plenty of examples here, as criminals are a common target in political campaigns to make some easy points. Instead of minimum sentencing, tougher punishments, and increased police support, you have Bunnylord take it to vigilantism, but the idea of being tough on crime being popular remains the same.
On Day 3 we get Not A Hero’s first take on advertising and awareness campaigns. Here the levels are still small, and so it’s a relatively simple flip on the billboard that an opponent has turned off, because without that, no one will know who you are. Underneath that, this and other levels hit on the fact that people don’t really pay attention to the real issues or platforms, just what is spoon-fed to them.
Of course they’re also mocking that in many campaigns you’ll hear of campaign opponents turning or removing lawn signs. So while Not A Hero goes big again with giant bill boards getting turned off, a ring of truth underlies its satire.
It continues its pokes at politicians, referencing costumes for the opponent as well. I think this melds with the idea of Bunnylord being who he supposedly is – people don’t perceive the actual person but what is projected instead. Politicians are almost always wearing a costume, that of the public persona they like to project, it’s just that in the weird world where Not A Hero takes place, you actually end up with a bunny costume and hostage costumes.
The game also pokes fun at advertising in general when it gets a chance with the ads it shows off, mocking how superficial they are. This also reflects back on voters, with many of them valuing appearance higher than merit in many cases.
Ah, media stories, the bane of all politicians. On Day 5, Bunnylord has learned of an investigator with photos of a pass transgression of his – perhaps that of strangling a dead parrot. It is eerily familiar, as the state politicians live in today with every little thing on social media being scrutinized and a wrong word ever uttered can come back to haunt someone. That type of media overreaction being satirized here (with it getting front page billing for a minor indiscretion) leads to politicians of course overreacting to anything like that.
Now in real life that overreaction often leads to lawsuit threats, bribe money, smear campaigns, or other things. This being Not A Hero, however, Bunnylord takes his trademark straight ahead solution: shoot them in the face. It is a metaphor of sorts for launching a smear campaign on someone using the game’s violence to represent all the types of harm one can do, and this day’s title of Smear Campaign can be read either in the literal sense of what Bunnylord thinks is happening, or what would be the likely real world equivalent in modern nations to this.
Of course, as often happens when reacting on rumors and reports, we find out that the poor investigator had nothing. He became nothing more than collateral damage in a fight between two political figures, using his existence in their tug of war. There are a lot of people the investigator could represent – the campaign worker, the news man, even backbenchers – and work well for representing what happens to the “little” people in these fights. The day’s end brings up not confessing or doing anything similar but doubling down on the accusations publicly about the man and claiming he was a “pig bully” in the games colorful terms. How many times has that happened to the cut out man in politics, when the bigger name gets threatened they get cut loose?
The war on drugs has become less popular lately, but it still appeals to a large demographic who believe it cuts down on crime and all drugs are evil. We get an outright mocking here of marijuana being perceived as an “evil drug” with a picture of “dank weed” being bombed. In this level, like others, Not A Hero takes the real issue and comments on it with a violent touch. Instead of arresting people, locking them up, and costing millions upon millions of dollars on an annual basis, you just kill the druggies here and blow up the drugs!
Well, compared to selling it you’ve now cost the taxpayers a similar amount of money as well, let alone in property damage.
Like in the real life news and politics it satirizes, the war on drugs is big news in the world of Not A Hero, getting Bunnylord a spot on the night time news to discuss things. It is largely disproportionate in coverage compared to the impact of such policies in governing, much like “tough on crime” legislation. But it’s something that sells well to people and the game is willing to reference that.
Not A Hero again brings up voter awareness at the end of this day and mocks the few amount of people who read or watch the news. As someone who does follow politics, it is often a sad thing to see that no one follows what is going on. It brings up mention of a poster campaign and going around to raise awareness in that way.
There are only 4 of the days within Not A Hero and there are other bits you can read into it if you stop and look at what is buried under it. There is stuff on the surface even satirizing politics like photo-ops with kids, but if you stop and take a moment and scratch beneath it, Roll 7 does a great job providing more there than just cheap jokes.
The Polygon reviewer there claims to not like the madlibs humor and that’s fine. However, the mad libs is only a fraction of what makes this game funny at most. In fact, I found it personally to be one of the weakest parts of the game. Oh sure it was cute that what your optional objective was sometimes incredibly silly, but it wasn’t where the game’s humor stood out most.
For a site that claims it wants to be socially progressive and aware, it is very odd for Polygon to miss this. While the game takes a lot of its shots at the right (tough on crime, and the war on drugs in particular come to mind), there is very little around that doesn’t get hit with the biting satire.
Let me issue you a challenge Polygon, if you want to read social messages in games that are very weak to non-existent like Will Fight For Food: Super Actual Sellout: Game Of The Hour, fine. It’s your prerogative to do that. But at least take the time to look at the games that are working on actually delivering messages that comment on the world around us and listen to what they are trying to say.
Don’t dismiss them just out of hand, because well, to quote an old cartoon, sometimes there is more than meets the eye.