Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ride to Hell: Retribution - 13/20 hours

So, I've finished the campaign, and . . . it's really not worth recapping. The parts of the story that are not incomprehensible are largely pretty dull. The quick and dirty - you work your way up the ladder of the Devil's Hand, killing Triple Six and King Dick to get to Pretty Boy, to learn two shocking facts - 1)Pretty Boy isn't really pretty, he's actually horribly scarred and got the nickname ironically, and 2)Pretty Boy is not, in fact, the leader of the Devil's Hand. He really works for Caesar, who wants your whole family dead.

Caesar is kind of a non-entity. He rants at you, but not in a very interesting way. His big secret is that he's Ellie's (Mikey's non-entity pseudo-girlfriend) father, and that he used to be in Retribution until one day, Jake's father made a bet with him to clear his debts, wagering Jake's mother as the stakes. When Toledo lost, he reneged on the deal, and Caesar has been hunting the family ever since (except for all those years he took off to run the Devil's Hand).

In the end, you kill him and ride off into the sunset with Ellie. The only really laughable incomprehensible thing that happens is during Pretty Boy's level, when you have to go to a mine to acquire  a bike from a miner, and all these random blue collar guys are heavily armed and have an irrational hatred of bikers (also, the one that speaks to you has a southern accent, throwing this game's geography into complete confusion - I was certain, once I saw the redwood forest level that Dead End was in southern California, between Las Vegas and Barstow, and the game was sending you around the state without telling you - but then again, that may well be the case, and you just happen to run into a transplant from the south. It would not be unprecedented - you run into a Russian German lumberjack in the redwood forest).

The only other real surprise is that there are no more awkward sex-scenes (although, according to the quest menu, I missed "rescuing" a woman in the graveyard level - classy). Like much else about this game, I'm not sure I understand the reasoning. Maybe they thought they needed the "sex" to draw people in, but by the time the endgame came around, people would be hooked on their gripping tale of betrayal and revenge.

A part of me pities this game. Long stretches of it don't make any sense, but I think what they were trying to do was make Jake into a hillbilly James Bond. There are flashes of this - at one point, when you are running from the police for some reason I can neither remember nor bring myself to care about, you jump over a helicopter with your motorcycle. It's a completely over-the-top, but unironically cool action-movie moment. Unfortunately, it was performed by Jake, and Jake is kind of a tool.

Jake tortures prisoners, kills both cops and civilians (though, I guess, those miners and power plant workers were heavily armed), casually violates his word, and just generally appears to have no personality, moral code, or interests. The only even moderately distinctive thing about him is his relationship with women, and the women in this game are . . . not good.

The random "rescue girls" fights . . . are best not thought about, in that they manage to both be horribly offensive, and also highly weird. If I bend my brain the right way, I can just about grasp their twisted misogynist logic - they serve to build Jake up as a paragon of masculinity. Jake is chivalrous towards the ladies, defending them from the uncouth and violent advances of unworthy slobs (always through violence, of course), but he is not a neutered "white knight" or "nice guy." The chicks totally want to bang him afterwards, because he's a super-sexy biker man.

The fact that this utterly dehumanizes and objectifies the female characters, making them look like they were written by aliens whose only knowledge of earth women derives from the comments section of a pornographic video (but not the video itself, because, seriously the sex is ridiculous), is incidental. After finishing the game, I don't think the script is malicious towards women, but I also don't think it could be clearer that it only cares about men. The sex is there to make Jake cool - a wish-fulfillment audience surrogate.

And it fails, hard. Instead of making Jake look sexy, it makes him look like the sort of person who will take time out of his all-consuming revenge quest to have sex in grimy back alleys or graveyards or mansions-turned-charnel-houses with women he's only barely met and whose names he doesn't know. Maybe that gets a "so what" or "sounds like a typical dude," but the mechanics and writing ensure that this usually goes down in the middle of a fire-fight, when lives are at stake, and insofar as Jake has a personality at all, his love-life makes him look like a scatter-brained dork whose common sense, code of honor, and basic survival instinct can all be overridden by his testes.

I find that kind of tragic, you know? It's like, tearing down women to build up a man, that's sexist and horrible, but at least it makes sense as a goal. It's something a terrible person might actually want to do. Tearing down women to make your main character into an incoherent buffoon? That betrays a lack of self-awareness that borders on the pathetic.

So, what about the women Jake does not sleep with? Honestly, I'm surprised there are any. The first half of the game set up my expectations in such a way that I thought for sure that the writer was constitutionally incapable of introducing a woman in a context other than sex. I can't say, I'm pleasantly surprised, though, because I think I'd have found the surreal nature of that alternate universe so ludicrous that its sexism would have become a curiosity to gawk at.

The first of these lucky ladies is Suzi, a stripper. She has information about King Dick, but she is not at the strip club where she works (ironically, making it the one non-combat area of the game that does not have half-naked women just wandering around). You first meet her at her house, where her obnoxious ex-boyfriend is pounding on her door and threatening violence. So, you beat the crap out of him and his friends, he flees, and . . .

She does not have sex with you. Instead, she grabs her shotgun, hops on the back of Jake's bike, and tells you to follow him. You steer the bike through a chase-mission, and she wields the gun, culminating in her shooting her ex. Which, you know, is not great when it comes to female representation, but is at least something. At last, here is a female character with an agenda outside her pants, someone who acts like she lives in a crime-genre video game and is willing to mix it up with the boys. Yes, she is introduced as a damsel in distress, but she eventually takes matters into her own hands, and in the end, Jake has a supporting role in her plan.

So, what happens next? If you guessed, "she gives him the information while the two stand over the body of her asshole-ex in true crime-drama fashion," . . . ha, ha, ha, very funny. The correct answer is that she gives him the information back at the strip club, while wearing pasties and a thong and giving Jake a lap dance "on the house," because, of course, why not? (The only worthwhile aspect of this scene is that it finally puts a nail in the coffin of the "are the fully-clothed sex scenes a result of prudery or cheapness" question).

The next non-sexed female character is Brandy, who has some sort of vague, but important job as Pretty Boy's lieutenant/appointments secretary. She seems competent, has a British  accent, and sends Jake on the ill-fated mine side quest (and I know it's massively inappropriate for me to comment on the details of a woman's appearance, but it bears saying - she is notably, um . . . top-heavy. Even by the standards of this game. I don't know if it's a special model, or if it just looks that way due to the outfit she wears, but it definitely looks like she could be tipped over by a stiff breeze).

So what's offensive about her? Nothing specific. All she really does is have big boobs, condescend to Jake a little (because she's British, see), cheat him out of 250$ and then disappear once Pretty Boy shows up. She obviously must be a pretty important member of the Devil's Hand if she's entrusted with giving out missions and being the guardian of Pretty Boy's location, but she is for some reason exempted from Jake's rampage of revenge. Granted, it would have been pretty damned sickening for Jake to enact violence on the only woman thus far who has not been all over his schlong, but, I dunno, maybe he could have spared her life because his code does not let him harm a woman. It still would've been sexist, and I almost certainly would have complained about it, but at least it would have been resolution. As it stands, Brandy is merely an obstacle, a prop in a conflict between two men - you know, the people who really matter.

I like to think that Brandy rode off when she saw which way the wind was blowing, becoming an unlikely and divisive feminist icon when she started her own biker gang and began a reign of terror across the American Southwest until, one day, her empire came to a tragic and bloody end after a botched attempt to storm into a NASA research lab and hold the scientists there at gunpoint until they developed a carbon-fiber bra.

The third woman is Gemma. At first, her story has the familiar markers. She has the same model as one of the orgy "pros," her husband has something Jake needs to complete a quest, and he treats her like shit. That's this game's formula for sex. The only difference - when you meet her, Gemma is falling-down drunk. I'll admit, I was actually pretty worried. I hoped the game wouldn't go there, but I couldn't be sure (a tip for any aspiring writers out there - that's how you can tell your story may need to brush up on its feminist credentials). Luckily it didn't. For all his other bad qualities, Jake isn't a rapist (feel free to use that as a box quote, makers of Ride to Hell). If he'd done it, I'm not sure how I'd have reacted, but "ballistic" would probably be a good start (in fact, I'm just going to go ahead and amend the challenge rules - if the main character is a rapist, that's an instant disqualification).

Jake, does, however, raise the bottom of her bottle while she's drinking. As a result, she quickly passes out from drunkenness, and Jake can steal her husband's motorcycle in peace. So, you know, he's an asshole.

Finally, there's Ellie. Sigh.

She's useless. She gets kidnapped. She puts everyone in terrible danger by not revealing her relationship to Caesar, because hanging out with Mack and Mickey "felt like having a real family" (although I seem to recall that from Mack's perspective, the feeling is not mutual, so that's kind of sad). I wrongly predicted that Jake would sleep with her, but it turns out that she is presented as borderline-infantile, because in this game, if a woman is not a total sex-pot (but don't get the wrong idea about Ellie, she's still "hot") that must mean she is a perfect virginal princess . . .

And you know what? Fuck it. This game is sexist as hell. Avoid if possible.

What?! Seven hours to go?


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