Taking a stand
Independence Day, eh? Its a big deal Stateside, so Im told. Not that us Brits arent aware of this fact, but to be honest most of us associate the holiday and attached convivialities with Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, fighting aliens, and blowing up the White House.
So the Fourth of July is a day to celebrate independence - its in the name after all. Independence from who, though? Oh, 18th century colonial Britain and its imperialist pseudo monopoly of the world at the time. I see.
With this in mind, let us now come together, stick out our proverbial tongues at our English counterparts (Im actually from Scotland), and take a look at the fictitious worlds whereby virtual independence from the digital establishment is the name of the game.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Independence from: The Empire
The Great War of 4E 171 may not have run quite as long as the American Revolution, but in its five-year span the Empires Imperial Legion fought the Aldmeri Dominion in an arduous bloodbath that plunged Skyrim into a grueling Civil War thereafter. Thousands died on the battlefield, the Thalmor race now finds itself marginalised, and certain religious practices are outlawed.
Although it must be said that Ulfric Stormcloak is a bit of a dick, by siding with his Stormcloak Rebellion, the Dragonborn has the power to restore peace to the realm in the long-term, and political and socio-political stability in the present. The Thalmors grip seems to be slowly tightening all over Tamriel, and the Empire is essentially under its pointy aggrieved thumb. With this in mind, negotiating peaceful terms with the Thalmor will be the Stormcloaks biggest challenge, but with a serious attempt at peace at stake change is surely needed, Nord heroes.
Fallout: New Vegas
Independence from: The NCR / Mr. House / Caesars Legion
Similar to Skyrims Empire/Thalmor/Stormcloak trifecta, New Vegas power groups comprise an equally ambiguous and unscrupulous lot in Mr House, the New California Republic (NCR), and Caesar's Legion. Deciding who you, The Courier, deem fit to take charge of the Desert Wasteland significantly alters the games outcome - theres even the option to screw them all and take hold of things on your lonesome with some less than subtle aid from Yes Man.
Although the NCR are the most obvious good guys, theyre far from perfect, meaning The Couriers choices become far less obvious the longer he spends roaming the Mojave, mingling with its conflicting gangs, crews and factions.
Perhaps the saddest thing about being offered such choice in a video game is that, ultimately, The Wasteland seems fucked whichever way you go, meaning Fallout: New Vegas is arguably a stark reflection of modern day politics in reality, even given its fantastical premise.
Independence from: The Highland Army
Under the instruction of the abhorrent Luca Blight, the duplicitous Highland Army slaughters its junior brigade whilst disguised as neighbouring Jowston State soldiers during a routine exercise. The active peace treaty is unsurprisingly terminated and Highland now has carte blanche to wage war with the state.
But to Highlands dismay, you, the hero of the story, and best mate Jowy Atreides escape the onslaught. You get separated but agree beforehand the importance of sharing the Highland Armys atrocities with the world - a duty which drives you to eventually form the Dunan Unification army; a band of like-minded rebels who wish to overthrow the corrupt and nefarious Highland establishment. And you thought the Boston Tea Party was divisive...
Youll face Luca Blight and Jowy Atreides again further down the line, but will the politics of war have shifted your outlook, not to mention the way you all view and deal with each other?
Independence from: The Combine
Gordon Freeman is the modern age Gary Cooper - the strong silent type, as Tony Soprano often recounted. Given that our Gordon doesnt utter a word throughout his journey across the crumbling dystopian City 17, its all the more astounding how much social change he manages to enact.
With the help of Eli, Alex, D0g, Barney Calhoun, and the rest of Lambda Resistance, Freeman ultimately fells the totalitarian Combine regime after invading the venerable Nova Prospekt prison, and then by recapturing the city streets which have become the last bastion of the Resistances defence.
Whereas scenarios like New Vegas offer little in the way of certainty and conclusive right or wrong, the Combine versus Lambda is pretty clear cut. Theyre implacable, merciless dictators hell-bent on destroying the human race. Theyre bastards, really. And who could forget the unrelenting force wrought by electrified truncheon and used on Gordon for missing the bin with an empty can of soda? This clean up duty set piece still haunts me to this day.
Independence from: Andrew Ryan
In politics and in warfare - and in political warfare - deception and lies are as powerful as guns, tanks and boardroom malice. So when Rapture, Andrew Ryans once-thriving-now-decaying underwater city, is full to the brim with untrusting and untrustworthy characters, it makes protagonist Jacks time in the crumbling dystopia all the more difficult.
According to some, Andrew Ryans screwing everyone over. Hes keeping all the ADAM to himself. But what about that Frank Fontaine? Is he really better in charge of things down here? Youd think Steinman would be reliable - after all, hes a doctor - but I get the impression hes spending a bit too much time cosied up in that laboratory of his. Peach Wilkins is in cahoots with Fontaine but I think I trust him less than that whacko Sander Cohen. Tennenbaum seems okay, but with all those weird Little Sisters hanging around her, and those awful Big Daddies, I dont know what to think.
Urgh, siding with Atlas seems like the only viable option here, but I cant be sure. What do you say? Would you kindly share your thoughts?
Final Fantasy 7
Independence from: Shinra Inc.
There aint no gettin offa this train we on! cries Barret Wallace, the leader of resistance movement AVALANCHE, at a pivotal moment in Final Fantasy 7. Speaking metaphorically, his words mirror the wider context of rebellion, and highlight the dedication required to topple a corrupt government or government-sponsored conglomerate such as Shinra Incorporated.
Similar to City 17s Combine, Shinra are bastards. As an extreme right wing outfit, Shinra is a corporation that makes the rich mega-richer, and has the poor living beneath the capital city in a slum devoid of wealth, viable commerce, and sunlight - the result of a man-made steel plate that separates the two towns above and below. AVALANCHEs recalcitrant tactics are at times questionable, but always with the greater good in mind.
Its a shame, then, that most of Shinras bad guys and gals ooze charisma and cool, not least the Turks: Elena, Rufus, Tseng, Reno, Rude, and Reeve. Their off-the-charts charm and chic makes taking them to task all that much harder, but with a FF7 remake now on the horizon, I for one cannot wait to do battle with them all over again.
Independence from: The Helghast
Killzone is an archetypal Independence Day Hollywood blockbuster Us versus Them-type video game franchise. Its the aforementioned Goldblum, its Smith, its... well its not Tom Cruise because he was weak in the 2005 War of the Worlds alongside the brilliant, and quite frankly superior, Dakota Fanning, but you get the picture.
If movies and video games of this ilk have taught us anything, its that interstellar politics always boil down to one thing: killing a shit tonne of aliens - normally ones with big beady black eyes, and oblong heads. The Helghast are a tad more threatening in their appearance with their Gestapo-esque aesthetic, power armour, and menacing orange laser stare, but the core theme is the same throughout the Killzone series: kill em. Every one of em.
Because, frankly, theyll kill you. Be it Templar, or Sev, Garza or Rico, there may not be much in the way of convoluted, engaging narrative in the Killzone series; but theres planets to be saved and bad guys to be slaughtered. To independence!