Culture

Bit Slap: The one where we talk about werewolves

skyrim-werewolf

Zombies, aliens, vampires, serial killers, psycho-sexual representations of our subconscious, ancient monsters from beyond space and time; all these creatures have gotten their due in video games. Whether as villains or heroes, these beings are common staples in gaming whose inclusion warrants nearly a batted eyelash. With Halloween this month I thought I would look at a monster that has gotten the shaft in gaming. I’m talking more of a raw deal than Cyclops in the X-Men film franchise. These monsters are beings of pure, ferocious power that any monster hunter or fellow monster should fear. What are they? Werewolves, dear reader, a creature that gaming has oft neglected, and to the detriment of gamers everywhere.

For the sake of my journalistic integrity I will say I am completely bias towards werewolves. I watch every film no matter how bad it is, Teen Wolf is appointment television viewing (as is Vampire Diaries), and I even get a twinge of sadness when I watch those YouTube videos of “real” teen werewolves. Heck, I even root for the werewolves in Twilight, and that’s like rooting for leukemia to win out over rectal cancer. So needless to say, I have an insatiable appetite for all things lycanthropic. Unfortunately, video games do not bend to the will of the full moon. With a small handful of exceptions, namely Skyrim and Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, the ability to play as a werewolf is all but a fantasy. As for werewolves as villains; these primal beasts are usually relegated to the status of mook or given giant weapons because their claws and fangs are not enough. Obviously the solution is simple: add werewolves to games. I’m not going to argue that. Instead, I want to give game developers some ideas for increasing their fur ratio on both sides of the equation; playable characters and ultimate villains.

Let’s begin with werewolves as heroes, or what would make an awesome werewolf game. One of the biggest hurdles developers have with werewolves is that pesky full moon rule. A game would be boring if you could only be a werewolf two to three nights per month. There are a few ways around this slight problem. The first would be to set the game in the span of a short time period. Perhaps our player only controls the werewolf for one night of mayhem. This might lead to a really intense experience, one full of wanton destruction and savagery. Werewolves are about more than just being beasts – they are also the man behind the wolf. This is where an approach similar to the Persona series can work. Have the game set over the course of several months with the player switching between human and beast depending on the in-game time. Maybe the rest of the game is searching out a cure, investigating leads, battling hunters who think you’re easy prey when the moon wanes. You can go stealthy with players avoiding confrontations or allow some heightened werewolf abilities at all time. Maybe the full moon nights are points in the game where you will fight massive bosses or complete epic quests. This will give the gamer a sense that they are not an unstoppable killing machine and the actual transformation is a reward for a hard struggle.

On the other hand, are any of us really married to the whole “Full Moon” idea of transformations? It seems like all other portrayals of werewolves tend to toss out this notion because, let’s face it, it is way easier to have a character transform whenever the plot necessitates. In a game, this means that your player character is no longer cursed, but more of a hidden weapon that can be pulled out to take on countless foes, leap across chasms, climb walls, outrun the fastest vehicles, whatever you want. If developers take this approach, it means giving the player a completely different experience. Obviously the danger is turning the character into an invincible powerhouse, which is why Skyrim allows the transformation once a day for a limited period of time. You can take this approach or look into another werewolf aspect – weakness to silver. Why not have the player become a killing machine in wolf form, but extremely fragile to strikes from a foe? That creates a risk/reward scenario unlike other games when unleashing the beast also amps up your ability to be taken down by a single dagger blow or bullet wound. I guess a werewolf really can’t escape their curse…

Enough talk of heroes, let’s get down and dirty with werewolves as villains. First off, werewolves are not weak cannon fodder for demon slayers. You go after a creature that can bite your head off on a good day and see how well that works out. No, if werewolves are to be taken seriously they must be treated as a real threat. If your hero wields a gun, make it so the wolf is hard to hit, especially if said gun is packed with silver bullets. Werewolves are cunning; they’ll avoid your crosshairs as much as possible until they have an opening to strike. The challenge should be to outwit your foe, not overpower. Also, if I’ve learned anything from werewolf lore, one wolf alone is trouble; a pack of werewolves spells instant death. Think of it like that scene in Jurassic Park where one raptor distracts Muldoon while the other sneaks up behind him to strike. Pack mentality means working together not just all running at the hero in tandem. Maybe have a level where werewolves have the player trapped in a building and are funneling him towards his imminent doom. Each successful kill should both weaken and enrage the pack, making them more desperate and dangerous before the final confrontation.

The abilities of a werewolf in a game should overlap regardless of their role as hero or villain. Avoid giving them weapons, as it makes it seem like their animalistic powers are not enough for the task. Focus on the claws and jaws and everything else will fall into place. As for healing, use the idea of silver to create puzzles for the player to solve whether it is to remove silver from an area before transforming or to lead unfriendly lycanthropes to a silver-rich area for ultimate carnage. Or maybe have players infect others with the werewolf curse to amass an army to take over a city. Wait, that idea I want to keep for myself.

So how about the next time developers are having a pitch meeting for new and interesting characters, they read this and remember that there’s a staple of classic horror waiting in the wings for its chance to step into the limelight. Or should I say “step into the moonlight”? No…I shouldn’t…sorry…