I Can’t Wait For The Games Influenced By Birds Of Prey
Birds of Prey is one of my favourite superhero movies, and that’s mainly because it has no interest in being one. It does away with the typical structure, the heroes save nobody but themselves, and nobody even has superpowers. MCU titles are becoming increasingly formulaic, building two diametrically opposed characters and making them fight for their ideology, while the DC family Harley Quinn belongs to flits between either copying this style or going ultra dark.
Birds of Prey, mixing colour, chaos, and kills with an atypical story and an unusual set of leads, stands out from the crowd. I can’t wait until games start to feel its influence.
We know that games take some influence from films; that has become increasingly obvious as Sony has ditched its experimental phase in favour of becoming a blockbuster farm. However, they tend to take inspiration from the same movie, all building emotionally resonant stories about lonely, stoic characters going on a journey filled with action sequences and third person combat. I’ve said before that I want gaming to widen its lens if it is going to continue ripping ideas from Hollywood’s playbook, and Birds of Prey is exactly the sort of thing that I mean.
This is not just a weird ‘I love this movie so make it a game,’ opinion either, although I do think if games are serious about being considered an art form they shouldn’t need to rely quite so heavily on ‘kill this thing’ as a mechanic. That’s a story for another day though; Birds of Prey provides plenty of opportunities for typical combat gameplay, only with a completely different, far more frantic energy.
The combat scenes in Birds of Prey are stellar – so chaotic and yet so precise. They’re John Wick meets Jackson Pollock on a sugar high. They perfectly incorporate Harley’s gymnastics without sexualising her, even when she’s drenched in water, and illustrate the genius of her character that David Ayer’s Suicide Squad got so wrong. For what it’s worth, the trailers for James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad seem to have learned from Birds of Prey and show us much more of the real Harley.
Take the police station scene for example. Harley takes down a precinct with a gun that shoots coloured smoke canisters and glitter bombs, taking away the usual masculine aggression and gore that goes with these sorts of scenes and making them more feminine and creative, yet just as brutal. The scene is perfectly choreographed, showing Harley’s speed, style, and sense of humour. Typically in action movies (and in games), the hero will just stand there, firing off shots at the incompetent fodder in his – and it usually is a ‘his’ – way. The only personality is an archetype of masculinity. Since Harley moves and makes full use of everything at her disposal – the gun is used as a battering ram, whip, and bat as well as – her personality and charisma shines through in this scene.
If you look at the differences between the two Last of Us games, it’s clear to see that games have moved beyond telegraphed cover shooter arenas, but we still don’t see much personality shine through in combat. It’s just punch or shoot or swing an axe until everyone is dead. Spider-Man and Miles Morales are probably the best example of personality within combat, and even then, they fall short of what Birds of Prey does with Harley.
It’s not a one time gig either. Later in the movie, Harley finds herself at an abandoned amusement park, surrounded by enemies. This time though, she’s accompanied by Renee Montoya, Black Canary, and the Huntress, while Harley is armed with a bonktastic hammer and a set of roller skates rather than her gun. She approaches this fight completely differently, but her personality still beams through, even as her squadmates, particularly Huntress, shine too.
Since it’s set in an amusement park, director Cathy Yan took full advantage of the location’s ‘anything goes’ design aesthetic, with fights on conveyor belts, turntables, slides, and even long plastic tongues. Harley defeats someone by slapping them with a huge rubber hand – Birds of Prey has a limitlessness to it that makes it ripe to inspire games.
I wrote recently that I wanted a shooter with an Alt Z soundtrack – a game built around the likes of Lorde and Fletcher rather than heavy metal. A game that rewards graceful movements with a slow, melodic rhythm with bursts of chaos and carnage. A game influenced by Birds of Prey could fit the bill – I even referenced Charlotte Lawrence’s Joke’s On You in that article, a song that featured on the Birds of Prey OST.
There is so much potential that games can find in Birds of Prey. I’m not even asking for an actual adaptation of the movie – although obviously, yes please – because I think there are lots of games already that could benefit from taking a leaf out of Birds of Prey’s very colourful scrapbook. If games as movies are here to stay, let’s at least try and make them different movies, yeah?
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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