Neon lights. Electronic keyboard scores. Stylish cities with gangsters wearing cheesy suits. Russian mobs. 1980s neon noir brings a lot of people back to a completely different America. The culture was influenced by indulgence: drugs, organized crime began its vital uptick, and seminal action films made their debut, showcasing the same violence with an amusing, over the top interpretation.
But it’s weird to actually think about which time periods games these days embrace. Franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and Call of Duty dip their toes into the puddles of Victorian London, the era of the caveman, and futuristic warfare. Watch Dogs, Sleeping Dogs, and the most recent version of Grand Theft Auto all take place in the modern world, as evident by the emphasis on smartphones and re-imaginings of real world locales.
However, that’s not the reason why this is all weird however. What’s weird about it is how creative and over-the-top the 1980s are, how often films, books, tv shows, and many other visual mediums pay homage to and find inspiration from the time period, yet not a whole lot of games are set there.
To me, this is a missed opportunity. Sure, I missed the 80s by a few years, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t popped up in my lifetime and time again. Personally, I always think of cheesy, overused neon lights that border on the edge of tacky, action comedies, and dirty city streets whenever I think of the 1980s in regards to entertainment. There’s also the wit of comedies such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, and Ghostbusters that graced the big screen, while Cheers and Cagney and Lacey came to life in our living rooms. Michael Jackson? He’s there. The Boss? Him as well. The 80s is considered by some as the Golden Age of the NBA, with the likes of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson all hitting the court.
Point being, it’s not like anything happened. I could go on and on, about how arguably the best Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, was released in 1980, or talk about the war on drugs that still rages today. Why did Assassin’s Creed go back to Victorian London? Because it’s a recognizable place that is the epicenter of several cultural touchstones. Why place a Grand Theft Auto game in a current day reimagining of a west coast city? Because you can point to it and understand why it’s filled with possibilities for several commentaries on America.
The era of the 80s has that in spades. While many would argue that smaller, independent games harken back to the playstyle and design of games from the 80s, such as Xeodrifter, I’d rather see entire open worlds or action packed narratives with conflicts and characters created from the ground up that use the 80s as a careful point where storytellers can comment on how similar the problems of the 80s are to the struggles of today.
When you think of the 80s, what exactly comes to mind? To some people, it might be action flicks such as Predator, Die Hard, or Escape from L.A. I think games have captured this pulp in more ways than one, especially the Uncharted series. From thugs complaining about guard duty to the nonstop action beats to the rugged, handsome hero, Uncharted definitely feels like it takes some of the best parts from the aforementioned types of films, and blends it with story premises from Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones.
I’d love to play an open world game where you partner up with a detective on a Miami police force, as the two of you take to the mean streets of southern Florida in a noble, yet ultimately futile attempt to break apart the drug trade that has seemingly suffocated the city. From neon coloring illuminating the strip to manning your beat with the latest hit from the King of Pop blaring on the streets, cultural calls to a time when everything was just big and wild could make for an interesting contrast to a game where you play as a coppa’, which usually features introspective, more personal tales.
Just think about embracing a game that embodied the 80s in today’s gaming landscape. We’re often transported to far away, fantastical worlds with dragons, knights, and all manner of evil creatures, or disparate futures where survival is key and civilization is limited. Now contrast those technical showcases with something similar to the bright, blood-soaked Hotline Miami. How different would that feel, to have a big, AAA game with a goofy premise soaked in 80s stereotypes? It has the potential to breathe a bit of fresh air into a gaming landscape that has gotten a bit predictable of late.
Liam Crossey is the Executive Editor of Features for The Game Bolt. Follow him on Twitter for too many retweets.