We normally think of game ratings as little more than a useful marker of where we’ll be able to buy a game, or whether or not it’s suitable for children. But oh, let me tell you: ESRB literature can be so, so much more than that.
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board’s website provides detailed rundowns of most of the season’s upcoming games at this point, all of which come with hilariously straight-faced descriptions of the more… off-colour scenes you might come across when being gored by a Xenomorph in Alien: Isolation. Or doing pretty much anything in Far Cry 4.
Here are some of the best I found, with emphasis added. Enjoy.
WARNING: These descriptions contain mild spoilers. Proceed with caution.
This is an action-adventure game in which players assume the role of Amanda Ripley as she investigates a mysterious space station. From a first-person perspective, players explore the station’s rooms and corridors and use shotguns, pistols, bombs, and flamethrowers to kill alien creatures; androids can be dispatched by being shot, set on fire, or blown up. When Ripley is spotted by an alien, a short cutscene depicts her getting knocked down and bitten in the face, or stabbed through the chest with a spike. Blood is depicted when players are impaled; several corpses can be seen lying in pools of blood during the course of the game. The words “f**k,” and “sh*t” appear in the dialogue.
You know what they say: “In space, no one can here you scream ‘Holy f**k that’s an alien!'”
This is a first-person shooter in which players assume the role of a warrior battling demons in modern Japan. Players use a variety of swords, firearms (e.g., machine guns, shotguns, rocket launchers), and throwing weapons to kill waves of demons and gangsters while searching for mystical items. During the frenetic combat, players frequently shoot and slash enemies, severing their heads and limbs; large blood-splatter effects also occur during these sequences. Combat is highlighted by frequent cries of pain, blood and dismemberment effects, and realistic gunfire. Some segments of the game contain sexually suggestive humour (e.g., “Having sex is like playing bridge. If you don’t have a good partner, you’d better have a great hand”; “Guess I was just too much Wang for them to handle”; “Easy to get… chlamydia & syphilis, report unlicensed prostitution.”). The words “f**k,” “sh*t,” and “a*shole” appear in the dialogue.
I guess the shooting is to be expected. But slashing?? For shame, video games.
Far Cry 4:
Once again, it sounds like the next Far Cry is shaping up to be a lot like the last one…
This is a first-person shooter in which players assume the role of a man (Ajay Ghale) returning to his ancestral home to spread his mother’s ashes. Players engage in a variety of frenetic combat missions and use machine guns, pistols, shotguns, knives, and explosives to kill enemy fighters amid mountainous environments. Players can also perform stealth attacks (i.e., sneaking up on enemies and slitting throats/stabbing chests). Battles are highlighted by screams of pain, realistic gunfire, and large blood-splatter effects. Some levels/cutscenes depict further violence: characters tortured via electrocution, stabbed repeatedly in the neck, executed with bladed weapons. The game includes some sexual/suggestive material, including dialogue referencing sexual activity (e.g., “The army forces us to take drugs and then gives us more if we do sex for wealthy men”; “Some of the people in my village, the army forced them to become prostitutes”; “I think sex is fun;” “[I] was with this girl and she was into some crazy S&M. . .”). In one battle sequence, a man’s genitals are briefly exposed while falling/being attacked. During the course of the game, two characters are depicted smoking marijuana; players’ character also consumes the drug, resulting in blurred-screen effects and occasional hallucinations. The words “f**k,” “sh*t,” and “a*shole” appear in the dialogue.
This is a third-person shooter in which players assume the role of a young survivor battling through a mutant apocalypse. As players traverse the open-world of Sunset City, they use assault rifles and fantastical weapons (e.g., grenade launchers that shoot teddy-bear bombs, guns that shoot fireworks) to kill mutant creatures, robots, and occasional human enemies. Combat is highlighted by frequent explosions, screams of pain, and gunfire. Some explosives cause enemies to be dismembered, leaving limbs around the environment; one cutscene briefly depicts a character’s head cut off by a mutant. During the course of the game, characters and environmental elements reference sexual behaviour or humour (e.g., “Oh, such a bold statement! It says, ‘I am a prostitute!'” and “How hard was it to make a porn flip book?” ); a radio ad contains a running joke about a sex burger (e.g., “It’s so good you won’t be able to contain your urges to rub it all over your Sex…Burger”). The dialogue contains a handful of drug references (e.g., “You guys have been eating weed” and “Oh, when I get back with your drugs, we’ll discuss my offence at your assumption that I would know where to find drugs”). The words “f**k” and “sh*t” also appear in dialogue.
Ah, the “sex burger.” That’s where they always get you.
Civilisation: Beyond Earth
Not gonna lie, I expected the Civ game to be the most…polite game on this list. Colour me pleasantly surprised!
This is a strategy game in which players manage a colony on distant planets. Players can manage their colonies’ economic and technological development, engage in diplomacy and trade, and expand territory through military conquests. Combat is depicted from an overhead perspective, as military units (e.g., small armies of soldiers and vehicles) do battle against alien creatures on a gridded map. Battles include brief animations of gun fights; realistic gunfire and mild explosions can be heard throughout the game. The game contains references to alcohol in text (e.g., “The secret of being happy is to delight in the absurd, repress the irritating, and keep good wine close at hand” and “A glass of wine first?”). The word “bastard” also appears in the text.
The exact opposite goes for Bayonetta:
This is an action game in which players assume the role of an ancient witch that battles angels and demons in a fantasy world. Players use hand-to-hand combat, pistols, giant scythes, axes, and magic to kill enemy creatures. Players can also perform various finishing moves, which depict exaggerated and intense acts of violence: enemies thrown into spinning spiked wheels; characters decapitated by a guillotine; a dragon ripping characters apart — large blood-splatter effects and gore can be seen frequently. During the course of the game, some female characters perform suggestive taunts and poses (e.g., opening their legs, dancing on poles); outfits are occasionally shed during battle, with characters’ breasts and buttocks partially exposed. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” appear in the dialogue.
This is a racing simulation game in which players drive real world cars around international race tracks. Players can compete in variety of race series, time trials, and drift challenges.
YAWN. I guess racing games are just pretty dull…right?
Nope, I was wrong:
This is a racing game in which players assume the role of Alex, a wrongly convicted man attempting to expose corruption and avenge his brother’s murder. The majority of gameplay involves players racing cars around landscapes in traditional contests of speed; there are also several chase missions and jump, slalom, and evasion challenges. Takedown missions prompt players to ram into other vehicles, eventually causing targets to crash. Cutscenes depict more dramatic instances of violence: a man fatally shot; a bloodstain on his shirt is briefly depicted. The game includes some suggestive material: Alex watching a woman in a short skirt; the camera briefly lingers on her posterior as she walks by. The dialogue also contains some suggestive content (e.g., “[I] hooked up with his wife”; “You hitting that? Mind if I take a run at it?; “There was this one chick, she was so freaky…”). The words “sh*t” and “a*shole” appear in dialogue.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
This is a first-person shooter in which players join a group of Vault Hunters attempting to repel an attack on the moon. Players use a pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, and shotguns to kill human soldiers and various robot-like entities. Combat can be frenetic at times, highlighted by cries of pain and realistic gunfire; human enemies emit large splashes of blood when hit. There are occasional instances in which players must commit violence towards unarmed characters in order to finish a mission objective. Players also have the ability to shoot at deceased enemies, resulting in more blood effects. During the course of the game, some dialogue contains sexual references (e.g., “I hereby promise not to tell people the slutty clown is also a slutty mechanic”; “I didn’t want my girlfriend to strand me on the moon with no food and a raging ladyboner”; “Available for mercenary work, S&M, and birthday parties.”). The words “a*shole,” “pr*ck,” and “b*tch” appear in dialogue.
All those poor “robot-like entities…”
Super Smash Bros.
Thought Nintendo would get away with its squeaky clean, family-friendly persona? Guess again:
This is a fighting game in which players engage in brawls with characters from a variety of Nintendo franchises. Players punch, kick, and use special attacks/power-ups (e.g., fireball blasts, banana peels, mallets) to defeat enemies and/or knock opponents off stage platforms. Battles are “cartoony” though frenetic, highlighted by mild explosions, colourful light effects, and cries of pain. During the course of the game, players can unlock/obtain character trophies that depict female characters in revealing outfits (e.g., short skirts, moderate amounts of cleavage). One character emits flatulence gas clouds to attack opponents.
“One character emits flatulence gas clouds to attack opponents.” I’m looking at you, Wario!
Skylanders: Trap Team
Another seemingly innocent game. Guess what set the ratings board off for this one?
This is an action platformer in which players assume the role of whimsical creatures on a quest to capture escaped villains. Players complete various puzzles, traverse platforms, and use elemental attacks (e.g., fireballs, sonic scream) to defeat villains and fantastical enemy creatures (e.g., trolls, slime creatures, robots). Some characters use “cartoony” weapons (e.g., swords, pistols, cannons) against enemies, resulting in mild explosions; enemies generally disappear amid colourful orbs when defeated. During some sequences, players can pilot a vehicle and blast projectiles at flying enemy vehicles/machines. One monster is depicted belching loudly in an attempt to push the player’s character off a platform.
Again with the flatulence. Always with the flatulence.
The Sims 4
Oh, don’t look so surprised. Given how ridiculous The Sims patch notes often sound, and how morbid this game can get if you want it to be, was there any doubt that The Sims 4 would have an appropriately epic ESRB rating?
This is a “sandbox” simulation game in which players create, customise, and control characters called “Sims” through their daily activities. Players are free to pursue a variety of daily goals as they observe and attempt to influence other Sims in town. Players can socially interact with Sims to build relationships, and are free to pursue more intimate encounters, such as the ability to kiss, hug, or engage in “Try for Baby” and “Mess Around” (i.e., sex) with another Sim: this action depicts the Sims squirming, giggling, and moaning under the covers until hearts float around the bed. Sims maintain their health and hygiene through eating, exercising, bathing, and using the toilet. They sometimes vomit or urinate on themselves if their hygiene is not properly managed. Some interactions lead to fighting, which is depicted by sounds of struggle and partially obscured “fight-cloud” effects; other animations include Sims getting electrocuted by household appliances, being eaten by a giant carnivorous plant, or dying in fires — a Grim Reaper arrives, turning dead Sims into urns.
“‘Mess Around’ (i.e., sex).” I think we have a winner, folks. Also: note that the ESRB might be a teensy bit off here, since I’m pretty sure that it’s referred to as “woo-hoo.” “It” being “messing around,” i.e., sex.
The Evil Within
This is a survival-horror action game in which players assume the role of a police detective investigating murders at an insane asylum. As players investigate and explore the mysterious environments, they use knives, pistols, shotguns, and explosives to kill human-like creatures and monsters. The frenetic combat is accompanied by screams of pain and realistic gunfire. Some attacks result in impalement and dismemberment/decapitation, with large blood-splatter effects; some environments also depict blood-splattered floors and mutilated bodies with exposed organs/viscera. Cutscenes also depict intense acts of violence: young characters burned alive; a man decapitated by a guillotine. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” can be heard in the dialogue.
I’m actually pretty relieved about this one. I mean, how lame would it be if there wasn’t “exposed organs/viscera?”
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Oh man, get ready for a serious blast from the (ESRB ratings) past:
This is a compilation of four Halo games in which players assume the role of Master Chief, a genetically-enhanced soldier from the 26th century. From a first-person perspective, players use pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, and futuristic weapons to kill humans and fantastical enemies in frenetic combat. Battles are highlighted by screams of pain, realistic gunfire, and large blood-splatter effects. Players can also use stealth moves (i.e., stabbing attacks or throat slashes) to kill characters; one scene depicts human characters crying out as their bodies disintegrate, exposing muscle and bone. Some aliens break part into pieces when hit, and soldiers’ corpses are sometimes depicted amid large pools/streaks of blood.
Ok, on a less lighthearted note, someone needs to explain to me what the ESRB means by “frenetic combat” at some point. Also, it’s interesting to note the obvious similarities these ratings draw between different first-person shooters. I’d consider Far Cry to be a far more realistic game than Halo the vast majority of the time. But I guess both feature battles that “are highlighted by screams of pain, realistic gunfire, and large blood-splatter effects.”
Assassin’s Creed Unity
This is an action-adventure game in which players assume the role of Arno Dorian, a man who joins the Assassins Brotherhood in 18th century France. As players follow the storyline, they undertake missions to find, stalk, and kill human enemies. Players use swords, muskets, concealed spikes, and poisonous blades to assassinate characters. Players can also engage in swordfights with armed soldiers, often resulting in characters getting impaled. Cutscenes sometimes depict civilians getting stabbed, burned at the stake, and decapitated by guillotine. Severed heads are occasionally depicted on spikes or held up in the air. The game includes some sexual material: missions referencing brothels, prostitutes; dialogue also includes sexual remarks (e.g. “Add some bestiality and a lecherous priest and I’d say you have the beginnings of a beautiful novel”; “Seven nuns seducing a parish priest into debauchery, or an enormously-endowed Benedictine sodomizing a goat named Pius?”). During the course of the game, players are sent on flashback quest to retrieve wine; while playing these memories, the camera wobbles to simulate drunkenness. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” appear in the dialogue.
I know, I know: I can’t wait to see how this line about nuns seducing priests works its way into the new Assassin’s Creed game. But also: I just want to point out that the ESRB makes it sound like guillotines will play a more central role, gameplay-wise, in The Evil Within than they will in… the game set during the French Revolution?
I am confused. Maybe I should stop embarking on so many flashback quests to retrieve wine.