For The Players
Indie Game: The Movie is one of my favourite documentary films. Combining a realistic grit, an underdog tale and three honest, aspiring game designers, Indie Game captured the heart and soul of what it’s like to produce and release a video game. Much like Indie Game, Playing Hard is a documentary all about making and releasing a video game only this time, the spotlight falls on the AAA title For Honor.
From the brilliant mind of Jason Vandenberghe, the fighting brawler sensation of 2017 was born years earlier and under the guise of Ubisoft Montreal, fleshed out into a fully fledged game. Beginning with the conceptual idea of melee combat and slogging through the four year development cycle to final release, Playing Hard depicts the painstaking process of crafting a game from the ground up, with all the stress that goes with it.
Although the post-release backlash is glossed over somewhat as is the infamous crunch period, the developmental issues are certainly explored. As the game gets bigger and various groups take the reigns from Jason, the clashes between figureheads and creative control causes issues for those on board with the project. With a fly-on-the-wall perspective, Playing Hard takes us right in the heart of the Ubisoft offices, with a combination of archival development time and very early footage of the game being made.
Interspersed around this development cycle are bites of expository text that inform us what’s happening at every stage of the process. A pulsating electronic soundtrack follows with cuts to face to face interviews with Jason and other figureheads helping to give a balanced view on the process.
It is worth noting that the film is told in both French and English. For those opting not to have subtitles on, the French language (at least on Netflix anyway) does not show up with subtitles unless you manually switch it on from the options. Unless you’re bi-lingual, Playing Hard is a documentary you almost have to watch with subtitles on which may be a deal-breaker for some people.
While I personally was not a fan of For Honor, I can respect and understand what the game was trying to achieve. Its early sales figures speak for themselves and now, two years since its release, the game has really blossomed into an impressive multiplayer monster. Although it would have been nice to see some of the reaction to the post-game pressure, there’s enough here to make for a really interesting video game documentary nonetheless.