Game Box Art Critique April: Mortal Kombat 11, Days Gone, World War Z

Each Month, we invite élite art critic Braithwaite Merriweather to appraise the box art of the latest game releases. In between his time spent wandering the corridors of culture, Merriweather writes on a freelance basis for various publications, including Snitters and Nuneaton à la Carte. If you are unaware of his prowess, rest assured; he’s on a crusade to educate the unwashed. Put simply, he’s a man that needs no introduction.

After being denied the opportunity to deliver a box art critique lecture at the London Games Festival by a coven of myopic bureaucrats, I felt disheartened this last month. I caught a nasty little bout of food poisoning from a prawn, and there was a patch of days in which I wasn’t sure what was art and what was real – it resembled my last trip to the Tate Modern. 

What a relief to be lifted out of the doldrums by, of all things, game box art! Doubly so after last month’s slurry, which put me in a foul mood for days. Whilst you won’t find me enlightening the next generation of box art critics at this year’s London Games Festival, you will find me, as ever, toiling on the front lines of the medium!

Days Gone

Days Gone, from what I can tell by glancing at the box art, is about a biker suffering from something like Beatlemania; in fact, so rabid are his fans that he’s taken to fending them off with firearms. (I’ve had to deal with similar mobs myself, at the Frick, though those crowds weren’t composed of good-natured fans.) A closer inspection reveals that this biker-mad horde is actually made up of monsters – like the indistinct blobs in a Lowry landscape. The colours here bring to mind Shenandoah Valley, by William Louis Sonntag, who painted American Landscapes in the 19th century but didn’t have the foresight to fill them with zombies.

What I like about Days Gone is that it breaks the normal box art rubric. We have an interesting landscape cast in dusky light and dusty colours. We have a puzzling scene of chaos and relaxation, as this chap reclines against his mighty hog. And this biker fellow is wearing a backwards cap and a leather vest; he’s clearly a rugged outcast who long ago stopped caring about convention. He reminds me of me. Time was, in my more formative years at Throttlefrith Arts Academy, I cared what my peers, my teachers, and my wife thought about my work. Thankfully, those days are gone.

Mortal Kombat 11

It isn’t often my mental palate is cleansed with the zest of variety and imagination. (You need only check my last column to be reminded of the deluge I’m so often pelted with.) Imagine the leaps and somersaults my heart was performing when I saw the front cover for Mortal Kombat 11. I’m rarely pleased to see a gentleman lunging at me with a clawing hand outstretched – the last time I greeted such an event with a smile was when I met Nam June Paik, at MoMa, and he informed that my work on game box art was relevant and cutting edge as anything in the formal art world. I digress, this lunging fellow on the cover of Mortal Kombat 11 (who reminds me of my ex-wife) has put me in a good mood.

It seems the people behind Mortal Kombat 11 have the same appreciation for the work of Gustav Klimt as I do. The zesty tangerine fog of the front cover wafts me back to Klimt’s The Kiss, which featured a similarly grabbing figure, albeit perhaps a smidge less lethal. It’s good to see game box artists looking back on elder influence, and adding a twist of their own. As with the art for Days Gone, I feel a kinship with this leaping warrior. Gouging blade in one hand, ready to dissect what lies before him; milk-white eyes, glazed over with fatigue, searching for inspiration; mouth masked, so as not to breathe the air of mediocrity: he would make a fine game box art critic.

World War Z

As a wise – or at least a slightly deflated, shruggingly optimistic – fellow once said, two out of three ain’t bad. Where to start with World War Z? We don’t list wars alphabetically, for one thing. For another, the boringly handsome visage of Brad Pitt – whose chin could fill a canyon – hints that we aren’t in for anything good. As for the background, any hope that we might pluck out anything interesting from that blur (a process akin to conversing with my ex-wife) is expunged by a large, garish ‘Z’. What’s more is that this sticks rigidly to the video game staple of: Man, Background, Gun, Wreckage. (See here for a better version.) If this qualifies as art, then we needn’t bother with galleries – any old bus stop will do the trick.

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