Adapt And Die

Fight Club

Punchless

Fight Club the video game becomes what Fight Club the movie despises.

By Steve Heisler • March 20, 2013

Adapt And Die is an ongoing look at how works of film, television, and literature have been distorted in lousy games.

Fight Club (2004)

“The first rule of Fight Club is…you do not talk about Fight Club.” This is probably the most famous line in David Fincher’s 1999 film, and not just because it’s repeated moments later as rule No. 2. Fight Club is a club in which people fight, yes. But over the course of the film, it becomes much more. With the haphazard planning of Tyler Durden and “Jack” (the unnamed Edward Norton protagonist), it becomes a cabal of malcontents, sick of living in a world concocted by marketers and focus groups. Corporations made them want bigger cars, bigger dicks, and nicer duvet covers. They were becoming a product of advertising, rather than people to whom products could be advertised. IKEA shows up a lot in the film, and it’s the perfect metaphor for the conformism that the club subverted: Insert piece A into slot B, and you’ve got yourself the exact same TV stand everyone else has.

In Fight Club, when two guys are fighting, they can be individuals. The crowd cheers as they, the only two people who matter, size each other up. The fighters are no longer looking into a foggy mirror; they’re seeing, in their opponent, all the parts of themselves they hate (or love) and punching the hell out of those things. It’s a form of introspection—a form of therapy. So nobody talked about Fight Club. On the path to enlightenment and individuality, the fighting itself was all the talking you needed to do.

Fight Club

Of course, there are eight rules to Fight Club, the last of which is the focus of the maligned video game adaptation of the film (which was adapted from a Chuck Palahniuk novel): “If this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.” And there is much fighting to do in Fight Club the game. You fight behind bars, in dingy basements, on airline runways. You fight against deities like Tyler Durden himself, and you even fight against Raymond, the convenience store clerk from the film who appears in one scene—a scene that doesn’t involve fighting. Like its Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat ancestors of old, Fight Club sticks one guy on one side of the screen, one guy on the other side, and throws a life meter above them. Let the battles begin.

Fighting was the ultimate expression of self in the movie, but the game provides no such means for any personal flair. It’s just one shirtless white dude punching another shirtless white dude. Sometimes they’re blond, or not, or they have big mutton chops. But they all punch and kick in exactly the same way. There are no special combos or signature moves. Not even the slightest hint of a “hadouken” fireball that gave Street Fighter characters such flare. Sure, Bob might have larger “bitch tits” than the rest of the characters, but his fighting style is a long way from Street Figher’s slap-happy sumo veteran E. Honda, despite the physical resemblance.

Well, actually, it’s pretty cool when that one shirtless white dude grabs the other shirtless white dude’s arm and totally snaps it. Then it happens again. And again. Because every single character has that ability.

Fights have all the choreography of a Bar Mitzvah dance party. The controls are relatively sticky, so there’s a window of a few seconds for one character to hit the other before the buttons all but stop working, giving the other character a chance to fight back. You punch; he kicks. Back and forth, back and forth. It’s like watching two Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots duke it out.

But at least in the film, there was some meaning behind the fighting: It tore people down so they could remold themselves into who they truly were. Conversely, the story in the game could not be more generic. You play as a to-be-named white dude who physically resembles Mac from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. And like Mac, this guy is eager to show off his physical prowess even when nobody asked him to. He travels from one abandoned lot to the next, interacting with movie characters just long enough for them to ask, “Who the fuck are you?” Then they fight.

Fight Club

You can utilize one of three “styles”, like choosing the way of the martial artist, but it hardly matters. Every fight is the same. You slog between brawls in a daze, barely aware of why you’re hitting this particular shirtless white dude over the head. Winning moves you higher in the ranks of Project Mayhem, the unspoken Fight Club undertaking to destroy corporate numbness and enlighten the masses. You become just another guy barking orders at faceless drones. Then, suddenly, you’re in the building with Tyler Durden and “Jack.” There’s a detonator in your hand and trucks full of homemade explosives inside every major credit bureau. “After this, we can all be individuals again,” you say out loud.

That is the myth that Fight Club participants had beaten into their identical, shirtless skulls throughout the film. Tyler Durden would shout, “You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake” at his recruits as they set Project Mayhem into motion. He was a semi-benevolent god, flooding the world but letting his fighters onto the ark, two by two, so they could rebuild society as a cult of personalities. There was a disconnect, though. He saw everyone as sheep, but as we all know, the ark had two zebras, two elephants, two flamingos, and maybe even two velociraptors if Intelligent Design is your thing.

Not even the magnetism of Brad Pitt’s red leather jacket could suppress the individuality of his followers while they fought—entering the arena in pairs, excited to display their peacock feathers and marvel at the differences. But in the game, fighting is a binary construct. You win, or you lose. There is no glory in the moment when you break somebody’s arm, no primitive demonstration of personality happening. You’re just a shirtless white guy, patiently waiting your turn to hit another shirtless white guy, taking every punch just like everyone else. There’s nothing more to talk about.

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69 Responses to “Punchless”

  1. Yeah, i remember seeing this on xPlay, and yes it looks like dogshit.

    • Mistah Chrysoprase says:

       If by “Egoistic” you mean “Sane”, then yes, yes they are. I wouldn’t allow my visage to be used within ten thousand feet of this mongoloid sack of crap, and I could actually really use the money.

      • Girard says:

        Hey, hey, man, don’t sully the good name of mongoloids by associating them with this game. Those folks deserve it even less than Pitt or Norton.

        • Mistah Chrysoprase says:

          Compared to the slaughter and defilement they visited on my steppe-dwelling ancestors, those horse-milk drinking bastards are getting off light.

        • EmperorNortonI says:

           Mistah Chrysoprase, Mongols and Mongoloids are two very different things.Mongols were the horse-milk drinking bastards who conquered China, destroyed Baghdad and ruled over Russia for 200 years or so.Mongoloid is a vaguely defined term that first was used to refer to all East Asians (the squinty-eyed ones, you know) as a homogenous race.  Then it became the term for a particular type of developmental disability.  Then it was abandoned entirely as offensive.

        • Citric says:

          Now I want to try this horse milk. Sounds like it can give you the vim and vigor to help you conquer nations.

    • SamPlays says:

      If the game wants to be faithful to the film, this really should only have one playable character who beats up himself. You win when you KO yourself.

      • Chum Joely says:

        Spoiler warning, dude!!!

      • Justin Leeper says:

         That whole aspect ruined the movie for me the first time I watched it. I was like, “Who was he fighting in the alley?” “Who was driving the car that crashed?” It took me a couple years to get over those holes. Now me and the film are on good terms.

    • PugsMalone says:

      If I recall correctly, Tom Cruise refuses to allow his likeness in video games, too.

    • Citric says:

      I suspect Pitt and Norton would like to get paid for their likeness, and the makers of a cheap cash in isn’t going to spend a dime more than they absolutely have to.

    • Knarf Black says:

      I guess they blew the likeness budget on Lincoln and Fred Durst.

  2. rvb1023 says:

    I never really got why they made this, when watching Fight Club I never went: “You know, this would be a great tournament fighter!”

    I watch Two Best Friends play this and really just wondered why.

    • PaganPoet says:

      You mean you don’t approve of a striking novel/film about nihilism, emasculation, numbness with Nietzschean concepts being watered down to a sub-par fighting game? 

      I don’t get you!

    • SamPlays says:

      Ummm, guys… don’t you remember?

      YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB: THE VIDEO GAME!

    • lokimotive says:

      The fights in the film were willfully unglamorous; it seems very odd that anyone who saw the film would say, there’s a game in here somewhere.

      • OldeFortran77 says:

        It’s the Starship Troopers dilemna; some of the audience claim it glorifies fascism and some of the audience claim it abhors fascism. Would you like to know more?

        • Halloween_Jack says:

          I’m not sure that I even want to try engaging with someone who think that that movie glorifies fascism, given its unabashed depiction of most of the would-be citizen soldiers getting shoveled into the maw of war as pure cannon fodder. In general, I’ve never found Verhoeven to be particularly subtle, although that’s not to say that he isn’t often savagely funny and brutally blunt in his social criticism; Robocop still holds up very well, as well. I certainly think that he has more to say about war, given his experiences during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, than Robert A. Heinlein, who was indoctrinated into military culture in the Naval Academy but got a medical discharge before he got to see war first-hand.

          For any given fandom, it seems that there are people who will not only take away entirely the wrong message, but insist on the righteousness of that interpretation; it’s your basic Draco in Leather Pants problem. Palahniuk is no exception; IIRC, there were various (hopefully short-lived) real life fight clubs that sprang up, particularly after the movie, which is kind of funny because I think that Palahniuk was originally satirizing stories (probably exaggerated) of underground bare-knuckle boxing clubs frequented by white-collar men. Laura Miller at Salon, whose criticism I usually enjoy (she wrote a very good article on H.P. Lovecraft for them), wrote a rant about Palahniuk in which she took his work more seriously than he seems to; the precipitating event seems to have been an incident in which she was cornered in some airport by a fan who himself got a little ranty on the subject and maybe also got a little too much inside her personal space. Anyone who wants to justify their dislike of some work of art or its fandom can find such fanatics (the root word for fan, of course); it used to be de rigueur for stories about Star Trek conventions in the seventies to find the most pathetic people at the con and profile them extensively. 

  3. PaganPoet says:

    To be honest, I didn’t know this adaptation even existed, so I’m 9 years late to being horrified that this is a thing that real people okayed and developed and released. I would make a quip like “What’s next? Self-Mutilation: The Game?” if I wasn’t afraid that something along those lines already exists.

    • Army_Of_Fun says:

      You’d be forgiven for not knowing about it. It was released 5 years after the film came out and for platforms in their twilight years. The publisher likely realised it had a turd in its hand and just dumped it with as little marketing as possible.

    • Citric says:

      I imagine that Self-Mutilation: Revelations plays very similar to Trauma Center.

  4. Mike Mariano says:

    Can I get the game in cornflower blue?

  5. Nudeviking says:

    Spinning bitch-tits kick!

  6. LoveWaffle says:

    I’m surprised this article got the whole way through without mentioning Fred Durst is in it.

  7. waxlion says:

    There was a lot of emphasis on it being white boys kicking the crap out of each other, so I got kind of curious since I didn’t remember the specifics about the Raymond character. In the movie he was a Korean guy even though in the book he was described as white.

     So did the game take any opportunity to diversify, did it seem like they intentionally white-washed it so there wouldn’t be any uncomfortable undertones, or is this a crummy adaptation of the book despite the logo evoking the movie?

  8. Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

    This Fight Club game was always going to suck, and there are other Chuck Palahniuk books that could be made into games that equally miss the point:

    Choke – You are Victor, the backbone of colonial America, and you must have soulless sex with as many similarly sex-addicted women as possible until you gain enough XP to finish the fourth step. I would suggest Kinect compatibility, if only for the milkmaid sequence. The ‘choke in restaurants’ mini game helps you gain additional XP, as does the feed your deranged mother chocolate pudding quick time event. But don’t touch Eva’s woo woo or it’s game over!

    Invisible Monsters – I see this as a Mass Effect 2 ‘assemble the team’ type adventure game, except the Shepard character is horribly disfigured and your squadmates are all drag queens.

    Rant – A demolition derby game where you are a dude with rabies ‘party crashing’ in moonlit streets. Oh they made that and called it Twisted Metal? Never mind then.

    Damned – A 13 year old girl is in hell. Oh they made this one as well and called it Dante’s Inferno and made the 13 year old girl a bloke with a cross stitched into his chest? Never mind then.

    Snuff – Actually, not going to go there, though it’s apparently being made into a movie… I have no idea how this is possible.

    • PaganPoet says:

      I would play the shit out of Invisible Monsters. I was going to say I hope you can buff your party in battle by yelling Paris is Burningisms like “WERK, hunty!” and “Serving daytime businesswoman realness!” but then I realized that’s probably pretty hard for the protagonist since she doesn’t have a lower jaw…

      • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

        Don’t forget to max out your ‘Incinerate’ power before the final boss fight.

    • Nudeviking says:

      Didn’t Annabel Chong already make a movie version of Snuff?

    • Persia says:

      Don’t forget Lullaby. Puzzles let you learn more of the song every time you level up!

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

       If this doesn’t grab the notice of comment cat there is something wrong with that feline.  brilliant.

  9. JokersNuts says:

    I heard they were making a Fight Club Puzzel Fighter

  10. Indoorsman says:

    Putting aside the silliness of a commercial tie-in product to a film with these messages, this might have been neat if it offered more than fighting.

    Maybe an open-world setting where you could do Project Mayhem missions. 

  11. Jeremy Booth says:

    Fight Club sucked. Dumbest plot “twist” ever.

  12. stakkalee says:

    Ugh, damn.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a video game as uninspired as this.  From the plastic, dead-eyed avatars to the monotone voice acting to the predictable fight locations (A basement!  Didn’t see that coming!  An empty parking lot!  How original!) everything about this game just screams ‘Cash in!’  I don’t particularly think Fight Club the movie was any great shakes, but it at least deserves better than this horrible mediocrity.

    • Chum Joely says:

      I just watched the movie again last week, and many of the locations you see in that trailer seem to be based on specific sets from the movie (like the parking lot outside the bar where Tyler and “Jack” first fight). So the lack of inspiration on that front may come directly from the movie.

      Besides the general issues of a commercial tie-in for Fight Club, as others have mentioned, one thing that especially stuck out for me in that dreadful trailer was how they re-used the animation of the club leader grabbing the lightbulb to emphasize a point… twice in 30 seconds?

      Also, the music. I liked the movie, but I LOVED the Dust Brothers soundtrack. That nü-metal nonsense in the trailer (“FIGHT! FIGHT!”) is an abomination.

      • stakkalee says:

        Though I understand the point you’re making about the locations, I’m somehow unwilling to accept the argument of ‘fidelity to the source text’ from a game where you can have Abraham Lincoln whip Fred Durst’s ass.  On the other hand, I now have a flimsy excuse to post a video of another anachronism.

      • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

        Liked for mentioning the awesome Dust Brothers soundtrack.

        • Chum Joely says:

          Liked for rotating your avatar through a broad range of awesomely weird Nic Cage photos.

    • Halloween_Jack says:

      Something tells me that it was a generic street-fighting game that got the branding slapped on at the last minute.

      • Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

        It didn’t come out until 5 years after the movie.  It was in development for a long time.  Which really just makes the whole thing sadder.

  13. doyourealize says:

    Was this a full-priced game? It sounds more like a sidequest in Fable…or Mortal Kombat without fun.

  14. OldeFortran77 says:

    On the one hand, I’m amazed that anyone thought to make a Fight Club game, but on the other hand its nice to know it can eventually be re-released as an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia game.

  15. Halloween_Jack says:

    This looks more like the sort of game that someone who really liked the comic book Wanted (Mark Millar shamelessly cribbed from Fight Club for it) would really like. 

  16. Tiako says:

    You know this isn’t a faithful Fight Club adaptation because it isn’t targeted at pseudointellectual college freshmen who finished their first week of Philosophy 101.

    • Roswulf says:

      Oh really? Us pseudointellectual college freshman just appreciate repetitive arm breaking and Fred Durst cameos on a deeper level than you.

  17. SlapHappyDude says:

    This sounds absolutely horrible. It’s a horrible idea from the concept, really.
    I can’t think of a way to make a Fight Club game that doesn’t feature either Too Much or Too Little fighting.

  18. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

    In case the velociraptor thing tickled your funny-bone, or you were wondering if people were *still* spouting that drivel in 2013:

    http://www.truthingenesis.com/2013/01/03/dinosaurs-and-the-bible/

     

  19. Brian Jud says:

    Simple: this game failed because “Fight Club” was never about the actual fighting.

    • Chum Joely says:

      Totally. It should have been a collection of mini-games about editing individual frames of porn films into Disney movies, making soap from liposuction leftovers, or pissing in the split-pea soup at five-star hotels.

      • Brian Jud says:

        Haha yeah. My thought is they just shouldn’t have bothered with it at all (but I’m sure it was financially worth it for them).

  20. ferrarimanf355 says:

    Random suggestion: do this column on Fast and the Furious: Super Cars from Raw Thrills. That game is pretty good.

    Wait… that game is pretty good. Well, there’s another game with that license coming out from Activision, so that’s guaranteed to be shovelware.

  21. I’d highly recommend you guys take a crack at 24 The Game for the ps2. One of the first instances of the developers hiring an actual writer from the show and bringing in most of the cast.

    Plus you’ve got the game telling a decently entertaining story (it ties up loose ends from the show), vaguely interesting variety, and one heck of a bumpy development road.

  22. Justin Leeper says:

    Allow me to reiterate that this game released in 2004, and was based on a movie that had been through theaters five years before.
    Not that a great game can’t stem from an old flick — look at The Warriors — but it was an odd choice, especially with the rubbish the developers did with it. I remember seeing it at E3, if not the same year then close to when there were game adaptations of Jaws and Taxi Driver being touted. The former was a laughingstock; the latter never came out.
    I reviewed the Fight Club game and basically agreed with this article wholeheartedly. One final gem: Fred Durst (yes, THAT Fred Durst) is an unlockable character. Because he so typified the spirit of the film, right?

  23. japanesebrucewillis says:

    It’s amazing. It’s like adapting apocalypse now as a Vietnam shooter. It’s just such a glorious example of completely missing the point.

  24. BigPattyG says:

    “Fight club wasn’t about winning or losing.” — Quote from a film never seen by the game developers who made a game entirely about winning and losing.

  25. Rick Gershman says:

    Thanks for the very good piece, Steve. (It’s linked in a current story on A.V. Club, so hopefully you’ll get some more recent hits.) Just one thing: You have the wrong word in the sentence that reads “that gave Street Fighter characters such flare.” The correct word is flair, not flare. Just in case you feel like fixing it. But it’s a cool article regardless.