Who doesn’t love grimy, corporate grey areas in their first-person shooters? I know I do. So imagine my joy when Den of Wolves – the next big game from the team at 10 Chambers – was recently shown off to the world. Made by some Payday alumni, alongside over 100 like-minded staff, it promises to be the heist game of the future.
Sadly, that future looks pretty crappy if you’re a broke resident of Midway Island. This is the game's near-future setting, a patch of US-owned land that's been transformed into a financial free-for-all zone, where mega-corps use mercenaries to further their agendas. To learn more about this not-so-distant world we’ll be running and gunning through, I sat down to talk to narrative director and composer Simon Viklund, who broke down how we’ll fit into this corporate battlefield.
“First thing’s first, it’s not a dystopia." Viklund was firm on that. “It’s more of a moral dystopia of sorts," he explained, "there may be shining cities around the world - the world is thriving - but this is the one place where everyone needs to be. I think it’s an interesting route to have this few square kilometres on earth where you have to be if you’re a blue-chip company.”
Viklund strongly emphasised the importance he and the wider team placed on keeping things believable for a modern-day audience. Cyberpunk 2077's Night City this is not. Midway isn’t some neon lit cyber-crime zone, it’s meant to be the next step that could very well be around the corner in the real world. Keeping to this standard has apparently allowed the team to pull from genuine examples of corporate greed and malpractice.
“There’s so much looking at real-world examples of company rivalries and examples of dirty stuff that companies have done, letting the factories leak chemicals into the rivers, which [causes] natives down river [to get] blisters and [see] their children get deformed. It happens today, we don’t have to go satire!”
That sounds a lot like Nestle’s own sins. I asked whether that was a direct inspiration and had my assumptions confirmed by Viklund. “Yeah - exactly that. That’s what’s happening for real. As a narrative director, I’d love to weave that into the game without being moralising about it. Just having it there as the dirty truth. People can Google things happening in Den of Wolves and find out: ‘well they just took the story and changed the names of the company really’.
"We’re not making it as a political statement, but I’d like to weave that into it. You’re not in Midway city to take down these corporations and show the world what they’re doing, but maybe you’ve been hired by one of these corporations! You might be hired to dig up secrets on those chemicals to crash that company's stocks, for example.”
Not making a political statement? It certainly sounds like it - and it would be strange if 10 Chambers were taking a neutral ground on the morality of unethical human trials, DNA locks, and various other horrifying aspects of Den of Wolves that the reveal trailer teases. When asked to clarify what he meant, Viklund explained that by no political statements, he’s referring to “territorial conflicts and cultures bashing heads against one-another”.
“It’s more suitable to us, we feel, to explore the evil of man regardless of culture or whatever. Everyone wants to bow down to the god of money - greed is so dangerous and the lengths humans are willing to go to gain power and fame is more of a universal theme.” So while you can expect some good ‘ol fashioned corpo criminality, don’t hold out hopes for commentary on the Fukushima waste water conflict. The big players on Midway aren’t good, but you aren’t Robin Hood either. You’re down in the muck, doing dirty jobs for whoever is paying.
So, what does this all mean for the game? All this background on the realities of greed in a corporate playground may very well be interesting, but what if you just want to shoot guns and make money? According to Viklund, embracing this new setting has freed the team up to explore exciting new ground away from just breaking into regular fancy banks.
“That’s the main reason for going sci-fi, and [looking at] these Inception/Black Mirror concepts. It opens up the scope so we can tell Phillip K. Dick-style stories and not just do another ‘go into the vault and get the money’ scenario. We can go to interesting areas philosophically and so on, which means we don’t run out of ideas. Hopefully, if this game becomes popular, we’ll be able to provide more interesting stories throughout its lifespan.”
As a final note, I dug into how far Viklund wanted to go with this sort of depiction. To that, he responded with an idea on his mind. “An idea that I like personally – I haven’t asked [founder and creative director] Ulf if this is okay, but I’m talking a lot about it. For example we don’t have Nestle in the game, but maybe something like it. Maybe there’s an easter egg in every storyline where you can find out the real-life story that inspired that storyline.”
At this point, communications director at 10 Chambers Robin spoke, uttering only: “risky”.
Having only just been revealed to the world, it’s hard to know exactly to what extent Den of Wolves’ action and the setting will mingle together. But from speaking to Viklund it’s clear – the wolves that run Midway may be scheming years from now, but their fangs are as sharp as they are today.
This interview was conducted via a trip to the Unity offices in Denmark, which was paid for and accommodated by PR