Posts Tagged ‘ Thoughts ’

(Sort-Of) Reviews: Alan Wake, Red Dead Redemption, Heavy Rain

In the past two months, I’ve played through three very story intensive games, two of which I now count among some of the best of the year.  These are Heavy Rain, Alan Wake and Red Dead Redemption.  The first two are more or less triumphs, the former a meandering, unfocused, beautiful game, and the latter a taut thriller with the trappings of Twin Peaks and Stephen King’s most solipsistic works.

Red Dead Redemption, on the other hand, is an excellent but flawed game.  Its story winds and strays the focused journey that it should be.  Neither are its characters as engrossing or memorable as those found in Grand Theft Auto IV or any of its episodes.  Arguably, the world is more of a character here, but I find it an unfocused mess that’s a bore to travel through and tiresome to explore.  Still, the brutal violence, coupled with the classic imagery and excellent development of the main character place Redemption as a game firmly following GTA4’s lead.

Because it does follow in GTA4’s wake, the flaws of Redemption are put in sharp relief.  The grimy, claustrophobic canyons of steel and concrete that made up Liberty City have given way to a sprawling landscape, with barren deserts and snow-topped mountains.  And somehow, none of that manages to be quite so compelling as Rockstar’s previous outing, or even competing games in the open-world genre, such as Assassin’s Creed II and The Saboteur.  While neither of those games are necessarily as well put together as Red Dead Redemption ultimately is, they find themselves more compelling, more enjoyable and far more memorable than the vast majority of Redemption actually is.

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In Response to Mr. Ebert…

Earlier this week, the brilliant, esteemed critic Roger Ebert wrote again that he believes that video games can never be art.  When he first made this argument some five years ago, I disagreed with him quite strongly.  Here was, I thought, a man that could not and would not ever understand the way that games were, the potential that they had, the point that many attempted.  Here was a man that would not and could not see that games were meant to reach heights heretofore unseen by the likes of cinema and books.

Since then, my view has changed quite dramatically.  Before now, I cited examples such as Indigo Prophecy and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time as being the closest that games had come to art in form, as the closest they had come to meaningful narrative and true artful focus.  They were games that attempted to break the status quo: games that did not cater to the masses but focused on instead delivering their respective visions without deviating for a second.  And while that’s not entirely true, in that the former unraveled by the end and the latter featured two sequels that deviated quite a bit from the fantastical nature of the original, it was my view, and I stood by it.

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In Which I Beat a Dead Horse – Narrative in Gaming (Part 3)

I tend to – often mistakenly – pride myself on not being a “gamer.”  There are other words, other definitions, that I would attempt to place myself in, were I to do that sort of thing, in some effort to put this thing called me in some preconceived box.

That is to say that all of the things that I write about gaming come first from a writer and a reader of fiction, and second from a gamer and a person who enjoys those experiences: the fun, the visceral, the intellectual pursuits that I seem to aspire to in my continuing journey through interactive storytelling and in some effort to find it.

There are those that would say that gaming itself could function without story involved.  This is absolutely, unequivocally true.  I have no preconceived notions of that.  Yet I would argue that we would lose an exciting, powerful, stimulating medium through which to tell those selfsame stories.

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Narrative in Gaming (Part 2)

Like any technology or industry, video gaming has its innovators.  From the hype machine, the audience is lead to believe that innovation comes quickly and frequently, with the medium constantly evolving and in a state of flux.  Some prominent voices (read: Michael Pachter) seem to think that stability is something to be feared, so predictions of upheavals and new tech and the like are constantly on everyone’s radar.  And the mainstream press and gaming blogs pick up on it, because like it or not, such predictions are “news” in the industry, and aren’t something to be frivolously ignored, no matter the ultimate outcome.

The truth, however, is that the gaming industry as a whole – publishers, developers and consumers, as well as a host of other peripheral industries, such as gaming journalism and PR and marketing – relies on stability in games.  What is taken for innovation is actually an evolutionary iteration of established mechanics or tech, instead of something that is a full-blown innovation on established mechanics.

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Narrative in Gaming (Part 1)

Narrative storytelling in gaming gets a bad rap.  Few but vocal are the ones that find it a necessity, and while their numbers are growing, tastes in the mainstream gaming culture still aren’t mature enough to handle the growth necessitated by the stories that many developers want to tell.

First-person shooters, in general terms, are the most underdeveloped of the lot, and many of them sell millions and millions of copies.  Certainly, Bioshock and its predecessors are exceptions, and worthy exceptions at that.  But these are not the rule.  Even these fine examples of design and narrative fell apart due to convention and cliché at the end of their respective journeys, something that proved disappointing to the players who found themselves caught up in 2K Boston’s cautionary tale.

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