The next generation of video games is here! At least, that’s what I’ve been led to believe. Thanks to the increased relevance of PC gaming, we aren’t making a huge generational shift; this is more of a small leap with two more capable devices. With these new systems now out in the wild, I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect back on the past eight years of PS3 and Xbox 360, my experiences with some memorable titles and what I’ve learned most from the games that, in my mind, defined the generation.
Crafting original stories for games is probably not a simple task, especially if you’re working with established characters. It can be easy to fall back on something like, say, a prequel story. This might be significantly easier in the long run, yet also may expose an inherent flaw when it comes to creating prequel video games: you have to worry about it from both a story and gameplay perspective. Having to evolve the gameplay while containing the story to certain specifics makes for a difficult balance or a game that, at the end of the day, isn’t much of an improvement over its predecessors.
Whether or not you actually like the current movement of more narrative-focused games, such as the critically acclaimed Gone Home, it’s clear that it’s not going anywhere. Look at Quantic Dream, a team Sony has put a ton of weight (and money) behind, delivering experiences with high budgets and minimal gameplay. There is a place for these experiences in the industry, and they deserve our attention, yet certain games only highlight the fault of their stories when it becomes so much of the focus.
Video games give us a lot. They provide exciting, compelling gameplay experiences, amazing visuals, brilliant soundtracks, stunning worlds to explore, and so much more. The one thing games have become increasingly good at is telling a story. While I love titles such as Mass Effect, The Last of Us and The Witcher 2, the games that almost always hook me are the ones attempting to bring story to the forefront. Games such as The Walking Dead or the recent release, Gone Home, all provide excellent narratives that stand above and beyond their contemporaries.
Yet, so many people seem to reject these games, signaling that their success is the sign of a dramatic sea change in the industry which will forever take over and extensively ruin the games we all know and love today. This overdramatic (and frankly, ridiculous) notion makes me wonder just why so many are afraid of games that attempt something different. We all accept innovative titles in regards to gameplay mechanics, but in terms of simplifying gameplay for the sake of a story? It becomes a different conversation entirely.
It seems Grand Theft Auto V is on most people’s minds these days, and for good reason. With any new GTA game, there are conversations about its importance in medium, some of the game’s more controversial scenes and, most importantly of all, the three protagonists. While GTA V isn’t the first game to introduce multiple protagonists, it is the first of its scale that split the story between the protagonists and allows you to switch between them at will.
Conceptually, it’s a neat trick, but it adds a whole new dynamic to a series that could have easily become stale. Most importantly of all, it shows how such a narrative can work, which leads me to believe it could have a place in other games as well.
This column contains full story spoilers for Brothers, so if you haven’t had a chance to play it yet, don’t read on. Also, go play it. You’ll thank me later.
Last time, I discussed fundamental game mechanics that help certain games stand out when they might not otherwise. Gunpoint was the prime example, with its excellent jumping mechanic laying the groundwork for the rest of the game’s brilliant design. Sometimes, however, this singular mechanic can not only help a game stand out, but make its story more impactful as a result.
Games are a compilation of many different elements carefully pieced together to make a whole, cohesive experience. At least, that’s how it usually goes. Often times some parts will be stronger than others, which is when it becomes clear on which mechanics or design ideas the developer focused the most. Maybe the story fell by the wayside as a result, or the visuals leave something to be desired, but the gameplay itself is fun. Other times you’ll be left with a game with different pieces that work well on their own, but don’t gel together quite as well as one would hope.
There are those rare occasions, however, when one element both shines above the rest and manages to make the rest of the game seem that much more exciting and well-designed as a result. The other parts are serviceable, but they wouldn’t work without that singular piece of the puzzle that keeps it all from falling apart (or at least losing its luster). READ MORE
We’re slowly moving into an always-connected world. This is something many people seem to reject, yet the potential for some (though not all) games is exciting. People were quick to dismiss Microsoft’s policies for the Xbox One, especially pertaining to the daily check-in. It was for good reasons, mind you, as the benefits of such a system were unclear. That being said, with the potential of “the cloud” being something Microsoft (and arguably Sony) wants to push with the new hardware and many upcoming games seemingly focused on retaining always-online elements (or at least allowing for more beneficial online features), I find it all quite exciting. READ MORE
This has been an ongoing discussion for quite a while now, but certain company policies have made the topic of game preservation something worth talking about again. I originally began writing this after Microsoft’s Xbox One debacle involving its online requirements and game installs. Things were pushed back once the issue was resolved and Microsoft did a complete turnaround on the policies that made seemingly everyone despise their upcoming console. With the potential threat of our current downloadable games disappearing and the all-digital future companies want to push, though, this is something worth examining regardless of policy changes. READ MORE
I have a somewhat complex relationship with the Animal Crossing series. The GameCube title, simply known as Animal Crossing, remains one of my favorite games on that particular console. I even went back to it fairly recently and started a brand new town, to see just how far we’ve come with the franchise. It was still just as charming and deviously addictive as I remember it being, and before I knew it I had spent a good two weeks playing a game that, by all accounts, was completely outdated. I have a strong desire to call the experience magical, although doing so would result in me needing to slap myself across the face.
Instead, I’ll just say there’s something about Animal Crossing that inspires the need to keep going, even if I know the conclusion I will inevitably reach seems fruitless. It’s just a daily grind of sorts, something I find myself both loving and hating at the same time. It made me realize it’s one of the most mechanically perfect gaming experiences Nintendo has ever made.