I didn’t have time to think up a funny April Fools post.
Anyway, it already seems to have happened a couple times this year — these days it seems every action adventure game that tries to have a decent storyline runs into the dichotomy of the protagonist having to shoot hundreds of people because of how the game is designed. I’ve seen all kinds of suggestions for how to fix these kinds of games but I think the problem is a simple mismatch of genres.
Most famous in the gaming community is the question “How can Nathan Drake be an everyman if he kills a thousand people over the course of a game?” The new Tomb Raider has run into the same problem — near the beginning of the game players see Lara Croft freak out the first time she kills a person, and five minutes later she’s mowing people down by the dozens. Don’t even get me started on Call of Duty.
We’re trying to have these realistic storylines in video games with believable characters, but developers are doing it with the same unrealistic game mechanics. I don’t think the problem is the game mechanics, I think the problem is the fact that developers are trying to tell these stories and put these characters in shooters in the first place. The genre just wasn’t built for that kind of storytelling.
People have suggested solutions like giving more options to the player. Stealth games let you use nonlethal takedowns or bypass enemies entirely. I still think that’s a cop-out because the player is still able to take the role of a single person defeating hundreds. No matter how “relatable” the protagonist is written to be, in a game where they face off against those huge numbers they are still a superhero.
Now look back at the original games that popularized the shooter genre: DOOM, Quake, Duke Nukem. All of those are games where you shoot aliens or demons or some other kind of monster. I don’t think you kill any humans in any of those games (I haven’t played Quake yet), yet they’re all very fun action games. The same goes for, say, Super Mario or Devil May Cry. These games all focused on creating good action gameplay and didn’t try to make the crazy proceedings look “real.” This also allowed those games to have more varied gameplay.
The only popular shooter today that has these same traits is Gears of War. Epic actually designed a fantastical setting for their fantastical gameplay. The fact that Marcus Fenix is shooting up monsters means Epic can design whatever fun enemies they want instead of the same three human enemy types you see in Call of Duty or Uncharted. The same goes for the weapons — you can’t rationalize a gun that shoots subterranean bombs in Call of Duty, but it doesn’t matter in Gears. And at the end of it all, Fenix probably has a far lower body count of human beings than Drake or Croft.
Epic has even stated that this is a reason for designing the setting they did for the games. When asked why Gears of War Judgment doesn’t take place at a point in the canon before the Locus horde appears, Clifford Blezinsiki said that it wouldn’t be Gears without monsters to kill. They specifically avoided having human-on-human conflict in the game.
Back to games like Uncharted, creative director Amy Henning responded when 1up.com brought up the issue by directly comparing the series to one of its main inspirations — Indiana Jones. “Let’s say you made a game out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It wouldn’t be any fun. Because [gaming’s] an active experience; you have to have that interaction of shooting and having combat,” she said. “But if we only had you fight three guys over the course of two hours, you’d say, ‘this sucks.’”
Funnily enough, someone actually did make a game based on one of the Indiana movies back in 1989 — The Last Crusade, which was a graphical adventure game similar to The Walking Dead series. Players for the most part explored and solved puzzles — basically what Harrison Ford did in the movies. It feels crazy that I even have to say this, but shooting isn’t the only mechanic that makes a game fun. They even made another Indiana game in the same vein — The Fate of Atlantis.
That kind of game seems perfectly fitted to the stories that Uncharted and Tomb Raider are trying to tell. Tomb Raider wasn’t even really a shooter until the reboot. In the previous games the combat was always the least interesting aspect — players spent most of their time… exploring and solving puzzles. Tomb Raider Anniversary even had its own moment where Lara freaks out after having shot someone… after she’d spent the whole game solving puzzles and killing the occasional hostile animal. In the latest game the actual raiding of tombs is put on the backburner in favor of shooting up people. The only reason I see why Tomb Raider and Uncharted can’t just be puzzle-filled platformers is because then they wouldn’t sell five million copies.
Therein lies the problem: the big budget console game market is cornered into shooters and action RPGs. Developers are trying to expand the caliber of storytelling going on in big budget games, but I think they’re backed into the wrong genre for it. Maybe those kinds of stories for right now need to be reserved for lower budget adventure games. Maybe that kind of gameplay should be reserved for more outlandish settings and stories (which is what Uncharted developer Naughty Dog wanted to do before Sony decreed they get in on the dark shooter trend). Maybe someone needs to find a way to make alternative genres like adventure games more popular. It’d be nice if more successes like The Walking Dead got media attention so developers wouldn’t feel like shooters are the only games that sell.
- As of this writing, Dishonored is half-off on Amazon (all platforms): http://t.co/qwqL3dzM9f
- Destroying game ideas to expose fun and other lessons learned making Star Fox. http://pocket.co/s9rio
- Ghost in the Shell Arise Anime’s Teaser Video Streamed http://flip.it/nB7c4