Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Lost Art of Storytelling: A Rant

Through a glass eye darkly

Do you know what I miss these days? A good and solid story in my video games. I ranted about L.A. Noire's flaws as far as plot goes, and yet it's hard to think of a recent title that fared better. Mass Effect 3, like most of Bioware's games, builds a wonderful world but flounders at delivering a solid plot. Part of the problem is the necessity to provide multiple results for multiple actions and the obligation to keep Shepards' character malleability. Which ultimately means that the characters seem to have less to say to each other from game to game. The short conversations that made Mass Effect 1's loading elevators bearable, are all but absent from 3. And the war against the reaper culminates in a series of battles and a deus ex machina (still haven't played the extended ending.

Fallout: New Vegas had a decent plot, but it to was one that sacrificed character and focus to accommodate a "choose your own adventure" narrative. A similar problem plagues Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Adam Jensen is bland and characterless so he can accommodate the player's action. The story happens around him, not to him. It's hard to think of the last time I played a strong character. It seems that my library is filled with silent protagonists and customizable avatars.

Going Tribal In New Vegas

Lone Survivor is worth more then a mention. But for our purposes, it was one of the most satisfying game stories I played of late. It worked on emotional levels rather then boasting a strong plot. And the amount of identification I injected into the protagonist prevents me from calling him a strong character. And yet, he was sympathetic, and the few things I learned about him through his dreams and day-dreams where enough to give him depth that few other games managed to evoke in me lately.

To conjure up a strong character as a protagonist, playing a significant part in a plot with other characters around him, forces me to journey too far into the past. Psychonauts easily falls into this category, as well as Anachronox and Legacy of Kain. But these are now old games. Assassin's Creed (2 and Brotherhood) almost manage to make the cut, if not for their thin plot, minimal character relationships and the sad fact that the main character plays second fiddle to the blandest man in video games: Desmond Miles. Almost every other title in my recent memory has a silent protagonist, weak plot, no character relationships or all of the above. I really miss games that had a clear story to tell and a plot and characters to tell it with.


  1. Oh, here's your fallout guy in real life ( picture 4)