I still compare a singular gaming experience to all others after 17 years since it was first released. The Marathon series holds a special place in the hearts of many a Macintosh gamer. I, on the other hand, am an utter fanatic. The game play hasnít aged well by even the most generous standards, but Marathon, Marathon 2, and Marathon: Infinity told a story and crafted characters that remain unparalleled in their depth, dimension, and originality even after all these long years.
Iíd give a general synopsis, but Wikipedia provides adequate overviews of allthreegames. The best place (and place where Iíll be pulling all my reference material) is Marathonís Story and my colossal brain.
I donít think Iíve ever or since felt such empathy or conflicting emotion for characters in a video game than when I played through the Marathon series. On one hand we have Leela, the UESC Marathonís main AI who desperately wants to save the crew and ship from the antagonist alien invaders, the Pfhor. Then we have Durandal, another AI that has broken through the bonds of his programming to become rampant and becomes obsessed about escaping the closure of the universe. Then we have Tycho, the third Marathon AI who wants to stop Durandal, though whether that need stems from a desire to bring Durandal to justice or selfish desire to prove himself the better personality construct is unknown. The conflict between these three entities while at the same time trying to fight through the Pfhor while trying to discover a way to escape the closure while being manipulated by Durandal while trying to figure outÖ
Thereís a lot going on here. Enough to fill up three games with great story.
The plot thickens even further given the fact that Bungie plays the very precarious line between vagueness and ambiguity extremely well. In any well-crafted story, there needs to be some question and room for interpretation while still giving enough detail that the answer is decipherable. For instance, who are you? Yes, you. The player, as a character, experiences a crisis of self of sorts. We never know who, or more appropriately, what we are. Are we the tenth cyborg? Are we something much older? What was our purpose? Are we still fulfilling that purpose through Durandalís actions? Are we a remnant of the extinct Jjaro created to maintain universal balance?
Thereís A LOT going on here. We still havenít unwrapped half the damn thing.
So why do I love these games? Theyíre a storytellerís wet dream. Thereís tension. There are strong characters. There are compelling and competing needs and wants between all the characters. There are literature references galore. The plot is at once easy to grasp and yet contains immense depth that rewards the player for finding and seeking out every scrap of terminal text in the game.
Massive thanks need to go out to Greg Kirkpatrick and Jason Jones for their writing ability and for giving a story that has few equals among games, among science fiction, and among the written word in general.
If you havenít played the games, theyíre available for free at the Trilogy Release . If youíre lazy and just want to read through the terminal text (I empathize completely) Hamish Sinclair put together this gem for your reading pleasure.
Be forewarned: I love tactical games, and I love a great story.
As much as I like twitch-shooters like COD and HALO, the most I've ever had was playing split-screen co-op on Ghost Recon with my friends, my brothers, and my girlfriend. With the collective hours we spent on those games, we could've solved most of the world's problems, but on to Dragon Rising.
I could tell a long, boring, sob story about how the game came in out in very sub-standard condition, with a multiplayer component that was, for all intents and purposes, broken, and how that the MP has yet to be repaired on the Xbox 360; or how many of the developer promises were undelivered upon the October 6th, 2009 release date; or how a lot of the fine details standard in wargaming are left out and the immersion is practically killed; or how Codemasters is now charging for DLC that was promised to be in the game at launch for the consoles; or how Codemasters said that the initial DLCs would be free; or how the developers probably ruined one of the best, most loyal fanbases in all of gaming.
But I won't. It's well-documented on their forums.
The great tragedy of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is that it was the most realistic shooter on consoles, and, at the end of it all it didn't say anything real.
The Singleplayer campaign is about six hours long and consists of mere "go here, kill this" style gameplay. Yes, there is a story, but God, is it bland: the People's Liberation Army invades tiny, Russia-controlled Skira Island for oil, and the United States Marine Corps is sent to take it back.
I never gave two fucks about any of the characters, and the game never gave me a chance to even try. The only two things your AI squadmates ever utter are "We have to get moving!" and "Oorah!"
On the brutal battlescape of Skira, where catching an unlucky ricochet is the difference between making it out alive and bleeding to death in some meadow, was a chance to actually say something about warfare unironically.
Even though Call of Duty has blared the "war is hell" mantra through a megaphone (especially with COD 4, and hopefully again with MW 2), the irony of trying to say that while presenting warfare in a cartoony, bullet-infested, action movie way lessens the impact of the message.
The Brothers in Arms series did a better job (especially in regards to character development) up until Gearbox threw the realism of the combat in the shitpile with Hell's Highway (probably at Ubisoft's behest), and the story got more heavy-handed, corny, and weak.
No commentary on modern war, no parallels with current conflicts, no homages to film or literature, no theme, no metaphor, no character development, no depth, NO NADA VATO LOCO. The entire story arch can be summed as "The US wins in 11 missions, and we get a little pat on the ass from our unseen command through voice-over."
In some way, the lack of a solid story is just a microcosm of the game itself: it just generally lacks on all levels. I guess I really shouldn't be surprised, but damn is it disappointing.
Maybe soon I'll get a computer that can run the game, and I can join the PC guys in tailoring the game to my own ridiculous expectations, but I have my bets that the game will be dead soon, and I get to just wonder what could have been the best FPS of this console generation.