I spent an entire weekend in the clouds, kicking in virtual doors, rummaging through trash-cans. I often hit the N key so I can run in opposite directions hunting down upgrades, secrets and (most importantly) parts of the story. Why was I compelled to do this? Story...
For the first time in years I had thought about a game several days after I had completed it. Story is the biggest weakness in the modern AAA game. Strangely the more the game industry strives to be more like Hollywood the more it succeeds in replicating its tepid, audience-approved entertainment. I could give a few examples, but I'm sure you have already thought of your own personal examples. You could also point out the AAA exceptions... but its in the word 'exceptions'.
Bioshock's story is a AAA rarity. It does not directly cater to the audiences every whim and you are best served to passively letting the story play out, before trying to make an informed decision on what it meant to you.
Beyond this point I will talk specifics so if you haven't played it.... you know... gedouttahere.. it wouldn't make any sense anyway.
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The art direction is truly amazing. There are times you self-frame glorious unforgettable moments and that helps your integration into this fantastical world. A world that a lesser game would immediately break your suspension of disbelief. A floating city? Bullshit! Now you know this is a Bioshock game.. the word game is important because the writing toys with your expectations of both words. The nature of game and the message and soul of Bioshock.
At the very beginning you are instantly introduced to the Lecture "twins" rowing the boat. Initially None of what they say makes sense, this dialogue, like all of their dialogue, is for your second playthrough. You are given a choice to get out the boat or not. We'll... in most games this choice has no real thought process. Its just something games do. You push a button to get out of a boat. Not here... you wait for a few moments and the "twins" effectively tell you not for the first time (inside Bioshock joke) you will eventually get out. How could you not, you spent your hard earned money on this. Gaming fatalism in action. You have no choice. This is a game and its very constraints are a plot device. This device comes back to haunt you in more prominent and often damaging ways. "You have already done this and this has already happened"
This pronounced theme continues throughout the game, heads or tails, it doesn't matter. You will get to the end and it is a game so your choices are, quite bluntly, an illusion. When you accept limitations you free the vision.
Now this is the first of many multi-layered jabs at the nature of games, first person shooters and even itself. But its framed within a stong story which drops the jaw. The songbird? A retrofitted Big Daddy made with stolen time tear technology? Make your own mind up. The power of being born again and how a major decision puts you on a different track? The very concept of time, discrimination and infinite choices. Ladies and Gentlemen we simply do not get this reach in our humble platform and I hope this opens the door for similar attempts.
This may seem like a love letter but really this is an acknowledgement of a game that could break into previously unheard circles. Is the game perfect... I'm sure it isn't. I would like to have seen more of the social themes followed through, I'm also unsure that picking up bits of story is the perfect way to do things.. then again how else do you convey these optional snippets. Plus as clever as it is, it is more of the same, yes by design... but that's like making the same joke twice. Yes it was funny, but its not as powerful as that first laugh.
Deus Ex, Monkey Island, Silent Hill 2, To the Moon, Torment (the kickstarter did well, its almost like people are craving deeper stories or something) Shadow of the Colossus and your own personal favourites. I think you could make sensible arguments for these being called art (it is,after all subjective). But I think maybe.. just maybe.. this might be the first game that the greater world acknowledges as something more then just a shooter with a bit of sprinkle.
We are precious about our obscure passions. Forever wanting them to stay hidden from the prying eyes of the hated general public. The general public who play those silly touch screen phone games, who simply don't understand games like we do.
Some games are obscure for good reason, others the inspiration behind whole genres. The classic Herzog Zwei inspiring the concept of real time strategy which had piss poor AI but even now influences games of today such as Brutal Legend, which forever (on many a gaming forums) seems derided as a poor, misleading, missed opportunity of a game. Will such a game be regarded well in years to come?
I fondly remember an Amstrad game called "How to be a Complete Bastard". It had a genius concept. Make everyone at the house party (you crashed) leave.You could get drunk, piss in plant pots and generally act like the title suggests. It also featured Ade Edmondson. This whole idea has never been revisited (or has it? - cue X-Files music) and dammit I would love to play a modern version. I'm sure a lot of you would too.
I spent hours upon hours playing Gravity Power and Hunter on the Amiga and I don't think I had ever proclaimed their virtues for the world to hear. Maybe part of me finds pleasure in indulging in a secret that the rest of the world somehow missed.
Obscurity is becoming rarer these days. I found everything I thought obscure on the internet in seconds....
I miss those games which had the personal rather then corporate touch. Those games have become rare indeed in the big budget world. It seems you need the big creative name to inspire quirky new gaming concepts (oh hai Mr Kojima) and that saddens me and directly diminishes our own obscure games of today. Now is that a bad thing? In the interests of new and exciting ideas... yes!
The only upside to the behemoth of modern gaming is the reinvention of "indie" gaming which is a good thing for all. Small low cost games that divert in other directions other then shiny graphical power and could well inspire future big budget gaming.
Will games such as Resonance of Fate, Haunting Ground, Folklore become someone's obscure classics in the future? With the holy power of internet it's pretty hard for even the most bizarre modern game to remain hidden... in fact games like "Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do To Deserve This?" flourish on the idea of it being one of those precious hidden gems ( I spoke of in my first paragraph)... we all know about Badman.
The long and short of this article is... does anyone remember an arcade game in the 16-bit era where you're a transforming side scrolling spaceship that transforms into a robot? You know.... like R-Type.... it's doing my head in...