Of all growing trends in videogames, the one I've noticed the most is the insistence upon open-world settings or nonlinear adventures. I'm not complaining for the most part, I tend to like Open-world action games like inFAMOUS
because they give you the option to go off the beaten track and collect orbs or do side missions; break the tension between story missions. However, sometimes, it can be quite bothersome, such as in FarCry2
and Red Faction: Guerrilla
where the driving becomes absolutely tedious and obsolete.
However, I'm not here to talk about Open-world games, but quite the opposite; linear adventures. It seems that the biggest complaints levied against purely single player experiences is the lack of multiplayer or the linear design. Now, the lacking multiplayer is a purely economic complaint, as the lack of said multiplayer has no effect upon the narrative and gameplay of the single player game. However, since it's a critic's job to "review" a game, a part of which is measuring it's economic value, I won't complain too much.
However, it blows my mind that people carp about overtly linear design. Many people say they feel constrained or "on rails" when playing a purely linear game, which is an odd complaint to me. When I play a game, the way I approach it and play it is based upon it's design concepts; I don't go into Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
hoping that I'll get a helicopter to surf above the jungle. In Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
looking for an open-world space setting. I'm looking to play a game that is very specifically designed and paced, which I feel is an advantage of linear experiences.
I recently played Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
(I don't own it, but I played about 4 hours of it), which is a purely linear adventure. The game is paced in a way that it gives you these incredible set pieces with great action mixed with kind of quiet parts based upon fun platforming and some minor stealth (The purly stealth section is awful...). It's the changes in pace that really highlight why linear games still have a place in today's market; they are able to control/illicit certain emotions and such much more effectively since they have complete control over where you go and what occurs around you.
The freedom is in the player to accomplish these tasks however they like, and that I think is something that open-world games often advertise but don't really capitalize on. A very big complaint of FarCry 2
is that the game is laconically paced, and as such gets very tedious very quickly. This is because there are basically no set piece moments or areas that are specifically designed for certain actions. Sure, you can take the route of "you make your own set piece", but these moments, while more spontaneous and natural, don't feel as nuanced or frequent.
Take for example Uncharted 2: Among Thieve
's train section, where you have to take out enemies by taking advantage of the curving of the train tracks. It's brilliant, and it's extremely fun and exhilarating, and it's just one of the many moments of the game that do such an action-packed set piece. Since the game is designed around the set pieces, they flow and play incredibly well, where as in open-world games, the missions are made to fit the game, meaning there is much more freedom in how you can accomplish the goal more often than not, but the variety and spontaneity of the moments is severely lacking compared to linear games like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Now, I am not a person that judges a game's merits off of graphics alone or really almost at all, but nonetheless, the linear experience also allows developers to create a much better-looking, bug-free experience that will not distract players form the gameplay. Take Prototype
for instance, which is a very fun, if not flawed, open-world game. Even though it was released in 2009, it looks much worse than Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
, which was released in 2007. Now, many games do not look anywhere near as good as Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
, but that's the beauty of it.
With a linear game, developers are able to accomplish much more than open-world games because of the games singular nature. Take Grand Theft Auto IV
for instance; as it stands, this is easily one of the best-looking open world games, if not the best-looking open world game, of 2007. However, even still, it couldn't compare to other linear games in many respects; textures, especially inside environments, were mushy and blended into one another, animations were sometimes down-right terrible (playing pool, executions, etc.)
Now, these days, they're looking much better, like inFAMOUS
, which is probably the best example, but even that game has it's problems; pop-in textures plagued collection, characters looked blocky and unnatural up close, and then there are the glitches. This is the biggest problem with almost any open-world games presentation; bugs and glitches. I don't think I need to go into the many times people would walk into/onto one another in Grand Theft Auto IV
, or how often in inFAMOUS
you would get stuck between geometry.
The main point is that linear games still have a place in today's market; not everything has to have a nonlinear/open-world aspect. Most of the time, the mechanic just feels tacked on anyways, like Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
(count 'em) open-world areas where you can do side missions. Why wasn't this applied to the rest of the game? Because linearity is still valid. NOt everything has to offer up this element of freedom, which basically amounts to a drive between story missions.
When done well, open-world design is an attractive thing, but in the same way, so is linearity. While non-linearity gives the player freedom to do what they want, when they want, linearity gives the designer the freedom to do the what they want, when they want, and just like film and music, it's always a treat to experience something that someone else's creative mind can bring us. Not every game has to be a Choose you own adventure affair; sometimes when the adventure is given to you, a pre-determined path can offer up some of the most brilliant gameplay and scenarios you'll play in a game.
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