Is Gameplay Holding Back Games?

Throughout the video game history, gameplay and graphics have come a long way and we’ve seen tremendous leaps, but is it enough?

40 years ago there was the legendary Pong, in 2001 the groundbreaking Grand Theft Auto 3 came out, and this year we were graced with not one but two masterpieces by way of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us and Irrational’s BioShock Infinite.

All of these games will still be seen as milestones in the next 20 years, but for different reasons. Pong is a given, it almost singlehandedly started the gaming trend, GTA3 brought us the “sandbox” or open world genre…

As well as the infamous “pay, slay and drive away” method
And the infamous “pay, slay and drive away” method

…but The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite –while superb in terms of gameplay, graphics, etc.– grabbed you because they transcended mere games and evolved into works of art. They had souls.

Driven by story, characters and emotion, these titles were moved along by gameplay –I mean by definition, thats what you do with a game– but it also served as their handicap.

The Last of Us ripped you out of an investing story by friendly AI running in front of enemies, making noise and dealing with the horribly placed boss-like enemies, and making you think “Well, yeah, this is a video game, so…”; and it sucked.

BioShock Infinite, like its previous game –I’m not counting BioShock 2, because BioShock 2– you’re dropped you into a beautifully crafted environment with its own history and people that you couldn’t get enough of. The problem is that you explored and unfolded the narrative from the tacked on first-person shooter perspective.

Now, I’m not saying that the gameplay didn’t fit their stories, The Last of Us was all about post-apocalyptic survival and you were battling militant religious freaks in BioShock, but there were moments where it could have been any FPS dropped into the amazing setting.

"Sorry man, can’t hear your story over my Monster-drenched testosterone."
“Sorry man, can’t hear your story over my Monster-drenched testosterone.”

Another story-driven title that you may have heard of named Heavy Rain knew what it was; an interactive drama, and Quantic Dream crafted its gameplay accordingly. Most people I know hate QTE’s (Quick Time Events), but its hard to argue that it didn’t work for Heavy Rain.

While God of War’s QTE system requires you to hit the buttons popping up on the screen to form a mythical creature killing combo, Heavy Rain took advantage of the idea and molded it to their use; tapping buttons and directions to fight an enemy through jabs and dodges or swaying the controller to aggressively drive through traffic, instead of supplying controller layouts for combat and driving. There was an active participation in the story, you didn’t just sit back and appeasing the game in order to progress.

Press X for victory. Literally.
Press X for victory. Literally.

I’m also not saying that The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite should have been Heavy Rain-esque QTE-ridden games, but draping a FPS in the garb of storytelling perfection may have not been the best route. There is always another way and perhaps a better way could have been found for these two games.

I also understand that gamers want the power in their hands. For instance cut scenes can kill a game, especially when it involves actions you could carry out yourself (cough, Assassin’s Creed 3, cough) but too much can do the same.

Locking me inside a gym so I can run around in circles and use all my ammo on a bloater when my friends could have easily pulled me up to the window is unnecessary and laughably predictable –for a Resident Evil game.

Introduced in classic B-movie fashion, no less
Introduced in a classic B-movie fashion, no less

It’s those moments when I yell at the screen “Are you serious, you’re too good for this sh*t!” as I half-assed-ly progress through the spot, wasting all of my supplies in a game that so adamantly depends on conservation.

This is shaping up to be the golden age of video game storytelling, for crying out loud. I’m fine with having to mow down a legion of ADAM abusers with a shotgun, so long as the story calls for it, but let’s maybe not revolve the gaming world around it. We’ve got to change sometime, this won’t keep cutting it.

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