A lot of games this year have had great writing, from Portal 2 to L.A. Noire to (of course) Uncharted 3. But last year’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West remains one of the best written games I’ve ever played. Much of that stems from a script that goes out of its way to avoid exposition, always making sure to imply more than it explains. Two moments in particular stand out, and I still remember them vividly even a year after playing the game.
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Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare did a lot of things right, and many of those things have gone on to become staples of the military shooter genre. One such staple is “the AC-130 level” or some equivalent, a level that places you high in the air, above the action, away from danger, and enables you to rain down detached and impersonal destruction on your enemies. It was a wonderfully innovative level when it was first done and innovation can’t be copied, though many have tried. Most recently, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon and Battlefield 3 both tried their hand at this kind of level. One of them succeeds because it knows imitation can only take you so far, the other one fails because it copies all of the aesthetics but none of the substance from Call of Duty 4.
Character animation is a good way to evoke sympathy, display character, or define relationships. The best (or at least my favorite) example of this is 2008’s Prince of Persia. While cut scenes and optional bits of dialogue help convey the growing relationship between the Prince and Elika, most of these conversations are just for the sake of exposition. The real character development comes from their animations—specifically, how they interact with each other: How they move around each other while climbing and fighting suggests a couple that have an excellent working relationship, they know each other’s movements and can jump around without getting in each other’s way, the way they lock arms and spin around to switch places on a beam is more playful, suggesting more of their working relationship, etc.
Betas have become a popular marketing tool in recent years. It’s odd when you think about it. We praise “polished” games but jump through marketing hoops to play an unfinished one. Personally, I think it’s the industry’s insane demand for the new, New, NEW that drives us to consume that NEW thing even through it’s not actually complete. But that’s a discussion for another blog. For now, I’m more interested in what happens when this marketing train flies off the tracks.
This year we’ve had four major betas: Gears of War 3, Uncharted 3, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, and Battlefield 3, the latter of which has become a cautionary tale of how not to do a beta.
Death is rarely scary in games, mainly because it’s so common. As with anything else that we experience multiple times, death loses its impact. This is an obvious dilemma for horror games. Death is only scary when we don’t die. But when a horror game embraces this contradiction and helps the player stay alive for as long as possible, it becomes truly terrifying in a way that few games can manage.