Both Halo and Assassin’s Creed have stories that extend outside the games, and both Halo 4 and Assassin’s Creed 3 try to bring some of that outside fiction into the games. In doing so, they both run into problems with narrative structure. It’s hard to transition a story from a book/comic to a video game while still making the game a standalone product. The game is forced to serve two masters. It has to be an effective independent story and an effective sequel. Essentially, the writers are writing two stories that have to parallel each other so closely that they feel like one. Neither Halo 4 or Assassin’s Creed 3 succeed all the way at doing this, but one succeeds more than the other.
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Good characters can enliven even the worst of stories, and the one thing better than watching good characters is watching good characters interact with each other. One of the best things about any BioWare game is the emergent conversations between characters. But that kind of adaptable incidental dialogue seems (to me, at least) solely the domain of the RPG, a genre that’s partly defined by your acquisition of a rotating roster of characters. The action game, on the other hand, seems defined by its linearity—all the way down to your party members. Binary Domain switches things up ever-so-slightly by applying the idea of squad choice to a very traditional cover-based third person shooter and the result is something of a revelation: a linear action game that feels significantly affected by my decisions.
All games are simulations. They use the cold, pure logic of mechanical systems to create warm emotional connections. It’s all a wonderful kind of manipulation, and when it works, it feels like magic. Journey is a great example of this kind of game, one that works its magic on the player whether we want it or not by reinforcing a certain thought process over and over again until the player unwittingly agrees to go along with it.
When I started Journey I didn’t want a cooperative experience: I actively avoided other people, I got angry at the mere sight of them, I didn’t want them solving my puzzles or showing me the way, yet by the end of the game I found myself chirping frantically for my lost companion, hoping he’d return.
In my review of Ni no Kuni I wrote that its style was its substance, and I figured I’d expand on that idea here.
Ni no Kuni tells a very classic kind of fairy tale adventure. It speaks in archetypes: the pure, unshakable hero, the corrupted villain, the comic sidekick, the seedy yet trustworthy rouge, who bickers with the kind-hearted female companion, and so on.
I thought I liked the ending of Mass Effect 3. While it wasn’t as great as it could have been, it’s not as bad as the controversy surrounding it made it seem. However, as more time passes, I find myself getting more and more upset with the game. In the time since I’ve beaten it, two pieces of DLC (the Extended Cut endings and Leviathan) have come out that significantly change the experience. There’s more plot, more mythology, more explanation about the things left hanging, and more importantly, story beats that I wasn’t made privy to initially. And that angers me. But when I really sit down and think about it, I don’t know why I’m angry. Yes, I’m missing out on content, but I was satisfied with the version of the game that I played. So, why do I still feel like I’m missing something? These pieces of DLC, regardless of how important they are to the plot and mythology of the series, are the equivalent of deleted scenes and alternate endings of a movie. I love deleted scenes and alternate endings but only as a curiosity, they don’t change my opinion of the movie itself. Yet the “deleted scenes” from Mass Effect 3 now have me questioning my original experience. So why do I care so much about deleted scenes and alternate endings in a game?