Heavy Rain: Awkward Start, Great Finish

Heavy Rain box artMy first impressions of Heavy Rain weren’t great. After a protracted installation session, I was wholly underwhelmed by the game’s glacier-slow and mind-numbingly tedious opening (see earlier post). However, Sir Gaulian assured me that the game picks up, and I’m glad I stuck with it.

For a start, it’s a film noir thriller, and I’m a sucker for film noir: over at 101 Films You Should Have Seen… Probably, we’ve eagerly covered all sorts of representatives of the genre, from the 70s noir revival Chinatown to the 90s sci-fi noir Dark City, with a bit of Lynchian psycho-horror noir thrown in for good measure. Heavy Rain is noir to its core, and it delivers a satisfying and convoluted story that throws in plenty of twists and red herrings to keep you on your toes. It’s also paced particularly well: although it starts off a bit too slow, the action builds nicely towards a breathtaking and satisfying crescendo.

The controls are a bit of a sticking point, however. I believe the aim of the control scheme was to mimic the actions taking place on screen: for example, to make Madison Paige put on lipstick, the game directs you to slowly move the analogue stick in a semi-circle. For most of the time you’ll be wandering around just matching inputs like this, but every now and then an action sequence will pop up where you have to match the command that appears within seconds to, say, dodge a punch. So, a bit like Dragon’s Lair, then. Later on, the consequences of missing these commands can be serious – your character can die permanently, and in fact I ended up doing a few quick restarts in an attempt to get Jayden through to the finale.

Sam Douglas is excellent as private detective Scott Shelby.

Sam Douglas is excellent as private detective Scott Shelby.

I have mixed feelings about this control system. If the aim of the controls was to develop more of a connection between your input and what happens on screen, then I think it has failed. If anything, the controls drive a wedge between the player and the game – I never really felt like I was controlling what was happening, more like a monkey pressing buttons in expectation of a reward. As such, it was more difficult to develop an attachment to the character I was ostensibly meant to ‘be’. Also, the decision to control walking by holding down R2 and then pressing in a direction with the left analogue stick is absurd. For the life of me I can’t work out why they didn’t just map movement to the analogue stick alone: why make us press R2 as well? It’s certainly not more immersive: half the time I found myself walking into walls as I wrestled with the controls.

However, I did quite enjoy the action sequences in the end. I’m not normally a fan of QTEs in games, but here there were some moments where my heart was really pounding as I desperately tried to follow the prompts on screen, knowing that if I failed, my character might not make it to the end of the game. There prompts are also set at a very well-thought-out level of timing – just forgiving enough to make them possible at first try, but still hard enough to make you really concentrate.

But, again, I did feel that in some way I was being robbed of control. The ‘decisions’ I made in the game often just game down to how quickly I mashed a button, so really it was more about reactions than decisions. I think the TellTale games did this a little better, providing you with clear, timed choices. L.A. Noire also bears some striking similarities to Heavy Rain, but I prefer the way that the former approaches controls: in that game you always feel like you’re in complete control of what’s happening, whereas in Heavy Rain there’s sometimes a bit of a disconnect.

There’s also a bit of unintentional comedy, not least with the whole ‘Press X to Jason’ thing, as well as a highly gratuitous shower scene that seemed to serve absolutely no purpose as far as I could see. But overall I enjoyed the game a lot more than I thought I would – it’s certainly a daring experiment, and I can see how other games have been hugely influenced by it.

The alternative reality glasses that FBI agent Jayden uses are a great idea - they could make a whole game using this mechanic.

The alternative reality glasses that FBI agent Jayden uses are a great idea – they could make a whole game using this mechanic.

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“Am I sexist?” – Far Cry 4 made me question my own gender biases

AmigaFarCry4The following contains spoilers of Far Cry 4’s plot.

Amidst the civil war raging in Kyrat is a more subtle but just as important war, one where tradition is being pitted against progress.  On the surface it is a war of ideals.  The people of Kyrat’s resistance, the Golden Path, isn’t just at war with Pagan Min, it’s at war with its past and its cultural foundation.  And through the eyes of Ajay Ghale, you are caught in the middle, choosing between the purity of Sabal’s ties to the traditional Kyrat, and the progressive views held by the Amita.  You’ll be choosing whether to harvest drugs to build the economy, or to destroy the crops to uphold the values of the resistance.  It is very much a game built on morals and standards, answering the question of “progress, but at what cost?”.  It adds a layer of narrative complexity, sitting right alongside its portrayal of culture and religion

But hidden underneath all of that, Far Cry 4 presents an incredible exploration of sexism and gender roles, and what is means to have a society built on male superiority.  More importantly, it made me question my own values and inherent gender biases.

Am I sexist?  

Do I have a gender bias?

These questions forced me to take a very uncomfortable look at myself.  And what I found wasn’t flattering.

I chose my side early on, justifying my siding with the male leader of the Golden Path, the charismatic Sabal, on my fierce opposition to drugs. Amita was forward-thinking, considering about economic autonomy once Kyrat was a free state, and the vast poppy crops would bring that autonomy.  It was rational, but was it moral?  Progress?  Sure. But again at what cost.    I didn’t necessarily agree with restoring Kyrat to a time where child brides were commonplace, the so-called “dark ages, but nor did I condone an economy built on illicit drugs. And so I found it easy to justify my decisions, feeling like I was making the right decisions even when I saw logic in Amita’s arguments.  It was an uneasy, but logical moral choice, and one I was happy to ‘live’ with.

“I was six years old when my parents told me I had to marry.  Six.  That’s the world Sabal is fighting for”

- Amita

But it was once the issue of gender came up directly that I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I was making my decision based on the person and not the ideal.  And the further I played, the more I committed to Sabal’s traditional version of Kyrat, the more I realised that it wasn’t about what was “right” for the people, it was about playing favourites. Sure  I found Sabal more sincere, less emotional, and more rational.  But perhaps more importantly I found Sabal more appealing.

“Do you think it was easy?  Being the first woman in the Golden Path?”

- Amita

And it was the point where gender roles came into it that I realised that perhaps it was the fact that Sabal was male played a part in his appeal.  Amita’s appeals for progress suddenly started falling on deaf ears, and her appeal to my own sense of gender equity and fairness through confiding in me of her plight of being the first woman in the golden path, started to feel desperate.  “She’s trying to get sympathy, but she’s wrong”, I thought, justifying my position through what I considered an emotional weakness.  “Isn’t she?”.

It wasn’t until Sabal verbalised my views that I fully realised just how sexist my thought process was:

“…And I bet she cried on your shoulder.  Did she give you that sop story about being the first woman in the Golden Path?…She didn’t fool you did she brother?”

- Sabal

It was a sop story, an appeal to my emotions, and in my mind whether I knew it or not, Amita’s strength was weakened by her stories of ingrain sexism. To me, Sabal was the strong male leader, the person not basing his decisions on emotions, not caught up on the internal fight he was having to prove himself or his gender.  He appealed to the very masculine view of society, one that favoured males in positions of powers, and as the stronger and more rational gender.  But this wasn’t a conscious decision making process, rather an almost automatic and inherent gender bias that affects my decision making process. Whether Sabal was or wasn’t morally right was irrelevant, it was that he was a male that swayed my decision to back him.  And that’s absolutely wrong.

So am I sexist?  I’ve come to realise that the answer may sadly be a very uncomfortable “yes”.  But not because I don’t believe in equality for women, or very strongly dismiss traditional gender roles in society, but because sexism and stereotyping based on gender is so heavily but subtly ingrained in society that it’s almost impossible not to inadvertently take on some of the biases.  I’m not proud of any gender bias I may have – in fact I outwardly oppose it – but I’m glad that a video game was able to force me into a moment of introspection.  Even if it meant realising a less than flattering aspect of my personality.  Sexism is everywhere and Far Cry 4 is perhaps the smartest exploration of gender identity around.

SabalFarCry4

 

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On Far Cry 4: How the plight of Kyrat’s people taught me the importance of protection of religious freedom

FarCry4The following may contain mild spoilers of Far Cry 4’s plot.  For the hypersensitive, consider yourself warned.

I grew up in a very unreligious household.  There was no anti-religious sentiment – after all I was only a generation removed from the anglo-christian upbringing of my grandparents in Europe – but there was certainly a dearth of religious text and learnings in the house.  In fact that’s pretty commonplace in Australia, a country where I know more people that have never been to church than those who have, and where religion isn’t something that defines us for a society.  It’s an upbringing that I’m proud of in some respects, but one that in other ways, has left me with a significant hole in understanding of the world around me.  Religion is derided in many corners of the modern world, but it would be remiss of anyone to admit to its importance as a building block toward the modern freedom and civil obedience we en masse enjoy in the western.  And in some parts of the world it’s still an enormous part of their culture and identity.

In the current global climate it’s a difficult thing to understand, and as someone who has no point of reference, I find it slightly unnerving the unwavering devotion of one’s self to religious idealism and beliefs.  When manifested in its physical form, as a proponent of the protection of human history, I understand the outrage at the irreversible destruction of ancient religious artefacts and places.  But protection of these very same places as the destruction of spiritually relevant landmarks with personal and intrinsic value is not something I can understand. Australian society may place significant value on the intrinsic (and monetary) value of places, but we lack the sort of spiritual connection to land and places that many societies have, including the strong inbuilt connection our own indigenous people have to this country.  We may sympathise but I’m not sure we’ll ever empathise.  It’s just the nature of modern western society.

My time in Far Cry 4’s Kyrat, a place steeped in religious connection to the land and to the people, opened my eyes to spiritual devotion.  It’s no secret that I think Far Cry 4 offers an interesting insight into other cultures, but that vein of rich world building runs deeper than it appears, arguably overshadowing the amazing action experience the game delivers.  Kyrat is a world of political oppression, of dictatorship, but more importantly one of religious persecution.  It’s not uncommon for tyrannical leaders to use religion as a tool to indoctrinate or persecute populations, and the charismatic Pagan Min is no different.  He holds onto power by outlawing religion, by disempowering the population, and through military might through those that oppose him.  For a man that has so little air time in the game itself, Pagan Min is one of the most defined video game characters in recent memory, mostly due to the brilliant ambient and environmental storytelling.  Everything from the notes found around the world, to the Government sanctioned ramblings of religious prohibition permeating the airwaves, Kyrat is an oppressed society and its people have lost part of their spirit.

And conversations with Golden Path leaders Amita and Sabal reveal a people that are fighting not only against a maniacal dictator, but are fighting to protect their own religious identities and their own spiritual connection with Kyrat.  And it’s the missions that revolve around the latter that really hit the fact home that religion is intrinsic to the social fabric of Kyrat.  Nothing hit that home like watching the destruction of age-old religious icons, the sleeping saints, at the hands of Pagan Min’s military, as they watch with glee at crumbling statues.  Or desperately repelling the attack on the Chal Jama monastery against waves of heavily armed men intent on destroying the home of the nation’s polytheistic religion.  The plight of the people Kyrat already provided the motivation to fight for freedom, but nothing compared to the desperation protecting the nation’s religious identity and spirituality evoked, or the sense of satisfaction at succeeding to do so.  It wasn’t just fighting for a thousand year old statue, or an ancient place of worship, but rather it was protecting the spirit of the people and their connection to the life they live.

And it was at that moment I understood, perhaps not empathised, but at least understood the plight of societies where religion is intrinsic to their identity.   It gave the fight meaning, it gave the fight context, but most of all it gave the world a level humanity I’ve seldom experienced in a video game.  I’m not a religious person, and in all likelihood will never be, but it’s amazing that a game that prides itself on being a shooter above all else could give me a greater insight into the importance of religion in the fabric of some societies.  I’ll always remember the charismatic Pagan Min and his sprawling battle with the Golden Path rebellion. But for me Far Cry 4 will always be about fighting to protect the freedom of the people of Kyrat and the importance of protecting religious freedom, both in the game, and in real life.

Far Cry® 4_20141123110056

 

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The Gaming Bar of my Dreams

I was in London the other week for work, and after reading about a bar called ‘Loading’ in Dalston on Kotaku UK, I was keen to see the place for myself. Ian (of 101 Films You Should Have Seen fame) and I headed along one Thursday evening to check it out.

IMG_2387When we walked in, it was fairly quiet, but there were a few tables occupied by dedicated board game players who were engrossed in their gaming, and the bar gradually filled up as the evening wore on. The bar has an impressive selection of up-to-date board games, including the newly released X-COM board game, which I’ve been dying to play. As dedicated X-COM fans, we were tempted to play it there and then, but really it’s a game that requires a team of people. Maybe next time.

The cocktail list was pretty hilarious. Apparently they sometimes take commissions from publishers to make new cocktails based on upcoming games, which seems like an ingenious marketing ploy. We opted for ale in the end, but I couldn’t help but admire some of the brilliant punnery on the menu. Earthworm Gin has to be my favourite.

Newest_Menu-2Downstairs is where the real action happens. Not only have they got an Xbox One and PS4 with a tonne of games, there’s a Super NES tucked in the corner with a collection of fantastic cartridges that made our eyes bulge. We spent a goodly chunk of time playing Micro Machines, but I was amazed by the broad selection of games available, including a few absolute classics that I’d almost forgotten about, like Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters.

It was quite odd to be playing the SNES again. There’s a satisfying mechanical quality to it that is entirely missing from modern gaming machines. The spring-loaded pop as you press the cartridge eject button has no equivalent on the latest consoles – as we head further and further into the digital future, this kind of satisfying physicality is becoming all but lost. It was also gratifying to play games that loaded almost instantly – no waiting around for OS systems to boot up or patches to download, just straight into the gaming.

The Holy Grail.

The Holy Grail.

Probably the highlight, however, was an arcade cabinet that had dozens and dozens of classic 1980s games, all set on free play. After dabbling with Ms Pac Man and 1942, we ended up getting settled into an intense high score contest on Galaga that must have gone on for at least 3 hours. It was a sharp reminder of just how addictive and brilliant that game is, and how online leaderboards are really no substitute for standing next to a mate and jeering/applauding their high score attempts.

Ian attempts to beat my high score on Galaga.

Ian attempts to beat my high score on Galaga.

It was interesting to see the broad range of people that were in the bar. There were some seriously geeky-looking chaps on the ground floor who were very much into whatever game they were playing on their laptops (I think it was Hearthstone), but elsewhere there was a mix of pretty normal-looking young men and women, mostly playing card games like Fluxx. Interestingly, there were also some laddish types in suits who spent most of the evening playing FIFA on the Xbox – a good indication of how games appeal across a broad spectrum these days.

All in all it was a fantastic place to go for a drink, and I’m hoping the idea of gaming bars catches on across the country – I wish there had been places like this when I was at university. The only trouble I could see was that we spent so much time playing the games that drinking was almost an afterthought – I think we only had about three pints in the whole evening. Perhaps that’s the trouble with running a gaming bar, everyone’s just having too much fun…

They even had a DOOM Piano, although unfortunately it wasn't turned on. If you look closely, you can see that the various keys control firing, strafing, etc.

They even had a DOOM Piano, although unfortunately it wasn’t turned on. If you look closely, you can see that the various keys control firing, strafing, etc.

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The Political Machine: Kickstarter and the changing landscape of the games industry

Election_PicFlickI feel like we’re only a small sneeze away from having opinion polls in the games industry.  It’s a popularity contest, a preferred Prime Minister racer, a two-party preferred poll.  It’s indies versus the mainstream, hardcore versus the casual, high flyer versus the new comer.  And with the bankrolling of large publicly listed companies, the games industry has become a political machine.

The products of the companies are increasingly being sidelined in favour of clever public relations and marketing campaigns, or worse, unrelenting onslaughts of charisma.  They say the right things, at the right time, to the right people.  And there is no shortage of people to spread the message, and the media fights for its share of the declining readership and advertising revenue.  The games industry isn’t immune to the impact of the 24 hour news cycle, and it’s forcing developers to fight over every bit of air time, in a war of the gaming public’s mindshare.

Their mindshare and, of course, part of their contestable discretionary income.

After months of hard campaigning and clever catch phrases release day is here. The voting public go to their local retailer to cast their vote. It’s finally election day, with the pollsters counting up the votes, delivering their verdict.  Years of hard work comes down to this.  A single number.  The number that will decide the next few years for the team.  Succeed and there’s a mandate for future projects.  But fail and it’s back to the drawing board.

Of course along the way there are always slip ups.  The private uttering of the “f-word” or the “c-word” that the microphone picks up, lofty promises that don’t stand up to journalistic scrutiny, or uncertainty over the price of downloadable content in the future.  It all comes down to messaging, developing a product that the public will buy, and ultimately about how marketable a product, a team, an individual is.  In the blink of an eye it can all come crashing down, approval ratings plummet, and the competition starts to look like a viable alternative.

With shareholders involved, risk aversion sets in, and business as usual means appealing to the greatest number of people possible.  It’s less about ideals, and more about hoteling’s law, positioning yourself as close to the opposition as possible with a few token differentiators.  In Australian politics this is the Labor and Liberal parties.  In video games this is Electronic Arts and Activision.   For some though, this convergence of the party political leads to disillusionment and disenfranchisement with the major players.  What then?

The rise of the micro party, the indie developer, the little guys that stand for principles and ideals.  The Australian political landscape has been peppered by these throughout its history, from the rise of the Democrats in the mid to late nineties to the recent revival of the Greens movement achieving record votes across all jurisdictions.  For games it’s the rise of the meteoric rise of indies, out to capture that point of differentiation the major publishers and developers and missing, to restore people’s faith in the industry.  For some, like Vlambeer, it’s an organic extension of their core beliefs and success comes accordingly.  But for others, it’s about living up to a myth, about living up to being the ‘alternative’, for being about ideals unencumbered with the need to deliver to shareholder expectations, instead trading on consumer goodwill and buy-in.  Kickstarter is just the tangible manifestation of this.

And for the latter, the cycle continues, as they feed the 24 hour news cycle hoping to grab attention and mindshare of the consumer.  Just like the big businesses it becomes about PR and messaging, massaging the media vying for that next headline.  The election cycle begins at the Kickstarter campaign and ends once the product ships.  Succeed and you’re a god.  But fail and you’re media fodder and political collateral.

And that’s sadly been the story for 22Cans, and Peter Molyneux’s approval rating couldn’t be lower.

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New 3DS: First Impressions

The wait is over. I finally have my hands on a limited edition Monster Hunter 4 new 3DS XL, and it’s beautiful. I mean, look at it. So, so shiny. It excites.

And not only is it a looker, it’s a powerful beast, too. Already I’ve noticed that it loads games considerably faster than the old version, and I no longer have to wait precious seconds while the game icons populate the menu screens. A small change, but a definite improvement.

It's so... so... SHINY.

It’s so… so… SHINY.

Perhaps the biggest improvement, however, is the 3D. The new 3DS now tracks your eyes and adjusts the 3D effect to compensate: no longer does the image begin doubling or blurring in response to the slightest tilt of your head, and this has made an enormous difference. Whereas before I might only turn on the 3D once in a blue moon, now I have it on all the time. And I’m impressed by how robust the tracking is – turn your head away and then back and the screen readjusts in a fraction of a second to realign with your eyes. Finally the 3DS lives up to its name.

It’s great to have a second analogue stick too – the right-hand ‘nubbin’ works like the mouse pointer on an old IBM Thinkpad, and it’s surprisingly responsive considering that it doesn’t move. It works brilliantly with Monster Hunter, and the positioning of the stick is much more intuitive than the clunky old 3DS Circle Pad Pro, which used to give me gamer’s claw after long sessions. That clumsy experiment in pad design can now safely be consigned to the dustbin of gaming history.

But although I’m impressed with my new 3DS, the process of buying it and setting it up was unnecessarily tortuous. I preordered it from GAME to take advantage of their offer on trading in my old 3DS, and on Friday afternoon I headed down to the store armed with a type 0 screwdriver, a new microSD card and a PC for transferring the SD cards (for more on the ridiculous hoops new 3DS owners are forced to jump through, see this post).

The store was incredibly busy. Then when I got to the front of the queue, I was informed that customers were being told that they would have to pay the full cost of the new 3DS and then come in the next day to trade in their old 3DS because the transfer process takes “4 hours” ( a figure seemingly plucked out of thin air). I disputed this, saying that actually it’s much quicker if you transfer using a PC, and that even if I was to do the transfer by Wi-Fi, Nintendo say that transferring 4GB would take around 2 hours. But they insisted, and said that the Wi-Fi in the store was “patchy”. By this point I was getting a bit annoyed at the thought of having to come back the next day (Valentine’s Day, no less). But then the store assistant said I would be getting “credit” when I came back to trade in my old 3DS.

“Hold on, credit?” I said. “I thought I was getting cash?”

I explained that I didn’t want credit, as I wasn’t planning to spend 70-odd pounds in GAME in the near future – times are tight, after all, and I already have a mountain of games to play. This discussion went on for some time, until eventually the manager came over and said that actually I would be getting cash, and the store assistant was misinformed.

That wasn’t the only misinformation floating about, either. When I schlepped back into the store the next day, I found out that I would be getting £55 for the 3DS, not the £85 I was told originally (when I preordered, I was told I would get the £209.99 special edition for £124.99 when I traded in, but it turns out the assistant was reading the price for trading in against the regular new 3DS XL, not the special edition). And then I got told I’d have to trade in the power cable for my old 3DS as well. This despite the fact that on two previous occasions I’d been told by assistants in the same shop that I’d be able to keep the cable to use with my new 3DS XL (which doesn’t come with one).

Eventually they relented on the cable, but by this point I was already feeling pretty put out after having to go back to the store a second time and having to argue my case both times. I don’t appreciate being made to feel like I’m in the wrong, especially when I’m right. As I watched the store assistant turn his back to me and start fiddling around with my 3DS (presumably to test it, although he didn’t say that, he just turned around unannounced and left me staring at his back for five minutes), I was left astounded that despite the chain almost being thrown into financial oblivion a while back, GAME still hasn’t improved its notoriously poor customer service. Indeed, when I worked there many years ago, the attitude from management was very much that customers were there to be shaken down for every penny they’re worth.

Setting up my new 3DS was fairly tricky (involving a 16-step process, followed by downloading MH4U again), but it was a damn sight easier than buying the bloody thing in the first place.

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On Adventure Games – from obscurity, to the silent revolutionary, and the right bloody obvious

BrokenSword2It was probably about 10 years ago that people were crying out for a return of the Adventure game.  Driven by a perception that a bit of creative bankruptcy had perhaps set in, and the release of the stylus-driven Nintendo DS seemingly a perfect fit for the genre, all eyes were turning to the past in search of a nice bit of nostalgia and a life jacket to save us from drowning in first person shooters.  As sincere as it was at the time, I’m not sure anyone was in any way shape or form cheering for the genre’s rise back to the top of the pile, and if they were like me they were probably caught a bit off guard by just that eventuating.

I have never made it any sort of secret about the fact that  The Secret of Monkey Island is one of my favourite games, probably a product of the fact that it was an enormously popular genre at the time and that it was ridiculously funny game that really appealed to my childhood sensibilities.  But whether the game holds up or not is another story, and if my recent attempts to play through it are anything to go by, it may not be the timeless comedic classic people like me thought it would be. It’s still good, very good in factbut perhaps not great (although I’m not quite as negative as Lucius on the matter).

And things only got worse as things went on as puzzles went from slightly offbeat to nonsensical.  While things weren’t much better for its peers, it was LucasArts that suffered most from what was either the ambition or misguidance of making intricate and overly clever sequences.  Stumbling upon intricate solutions to difficult problems was always the draw for playing these games, but as trial and error became more and more prevalent, it became less and less satisfying. That mentality behind the design of these games hit its peak at Grim Fandango, and so while it may have been a swansong for the genre, it was also the best sign yet that adventure games had well and truly passed their prime. So while it is a classic, it is certainly a heavily caveated one.

Somehow though, the Broken Sword series managed to sidestep the minefields everyone else seemed to willingly walk into, while still maintaining what made adventure games such an appealing prospect for more than a decade.  It was intelligent and thoughtful without being obscure, and funny without the need to be weird. Fast forward a few years to the Game Boy Advance, and an unlikely port of Broken Sword to the portable system fixed streamlined the game’s control system, for mine making it at the time the definitive version of the game, and possibly the best example of the genre. Direct control of the character wasn’t a new thing, but the ability to cycle through points of interaction with the GBA shoulder buttons was a welcome addition.  Broken Sword was never devilishly difficult, but in working with the limitations of Nintendo’s handheld, the developers managed to sow the seeds of a silent revolution that wouldn’t begin in earnest until much later.  It became a journey, something akin to a good Tintin novel.  And so while it was an admirable – nay masterful – attempt at keeping adventure games relevant by bringing them to an enormous and diverse GBA audience, the genre disappeared.

For a while at least.  Telltale Games is credited with bringing back the genre from the brink of extinction, and while 2012’s Walking Dead was the first big mainstream hit, for years it had been leading the charge in a miniature renaissance for the genre.  Zombies were big, the Walking Dead was bigger, and Telltale Games was practically hitching a ride on a pile of already free-flowing money.  Adventure games were back and they were bigger than before.

But for me, something was missing.  While the rest of the world fell in love with The Walking Dead, I found myself struggling to claw my way through episodes.  I played through Episode 1 over a lazy Sunday afternoon and left unfulfilled.  A year later, again on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I played my way through Episode 2.  By Episode 3 I decided it was all over.  “I like the Walking Dead comics.  I should love this”  I thought to myself.  With everything that killed adventure games in their heyday fixed, from the clunky interface to the shithouse puzzles, it seemed like a done deal.  So what went wrong?

Quite simply it was bloody obvious.  The solutions to puzzles were bloody obvious.  The story beats were bloody obvious.  The character relationships were bloody obvious.  I never felt like I was outsmarting the game in so much as I was going along for a ride, with the only real points of interest being the choices that were made throughout the course of the game.  It was a Choose Your Own Adventure game come to life.  But without agency in the characters all I was left with was a story that brought no surprises.

The revival of the genre left me with somewhat of a bitter taste in my mouth.  While the things that drove me away from the genre were gone, a vacuum had formed around the absence all the things that made adventure games so special in the first place, leaving something that resembled a visual novel more than an adventure game.  And a predictable one at that.  After years of being an adventure game apologist I’ve finally come to realise that we can never go back to those heady days where adventure games were king.  But if the way forward means stripping the brain out entirely and replacing it with heart then, for me at least, adventure games as a mainstream genre died out long ago.

At least I’ll always have that copy of Broken Sword for the Game Boy Advance.

BrokenSwordCinematic

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