Game developers are an ambitious bunch, constantly looking for ways to innovate and advance gameplay. They want to create games that you can interact with in as much depth as real life, games that offer as many possible choices and outcomes as life itself, they want to give players more ways of solving problems than the usual trigger-twitching one. All of which is very admirable, but sometimes their reach exceeds their grasp...
The Idea: A thriller that replaces the usual shooting, running and adrenaline with a staggering number of carefully considered and distinct interactions with the game environment, genuine tension and a set of story outcomes that will genuinely reflect how you played the game.
The Reality: A game that captures all the thrills of toothbrushing and grocery shopping, adds a few setpieces shamelessly derived from recent movies, demands ten hours of almost comedically mild joystick movements and button pushes, and offers a choice of endings that all have the same key element, scuppering any replay value.
The Idea: A thriller that replaces the usual shooting, running and adrenaline with a staggering number of carefully considered and distinct interactions with the game environment (bear with us, it is different from Heavy Rain, honest), and asks players to use their deductive skills rather than their trigger fingers to finish the game.
The Reality: At first glance L.A Noire has it all, a great city to drive around in, a moody soundtrack, and a plot far, far better than gamers are used to. Sadly, that plot has its own plot points to get to, tonnes of them, and it will get to them no matter what you do. If you play badly, the game will progress regardless, and if you play brilliantly and get everything right, the game will pull a screamingly obvious twist out of its arse and use it to invalidate all your good work. The player's contribution to this game is practically meaningless.
The Idea: A game loosely based on real events that takes the traditional locations of a World War II shooter and cleverly recasts them as the setting of a tense stealth adventure told from the viewpoint of an unreliable narrator struggling with terminal illness and morphine addiction.
The Reality: Poor AI, broken stealth mechanics and frequent gun battles undermine the basic stealth premise, while the somber, melancholic tone is undermined by the decision to pander to randy teenagers everywhere by having the protagonist run around in her nightie during the game’s ‘morphine’ phases.
The Idea: Halo is awesome, right? A speedy, armoured protagonist who battles an army of villains on a space station, that’s cool. And Gears of War is cool too-gigantic, gruff soldiers battling in a 3rd person perspective and using the environment for cover is great fun. A combination of the two will be the most awesome game ever!
The Reality: Armour, speed bursts, weapon choices, space stations and plenty of cover all combine to make a perfectly enjoyable but utterly nondescript shooter. A game that attempted to merge the best bits of two pivotal shooters is actually most memorable for the few things it did on its own: sci-fi versions of war film fixtures such as battling up hillsides and being charged by enemies hidden in the undergrowth. If only it had concentrated on those strengths rather than its bland characters and silly dialogue.
Fallout: New Vegas
The Idea: Take the existing epic that was Fallout, shift it a few thousand miles west and make the available missions dependent on the good or ill will you’ve built up with a number of different factions, resulting in a game where your actions will genuinely affect the storyline.
The Reality: You work hard, you polish your character, customise him or her with perks and take on an important job in the game, which you successfully complete. You’re greeted with a big sign that says “Quest Complete”. A sign which is promptly followed by six more signs saying “Quest Failed” as the game gleefully informs you of all the quest lines you’ve just closed out. And that’s not some late stage endgame-you’re barely out of the first act when this starts happening over and over. Your choice now is to break the immersion that RPGs depend on by reloading an earlier save, or to chug through the game time and time and time again until you’ve actually had a chance to play all of the content you’ve paid for, which would be fine if the game weren’t bugged to hell and slightly unbalanced, which makes replays far more of a grind than a joy. Stick to Fallout 3!
Way of the Samurai 3
The Idea: An open world game filled with competing factions, important characters and conversational options, all of which can influence your path through a short plot. Your every action can affect the final outcome of the game, and part of the joy is playing through time and again to discover all the potential story paths.
The Reality: Sadly, what you see onscreen isn’t nearly sophisticated enough to do justice to all the complex branching paths that unfold the plot. The open world is actually just several small locations. The ability to do affect the plot with any action isn’t matched by any reasonable signposting-your choices might affect the game, but you’ll make most of those choices completely blind. Worse still, there’s no way of knowing when or where you’re going to come into conflict with a vastly superior foe, meaning that hours of hard work can come to an end not through bad play, but just through random chance.