There?s been a lot of negativity in my posts, of late. To prove I?m not just a cynical, tightly-packed ball of hatred, sarcasm, and bitterness, I?m going to shift gears. Let?s focus on something a bit more positive, shall we?
As I?ve said before; a good narrative is, for me, one of the most important elements of a game. I?ve suffered through games that were downright awful simply because the storyline compelled me to keep forging ahead. When a title has a great storyline backing it, it somehow seems to just make everything?well, better.
Writing a good story isn?t easy, though ? I?m sure many of you know that from experience. In spite of this; developers have, over the few years that the industry?s been around, woven some downright incredible tales. Here are just a few of the ones I?ve encountered.
Don?t hate me of I don?t include your title on the list ? just give me a shout in the comments below.
[heading]Heavy Rain: [/heading]
First up is Quantic Dream?s (yes, that Quantic Dream) Heavy Rain. I?ll be honest- I?m usually not a fan of titles that don?t sprinkle in a hint of the supernatural (I think, perhaps, that I?ve had a few too many negative experiences). Heavy Rain, though?.
To put it bluntly, Heavy Rain was goddamn incredible. Everything about the writing ? the story, the characters, and the rather shocking twist towards the end ? was incredible. It?s hard to believe that the developer behind the total mind-screw of Indigo Prophecy could have developed a game like this, but with Heavy Rain; Quantic Dream has secured a spot as one of my favorite developers.
[heading]Knights of the Old Republic: [/heading]
While George Lucas was off bastardizing the series with the new trilogy, BioWare and LucasArts took the franchise in an entirely different direction ? one which was blessedly absent of that vile, hell-spawned abomination; Jar Jar Binks. The game feels like a classic Star Wars film in all the right ways, and your party members are all both entertaining and likeable (even the whiny, oft-cantankerous Carth). I?m actually fighting off the urge to play through it again as I write this.
I?m not even sure where to start with this one. For one, that it placed so little emphasis on combat was incredibly unusual for the time (particularly given the nature of every other D&D game that released with it). Morte is a downright hilarious companion (although a surprisingly deep one, if you play through to the end); and the game is one that actually tests the player?s thoughts, convictions, and values. If you haven?t played it yet, you should ? you?re missing out.
[heading]The Walking Dead: The Game: [/heading]
How can you tell if someone?s played Telltale Games? Walking Dead: The Game? Simply say something like ?For Clementine? and gauge their reaction.
Yes, zombies are very overdone in popular culture right now. Yes, everyone and his uncle seem to be interested in making zombie games. Keep reading though, and I?ll blow your mind: Walking Dead: The Game is actually good. It?s a point-and-click adventure which places you in the shoes of a fellow named Lee. Shortly after the zombie apocalypse strikes, he meets up with a young girl named Clementine: the two develop a sort of surrogate father-daughter relationship.
I challenge you to play through the game?s episodes without developing at least some emotional attachment to that girl, or with any of the other characters.
[heading]Half ?Life/Half-Life 2: [/heading]
Well, duh. Obviously these two titles are going to make it onto the list. The reasons are many and varied, and I doubt I need to explain them to you at length. I?ll give a few examples, just the same: the G-Man is probably one of the most fascinating villains I?ve ever encountered; Half-Life 2?s world feels like 1984 meets an alien invasion, and virtually every major character Gordon comes across is likeable in some way (except Breen. That guy?s an ass).
The series also gets bonus points for having an AI companion who?s not completely useless in a fight.
[heading]The Elder Scrolls III Morrowind: [/heading]
I. Love. This. Game. Even though Bethesda has made ?bigger and better? titles with Skyrim and Oblivion, somehow neither one managed to capture the simple magic that Morrowind had in droves. Perhaps it had something to do with how unique Vvardenfel feels compared to Cyrodiil and Skyrim.
The narrative of Morrowind emphasized choice above all else. Didn?t care to be Nerevar Reborn? Go off and join the Imperial Legion. Feel like being a murderous abomination? Turn into a werewolf, or join one of the vampire houses.
As a result of Morrowind?s scope and the sheer amount of content packed into the game, it felt well and truly epic. Skyrim?s great and all, but the most fun I?ve had in it so far was in the Dragonborn expansion: because it felt like I was going back.
[heading]Mass Effect: [/heading]
Complaints about the ending and the ?action movie makeover? of Mass Effect aside, Bioware really outdid themselves when they designed the backstory of the series (I?m sure I?m not the only one who read through the entire in-game encyclopedia and got excited whenever a new entry was added). That?s to say nothing of the first game?s plot, which managed to pull off the fine art of the plot twist perfectly ? the conversation Shepard has on Virmire goes down as one of my most memorable experiences.
?You fumble in ignorance, incapable of understanding.?
[heading]Grim Fandango: [/heading]
Moment of shame here, folks ? I?ve never played Grim Fandango, though I?ve heard many, many good things about it. One of these is that it was developed by Tim Schafer, the brilliantly twisted fellow behind Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. Apparently, it?s a hilarious vision of the afterlife which lands somewhere between film noir and a Charlie Chaplin film.
Okay, I admit it ? I?m a bit of a Bioware fanboy. Well?was. I?m not sure what to think of them now that EA?s got them in its talons. That?s neither here nor there, though: we?re going to talk about Jade Empire, which I feel to be one of Bioware?s most underrated properties. It?s a brilliant experience with memorable characters, beautiful music and some very unexpected twists and turns. Long story short: play it.
Honorable Mentions: Bioshock, Final Fantasy VI, Assassin?s Creed, Chrono Trigger
Any games I missed? Let me know!