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Game Stories Are Bad

Game Stories Are Bad

Once upon a time, when games were simple things that used one button and had no checkpoints, the stories in them looked something like this:

And that would be it. Simple enough, right? Most game stories were like this. You’d get a screen saying something’s gone wrong, now go fix it. The ending screen would say ‘Congratulations! Thing that went wrong we mentioned at start of game has now been fixed. Well done you!’ If you were really lucky, you’d get your character lifting his arms in the air or maybe, just maybe, a few seconds of animation.

Nowadays, stories in games are more like this:

Erm… huh?

It’s not enough for Assassin’s Creed to be about being an assassin. No, you have to play as a bartender who finds out about the templars and secret history of the world thanks to a secret organisation who kidnapped him and then accessed his memories. To top it all off, it has an ending no-one understands.

One criticism against games are that game stories are bad. The likes of Uncharted, Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption, Fallout: New Vegas and Heavy Rain show that’s not always the case, as some stories are capable of rising above their confused and confuddled PS3 brethren to deliver something that’s actually memorable. Actually impactful. Actually, dare we say it, good.

Yet it’s the bad examples that stick in the mind more. Why couldn’t Driver: San Francisco just be about driving and even with its Shift mechanic, did we really need the story to justify its existence? And can anyone explain what happens in any of the Metal Gear Solid games? The showdown with Wesker at the end of Resident Evil 5 goes from drama to farce over a long, painful hour as the storyline hits higher and higher levels of comedy and ridiculousness. And this is in a game about zombies.

Then there are the plotholes in Modern Warfare 2, which is like a mini-game in itself. Why did Russia invade the US from the East coast? How did Russia not recognise known terrorist Makarov from airport security before blaming the US? Why did the undercover agent not kill Makarov at the airport? Why was the US government writing ‘blank checks’ for Shepherd instead of demanding to know how a US agent was implicated in the murder of Russian civilians? How did Price launch the nukes from the sub without any launch code, let alone get it to detonate in space?

This would have been preferable to the storyline in Modern Warfare 2.

The worst example will probably always be Fahrenheit. It starts as a clever murder mystery of sorts, seeing you play as both the suspect and the detectives chasing him. It ends with you fighting Aunt Agatha who turned out to be a yellow AI robot from the future. Oh. Oh yeah. Right.

Sometimes, games try too hard. Relax. Just be games. Be fun. Don’t try to dazzle us with incredible twists and turns. Sometimes, simple things are enough. We never needed intricate, in-depth storylines to enjoy Sonic and Mario, just as we don’t need everything explained to us now.

Portal 2 was brilliant because its story was secondary to its characters.

L.A. Noire stayed the course by draping its tale in authenticity rather than deciding you were someone kidnapped in the future whose memories were being accessed.

LittleBigPlanet2 decided it was good enough that while it had a story to add themes to each of the levels and a general sense of purpose, it didn’t dominate the entire game.

So developers, sometimes it’s okay just be games. Let us love you for that. And please, no more yellow AI robots from the future…



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  • David

    Personally I think games really need to put more effort into stories now. It’s alright having games just for fun, but I could buy a store game for that. The best games i’ve played this generation are Uncharted and Heavy Rain. I’ve played both Uncharted games 3 or 4 times now, because it has everything, great story, great gameplay and fantastic cinematics.

  • Sal

    Couldn’t disagree more. O_O This is the sort of thing you’d expect a casual gamer who only plays sports games, war games (I getz to shoot thingz!) racers and sandbox drivers.

    Games that try to have good stories and fail, yes deserve criticism. All the games you mentioned did this. No ones saying all games should have stories- if a game is open about not having a story and the gameplay is great- fantastic! But honestly, if a game has great gameplay, along with an immersive, intelligent story, a great atmosphere (created by the interaction of this story with its music and world design), realistic, well written characters etc- then, even more fantastic!

    Stories add to the overall experience and make them better, if done right. This article reeks of ignorance, immaturity and I’m sorry, out-right unintelligence.