I harbor and foster numerous healthy personal relationships beyond these networked silicon landscapes, but as a gamer I am best imagined as an ill-kempt hermit whose wild-eyed fear of strangers is the stony gaze of looming madness. From my mountain crag I glower down upon lesser beings who interface and communicate in odd tongues while scoring endless headshots, flag captures and raid loot. And, as a crazy, disconnected old man stewing in a bitter elixir of pessimism that is my own special recipe, I have, for the better part of a generation, feared that the games I prize were being corrupted by this malignant multiplayer revolution.
It is with equal parts surprise and jubilation that I sally forth from my far less cool fortress of solitude and herald from on high what I see as the return of the single player, story driven experience, only to discover that playing with yourself had never, in fact, gone out of style after all.
At least, in one interpretation of the phrase.
Looking back over games like Uncharted 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dragon Age: Origin, Assassin’s Creed II and Fallout III — these are quintessentially single player driven games that describe the high points of the past year and a half for me. While I hate to look gift Dev in the mouth, as the self-absorbed malcontent who was inclined to hold his breath until publishers stopped pandering to the co-op gamers I feel like the game industry is finally and rightfully seeing things from my point of view. Now what will I complain about to people who honestly couldn’t care less?
If you have spent the past decade devouring JRPGs, lovingly crafted console platformers, 3rd person action games or turn-based strategy games, then my comments probably sound like an addled neighbor coming out from inside his house and proclaiming, “What? We have a sun now?”
To understand my joy, you must understand that I come from the people who embraced games like Deus Ex, System Shock 2, Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, Jedi Knight, Half-Life and other wholly Western style, PC friendly, story driven games. As multiplayer focus and emergent game play became the watchwords of the early and mid-noughts, games like the ones I tended to enjoy became an endangered species.
Over the past few months, as I revel in the digital entertainment that seems uniquely targeted to release the happy endorphins that swim like mirthful mermaids in the comfort centers of my brain, I must admit that what I’ve been waiting for from the industry is the re-birth of the cinematic game. In the end, I’m still just a kid on the couch with my Choose Your Own Adventure book, wanting to take part in the action but not ownership of it.
I have to stress here that I may have a very different interpretation of the word cinematic. I have certainly had experiences in games like Counter-Strike that could have been ripped from a Bruce Willis movie trailer. In a world, where one man has only a flashbang grenade, a Desert Eagle and thirty seconds to stop the terrorists from blowing up what basically appears to be a series of intermittently stacked boxes, will you survive or will you go on a *cue dramatic music* Noob Hunt!
What I’m describing is not the accidental scene, which is what I think a lot of people mean when they say emergent gameplay. No, I’m talking about a directed experience. I’m talking about an environment where actors, directors and artists collaborate in a real way that echoes the architecture of film. I’m talking about game makers that aren’t just thinking about how to make a gun sound cool, but how to frame a shot, how to block actors on the virtual stage and how to light a scene to the right effect. These are relatively new skills in our gaming world that are taking center stage and offering something uniquely different from that one time in Battlefield where you totally captured a key supply point all by yourself.
But, as I consider my newfound revelry, I fear that I was a man dying of thirst in a sea of fresh water. As I have wondered for years, perhaps my tastes are so narrow that I am inevitably doomed to feel out of touch most of the time. Even as I take joy in the directed single-player experiences that happen to fit the limited scope of my happy place, I know that the ride must be a short one, and I am truly at fault for not being able to take joy in the console RPGs and rich platformers, such as Sly Cooper and Ratchet and Clank, that thrived even as my precious shooters and RPGs got their multiplayer on.
I suspect I am just at a fortunate nexus point where the profitability of single-player DLC and the desire within the industry to control the gamers’ experience in-game have forced the hand of publishers. I am not the beneficiary of some cultural renaissance, but the target market for game makers who want to retain control and foster profitability in a way that is at least much more complex for multiplayer gaming, and as a result I can look forward to games like God of War 3, Final Fantasy XIII, BioShock 2, Dante’s Inferno and Heavy Rain for the time being.
I, for one, couldn’t be happier.