Illusion of Revolution

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.

Comments

I really like that your definition of "cinematic" basically boils down to well-constructed worlds and events that draw you in (i.e. actual direction), instead of "Rendered Cutscenes, Tits, Blood and motorcycle-mounted Uzis."

Two big in-game experiences that come to mind:

* After the Cascade Failure in Half-Life, one of the trashed consoles explodes and tips over as Gordon's walking through the hall. At this point, you've walked past a dozen of the things, but THAT'S the one that jumps out at you. It makes me think the designers tossed that in specifically to show players to be on their guard.

* The end of the Tanker scene in Modern Warfare. Totally stripped away the Rambo-esque badass armor from your character.

I've always been into sp games, but where I used to thrive on competitive mp-based games I now much prefer mp coop. Now sure ME2 is the bee's knees, but if I could play it with 2 friends coop?

That'd be like bee knees dipped in honey lathered onto [insert the knees of your sexy ME2 party member of choice here].

I second Elysium's emotion.

I actually kind of resented games like Left 4 Dead, because it sounded like a really cool game that I knew I'd never play because I can't schedule the time to be online with anyone I'd want to play it with and it's not a game that I can force to be single player (I refuse to trust friendly AI bots ever-- kind of like Will Smith in iRobot. If I see an AI with a gun, I want to kill it.)

I've bought a number of games that were touted for how awesome their multiplayer was and played them exclusively single player. Sins of a Solar Empire, Borderlands, Little Big Planet-- I play them all solo.

Hooray for the Hermit Gamer!

I think it was on the Conference Call that I heard Ken Levine make reference to what he jokingly called "Cinemaction". Seemed a bit cheesy to me at the time, but I've really enjoyed some of the games this last year that seemed to jump headfirst into the things Elysium is talking about.

Also, and I'm not sure why, but the word Cinemaction always seemed vaguely suggestive to me, as if it should be preceded by "Hot Wet".

trichy wrote:

I think it was on the Conference Call that I heard Ken Levine make reference to what he jokingly called "Cinemaction". Seemed a bit cheesy to me at the time, but I've really enjoyed some of the games this last year that seemed to jump headfirst into the things Elysium is talking about.

Also, and I'm not sure why, but the word Cinemaction always seemed vaguely suggestive to me, as if it should be preceded by "Hot Wet".

hmmm... Hot Wet Cinemaction ... sounds like a good tag to me.

Single player games are great. People suck.

mrtomaytohead wrote:
trichy wrote:

I think it was on the Conference Call that I heard Ken Levine make reference to what he jokingly called "Cinemaction". Seemed a bit cheesy to me at the time, but I've really enjoyed some of the games this last year that seemed to jump headfirst into the things Elysium is talking about.

Also, and I'm not sure why, but the word Cinemaction always seemed vaguely suggestive to me, as if it should be preceded by "Hot Wet".

hmmm... Hot Wet Cinemaction ... sounds like a good tag to me.

Sounds like a wintertime mixed drink to me.

Space Wizards 2 is totally messing with the GWJ online matches

Sorry if my comment is very dumb

I missed these single player Western games, as well, but if the EA sign on ME2 is any indication, there's no danger of running out in the immediate future.

It is now in Bioware's destiny to crap out more ME2 sequels for the forseeable future until they run the game design into the ground.

That's not necessarily a bad thing.

That said, I don't know that there's been a dearth of such games in the 2000s. There's always Half Life and Mass Effect and the Neverwinter Nights series, which I always hear is super-fantastic. What's really missing is turn-based strategy.

The last great true turn-based strategy game to come out was Galactic Civilizations 2, and that's quite a while ago, with no hope of any to come out for the forseeable future.

LarryC wrote:

That said, I don't know that there's been a dearth of such games in the 2000s. There's always Half Life and Mass Effect and the Neverwinter Nights series, which I always hear is super-fantastic. What's really missing is turn-based strategy.

The last great true turn-based strategy game to come out was Galactic Civilizations 2, and that's quite a while ago, with no hope of any to come out for the forseeable future.

Turn-based strategy is definitely a genre that is currently quite scarce. As for the last statement, I might argue that Solium Infernum is a pretty great turn-based strategy game, but its not really a AAA game, and it shines best in multiplayer (although the AI is improving greatly with each patch). I think Dominions 3 also came out slightly after Gal Civ 2, but they are both from 2006. As for games on the horizon, isn't Stardock supposed to have Elemental coming out sometime before the end of the year? I know that is one I am looking forward to...

I've had Red Dead Redemption pre-ordered for a billion years. Mass Effect 2 is the only thing that's come along in a year to take my mind off Red Dead. I'm hoping and praying that the allegedly poor working conditions coming out of Rockstargate isn't enough to prove detrimental to the game's release.

What ... a jerk. Families are being destroyed, and here I am worried about sticking to a launch date.