Let’s Talk About Narrative Games - Volume 1
Modern advances in gaming have ushered in an era of incredible story-telling that rivals and often surpasses the best Hollywood has to offer us. If you’re like me, you jump at the chance to immerse yourself in any new narrative adventure. Why not discuss a few old and new?
I still consider "Until Dawn" the best game that Supermassive has produced. In spite of jumping at the chance to play nearly every subsequent release, none has affected me--or entertained--in quite the same way. Blending so many tropes and stereotypes into one cohesive user-influenced horror thrill ride was such a huge accomplishment. In lesser hands, such a task would have produced laughable results. But, instead, Supermassive pushed boundaries for both horror and the interactive narrative genre.
Anyone familiar with the established "Life is Strange" mechanics and pacing will be instantly at home with this outing, but I want to applaud the accomplishment in how it so masterfully crafts its sense of place. Although this tiny Colorado town is rendered in loving detail, it's not just those visual details that build the immersion. Rather, it's the carefully crafted characters and their genuine acts and words that gradually build a "home" for not only the protagonist but the player as well. Chapter One was a masterwork imho, and the range of emotions it successfully evoked in me (and my wife) was testament to the power of the medium and the prowess of this team. I don't think the story arc ended as strongly as it started--and I felt the DLC was more of an experiment than must-play--but this entry sits high atop the list of best interactive narrative games yet produced, and it is likely Deck Nine will out-do themselves with their next project.
What a remarkable indie gem. "Road 96" only arrived on my radar when the demo dropped, and after playing it, I quickly became a vocal evangelist. Some complain that its story is simplistic or juvenile in places, but I felt that it touched on relevant themes without losing its sense of escapism and thrilling adventure. The use of branching paths along a series of road trips--all with different starting points but the same end goal--is ingenious. The team managed to capitalize on the procedural structure without sacrificing any major narrative pay-offs, turning a technical innovation into a huge creative win. My mind reeled at the possibility of using the same mechanics and structure and applying them to other themes. Imagine a war story in which nameless "soldiers" began their respective journeys into No Man's Land from different waypoints, all with the goal of surviving regardless of their allegiance, degree of patriotism, or personal desires. After Valiant Hearts, Memories Retold, and Road 96, it seems appropriate to continue expecting strong narrative outings from this team well into the future.
The thing that surprised me the most about "What Remains of Edith Finch" was how much it exceeded my lofty expectations. Even for a team with such a strong artistic track record, successfully crafting and collecting so many incredible stories without the game feeling like an uneven experimental anthology was a huge accomplishment. I admit that while I haven't played the game front-to-end but the once, I have many times revisited the incredible stories of Barbara, Lewis, and Gregory, drawing inspiration from how Ian Dallas and his team let the game organically evolve into something beautiful while publicly admitting the journey was sometimes a messy, ugly, and many times a chicken-and-egg process.
Even if it didn't hold my interest long-term or leave me feeling it had changed the face of narrative games forever, I feel a real need to tip my hat to the many innovative and well-executed accomplishments of "Twelve Minutes." Had it not fumbled a few critical elements within its tiny sandbox of creative logic, I believe I would have remained as mesmerized and entranced as I was in the first half hour of learning its ropes. The bold perspective, original controls, and intimate story are solid indicators that Luis Antonio is going to absolutely crush his sophomore effort.