Story vs. Gameplay in Videogames: Good Gameplay, Bad Story, Part 2

Well, here is the second part, the opposite side of the same coin. Let us get down and dirty with how a negative story can ruin a game with solid gameplay.

CALL OF DUTY: TRUTH, JUSTICE, AND THE AMERICAN WAY

Image result for American Flag

I have seen Team America: World Police, being a huge Trey Parker and Matt Stone fan. For those that do not know, the movie focuses on a group of paramilitary policemen and women who fight to both save the world and the American way of life. But what I find to be startling is that both the movie and the more recent Call of Duty videogames is that it focuses on patriotic Americans protecting a blindly unaware public from violent villains and dictators. However, where the movie and video games meet is also where they diverge. The movie’s main point was to poke fun and satirize the three categories of people previously mentioned, showing how each group can be ridiculously over-the-top and brick headed in a post-9/11 environment. It is funny, irreverent, and gross, but you cannot expect anything less from the people that invite us to come on down to South Park.

The same cannot be said for the Call of Duty series. Similar to the World War II series, the modern warfare games forgo humor and parody to make room for gritty war stories. But the problem with the post-World War II games is that their stories are so laughably bad, that what SHOULD be taken as a serious and terrifying series of events can be unintentionally interpreted as parody. And this is despite the fact that gameplay remains relatively unchanged. You still have guns, you still shoot, and you still play from a first-person perspective to make the experience all the more “real”. Then why isn’t it real, instead becoming silly?

I think this is due, in no small part, to the fact that the stories for these games have not happened. They are as fictional as a Tom Clancy novel. One would think that, since the games are focused in the present day, they would focus more on Afghanistan and Iraq. However, that is incorrect. Here is a list of the titles and the enemy in each one:

  1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007) – Russia
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (2009)– Russia
  3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III (2011)– Russia
  4. Call of Duty: Black Ops II (2012) – Nicaraguan man/China
  5. Call of Duty: Ghosts (2013)– South America
  6. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014) – World and a Private Military Company (PMC)

 

I understand why Russia would be an enemy in the games; they are a classic American enemy stemming from the Cold War and the actions of a certain Russian politician does not seem to make the country look like a great American ally. However, the games do not go into characterizations for the villains. Instead the game presents what should be a morally grey world as black and white; America is the hero and Russia is a black-hearted villain. Everyone should remember the controversy that surrounded Modern Warfare II when it was revealed the player would play a deep undercover operative in a Russian terrorist cell that takes part in an airport terminal massacre of unarmed civilians (I am NOT providing a photo for that!). And it does not stop there since most Russians are just over-the-top evil who want global domination for the glory of the mother country. They are acting similarly to the Nazis, but there is no historical context behind it, making the story seem exploitative instead of engaging.

With Black Ops II, the enemy is also possible, since China and America are economic rivals and the game centers on a possible second Cold War involving the countries. However, the game focuses on a man attempting to bring the two countries to the brink of World War III by commandeering the United States’ automated armies to launch terrorist attacks on both countries. This is because he wants revenge on the United States for killing his family.

But the realism is entire chucked out the window when Call of Duty: Ghosts has a plot where all of South America united to attack the United States by hijacking the United States’ orbital weapons satellite and firing several cities in the Southwest United States. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare then has the audacity to show war happening on every continent and America, namely a Privatized Military Company (PMC), invading to quash the war. Afterwards the PMC takes over the world and it is up to the world to unite and defeat the PMC and its boss, played by Kevin Spacey. Did I mention that the PMC has upgraded its soldiers with cybernetic appendages, literally making them akin to walking tanks?

It is now time for me to make a confession. For a long time I have told friends and family the main reason I do not like these games is because I do not like mass destruction and mass civilian casualties combined with the fact that I believed some of the scenarios could happen. While this is true (though hijacking a space satellite weapon and shooting in space is unquestionably unrealistic), my main problem mainly has to do with the underlying messages the games have taken on. In fact, there are two points of contention about the stories of these games that, in my opinion, make these games an opinion on how a bad story, even with solid gameplay, can sink a game. They are:

  1. Racism and sexism – Most, if not all of the characters that are the heroes are white. All of the people who have been main villains have been from other countries. If there are racially different characters as allies, they are most likely killed to demonstrate to the audience how powerful the threat is. The same goes for women. All of the player characters are male and even when there are female allies the women need to be saved by the player, not the other way around. This is despite the fact they are shown to be even MORE capable at fighting than the player character. While the real military still needs to work on inclusive recruiting, the games seem to enforce the traditional belief on who definitively belongs in the military.
  2. Nationalism and Xenophobia– Let me be perfectly clear, I love my country. At the same time, I do not love all that my country has done. I have the right to speak out what I believe is wrong and what I think is right. Just because I might criticize it does not make me less of an American. That being said, I find the modern warfare Call of Duty games to be extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. The fact is this; in these games you are always playing an American soldier fighting another country who is ALWAYS the villain. Even when American does something terrible, such as inadvertently kill a family, it is NOTHING compared to the surviving member trying to start World War III. Even in Advance Warfare, where the PMC is an American company, the country immediately cuts ties from it and becomes the hero, receiving no repercussions for allowing it to basically CONTROL THE WORLD! It almost feels that in this post-9/11 environment everyone but us is the bad guy; we can do no wrong. Those that do not have Bald Eagle DNA are automatically inferior to us and evil. This point, in particular, drives me up the wall. This is just simply not true. I know people that tell me to not take it seriously since “it is just a game,” but I refuse to, since this is coming from people who do not watch Disney movies because of some of the same undertones! Why?

I truly think that it is because it all comes down to gameplay. Guns continue to blaze in a frantic combat zone. The players know these are not real people dying and there is no consequence in killing the umpteenth Russian or South American soldier. They feel they are a soldier fighting for freedom and democracy. They do not care about the story, just as long as they can shoot and win the war.

CONCLUSIONS

As someone who likes context and story, the modern war games in the Call of Duty upset me. They trade what could have been intense stories that question our society in for stories that reinforce stereotypes. While the World War II games did not have extraordinary stories, at least they were engaging by providing historical and character context. And while they also demonstrated American soldiers in action, the older games took time out to show the allies as well, showing how three nations were united in one goal to defeat evil. THAT is more literate and engaging than what the modern shooters have provided. As I have said, the gameplay remains the same, line up the shot and pull the trigger in fast-paced warfare. It is only when the story becomes dreck that the games falter under its weight. But what do I know? The Call of Duty series remains a bestseller, with a new game coming out every year. I just hope that the next game may have a substantial story that overcomes the stereotypes the plague the newer titles, balancing a strong story with the gameplay. Until then, I can only hope, watch, and wait.

 

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Story vs. Gameplay in Videogames: Good Gameplay, Bad Story, Part 1

Last time I talked about what happens when a game developer and/or publisher creates a game with a good story and gameplay that enhances the game experience only to decide in the sequel to alienate the two elements thus creating a disjointed game that elicits more laughs than a stoned crowd watching Reefer Madness on a continuous loop. Now we will turn to the opposite side of the same coin, when gameplay mechanics can range from strong to solid, but the story prevents the game from engrossing its audience’s captivity. The closing results in being akin to an unfunny comedy, boring, painful, and not worth the price of admission.

CallofDutyLogo.svg

Now, I know that there are many games that I could use for this category, the Mass Effect series, The Elder Scrolls series, among them. But in order to demonstratethis point, I will be examining Call of Duty World War II games and the Call of Duty modern warfare games. I personally feel that the Call of Duty series has suffered from its longevity in the game market, mainly because it is the epitome of what I am trying to prove. While the core gameplay mechanics of this first-person shooter series remains solid, over time the series has succumbed to mediocre storytelling that is not only unrealistic, but, on a personal level, both offensive and jingoistic. But I will demonstrate that point when we get to that bridge. So sit back, strap yourselves in, and remember, this is just an opinion.

THE FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER

Before I begin to delve into the topics, I would like to give a little history on the First-Person Shooter genre and my opinions of it.

The First-Person Shooter (FPS) is a genre of videogames where the player sees through the eyes of the player character (first-person prospective). While games may use the first-person prospective to emphasize personal exploration or to help immerse players into the world, the FPS focuses on (you guessed it) shooting. Typically, it is your job to shoot through hordes of enemies, find the boss, and shoot him down as well. After you do, you have officially won, quite possibly saving the world/universe in the process. It is truly a simple matter of aiming your cross-hairs and shooting.

While the genre was created in the 1970s/1980s, with the first Image result for wolfenstein 3ddocumented games being Maze War and Spasim, it was not until 1992 that the genre became a part of the collective consciousness.
Wolfenstein 3D by id Software was released to significant controversy since it focused on the player character killing Nazis during World War II, displaying a first-person perspective of the player character firing a gun and people dying, often with bloodshed. However, the following year saw the release of Doom by the same company. This release improved on Wolfenstein 3D in multiple ways, including enhanced graphic and textures, which included flickering lights, and height variations,which meant that the flat one-floor environments of the previous game were replaced with multi-level rooms and allowed the player to climb stairs and ladders. What also helped in the game’s popularity was yet another controversy involving the satanic imagery that was found in the game, since you were playing as a space marine who was fighting the forces of Hell on Mars in a bloodbath. I could only make that up in my wildest of fever dreams.

Since then, more notable titles have refined the FPS experience, including Half-Life, System Shock, and Call of Duty, all of which, including Wolfenstein 3D and Doom are considered classic games and have had sequels follow suit. These sequels often enhance the gameplay while still remaining true to the FPS perspective.

However, I must admit that I am not a huge fan of FPS titles. While there are some exceptions to the rule, some consider The Elder Scrolls to be FPS games but I consider them Role-Playing Games played from a first person perspective, in general I just feel a little blasé to the genre. This is mainly due to two factors:

  1. The fact that it is a FPS means that you are the player character. I often feel conflicted about this, especially when the game tells us that we are playing as a specific character with a set personality. I feel that if I am supposed to be the soldier, it should reflect the personality that I have. I feel this way whether the player character is silent (a Gordon Freeman) OR talkative (a Duke Nukem).
  2. Stories tend to be bad. Though plots for video games have become more complex, with technological leaps comes story leaps apparently, it does not mean that stories for FPS games have become good. I have an unresearched feeling that FPS developers tend to focus on the gameplay first then build the story around it. For me, this is a HUGE disadvantage since this makes the final product seem rushed in the plot department.

Now I admit that this is my opinion and that not everyone has that opinion. Some may think that the same reasoning can be applied to third-person games. Others may feel the opposite of my opinions regarding PFS games specifically. But let us not linger on this and dive into the meat of this, shall we?

CALL OF DUTY: HONORING VETERANS

I will admit that I have always been a sucker for World War II history. It may be one of the ONLY times in history where the world was actually divided between good and evil with good triumphing in the end. It is a real example of the classic hero’s tale. This is why I enjoy videogames that are centered on World War II; for once I feel like I am a hero, especially since the events being portrayed could have happened on the battlefield.

And this is what the Call of Duty World War II games succeeded with, making sure that you were a part of this monumental occasion by pitting your character against the Nazis. What helped was the games context. The games were divided into three main chapters, each representing a different theater during the war: Europe, Africa, and Russia. Each theater opened with an introduction of the character you would be playing as, an American for the European Theater, an Englishman for the African Theater, and a Russian for the Russian Theater. The character would give their back-story, explaining why they were involved in the war, what their personal life was like before the war and what they hope to achieve after it is all over.

It is this little bit of context, combined with the historical significance, which helps create a sense of familiarity with the characters and an urgency to see that the player characters survive the war, i.e. you successfully complete the missions. You felt the importance you played in the war itself, whether you were bringing down German forces in Africa, Russia, or Europe. In essence, it was personal. It also helps that the game tries to accurately demonstrate the horrors of the war with many casualties in the trenches and battlefield and bullets whizzing by the player’s head as they charge from cover to cover. It is a World War II battleground, hectic, bloody, and sensually assaulting.

After some research, I discovered that the people you were Image result for Call of duty 1playing as were not real. The three games are a fictitious representation of major World War II battles, seen through the eyes of a person who never existed. It is akin to reading Gone With the Wind; the characters are fake, but the backdrop of the Civil War actually happened and the events that follow the character after the war are common occurrences to real life events. This being said, it could be concluded that the games, which cover battles like D-Day, Stalingrad, and the Battle of the Bulge, could be realistic representations of events, though fictionalized.

Despite my trepidation with FPS games, it is for this reason why I find the three World War II Call of Duty games to be interesting, playable, and fun. The games, while adhering to simplistic FPS gameplay, do draw the player in by engaging him or her with the story and characters. While they may be basic plots and simple characterizations, it is just enough to connect the player to the experience. For me, it is a game series where, like Silent Hill 2, the gameplay and story help enhance the game experience. However, the same cannot be said for the rest of the series, which opts for present day combat. That will be covered in the next post.

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Story vs. Gameplay in Videogames: Good Story, Bad Gameplay

Silent Hill 2 video game cover

Whenever I go to the local library for my usual dosage of Terry Pratchett books or the random DVD titles, usually prefaced on Wikipedia by “This article about a horror film is a stub; You can help Wikipedia by expanding it,” curiosity always seems to get the better of me and I always explore the building before checking out my materials. Computers, ever a popular workspace in any library, are usually in continuous use from opening until closing; their adult users exhausting their time with browsing online library material, surfing the Web, or, most commonly, playing Solitaire.

minecraft image

However, while I find this extremely common with adults, I have always found children to be using computers to be preoccupied with the online videogame Minecraft. Minecraft is a sandbox videogame, an open world videogame that allows the player to explore the in-game world and create anything, seemingly without limitations. Players collect blocks and tools that allow them to create structures, ranging from a simple cottage in the woods to the ornately detailed Notre Dame and beyond. Since the game is online, players are also able to create communities and play with others, which allows each person to come out of each session with a different experience and story to tell.

minecraft survival mode

Minecraft’s Survival Mode

But then it hit me. If each person has a different story to tell, what is Minecraft’s exact story? To my utmost surprise, I found out that the closest Minecraft comes to a “story” is through its Survival Mode, where the player character needs to collect supplies within the game world to survive, culminating in nighttime battles against spiders, skeletons, and zombies (Oh my!). Because of this, instead of a true “story mode,” the game opts to put it entirely in the player’s hands. Though each of Minecraft’s  four gameplay modes (Survival, Adventure, Creative, and Spectator) contain various similar elements, such as wood, diamonds, mining, and others, the developers at Mojang decided that such a game was not suitable for the traditional storytelling mechanics. Instead, the game will focus on players creating their own worlds and items, potentially sharing it with other users before the one troll in the group decides to burn it all to the ground just because he or she can. One can almost smell the jealousy coming out of the flames. But creativity moves on and so do the haters and the non-haters.

Image from planetminecraft.com

Arc de Triopme in minecraft

Now I have tried Minecraft briefly and can understand why people enjoy it. Who wouldn’t be enticed by a bright, colorful, and open world that is the player’s own personal background where they can create what they want, when they want while simultaneously fighting off hoards of skeletons all before lunch? Personally I did not much care for it. While I may not be the most creative person in the world, especially compared to the person that can create a life sized replica of the Arc de Triomphe out of Minecraft building blocks, I can still understand why there is such a fanbase for this game. However, my main reason for not caring for it, though I can make a mean chimney, is the fact that for me story is an important element for me to enjoy media.

STORY MODE

Freddi Fish Game

Freddi Fish

When my family bought our first computer in the 90s, I was astounded over the fact that I was able to play Solitaire on what resembled a small television. Gradually, the repertoire was expanded towards videogames, mainly the catalog from Humongous Entertainment, mainly sports games and adventure games. While my sister and brother were fascinated by the sports games, I was always intrigued by the adventure games such as Freddi Fish, Putt-Putt, and Spy Fox. While these games were aimed at children, with their brightly hand-drawn animated layout, they were similar to one another and other adventure games because they were all point-and-click adventures that required the player to use the right item at the right time to accomplish the goal. Not only did this involve a lot of trial and error, but it attempted to stir creativity in the player through both obvious puzzles (wait until a man’s back is turned to steal a page of his sheet music) and the downright mystifying (use your pet mouse to retrieve a key from under the sofa that could have EASILY been picked up).

But the most notable point about them was that they always followed a cohesive narrative. There was a problem that needed to be solved, characters that either helped or hindered the player’s actions, and a resolution for beating the game. Yes the stories were simple, such as locating missing zoo animals or solving the case of the stolen toys, but they all worked towards a goal that upon successful completion rewarded the players with a satisfying conclusion. Something that Minecraft does not do, opting to let the player continue on infinitely until they log off for good or leave the mortal coil of the real world behind.

Spy Fox game

Spy Fox

It is entirely possible that since I started reading books before I began my trek into the Videogame Universe that I am inevitably drawn to the narrative structure and like to see it applied to new mediums, whatever they may be. As a result, I tend to play games that tell a competent narrative and whose gameplay reflects the tone the story sets out to create. By having story reflect gameplay or vice versa, the game world feels more fleshed out and open, allowing the player to fully immerse himself or herself in the game. And that is what all forms of medium want, total immersion. It is what will drive people to continually come back and replay the game, relive every moment they had fun in, question underlying subtexts in the story, and create new memories through a new playthrough.

However, it has been through my experience that story and gameplay need to work together in hand instead of one pummeling the other into submission. When there is a discord between the story and the gameplay, it tends to throw the entire game off balance, like a scale with a feather on one end and the entire Playstation 2 game catalog on the other. It is a problem that happens with a lot of horror films. Sure the films are trying to build suspense, but even that is ruined by the unintentional laughter from the audience because the acting is so over-the-top that it rivals a Lady Gaga performance. Plus, the fact that the movie is going through a checklist of horror clichés like a shopper goes through a grocery list does not help it at all. The same thing applies to games. You can make a racing simulator that has a story mode where your racer is trying to win the Sprint Cup. A competent game would complement this by have you upgrading and repairing your car and racing. But if the actual gameplay during the race acts as a point-and-click adventure and you are not personally racing at all, there is a huge discord between the story and gameplay. In fact, it would be jarring.

This is probably one of the reasons why Minecraft does not have a story; no story would be good enough to enhance the free-roaming creativity that it provides. But I would like to take this opportunity to examine story driven games, specifically how gameplay can enhance or detract from a story. While there are many examples that can be used, I will be focusing on two games from one series to demonstrate both points. Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill: Homecoming. So sit back, strap yourselves in and get ready for me to tear apart your favorite games.

SILENT HILL 2: RELATABLE HORROR EXPERIENCE

Silent Hill 2 video game cover

Silent Hill is a long-running series created by Konami first released in 1999 on the Sony Playstation. The games series focuses on the title town, which through means involving Lovecraftian gods, monsters, and religions, has become, in essence, a sentient being that is able to draw the tormented to it so that they may be confronted with their deepest and darkest secrets. As such, this series focuses on psychological horror, a genre that is extremely story driven since it tries to get into the audience’s head and make the experience relatable. Because of this, it can be split into two camps, bone-chillingly terrifying or laughably bad. This is due to the fact that horror is in the eye of the beholder; not everyone will find the same thing to be scary and few films, books, and videogames can lay claim to the fact that it can scare EVERYONE.

Speaking of those select few, Silent Hill 2 is one of those games. The game focuses on James Sunderland, a clerk who receives a letter from his wife, Mary stating that he should meet her in Silent Hill. However, the catch is that Mary has been dead for 3 years. Despite this, James makes his way to the town to find out what is going on, meeting other people drawn to the town as well, including Angela Orosco, a teenage runaway looking for her mother, Eddie Dombrowski, another teenage runaway with a knack for being near events and corpses he “had nothing to do with,” Laura, a child who claims the town is normal and James is weird, and Maria, a hooker with an uncanny resemblance to Mary. Throughout the game, James solves puzzles, fights monsters out of a Freudian/Lovecraftian nightmare, and finally figures out what is going on, specifically Mary’s ultimate fate.

Screenshot from silent hill 2 game

To say that Silent Hill 2 is a just game is to say that running your car purposefully into a fire hydrant is an accident. The game is an experience. The town is constantly surrounded by a thick fog, which obscures the character’s vision and makes it difficult to see monsters coming towards you until they might as well be on top of you. The soundtrack also evokes a sense of dread as the wind howls through a town that seems to have been abandoned by all human citizens, static from a radio alerts the player to a possible monster attack, and the music is an eerie combination of instruments and sound effects, including a siren. In essence, the game makes the town itself a character. It is the driving force, putting the main character through hell itself before he realizes the sad and extremely disturbing truth about his wife. In fact, it is also shown that it is not just James that is going through this turmoil, but also the two runaways, who are seen intermittently throughout the game, but contribute to the overall feel of dread. You are compelled to keep playing just to see what secrets these characters are hiding and how much they are suffering as a result. Sure the characterizations are not the game’s strong suit; it uses a great deal of blanket characterizations. But there are underlying implications to their actions, hints of darker secrets implied, but never explicitly stated, leaving the subtle and memorable horror that plays with the player’s mind throughout the journey.

pyramidhead

Pyramid Head

I stated before that the game has monsters out of a Freudian/Lovecraftian nightmare. Maybe it would have been better to say that these would be monsters dreamt by Freud after he had read the entire H.P. Lovecraft library. Without giving too much away, since it will seriously spoil the story, all of the monsters are constructs and metaphors for each character’s secrets and dilemmas. Monster’s range from undead nurses and two pairs of mannequin legs sewn together by the hip to a monster named Abstract Daddy and an executioner named Pyramid Head who wears a gigantic red three-sided pyramid over its head. It is not until we have completed the game that we can interpret what each monster means, as the game takes painstaking precautions to avoid forcing a meaning onto them. As a result, it is the story, underlying subtext, and details that carry the game.

As such, this game has a great story. But what about the gameplay? Well, to be perfectly honest, gameplay, especially fighting, is extremely clunky. In fact, it is the one part of Silent Hill 2 that most game critics tend to single out for negative criticism. Combat tends to be slow and does not seem to make a great impact against the monsters that are out for your life. As a result, it becomes a matter of timing the blows and pressing the button at the right moment in order to hit your foe with one of the random melee weapons that can be found throughout the game.

Right now I can imagine some of you asking, “but if that is the way combat is with a melee weapon why not use a gun?” To you I say, “I am glad you asked, since I was just getting there!” While there are guns in the game, a handgun, a shotgun, and a hunting rifle, ammo for the weapons is actually quite limited and should ONLY be used for the boss battles. With this little twist, conserving ammo becomes key and makes it a necessity to fight regular enemies with melee weapons. But even though the monsters can be defeated with a gun, much more easily as well, it is still a struggle, as if James does not really know how to handle a gun.

BUT THAT IS THE POINT!

James Sunderland

James Sunderland

Darn it Jim, James is a clerk, not a soldier! James is a representation of the player character. What we face in the game is the unknown entities that lurk in the fog when we are not looking, the deepest depths of our subconscious. How do we fight these monsters, especially since most of us are not trained in combat? We are helpless against such an enemy, especially since we are everyday people. It is not commonplace for us to use a lead pipe to defend ourselves on a daily basis. When we do, it feels foreign. The same goes for a gun; hunters can use it with ease, but the first-time user may shoot it, miss the target and end up disturbing a hornets’ nest.

But never mind why I will never hunt again. It is through this helplessness, this clunky control over the in-game action that not only makes James more personal to the player, but also increases the game’s tension to the next level. It is not only James fighting, but us as well. As a result, instead of being a true detriment to the game, it adds to the story’s horror. James’ story is our story and we are just as anxious as he to find out what happened to Mary, whatever it may be. In the end, we are disturbed, shocked, and scared, exactly how a good psychological horror story and game should make us feel.

 SILENT HILL: HOMECOMING: WHAT HAPPENED KONAMI?

What a psychological horror game should not make us do is feel like we have the advantage over the monsters!

Silent Hill: Homecoming focuses on Alex Sheperd, who has just returned home to Sheperd’s Glen after he has completed an overseas tour of duty in the Special Forces. He returns to find the town nearly deserted with only a few people remaining, a majority of them having gone mad through grief. He finds out that his brother and father have gone missing. Soon enough, monsters start appearing in Sheperd’s Glen, including Pyramid Head, and it is up to Alex, his friend Ellie Holloway, and Deputy Wheeler to find out what all of this has to do with three missing children, as well as find Alex’s brother and father in Silent Hill.

Compared to the previous story, this one feels lacking. This is because most of it lies on its somewhat predictable plot, predictable if one is an ardent fan of the psychological horror genre. But even then, the story is relatable because it focuses on family and how far we would go to save them. What also helps is that the game is heavily influenced by Jacob’s Ladder, which tells of a soldier attempting to return to a normal life after a Vietnam tour, but is haunted by gruesome images of his life and monsters that may or may not be a product of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This helps to bolster the story thematically, since the main character is a soldier who is suddenly thrust back into a horror scenario, a supernatural battlefield, after he had just left from one, the modern war zone. Again the soundtrack and sound effects add to the game’s horror tone and the fog returns to obscure monsters until they are breathing down your neck. Overall, it provides a chilling setup and you are curious to find out what the answer to the mystery is even when the experience veteran may see it coming miles down the road.

Playground from Silent Hill: Homecoming

Freud must have reread Lovecraft again, since the monsters also return with the undertones that add to the subconscious horror that the previous game had offered. However, the monsters in this game tend to have their meanings spelled out by certain portions of the game, thus robbing some of the mystery that helps to enhance horror. It is similar to a modern Stephen King horror supernatural horror novel where an over-explained monster robs the book of any potential horror that the climax may have provided if some of the mystery remained in the shadows. However, some monsters do not have this over-explained nature to them, thus allowing multiple interpretations to be made to their very nature, which can enhance the horror. It truly is a mixed bag.

But what truly sinks the game is its gameplay. In this game, Alex can be swarmed by a multitude of enemies. This was probably done to demonstrate the game’s new graphics and game engine, allowing it to handle more enemies on screen than ever before. But this provides the game with the unintended hilarity often found in a low-budget slasher film. Because Alex is a SOLDIER, he can defeat swarms of enemies with relative ease. What does not help is that there are more guns in the game, including multiple variations of guns (there are 2-3 types of shotguns found in the game). Where James was an everyday person, Alex is a combat expert and most enemies go down way to easily. Yes the difficulty ramps up as the game goes on, but it does not take away from the fact that Alex, a trained military professional, can go toe to toe with a demon that can only be found from a nightmare induced through Freudian psychiatry combined with the Cthulhu Mythos. This also includes the fact that Alex can combat roll.

That is right, he can COMBAT ROLL!

Alex from Silent Hill fighting off a feral

What makes this even funnier is that he can combat roll outside of combat. While he is supposed to be slowly exploring the towns and take in the atmosphere that should be excreting horror, he has the option to do somersaults and combat rolls in the middle of the street! Just the thought of it happening makes me picture a group of humans and monsters just stopping what they are doing just to witness a man rolling around in the street as if he were in a warzone or practicing Somersaulting for the 2018 Olympics, but isn’t. I can image them just pulling up chairs and eating popcorn as he might unintentionally run into a fencepost or a telephone pole due to the inherent blindness and dizziness that came when he decided the best mode of transportation was becoming one of the wheels on an eighteen wheeler bound for hell!

It is the type of gameplay design decision that makes me laugh and I laugh long and hard when I find something to be funny. And this only highlights the problem; psychological horror needs to be taken seriously in order for it to have the desired effect. The story, though competent, has lost its desired effect. Sure the symbolism, metaphors, atmosphere, and driving force remain, but when Alex decides to turn into the human tire, what else can be said? He was overpowered to begin with and making him more able at combat not only diminishes the horror, but lightens the story with some poor design decisions. Once someone laugh at an unintentionally funny bit, it’s game over man, game over!

NEXT TIME ON STORY VS. GAMEPLAY IN VIDEOGAMES

In this post, I have shown that gameplay and story need to be in balance with one another in order for a videogame to be an effect form of entertainment. I have also demonstrated what happens when a game has a good story, but proceeds to nearly ruin the game by including gameplay mechanics, which, though true to the character, undermine the game to a significant extent. However, this does not end the discussion. In the next posting we shall explore the reversal of this post, what happens when gameplay mechanics are solid, but the story undermines the game. Until then, sweet dreams and good night from Silent Hill gentle readers! Thanks for reading!

 

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