My other latest addiction

Bad Company 2 is just a first person shooter. While I am playing the single player game the real draw is the multiplayer, working as a team with your friends to reach your goal. But it’s not a story. It’s more like virtual paintball. Even the story in the single player game is just a series of cutscenes that are an excuse to get you to a new fight.

For a long time video games weren’t about story at all, they were about situations. Shoot the space invaders before they land, eat the pellets and clear the maze, jump around collecting coins until you rescue the princess, and so on.

I certainly can’t remember when the first game came out that had a really strong story to it, but the first one I remember was a french game called Another World.

This came out in in 1991, by the way, and the simple graphics were quite stylish and impressive for the time. The gameplay itself was a simple sidescrolling format, and was basically a combination of combat and puzzle solving, but every step of the way it seemed to tell a story. The scientist was transported to another world, stark and hostile, where he ends up rescuing an alien prisoner and becoming part of a local rebellion. There are no words, the story is told through pantomime, and the second half of the game is told from the alien’s perspective.

Granted other games had stories before this. Roleplaying games like Zelda or Dragon Age had stories, but generally they were of the “kill stuff to level up, talk to people for dialogue and quest” variety. Combining story and game has always been a tricky thing to do.

Jump to 2010 and the other game I’m currently addicted to: Alan Wake. This can be best described as an homage to Stephen King and Twin Peaks, and while plenty of games these days try to come across as a movie, Alan Wake is meant to feel like a TV series.

The merging of game and story isn’t 100 percent, but it does its best to try. There are cutscenes to get across major dramatic moments and plot points, but most of the time you’re interacting with people from a third person perspective. The controls are the same when you’re dealing with people and while fighting, so that consistency helps, but there is still is a sense of knowing “okay, this is a story section” and “okay, this is a combat section.” I’ve heard the game Heavy Rain for the Playstation 3 more seemlessly merges story and game, but I’ve also heard it was, um, dull.

Nevertheless, it does its best to make the combat scenes flow into the narrative, and it works most of the time. We’re on episode four (of six) and only now has the “plot” fully been explained. Again, this is consistent with the kind of TV show it’s emulating, where the first half of the series is trying to make sense of the mystery. I was a bit afraid it would turn into a shaggy dog story like Lost where nothing was really explained. Thank god I was wrong. I’ve also heard of them turning the game into an actual TV series, which could work. The story really is strong enough for that.

This is definitely a game I recommend, and I wish I’d see more like this instead of yet another Super Mario sequel.