“The Year of …………” pt 3 – Adventure/Platforming
It was an interesting year for action adventure games because, despite the stillness that can be felt in most genres, there were many attempts at revitalizing their core set of mechanics. But, as we’ve come to expect from the industry, most of these attempts went awry, subjugated to the commercial logic that plagues such a potentially powerful medium. Well, at least, there have been new avenues opened up by these failed attempts, which is more than I can say for the other categories.
Unto the best… and worst of 08.
“Tomb Raider Underworld” – The first “Tomb Raider” was one of the few games in its genre that fully honored its greatest forefather, “Prince of Persia”; it’s then somehow fitting that even today, the new “Tomb Raider” shows some form of relationship with Mechner’s game (much more so than the silly new “Prince”)… and that’s as good as a compliment as one can make to a “Tomb Raider” game. “Underworld“, despite its many shortcomings, is a game that invites the player to develop a greater relationship with his surrounding environment, to actually explore the scenario, using his senses as much as his controller. It’s also an extraordinary piece of level design that blends beautiful architecture with enticing puzzles and action pieces, delivering a moody, yet entertaining experience. Innovative it may not be, but it is still a perfect depiction of what makes a good action adventure game work.
“Braid” – I admit being reticent about placing “Braid” in this category, for it defies both any category or genre boundaries most games are content on subscribing. But it has platforming, it has some mild adventure elements and it borrows it’s concept from “Sands of Time”, so here it is. “Braid” is probably one of the few games in this exercise that achieves plenitude in each of its expressive dimensions, and that alone makes it deserve an honorable mention. The fact that it delivers such a complete experience, while simultaneously providing a revolutionary gameplay, completely designed by a single person, just serves to show that innovation can work, and doesn’t need a million-dollar budget, just a spike of creativity and a great deal of good intention from publishers.
“Mirror’s Edge” – Ah… “Mirror’s Edge”, it had everything: a cool aesthetic, a dystopian narrative, an exciting new take on its genre; nothing could go wrong… except it did. Inspired by “Breakdown’s” coherent use of the first person perspective, which fully incorporated body movement and inertia (unheard of when it was first released) [thanks to Dieubussy for that reference 😉 ], “Mirror’s Edge” was an attempt at taking that first person experience to a whole new level, by making the player experience “the flow”: a mix of vertigo and adrenaline, induced by the ‘in your face’ view of a high speed flurry of parkour movements. The cruel fate of the game is that it actually succeeds in generating that singular experience, even if only to waste it with one of the worst level designs I’ve seen in the past year. It’s as if designers had deliberately built each level to break the smooth, flow-y pacing: either by forcing the player to wander aimlessly through scenarios in search of an obscure objective, or by making him trudge through generic shooter-like sequences that in nothing add to the core notion of the game. Add to that a silly plot, an even worse narrative vehicle, and you have a game that neither translates an interesting thought nor provokes the emotional, gut-like reaction it aimed at.
“Prince of Persia” – It’s the other ugly duckling of the year, curiously enough, for all the opposite reasons of “Mirror’s Edge”. Whereas “Mirror’s Edge” failed in producing a consistent “flow”, but provided the proper aesthetic context for its experience, “Prince of Persia” did the exact opposite: it designed a perfect flow, but lacked the necessary emotional effect that could make its gameplay interesting. In a sense, one is too much of a game to let its sensory experience come to fruition, the other is not enough of a game to be entertaining, nor enough of an emotional voyage to be more than just a game. Both fail, and yet, one can almost sense what wonderful games they could’ve been if they could merge the best each has to provide. Let’s just hope these developers learn from these mistakes.