I thought we were playing games?

Yes, plot driven games are a thing nowadays, and the clever melding of interactivity and narrative can lead to some amazingly immersive experiences. Just play me Rosie’s song (the original Japanese version of course) from Valkyria Chronicles and watch me suddenly get something in my eye.

But sometimes games just need to be judged as games first and foremost, and there has been an annoying trend emerging lately of truly excellent games being reviewed as such, but marked down severely at the end for ‘weak characters’ or ‘vague storytelling’.

Take the recent Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, which I adored for it’s sense of momentum and sheer twitchy point-to-point gameyness. However, a lot of reviewers chose to mark it down for having a generic cliched dystopian setting with a generic cliched dystopian evil coproration. Yes, it did, but how else are you going to build a game around a constant sense of urgency unless all of the enforcers you encounter are blind zealots who shoot first and ask questions never?

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The setting serves the gameplay, and shouldn’t that be what’s most important? Reviewers also objected to the new characterisation of Faith, who is this time younger, cockier, recklessly arrogant, when these are the very qualities which get her into the situations which fuel the game’s sense of tension in the first place.

The beguiling Hyper Light Drifter also lost a lot of review point recently for ‘vague storytelling’. Seriously, what? The atmosphere is everything in that game, coupled with the player’s own sense of exploration. Every weathered temple, or decaying god warrior laying dormant beneath a lake, or ancient half-organic machine ticking away for eternity conveys such a sense of subtle purpose and history, that having some narrator take the sense of discovery away from the player alone would have ruined the game.

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Seriously reviewers, just let certain games be games first. It’s what they’re best at. If you’d rather not, I’ve got some great suggestions below for games with rubbish plots, which deserve to be marked down severely.

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Faith Restored: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Beta Impressions

I loved the original Mirror’s Edge. It had some glaring flaws, but such things were forgiveable at the time given how new an experience in gaming was being attempted. I’ve spent the past 8 years hoping for a sequel which keeps the bits that worked and jettisons what didn’t.

But DICE haven’t done that. They’ve done something far more impressive.

You see the combat in the original was almost game-ruiningly awful. They could have easily made a decent sequel by getting rid of it fighting entirely, but instead have taken a gamble at creating an entirely new combat system, and it’s astonishingly good so far, with a fantastic strafing feature reminiscent of Metroid Prime, and a focus on crowd control over damage, giving you lots of options to direct enemies into one another or make use of the environment. And no guns, thank goodness.

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Also worrying me was a move towards an open world, but it barely feels like such, as open world gaming generally implies lots of boring walking or driving to the  next location, while in Catalyst it feels more like an endless series of challenging, and fun to negotiate, levels being pulled together on the fly depending on where you are heading to.

And Mirror’s Edge still feels like nothing else. Even after 8 years there are still very few games that can bring so much enjoyment and challenge to just moving around. Hopefully it does well enough to justify EA’s gamble, and prove to their shareholders that DICE can be more than just a Battlefield factory.

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