February 6, 2008

D for Effort

For all the talk about whether video games are art or not, too many new releases are riddled with the kind of goofs you'd expect from a fourth grade school play, not a piece of entertainment someone's supposed to drop sixty bucks on.

This week I played a game where, in the course of sneaking around, it's probable that you'll hear two guards talking. Trouble is, all these soldiers are voiced by the same person, and in the exact same manner. Given that the performances sound like cold reads with no direction, I have to wonder: weren't any other members of the development team available for ten minutes to record some rubbish dialogue? You know, just so this scene doesn't come off like a particularly bad outtake from Raising Cain?

And don't get me started on all the games where half the soundtrack is of the "hey, my brother's in a band" variety.

I realize I'm up on my high horse, but for crying out in the beer, if you're going to spend years of your life working endless crunch hours to create something, put your entire ass into it, would you please?

As much as I love BioShock, I hope it's just the beginning, the long overdue opening salvo of a new battle to give the gaming audience more credit, to tell more interesting and intelligent stories, to make what are still largely disposable experiences more powerful, resonant, and memorable.

I don't mean to imply that all games should strive for deeper meaning, or that it's a necessary ingredient in all cases. I've just in the last week had the pleasure of playing a fantastic military-themed first-person shooter ahead of its release, and its storytelling, serviced largely by thick-necked grunt stereotypes, is by far its weakest ingredient. Is it a bad game? Quite the opposite. Still, would its ham-fisted political message be better served by a consistent and thoughtful narrative element, elaborated upon by performances tailored to that end? Absolutely.

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