Welcome to the ZTGD Reviewer Rodeo. Each week, we’ll grab on to the hottest issue, hold on for dear life, and wrassle it to the ground.
Sometimes it’s not the story the game tells that’s important, it’s how the story is told. Which games (old or new) have done the best job of drawing you in with how the narrative is conveyed?
John “Dubya” Whitehouse
Narrative is one of the most important parts of many games. Not all games require one, but if you want your game to stand out in peoples memories for years to come, then it is a must have.
There are plenty on great examples of a game sucking you in with its story telling, one that springs to mind is Uncharted 2. The game was so well written, that I actually found myself uttering lines that Drake would then say on the screen. It shows that the games developers were on the same wavelength as the player.
However, the game that I personally found to have the strongest narrative was Fallout 3. From its engaging main story, to all of the side quests; Fallout 3 had me hook, line and sinker from the start. It may not have been a technical masterpiece, but the way in which it told its story was second to none. Even the way in which the game takes you through the setting up of your character and the tutorial builds a connection between the game and the player.
But it wasn’t just about the main story; the side quests were a joy in themselves. From the lady who collects all things Nuka-Cola, to the living tree; all weird and wacky, the side quests drew me in as much as the main story arc did. I couldn’t wait to find out how each one concluded. The amazing thing about it was that you could play the whole main story, for hours upon hours and not even notice most of the side quests were there. In order to find them all, you had to comb every inch of the wasteland; this resulted in me playing the game for almost 100 hours! To me, it was something that was lacking in Fallout: New Vegas and as such it didn’t stand out to me nearly as much as Fallout 3 did.
Drew “Frustrated Fury” Leachman
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West really pulled me in. It was the character interactions and the sense of constant panic that really kept me invested in the story. The voice acting was fantastic as well. The style of telling a story with just two characters allows the player to become attached to them and Enslaved did a great job at that.
The inFamous series has had some amazing storytelling. The use of comic book cut scenes and narration of the main protagonist, Cole has the player feel like they are in Cole’s shoes. With this kind of delivery, you connect with Cole and begin to understand what it’s like to be an average Joe who all of a sudden, get superpowers.
I really enjoyed Alan Wake and how you read pages of the story so you would know what was going to happen later on in the game. That kept you coming back to see what else was in story for Alan right around the corner.
I know that many people will think I’m crazy, but I still think Alone in the Dark had an amazing way of telling the story. It played out like a season set of a television show. You could skip ahead in chapters, go back, and replay. The addition of the “Previously on Alone in the Dark-” scenes every time you loaded the game just made it feel awesome. Granted, the story was a little meh, but they style was great.
Derek “Punchfister” Deebag
The only story that matters is the one I tell the guy I’m teabagging.
Michael “Red Pen of Doom” Futter
My favorite storytelling device is the use of banter. Casual conversation progress the story naturally, without breaking up the action with cutscenes. It can also help the player relate to characters, enhancing the immersion. The Uncharted series, as John mentioned, is one of the best examples of this.
I also find that games that make effective use of collectible back-story elements (the audio logs in the Bioshock series or the Dead Drops in the inFAMOUS series, for instance) can be very enjoyable. This is becoming an overused narrative device, though. It works in the Bioshock series because you’re dropped into Rapture and left to figure out what happened to this civilization. The audiologs are the only remnants of the vibrant life that existed before the civil war. In inFAMOUS, the purpose of the dead drops isn’t to flesh out setting. Rather, the information gathered provides motive for the antagonists that have unleashed devastation on Empire City and the country.
Finally, I find that effective use of narration can be a powerful tool. It made the overwrought Max Payne series enjoyable (especially paired with Max’s frozen, constipated face). More recently, the narrator in Bastion absolutely took that game from “good” to “great.” The game already abounded with character, but having an external voice that was still embedded in the story, blended 3rd person perspective with the rare 2nd person. I say, “blended,” because the narrator describes the player’s actions without actually referring to The Kid as “you.” Somehow the game managed to keep you close enough to The Kid without diluting the protagonist as a character independent from the player. Bastion is an example of all that is right with storytelling in games.
That’s all for this edition of the ZTGD Reviewer Rodeo. Join us next week as we grab onto another bucking bronco of controversy and beat it into submission.
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