On What I’ve Been Playing

So far, this has been a great year for me and video games.  I’ve had a few weird periods of dropping everything I try after just an hour or two, but for the most part, games have been very good to me in 2013.  Over the past few weeks I’ve played a few games that I have quite a lot to say about: Brothers: A Tale of Two SonsThe Stanley ParableThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies.

1.  The Stanley Parable

The Stanley Parable is a really difficult game for me to talk about in some ways.  It is essentially a first person adventure game about an office worker named Stanley who starts work one day and realizes that all of his coworkers have disappeared.  The player can then explore the office building he works in to try to figure out what has gone so horribly wrong.  The twist is the game’s narrator, British and quite snarky, who will comment on your actions as Stanley depending on which areas you explore and which route you take through the building.  There are many possible endings and options to explore (I got about 7, but I’m fairly certain there are at least 15 options), some of which are very funny and an interesting play on video game storytelling.

Really, examining the nature of video game story telling is what The Stanley Parable  is all about.  I think that what the developers are trying to get across in the game is very interesting and often pretty hilarious, but I just don’t really think it’s all that fun to play.  I honestly can’t really express what I don’t like about it and it’s surprising to me that I don’t really enjoy playing it, particularly since I loved Gone Home so much.  Gone Home, which is one of my favourite games of the year, is also a first person adventure game that plays with video game story telling and subverting player expectations.  I wish I could pinpoint what really works for me in one but doesn’t in the other, but I just can’t put my finger on it.

2.  Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies

I am currently playing Dual Destinies and as a long time fan of the Ace Attorney series, I must say that I am very pleased with it so far.  My love for that universe has taken quite a beating since the release of the Apollo Justice game, so I was trying to not get too enthusiastic about the series’ 5th entry in order to avoid some serious disappointment.  I couldn’t have been more wrong about it, and I am absolutely thrilled.  Once I have finished the game, I will be writing a more in-depth post about it, plus perhaps one more about my history with that series as well — this seems like a good time to reflect on that.  All in all, I’m having a great time with it and it’s awesome.

3.  The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

I have played many, many hours of Skyrim since its release in 2011.  I recently decided to buy the Legendary Edition for PS3 since I hadn’t yet tried out any of the DLC and I recently boxed up my XBOX 360, which is the version of Skyrim I played previously, to make room for new consoles.  Since the game seems to actually be working much better on the PS3 nowadays, I figured I might as well pick it up and start over again on a new playthrough.  Aside from the expected bugginess, it plays reasonably well and I still love it as much as I ever did.  I’m hoping to get through the main story, which I never finished despite sinking somewhere around 200 hours in to it on the 360, and to play a bunch of the DLC content.  I had one long session a few days ago, but I decided that with so much course work, it might be best to put Skyrim on hold until I have a break from course work.

4.  Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers is the story of two brothers on a quest through a fairy tale inspired world to find medicine, produced by a mythical tree, that can cure their terminally ill father.  The game has no comprehensible dialog, as all the characters communicate using a made up language and most of the story is told through visuals and controls.  The player controls both brothers at once, each with one of the two analog sticks for movement and the corresponding trigger button for interaction.  Using the different physical attributes and strengths of each brother, the player navigates environmental puzzles in a number of different areas to guide them toward their goal.  The younger brother, for example, is smaller and thus can squeeze through bars, allowing him to sneak through a gate and steal a key from a troll who is blocking their path.   The elder brother, on the other hand, is stronger, which makes him able to pull heavy levers.  The controls can be quite challenging, as using the analog sticks to control two characters at once is something we don’t do all that often, and you can sometimes get things a bit backwards, but once you get used to it, it’s quite simple and fluid.

The environments are beautiful and designed and drawn with a great deal of care.  The art style is a little similar to that in Bastion in that it has a painterly quality to it.  The story is quite simple, but it is emotionally effective and really quite touching.  The most interesting aspect of the story for me was essentially how the creators attempted to convey emotion through the game’s controls, particularly toward the end of the game (I would give more specific examples, but I don’t want to spoil them for anyone who might drop by here).  I have been talking with a friend lately about narrative in video games and about how I think that developers could be doing a lot more to think creatively about how video games can tell a story, and I think that the people at Starbreeze who worked on this game have done an excellent job of exploring the way that controls and a game’s story can work together.  I’m excited to see more from this studio in the future.


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