Experienced Points: The Story Snob

By Shamus Posted Friday May 28, 2010

Filed under: Column 54 comments

Game stories should be… good? It’s a simple point, but apparently this is something that needs to be said?


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54 thoughts on “Experienced Points: The Story Snob

  1. Drexer says:

    I’m sorry…. but…

    Sonic Unleashed?

    EDIT: Now I’ve reached the end of the article. Seriously Shamus, you scared me there. I jumped ahead exactly to ask if it was a typo… considering it was glued together and all…

    Proper reply:

    But yeah, I have many times displayed a total lack of affection towards games with horrible story, and many times I have heard some flack from friends saying something along the lines of “but look at this, it’s so coooool”. And I can only say “But are you listening to what it is saying? It makes absolutely no sense!”

    That was why I also hated so much the hours after I completed Mass Effect 2. The adrenaline came crashing all down and the awfulness of the story hit me head on.

  2. Irridium says:

    Ha, nice job with Sonic :P

    Anyway, games don’t need a story to be good. See Unreal Tournament 2004.

    But when you try to shoe-horn a story on a well built multiplayer franchise (I know it started with Unreal, and was a story-based game, but I’m ignoring that. This is about the tournament games), like they did with Unreal Tournament 3, then things just get stupid. For example, they tried to use flags- no, wait, F.l.A.G.s. to explain respawning. In the story you had to capture 3 flags to stop their respawners and- well the whole thing is just silly.

    If your going to put a story in, make sure its good, and not a pain. Otherwise just don’t bother.

    I’m actually playing through Maximo right now. And the story is just silly. But I think the designers knew this, and made the game have more of a cartoon feel, which helps the game and just makes the whole thing charming and adorable. When you get damaged enough your armor gets destroyed and you fight in heart-covered boxers for crying out loud!

    1. Drexer says:

      Team Fortress 2 is in my opinion the game that best managed to employ a perfect multiplayer storyline. It created a finely crafted story with bits and pieces here and there, and none of it feels too much as they keep adding to it(keep in mind I’m not talking about the gameplay of the unlocks, rather the story connected to them). It reminds me a lot of those short stories sometimes released in anthologies which create a totally random setting with undefined rules, but still they are so finely crafted and work with what is needed, that everyone loves them.

      1. Irridium says:

        Hehe, forgot about TF2 :P
        But yeah, thats another great example.

        Valve seems to know when to flesh out the story of their games. Doing it for the right games at the right time.

        The Saxton Hale comics were absolutely hilarious.

  3. Jarenth says:

    Your article reminded me first and foremost that I still owe Death’s Hand a good whooping. So thanks for that: maybe I’ll actually get around to finishing Jade Empire at some point.

    With regards to the ‘why are bad game stories even written‘ question: I think it’s because, as you’ve mentioned earlier, a game that’s only a string of unconnected action sequences would get boring and weary after a while. A story, à¡ny kind and à¡ny quality of story, at least serves to justify changing the scenery and the characters and such, to keep things a little fresh. As to why they’re often so bad… well, I just think it’s because they get away with it. Why waste time writing an epic and engaging story when 5th grade fanfiction can do the same job? As long as the story ties the action together to some degree, only the most engaged story-lovers will actually be bothered to the point of quitting.

    At least, that’s what I think the market is showing at the moment.

    1. Someone says:

      The weird thing is, developers spend a lot of money and time, hire Liam Neeson and do voiceacting, create animated cutscenes and otherwise go out of their way to tell a story with seemingly no intention for it to be a GOOD story, just any story. I mean if you dont want to bother with all theese characters and motivations and other crap, why not throw together something inexpensive and be done with it? Why buy the most expensive canvas and paint if you just want to draw dicks?

      Maybe its for the “lowest common denominator crowd”, they will not notice if you put your effort into actual writing but all that hooey around it seems impressive to them. I also wonder if its harder to sell a game to publishers if storytelling is done on the cheap.

      1. Scourge says:

        At least they don’t do the Uwe Boll approach to the whole acting stuff.

  4. TehShrike says:

    Valve does a great job at getting maximum atmosphere and emotion out of minimal story (L4D, TF2, Portal, etc).

    Game stories should… not suck.

  5. SatansBestBuddy says:

    I have to admit, I didn’t even notice Sonic Unleashed until I got to the end and you pointed it out, I had to look back and wonder, “Wow, how did I skip over that?”

    Aside from that, I don’t really have anything to add, since I agree with almost everything you said… so… yeah…

    I get funny looks when I bring up story in the Rock Band forums, don’t know why, it’d be such a nice fit…

  6. Conlaen says:

    You had me wondering with the Sonic thing there for a second too. But I have not actually played that one so I figured: Wait, was there actually a Sonic game with story? Good thing I kept going to the end.

  7. Raygerieo says:

    To be fair, Sonic Unleashed’s story was a hell of a lot better then Sonic 2006’s.

    While I love good storytelling as much as the next guy, I can forgive a game a poor story; primarily because you have more going on then just the story. Take a book: the story is all there is. So if that's not enjoyable, then the book is obviously not enjoyable.
    With a movie you have the visuals next to the story. I find that a movie can still be fun to watch – even though the story is awful – if the visuals are pleasing enough. Take Avatar: when I can predict the plot in detail after the first 15 minutes, we're obviously not talking about a masterpiece in writing. But I still somewhat enjoyed that movie because it's really pretty.

    With a game you have (in order of importance ““ in my humble opinion): gameplay, controls, story and visuals. For me, if the gameplay and controls are fun and competent: I find myself not caring all that much about the story. It's only when those two fail when I start looking for more insufficiencies in the game.
    A good example would be Prince of Persia Warrior Within. It may shock some people that I consider that to be the best game in the series. Yes, the other two games in the Sands of Time trilogy did the story way better, but Warrior Within had the best gameplay (the platforming and the combat) out the bunch combined with good, competent, quick-time-event-free controls.
    Now take the 2008 Prince of Persia game. It's story isn't really better or worse then Warrior Within, but because the gameplay and controls are so atrocious, I found myself nitpicking the story and characters apart. Something I never did with WW.
    Another example: Assassin's Creed. When I played the first game, all I thought about was how silly the story was (well, that and about how annoying those beggar women are). Now take the second game. It's story is honestly just as silly ““ probably even more so given that even the voice actor slips in a “WTF?” at the end of the game – but I never cared about it while playing because I had fun jumping out of haystacks stabbing people in the jugular.

    I'm not saying developers shouldn't put any effort in the game's story though. I still want good stories. I can just forgive a bad one if the rest of the game is enjoyable.

    I hope people can understand that piece of rambling; it's Saturday morning 1 am for me and my tenuous grasp of the English language is rapidly fading.

  8. Don Alsafi says:

    Absolutely agreed. We need more of this.

    Also, you seem to have a word missing at the end of the article:

    “Not because I demand that all games tell Torment-level with Shadow of the Colossus-level emotional impact”>

    1. silver Harloe says:

      specifically between “Torment-level” and “with” the word “stories” appears to be omitted accidentally.

  9. Stern says:

    It’s a interesting paradigm to think of making a good story (be it long or short) while still maintaining a good experience with the gameplay itself. It makes me think of the development process of Mirror’s Edge. That was a game built on an interesting game mechanic but didn’t get a story until much later in the development process. It was a reasonably fun game to get your mind lost in but I could see where the story suffered here and there. Hopefully with games evolving in areas outside cutting edge graphics we’ll see some better writing in the future.

  10. Hugo Sanchez says:

    Shamus, I was very skeptical when I saw you list Sonic Unleashed, but at the end I was relieved, not having bought a Sonic game in many years, I was willing to somehow believe that maybe there had been something good, but alas, no.

    I just finished playing,I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. That was a great game, I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last played a Point-and-Click adventure game, and I’ll probably go through a good deal of ScummVM compatible games in the following weeks. The story however, struck me. Some parts are pretty messed up, but the actual story is something oddly compelling, I can’t think of a recent game which had a story as good as that. However, I think by virtue of being a Point-and-Click, it had an advantage in that, seeing as how the game-play was created around the story.

    Which got me thinking, I love Open-world sandbox games. Saints Row 2 is one of my favorite games, ever. However, within the game, the story is weak, barely present, but I’ve come to expect that from that Genre. It doesn’t really bother me, WHAT DOES bother me, is when the story gets in the WAY of the Open-world mayhem of the game. Saints Row 2 doesn’t do that. Just Cause 2, which is almost as good (Though the dual hook makes it second only to Gmod for Physics fun.) Also has a very loose story that is weak, but it doesn’t get in the way of the Gameplay. And it’s VERY fun.

    Now, on the other hand, GTA 4. This, in my mind, let’s the story get in the way of the fun. I hate that I have to complete stupid missions that you have to repeat ALL the way from the start when fail right at the end. (Your Do It Again Stupid, mission rant comes in here.) But even worse than that, is that they limit the city. They make it so you HAVE to do those missions just to get the maximum amount of fun. This is what frustrated me most, though, the constant nagging by my “Friends” was a close second. Don’t get me wrong, though, that sealing off of the city isn’t NEW to the GTA franchise, it’s been a gripe I’ve had with the series since the original (Though it wasn’t as bad then).

    I like a good story in a game, It’s why I finished Dragon Age, despite not really caring for the combat. However, there seems to be some “Acceptable” level of story quality for each Genre. I don’t expect much out of the myriad of shooters that come out, however, I expect something good out of RPG’s. Don’t get me wrong, there is also individual developer expectations, I don’t expect Valve to give me a crappy story for EP3 just because it’s an FPS, but for most FPS’s, especially those from no-name developers, I do.

    So I really think that the thing here is whether you consider the story before the game, or the gameplay before the story. Playing a game and then thinking, “Wow, this is great, but it would be better if this feature were in it!” and then MAKING that game, without any regard to the story, is where we get all these generic games. They think about gameplay mechanics and features and neglect the story.

    At least, that’s what I think must be happening when you see games with generic stories. Despite however nice the gameplay is.

    (Wow that was long, probably needs revision. I hope you can get what I’m trying to say.)

  11. Mari says:

    I think part of the problem with games and stories is that “our” generation (the 30-somethings; referring to myself and Shamus) were pretty much the last to be forced to think about story in logical, critical terms during our education. Literature is still taught but it’s studied in a piece-meal fashion: identifying symbolism, finding metaphors, etc. with little to no emphasis on really digging into the PLOT itself. As a result I’ve noticed a general slip in the quality of story telling among media targeted at younger audiences from movies to literature to video games.

    Occasionally I read books my kids drag home that have been published in the past decade. There’s good stuff out there, don’t get me wrong. But by and large I’m seeing adolescent novels with lackluster plots with enough gaping holes to sink the Titanic appending larger-than-life characters and settings. It’s almost as if these novels are written with the sole intention of being adapted into movies that will pack theaters with throngs of opiated teens. They’re not written by authors, they’re written by frustrated script-writers full of grand ideas.

    That mentality seems to also spill over into the game scene. And the news. And music. And every other form of media.

    I don’t mean to come off as an old curmudgeon. I’m not yelling, “You kids with your evil rock and roll music are goin’ to the devil!” It’s just an observation of a societal shift. I honestly don’t even know if I think it’s a good shift or a bad one. The largest part of me does lament the loss of the story but another part of me responds to the ruthlessly efficiency of “Two Minute Mysteries” and three minute music videos for expressing ideas in easily edible bites and teen angst rags wringing the emotion from you without holding you down and torturing you as long as that Kleenex-gobbling “Terms of Endearment.”

    1. eri says:

      This is very true. Today, even companies renowned for good writing in games such as BioWare aren’t just interested in making quality stories for their games – they’re interested in creating entertainment properties across multiple types of media. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see films by Ubisoft within the next 10 years, considering that they are becoming increasingly involved with Hollywood and have been responsible for some filming, set design and special effects work in a few movies.

    2. Tizzy says:

      As much as I love to blame their education for every flaw in the youth of today, I think that my own interest in stories mostly stemmed from personal reading. You can build a better writing style for yourself by reading a lot and varying your authors; in the same way, you can build a solid appreciation for good stories by reading good stories. For this, the gold standard is classical fairy tales, mythologies, and so on. These things have been so honed throughout the re-tellings, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything sharper. One of the first books I ever read was a prose adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey: it still kicks ass!

    3. Matt P says:

      As someone in the younger age bracket, I have to agree. My English Literature class was, honestly, a piece of s***. Oh we looked at symbolism and imagery and blah blah, but I don’t honestly remember whether the word “Characterisation” was ever mentioned and I’m sure it was never studied.
      I do, however, remember hearing “race”, “class”, and “gender” every five minutes, but that’s a side dispute. The point is, I’m not that dumb a guy (but neither would I claim to be smart) and I know more than the average person about literature, but I still wouldn’t have a clue how to explain WHY a story is good or bad.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Weird how you didnt list unreal tournament there.It also helps to show the contrast:UT – story(?) is there just for padding when youre bored,and can be easilly skipped.Game is awesome.UT3 – story drives the game forward.Game is horrible.

    By the way,you didnt fool me with sonic.

  13. Knight-Templar says:

    I haven’t read the article yet (I’m going to) but I just wanted to point out.

    “Game stories should be… good? It's a simple point, but apparently this is something that needs to be said? ”
    You sould like an Aussie. We end most sentances with a higher tone of voice, such that it soulds as if every statement is a question. So I read this in an Aussie accent.

    1. Shamus says:

      Snipin’s a good job, mate.

  14. Josh R says:

    It wouldn’t be a shamus young article on stories without having a jade empire mention in there.

    1. some random dood says:

      I’m no good at the type of combat thing Jade Empire contained – but the story interested me enough that I went and found out how to edit the text files controlling the game to make it possible for a clumsy idiot like me to complete it!

  15. Yar Kramer says:

    Yeah … I kinda think I agree with this entirely. (Speaking as someone who hasn’t played Sonic Unleashed, I merely thought “It had a good story? Huh. Okay.”)

    It also explains why I decided that I was done with Serious Sam HD after the demo (I’ve never played the original): I can handle a completely cheesy story, like in Devil May Cry 4, but Serious Sam had NO story. I was feeling kind of “Oh, hmm …” about five minutes in, but I stopped caring altogether when I found myself in what felt like a fifteen minute sequence of waves of various types of enemies rushing at me, each reappearing after the last one. “Okay, I defeated the next wave, I hope this door will open this ti–” *teleport SFX* “– oh NOW what!?”

  16. Joe says:

    To me, it seems like games try to tack on a story to a game that started off as a gameplay “innovation.” Concepts for new gameplay should try to keep story out of the way, I think. If you’re trying to make “Really Good Multiplayer Shooter 9000,” then don’t also try to make “Space Opera 2.0,” or else you end up with something like the Halo series. The gameplay is pretty awesome, and a lot of multiplayer types adore the “balance” and all that, but story-types can’t stand the darn thing because the developers, quite frankly, didn’t really give a flying rat’s left buttock about the single-player. It’s almost as if Bungie took the same stance that their fanbase now has: “The multiplayer is so good that it doesn’t matter if the single-player isn’t.”

    “The Halo Problem” can be easily avoided though: Don’t have a story. In the manual, or on startup, or whatever, just put up a bit of flavor text to basically say “Hey guys, you’re in the universe. You’re a super soldier, they’re aliens. Do what comes naturally.” Because let’s face it; that’s basically what the Halo story boils down too. Single-player in a Halo-esque game works better in the “mindlessly slaughter AI bots through area A. Mindlessly slaughter AI bots through area B.” Anyone familiar with the “Boxhead” style games (and most action-oriented flash games, I suppose) knows what I’m talking about.

    Actually, I’m pretty sure Shamus already has a post about this sort of thing. Go read that instead of my ramblings, before they get too ramblish.

    1. Tizzy says:

      There are those of us who remember when a game’s story was a blurb on the back of a box (that contained an audio tape, no less!). Back in the Stone Age, some games already had pretty elaborate stories, but only those that you would play for the story. Action games typically had no story to speak of, at best an archetype or a trope.

      And that was fine, and no-one complained. I’m probably as much a story snob as anyone here, but I won’t expect a story when I play bejeweled. But I will complain if the story is bad, and doubly so if it was not necessary to introduce a story in the game in the first place.

  17. Ramsus says:

    I’m pretty bad with my story snobbishness as well. There have been several games (most of these were shooters) that had excellent gameplay but I just could not find myself caring enough about what I was doing to continue to force myself to play. When this happens I’ve tossed aside new games I haven’t finished with better gameplay in favor of playing an older game I’ve played several times before with similar but inferior gameplay.

    As for everyone who says “if you want story, watch a movie/read a book/just pretend they had hired anyone who had written anything ever”: It’s not that I’m demanding my game has to have a story, just that games would actually be better off without one that actually sucks away the enjoyment I was getting out of playing the game by reminding me that the character/world/situation is so dumb that what I should really be doing in that situation is playing whack-a-mole with the writers. The current situation is kinda like reading a picture book with a good story but every picture was drawn left handed by a blind man (not some blind genius artist…just your average blind guy). Sure the major focus behind the idea is great but the secondary one is done so poorly that it ruins the whole thing.

  18. eri says:

    I like to take a ludological rather than narratological approach to examining games. The fact is that games need to be evaluated as their own medium, with their own uniquenesses, upsides and downsides, with particular respect to the most important element of gaming, interactivity. Games are first and foremost games; however, this usually means that we make the jump to say that “gameplay comes first”, which I think is a bit misleading. Gameplay itself carries strong connotations of traditional play mechanics stemming from arcade titles: ideas like score, progression, lives, game overs, etc. are obviously mainstays of gaming, but they aren’t all we need to think about when we talk about “gameplay”. Freeing ourselves from these traditional trappings is important not only to understanding what games are, but also how to properly integrate stories, characters, plots, etc. into games, and ultimately, how to make games that are better and do new things.

  19. X2-Eliah says:

    Yeah, game stories should be good, just like the actual gameplay and controls. Once you have those three, only then a game itself can be truly good.

    And that’s about it, nothing really to add or expand upon.

    1. ehlijen says:

      I beg to differ. Take the original X-COM. You’ll find plenty of people who’ll swear it was one of the best games ever made (and I say they’re right), but looking at it honestly:
      Terrible controls
      At best adequate graphics for its time (if you’re feeling generous)
      Very little story, and what there was of it could have been from plan 9

      And yet, the gameplay was addictive enough to make many people waste/spend large amounts of their time on it.

      So no, you don’t need all three to make a good game. It certainly helps, but being good enough in just one area can be all you need. It doesn’t happen often, but it can.

  20. Falco Rusticula says:

    Speaking of Shadow of the Colossus, you never did finish your review.

    I love stories too. I tend to introduce them to settings where there’s only the flimsiest hint of an actual story, because I need something to pull it all together and make it work for me. Disconnected bits and pieces of fighting monsters may be fun, but without a story there’s nothing memorable there.

  21. Zekiel says:

    I think eliciting emotion is an impressive thing for a game to do. And for that of course you need to have some sort of story framework to hang it on. Planescape: Torment, Portal, Braid, Baldur’s Gate (1 & 2), Final Fantasy X (the only FF I’ve played) all did a good job of this. I felt sad, I felt joyful, I felt scared… the important thing is that I felt for one or more of the characters

    In some ways games have a difficult job to do because the gameplay has to be good as well as providing a decent story. A film, for instance, can be technically rubbish (fixed camera, no SFX) but still be wonderful because of the story, characterisation and performances. Whereas a game with a wonderful story and amazing characterisation but with awful gameplay would still be an awful game.

    As has been mentioned above, a really great game is one which meshes the story with the gameplay seamlessly – i.e. it doesn’t try to be an “interactive movie” bu actually uses the strengths of the medium to tell a story that wouldn’t have been as effective as a movie or a book.

  22. DrinkingWithSkeletons says:

    Anyone here ever play Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines? I picked it up a few years ago during a Steam sale and it fits what Shamus is talking about perfectly. It has horrible combat–which makes parts of the game very tedious to get through–and was clearly a victim of KOTOR 2 syndrome, but it had a great (but unobtrusive) sense of humor about itself, a great approach to fairly convoluted lore (I’d never heard of Vampire before and Wikipedia made me glad that I hadn’t; the game keeps it very interesting and manageable and never veers into overcomplexity or stupidity), a great use of player customization and choice, and what I consider to be the best ending of a game I’ve ever played. No spoilers, but, depending on your choices (there are 5 or 6 endings), you may be VERY surprised at what you get in the end.

    Other thoughts on games whose non-gameplay elements made you overlook their faults?

    1. Tizzy says:

      I believe this game was extensively discussed on the occasion of the latest Spoiler Warning ;-)

    2. Someone says:

      MAFIA. I remember the firefights and car chases were hard and became quite tedious about halfway through the game and I was basically playing for the cutscenes.

      1. Tapp says:

        I boot up Bloodlines every few years, but I’ve never finished it. The story and concept drive the game, and do allow one to see past its many, many flaws, but there is a part in the game where the story line runs out of steam… and so do I. Unsurprisingly, it's the sewer level that does it. Everything in the game up to that point is refreshing and different, but then you have to spend 2 hours crawling around in a sewer. It completely killed the game for me.

        Although, I DO remember being scared of drowning, and then feeling elated when I realized vampires don’t breath. Didn’t fix the boredom though.

        1. krellen says:

          The sewer level sucks. The haunted house really makes up for it, though. Too bad the former comes first, so you don’t have it to look forward to.

          1. Tizzy says:

            It cannot be repeated enough: I hate that damn werewolf!

            1. krellen says:

              He’s easy to kill if you know the trick.

              1. Tizzy says:

                I can easily beat him with Celerity 5, I can survive him with Fortitude 5, but otherwise it’s not really easy. More to the point, you must go through this to reach the endgame. Since the skills necessary to survive the ordeal have very little to do with what brought you there successfully so far, I find it a poor design choice on their part. (I’d be fine with the werewolf as an optional quest, or if there were a few more options to deal with him.)

                1. Blackbird71 says:

                  Hmm, can’t get the spoiler tags to work, so if you don’t want to know how to beat the werewolf, SPOILER BELOW!

                  It’s really not a matter of having the right combat skills to beat the werewolf, it’s just about leading him around the observatory then timing it to get him squished in the telescope doors.

  23. Neil Polenske says:

    The Sonic Unleashed gambit was genius sir. I could barely read the rest of the article over the WTF bsod you stuphed in mah brain with that comment. That aside, I was confused by this inquiry you made:

    “But the “go watch a movie” taunt overlooks an important point: If the story doesn’t matter, then why do game designers waste so much time on them?”

    It confused me because the answer is so blatantly obvious: marketing. It’s the sole reason Michael Bay knock off stories are included in any game today.

  24. Tizzy says:

    BTW, I loved fact that the first comment on the Escapist is to remind us that less is more in terms of story. I could not agree more! And I am such a story snob that if a game’s story is kind enough to be relatively unobtrusive rather than stupid, I will make up my own stories to fill the gaps.

    It’s safe to bet that I’m not the only one who does that…

    1. Someone says:

      No you arent. I too usually concoct explanations of my own for anything the writers didnt adress, as long as they dont go out of their way to make it impossible.

  25. Hmm! I wonder how Alpha Protocol would fare under Shamus’ critical eye (ear?) in a review or gasp, Spoiler warning?

    In Alpha Protocol there is a overall story, but the choices you make, whom you speak to and how you speak to them changes the game, supposedly what you say or choose will determine who will or will not die,
    and if you will end up with the girl at the end. (which of the 4 actually, and romancing them is a choice as you can be flirty and friendly but still choose not to bed them)

    You can also be a complete ass if you will.
    It seems like Obsidian has taken a page out of Mass Effect, but added a bit more to it. You can be professional, aggressive, nice, and sometimes a fourth or even fifth behaviors.

    The choices will probably not change the final story ending. (at least I haven’t seen if a “bad” ending exists, not that I’ve read on the net at least)
    So Obsidian avoided the ending issues that Mass Effect 1 carried into Mass Effect 2, in that besides which of the people that you meet live or die, the overall end of Alpha Protocol seem to culminate in a point.
    So a Alpha Protocol 2 could easily continue following the main character’s without major issues. (I wonder if they plan to carry the save game over or not like BioWare did?)

    Unfortunately it seems like Obsidian’s budged was way smaller than BioWare’s (obviously) and shows in the production.
    But as far as I’ve seen it seems like a really good game, with a good story, with a slightly feeling of a mix between a little Deus Ex (1) here, and some Soldier of Fortune (1&2) there, with some Splinter Cell (1&2) stealth, and Mass Effect multiple dialog “states” that goes a step further and changes the experience from your very first responses to the end, rather than just near the endgame as Mass Effect mostly do.
    And as Obsidian themselves “bragged” yes there is also a certain Jack Bauer/James Bond/Jason Bourne feel through out the game.

    For the lack of a better term I’d call Alpha Protocol a “Super Agent RPG” rather than a Action-RPG.
    I doubt it’ll win any rewards with all the competition out there, but it certainly deserves to be nominated.

    Reason it won’t win any rewards is that the art assets could be better, there are some odd glitches now and again, nothing game stopping, it has a mild case of portitis in other words, possibly to make it easier/cheaper to release on PS3, 360 and PC with next to no changes. Some of the glitches could just be the Unreal 3 engine for all I know. (Example: an enemy on a stairwell is shot, dies and falls, his hand gets stuck and he dangles, oops physics glitch)

    It would probably be entertaining for a Spoiler Warning due to the dialog options and the results from them and the sometimes over the top situations, if it wasn’t for one thing, the dialog selection has a timeout, and it starts usually at the end of a character “speech” or sometimes before the end (to make the speaking flow better as well as create a “liveness” feel), as pretty much all dialog uses this it could be frustrating if arguing about which option to choose.
    Maybe a trainer or a modification could increase the choice timeouts so one could have a few seconds to think/talk after a character stops talking.
    Or maybe it wouldn’t be that much of a problem anyway depending on whom is playing it. The timeout isn’t bad it’s just that personally I prefer no timeout (like Mass Effect 1 on the PC for example, although I’m warming up to the Mass Effect 2 action opportunities) as I’m used to drink some Pepsi or roll a smoke during dialog choices (allows a breather from the “action” which requires both hands being busy with keyboard and mouse control)

    But anyway, Alpha Protocol might be a worthy RPG (RPG’s are perfect for Spoiler Warning :) based game for the Spoiler Warning list (you might possibly do one more game after Fallout 3 before doing Mass Effect 2 right?)

    Another interesting thing is that Alpha Protocol is Obsidian’s first “own” game, rather than a sequel to somebody else’s franchise (like KOTOR2, NWN2 was). And by the looks of it, it’s surprisingly pretty good.

    Example: Apparently to get a certain outcome of a particular situation you must piss off a person you are talking with to get save a friend’s life, because if you treat that particular person nicely, your friend will most likely die, hows that for a twist in dialog “choices”.

    Another example: Near the end of the game a character will reference something you stated near the beginning of the game and ask you if that turned out like you thought it would. Possible choices you get to respond with ranges from, well you saying something different (because you as a player due to the thing happening in he game changed your view), or lie (not to the character asking, but to you yourself and/or by your character or avatar if you will.)

    I’m hoping this game does good as I’d be very interesting how much further Obsidian could take this in a future game. (be it a sequel or a completely different game) The latter part of KOTOR2 pissed me off a little, but Alpha Protocol clearly shows the guys at Obsidian have some impressive talent, provided they spend enough time polishing it.)

    I’ll probably be shot for this but having seen both Assassins Creed 2 and Alpha Protocol I must honestly say that Alpha Protocol is the better game here. And even BioWare should take some notes and borrow some ideas from Alpha Protocol’s dialog system, as Obsidian has taken the “Mass Effect Dialog” to a new level.

    Heck, Obsidian managed to make the choices you choose actually match what the character is saying almost all the time, there’s very few “Gah! I didn’t want to say exactly that” moments.

    The humor is also pretty great.
    In one case (if you are real “close” with the handler on your coms) the main character enters a room with lots of statues and busts and says “Nice bust!” With the female on the coms going “Emh, not now” half teasingly, not sure if that character playthrough was a flirt with all females or if was the relationship with the handler!

    In other words Obsidian has managed to do with Alpha Protocol what Bethesda didn’t manage with Fallout 3. (blow up megaton and it doesn’t affect your character other than a inconvenience as Megaton was a nice hub), but in Alpha Protocol it not only affects the character personally (story wise) but whom you are friends or not friends with will affect whether you get bunch of guys showing up to help you in a time of need during fights or make things worse for you because they hate your guts, or you may have to duke it out alone.

    The choices also affect what intel and equipment you can get,
    and your choices (and actions also, yes “choices AND actions”)
    will affect what perks you get.

    So to end, Alpha protocol do not impress my that much as a game, as that it’s pretty ok, what impress me is the way the story of your character and those he interact with is weaved through your choices and action, making for a very interesting journey and if your true agent material and play it smart, with a girl on your arm onward into the sunset.

    PS! I’m sure if you check youtube you’ll find some clips, in particular one of a big busty Russian mercenary whom you at a point during dialog (near the middle of a 4-5 dialog roundtrip) need to decide to attack her and almost half kill her to um..get her on your good side. In any other game that would be a laughable bug, in Alpha Protocol it’s in-character for that character, and your character at that moment in the game’s story.
    But the brilliant thing is, it’s only if you choose so.

    If the dialogs in Mass Effect 3 is only halfway between that of Mass Effect 2 and Alpha Protocol then Mass Effect character interaction will be amazing, playing Obsidian’s new game will probably make you think “If only Obsidian had a “BioWare” budget and resources for Alpha Protocol…it would have been awesome!”
    Instead it’s just a OK game with the best character dialog options I’ve seen so far in a modern game.

    Or to put it another way…If you ever wondered how a voiced text adventure would be…this is probably as close as it’ll ever get these days, as anything more would just take too long or cost too much or make the story suffer.

    And did anyone ever wonder what happened to those multiple choice DVD’s way back?
    Imagine a Jason Bourne DVD were at various places you could choose anything from 2 to 6 choices that would change the story in a small way (just dialog) or in a larger way (action) and later would make things unfold slightly different (consequences).
    Well, this game is as close as you’ll ever get as such a DVD/movie would be too expensive to film, (at least until they have made fully automated actor avatars in um 100+ years?)
    But if you squint your eyes slightly you just might fool yourself into believing this game is such a movie.

    This game is a perfect example of videogames as art,
    as it does something that no movie can ever do, what no book can ever do. Remember in the old really old days when there used to be traveling storytellers? Each one end up telling a slightly different variant of the same story. This game is just like that.

    Unfortunately in a year this game will probably be forgotten,
    as it’s not a AAA title like Mass Effect 1,
    Alpha Protocol is more like a AA title but with a AAAA dialog concept and mostly AAA voice acting with the odd AA voice acting.

    So here’s hoping the next game from Obsidian that is their “own” game is even better, cheers guys, KOTOR2 is now forgiven and you have actually managed to surprisingly impressed me, the last ones that did that was BioWare with Mass Effect, and before that KOTOR also by BioWare, and before that The Longest Journey by Funcom.
    Welcome to the “big” league Obsidian, you are a force to be reckoned with!

    It’s a bit unfair to call it “Mass Effect Dialog”, I think the proper term would be a “RPG Dialog” based game. (to differentiate it from RPG number crunching games)
    Both the Mass Effect franchise, and Alpha Protocol are RPG Dialog based games, while Dragon Age is partly a RPG Dialog game.

    1. Jarenth says:


      It’s super effective!

    2. Jonathan says:

      I was pretty impressed by the stuff referenced in the Wall of Text…then I looked up the game and realized that it’s being released in the US tomorrow. This is just based on released info, reviews, etc., not on actual gameplay experience.

      1. Yeah! As the US release is the 1st, but the European release was the 28th ;)

        Of course that’s just one playthrough, we’ll see if I have time for other playthroughs (have to return it soon as it’s only borrowed/on loan) and see how different alternate dialogs really changes things, but I did notice interesting things by experimenting and jumping back a few checkpoints.

        So if you plan to buy this game, do not buy it based on reviewers that has only played through it “once” if even that.

        PS! I can’t remember if this song played at the “end” of my playthrough as it’s possible it’s intended for a “solo” eneing where you well dont’ sail away wit anyone at the end.
        Found this song by digging through the soundfiles of the game,
        the lyrics cracked me up, especially considering the ending scene of my playthrough.
        (Explicit lyrics) http://www.musicloversgroup.com/the-lonely-island-feat-t-pain-im-on-a-boat-video-and-lyrics/

        BTW! Aparently there is a parachute fight in the game but I did not get to experience that, so it might be true what it says on Wikipedia, that on a single playthrough you may only experience 4 hours of the 12 hours of cinematics. Woah!

  26. Scourge says:

    And in general for the stories:

    The President has been kidnapped, are you a bad enough dude to rescue him?

    What I want to say is that very often the story is just the third, or even fourth wheel on a car called videogame. Sure, there are exceptions, but most often is a game about the graphics, the things you can do, and only then comes the story.

    I don’t want to say that this is good, but its a certain approach to these games.
    Stories are for RPG’s because they are storydriven, everything else just needs a luke warm cover sheet of a reasonable story.
    That is how I see the current trend in the industry at least.

  27. someguy says:

    In short,
    I rather have a stupid story that just exists in order for me to have something to do (e.g. Fallout3) than a ginormous monster of a supposedly great story (read: pretentious) that prevents me from filling in my own motivation to steer my character (e.g. Bioshock)

    1. evileeyore says:

      I’d rather have decent (if scripted and force fed) motivation than the nothing at all Fallout 3 serves up.

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