In Reference To: John Teti
Sideboob: Mercenaries 2
I found the original Bioshock exactly that boorish because of the thin veneer of ideology which was so one dimensional that it failed utterly to give any depth to the excellent art direction. I had hardly taken a step into the world when I get monologued to death by what amounted to an interrupted carnival barker. Hey I opened a door, ooh check that out, uh oh here comes that stupid voice over. It was so ham handed as compared to say.. well the other excellent FPS/RPGs that I just couldn't put up with it. Arriving on the train into City 17 in Half Life 2 was a miracle of immersion. Escaping execution from the burned out town in Skyrim, brilliant. Coming out of genetic rebuilding in Mass Effect, genius.
Infinite never raised my hope much further despite the very cool graphics - it stayed much too close to a politically mythical America to be useful. Nothing about the series has seemed sandboxy enough, and the invented universe simply didn't have enough resonances for me. Considering, for example, the historical verisimilitude of the latest Assassin's Creed, at least there's the net absence of the integral part of a meaningful role of the Assassin in the American Revolution. There's a kind of Groundhog Day irrelevance to all your passion, and Assassin's Creed is OK with that - or at least it is at it's best when not too much is made of the significance of your avatar's murderous rage. The same thing can be said of the deft denouement of Skyrim. Even after you've contributed to solving the world's problems, the world still exists, with new problems. Mass Effect, not so much.
To be fair, these are inordinately complex problems to solve. The narrative has to get you going, especially when your character is too weak to beat up an ordinary policeman or guard. Some successful games ignore the problem altogether. Here is the world, here are the badguys, here's the stereotypical mission and you badass your way through. That can be loads of fun, witness games like Mercenaries 2, or Borderlands.
Deus Ex is rather the exception that proves the rule. Or rather I should say, it's a very well done game that forces you to think differently about FPS/RPGs. As a moral exercise, I simply found it too challenging. There were too many ethically gray areas that I was forced to put my avatar through - and I did find that realistic. It made me feel as though there is no real way to be heroic if you were actually endowed with such powers. It made you feel the limits, and if you are a serious gamer and take what happens to your avatar seriously, Deus Ex will put you through some emotional changes. Lying, cheating, stealing and killing in Deus Ex, takes a toll (or it did on me).
The other game that made me feel something like that was GTA San Andreas. It got really revolting to be the bad guy. It was something -- well I've never had the stomach to watch Clockwork Orange all the way through -- I imagine to being akin to being brainwashed. The rewards for any positive moral behavior in the game are washed out of your system, and it being a sandbox game, you can't even pretend to be motivated by the arc of the story. There was none.
Obviously I see a world of sociological and psychological discussion in the universes that game designers create. And it is that angle that has always struck me as being a blindspot for a lot of the game criticism that gave such high marks to the artistic merits of the BioShock series.