Despite playing through three of the four main entries in the Metal Gear Solid franchise (I could never force myself to get through Sons of Liberty, even after multiple attempts), I can safely say I am not a fan of the series. Not because they don’t play well, in fact the first game holds up well even after 16 years, but it’s the writing, dialogue, and story that I find infuriatingly terrible. Convoluted to the point of meaninglessness, the story uses long, rambling monologues, from characters who have decided to tell their life’s stories and personal philosophies at the worst possible times, to take on big topics like war, violence, and technology with the same amount of subtlety and depth as an after-school TV special. But Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, the recent action game starring previously-annoying-whiner-now-cyborg-ninja Raiden, uses basically the same storytelling style, and yet, it actually works. At least, better than it does in MGS.
You’re dual-wielding a shotgun that shoots missiles six at a time and a machine gun that fires flaming bullets. There are six guys shooting back at you, half of them twice your size and bulging with muscles. There’s a shirtless masked man covered in flames shouting nonsensical threats and Shakespeare lines as he sprints toward you axe in hand. The psycho’s axe hits you before you have time to take him down, dealing far more damage than one might expect considering the barrage of bullets you’ve already taken. You shift your attention from the gun-wielding maniacs to the axe-wielding maniac, but just as you begin whittling his health down the other bandits have had a clear chance to fire on you. Your health drops to zero. But you still have a chance to survive. You’re downed and your vision is fading but if you pull off a last-minute kill you’ll come back just about good as new. The flame-wreathed psycho was right next to you when you went down, it’ll be an easy kill to net you your “second wind” and get you back on your feet. You turn to aim you’re missile-shooting shotgun at the psycho, and he’s gone. Looking farther down the battlefield you can see the psycho making a sharp turn behind a large piece of corrugated metal serving as the wall of a small hut. That’s when you realize that all of the other bandits have found themselves some nice sturdy walls to hide behind and take potshots from. You fire impotently at them before you bleed out and die.
As a rather poor college student I never get to play as many games every year as I would like, particularly, new games. Only 7 of the 23 games I beat this year were from 2013, which seems low, though there were a number of games that I just had no interest in finishing that many considered the best of the year. I played through the first half of The Last of Us and watched a friend play the other half, and I have no overwhelming desire to finish it on my own. I understand why it’s so popular and I appreciate that it depicts violence as sloppy and brutal, but I think its runtime isn’t dictated by the narrative but by its price tag and that hurts its overall story. I don’t think I’ll ever play Grand Theft Auto V. Just the thought of having to put 40 hours into it to see all of its main story bores me senseless. If The Last of Us is pushing the current model of video game storytelling to its utmost limits without ever escaping it, then GTA V has been walking in the opposite direction for two miles before getting bored and drawing penises in the dirt and laughing to itself. I did watch a friend play a good portion of the latter half of the game including the ending, and just from that it seems that the cutscenes, writing, and characters are all generally pretty terrible. But enough with the negativity, here are the games I beat in 2013:
At its inception, the video game industry was mainly focused on one thing: fun. Most games weren’t concerned at all with story, and even less so with any sort of deep themes or ideas or messages. Role-playing games became the sole source for those interested in a narrative, but those games harkened back to tabletop games for inspiration. Gaming-exclusive genres like platformers or action games had no such inspiration to draw on. Building an art form from the ground up on their own, most developers were walking uncharted ground, not knowing, and sometimes not interested in, how to communicate anything deeper in their games besides simple fun. But gaming has moved past that initial stage and is on its way from an industry mostly concerned with making kids have fun to a storytelling medium that can create genuine art. Yet we still cling to this notion that games are first and foremost about “fun” and in doing so approach games not as art, but as toys.