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Redefining Interactivity 6d – Why Can’t We Be Friends – Combat – Action-Adventure

November 17, 2011


tl;dr Version: You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but I guess that’s not stopping you trying, is it?

‘Splain, Lucy Version: The cool thing about Action-Adventure is,it works to bridge the gaps between my two favourite storytelling gaming mediums. The problem is, they try to integrate the ‘best’ features of both genres and try to water down the more advanced features of both to be more accessible to casual players and experienced players who are novices to one or the other genres. It works for me, but I can’t support the entire genre alone.

Boring Version: These games are 3D puzzle/obstacle course simulators, usually with an action movie script that has a bit more suspense and intrigue to it, to give player something more to do than either shoot things or blow them up. The best recent examples that I’m familiar with are Beyond Good & Evil, Dreamfall: The Longest Jouney II, Alan Wake, L.A. Noire, Heavy Rain, and its predecessor, Fahrenheit (aka Indigo Prophesy). What these games generally lack in hardcore difficulty they generally make up for in better story immersion and more sense of freedom to choose your course of action. It’s still an illusion of freedom, and they generally run on rails, but the rails are so pretty, you generally want to be on them anyway, at least until you reach your stop.

Now what does this have to do with Combat games, you might ask. Well, these games are all demonstrably action-oriented, with fight and flight scenes, stealth scenes, and a general sense of great urgency generally lost in traditional Adventure Games. The problem is that, while the game makes concessions to both types of gamers, they wind up trying a little too hard to get a nice balance of running/jumping/hitting/sneaking/hiding/thinking/escaping, what they lack for traditional combat players is the intense adrenaline rush.

On a more basic level, the combat mechanics are usually stripped down or shifted from the simple, tried-and-perhaps-true, shoot-it-in-the-head-bone method to a more flexible, interactive series of gameplay features designed largely to give you the feeling that you are the star of a summer blockbuster. More agency, but less testosterone and far less call for skilled manipulation of the controller.

There are generally no special combo moves in Action-Adventure games. There are very few drawn out fight scenes, and the mechanics of these is usually pretty perfunctory. There is usually not a lot of difference in reward for having shot up all of the crooks in the allotted time, or having misfired repeatedly and left the real work to whoever is on your side… unless you’re all alone in the killer’s house, in which case, prepare to be boarded. Or hit in the face with a hammer. Hey, it worked for Zaveedro.

I’ve also heard it complained that the stealth features of these games are either counter-intuitive or don’t work very well, with their character getting busted as often as not because the UI did something weird and they came out of stealth mode at the wrong moment. For those that like stealth, they’re usually disappointed, and everyone else is usually frustrated. Personally, I rather like it, but it can get pretty old if used too often in a game, I’m sure.

And finally, the same complaints can be made by puzzle gamers, who usually find the level of puzzles and problem solving in general to be unoriginal, usually consisting of pushing furniture around to reach a duct or something. Personally, I happen to like problem solving that can be done using common sense and situational awareness, but that usually doesn’t jibe with the cleverness of traditional puzzle gaming conventions, so I usually wind up the lone voice in the wilderness.

So, now we know why expert gamers usually find these games less interesting. But what about the so-called casual gamers? Well, as near as I can tell, these games usually only attract experienced players who like to hop genres and game styles a fair bit, and don’t have as much difficulty shifting mental gears to accept the game on its own terms. But I’m not so sure they’ve ever actually succeeded in winning over non-gamers. If any of you have numbers to prove me wrong, please feel free to demonstrate in the comments. I sincerely would love to know.

Okay, I think that covers that. The next sub-topic will be the traditional Fighting Game, like Street Fighter and such.


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