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Story/Stark: The Gaming Industry is Starving for Story

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The Last of Us

Rarely, if ever, is a game so exceedingly great it warrants a remake only a year after release.  This was, however, the case with The Last of Us, the late PS3 entry from Naughty Dog (the Uncharted series) released on the PS4 in the way of The Last of Us: Remastered.  Perhaps this is merely an effort to bolster a somewhat stark games library on the PS4, but it must be conceded that The Last of Us is a remarkable game.  It has won critical acclaim at every turn including perfect scores from Destructoid, Edge, IGN, and numerous other outlets as well as a 95/100 score based on 98 reviews on Metacritic, which indicates “universal acclaim.”  So it came as no surprise that the game would get a remake on Sony’s current console, a film adaptation from Screen Gems, as well as potentially getting a sequel, as Neil Druckmann from Naughty Dog revealed to Eurogamer last year.

So what is it that makes The Last of Us so brilliant and worthy of acclaim and award?  In short, story. Many reviews praised the plot and the story-driven nature of the game, emphasizing character development and interaction between the game’s protagonists, Ellie and Joel.  Combine this with stunning graphics and a remarkably vivid backdrop, and you have the winning formula for an amazingly cinematic and engrossing gaming experience that appeals not only to critics but to the gaming populace as well. The success of The Last of Us was not only critical, but also commercial, and the game has sold millions of copies worldwide, according to Playstation Blog.  As IGN noted, it was also the fastest-selling PS3 game of 2013 prior to the release and stellar sales of Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us selling 3.4 million copies in a mere three weeks.

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What does this convey?  It proves us that people, both critics, and general players, want a good story in the games they play. The evidence isn’t in The Last of Us alone.  Take for instance Naughty Dog’s other recent endeavors, the Uncharted series, three spectacular games that also did incredibly commercially and critically.  Or look elsewhere, at the Bioshock series, or Mass Effect, or even Halo.  Look at the Elder Scrolls games, which provide story after story after story all in the same game.  All of these wonderful games and series bring a strong narrative to the table, amongst their other achievements. What’s remarkable then is how many games are under-emphasizing story.

Recently, I have deeply enjoyed playing Titanfall.  The rich level design, the well-maintained balance in the game, and the addictive, fun gameplay keeps bringing me back.  The games greatest shortcoming, however, is that its narrative is void.  Opting out of a standard “story mode,” Titanfall boasts a campaign that is built into the online multiplayer.  What this looks like is the player being placed on either side of two warring factions on a given level, and then being given a brief synopsis why that side of the war really needs this victory.  The result is unmemorable, unmoving, and more often than not, unnoticeable as I was too busy setting up my classes or chatting with my friends to listen in.  Most critics would agree that this, amongst a few other nit-picky issues, holds Titanfall back from the colossal success it could have been.  The game is great, but not exceptional.

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The first-person-shooter genre is often an example of this industry shortcoming.  The last couple of Battlefield games have all been called out for their mediocre single-player, clearly added on as an after-thought for achievement hunters and longtime series fans.  Call of Duty, which has recently been trying to reinvigorate their subpar campaign modes is still falling short of the mark with unremarkable and unfelt characters on top of intangible plotlines and story arcs that all blend together.  The story mode is never the emphasis, but rather the multiplayer aspect, and, consequently, these series grow tired year after year, consecutively striving for acceptable over remarkable.

Outside of the FPS genre, there are series like Assassin’s Creed, which began as a fairly novel concept centered on a story concerning two secret, warring enemies, the Assassins, and the Templars.  While the history involved plot has at least been engaging, the continued tale of the game’s hero, Desmond, was largely uneventful and bland.  The series as a whole has also been too dependent on visually stimulating historical set pieces to keep the story afloat, continually throwing players into assorted times and ages.  Each game’s consecutive story lulls further and is often too similar to really be distinguishable. Like Titanfall, the series has remained amongst the good games, still fun and enjoyable, but never noted as a brilliant, must-play experience.

Perhaps, as seems the case with CoD and AC, the continued effort to push a new game out each year is preventing these series from being anything beyond hot sellers.  Too long too many developers have been publishing just because the games are making money, not because they care to make a remarkable game.  As a result, the industry has become overly stark on story.  As more critics and players continue to tire of these repetitive franchises and begin to flock to games like The Last of Us that offer gamers a memorable, narrative and character-driven experience, one can’t help but hope that the industry as a whole will take a hint.

  • Tim Maison

Tim is not the droids you are looking for. He resides quietly in the Emerald City where he can often be found writing, reading, watching movies, or playing video games. He is the Xbox editor for Goomba Stomp and the site's official Pokémon Master.

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