David Cage—head of Quantic Dream and creator of titles such as Omikron: The Nomad Soul, Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain—has told Gamesindustry that he believes our beloved games industry will “shrivel up and die” without innovation. While I certainly appreciate the sentiment, I disagree with the practicality of his statement; at least as it’s reflected in this day and age.
I’m all for innovative new titles, but if the sales figures of some of the least innovative series of recent years—Call of Duty springs to mind—are anything to go by, the opposite may be true. Cage cites Journey—a PS3-exclusive title that recently received rave reviews—as an example of the sort of innovation that is necessary to stop we fickle gamers from turning away from our chosen entertainment medium.
Now, I loved the hell out of Journey, but it wasn’t a game as much as it was an interactive and emotive experience. Cage is talking about the need for greater depth in games, but affective gameplay doesn’t necessarily equate to the future of games. Journey stands as a perfect example of how a ‘less is more’ mentality can still be an engaging experience while forcing gamers to ask what the bare essential elements are to be able to call something a game. But this same mentality is what would make it difficult to build on the Journey experience, because it’s the absence of deep gameplay mechanics, a lack of intricate communication tools with other players and an overwhelming instilled desire to explore a fresh world (which can only be, arguably, done once) that makes it such a compelling experience.
Let’s jump back to Mr Cage for a moment, and the same is true of his current-gen track record. Heavy Rain was lauded by many as an incredibly immersive game experience, but it was more an interactive movie than any other game I’ve ever played. Hell, it was flat out misleading about the importance of player choice, given there were only certain key sections where your decisions actually influenced the outcome of events. Couple that with gameplay that essentially boiled down to a game’s length of quick-time events and the narrative cheats required to facilitate an end-of-game twist, and that all-important immersion that Quantic Dream was hoping I would have never really occurred.
Quantic Dream’s next game Beyond: Two Souls—another PS3-exclusive title—is set to follow in the footsteps of Heavy Rain, despite the presence of a compelling core premise that promises to explore what happens after death. But premise alone, or the hiring of talented actor Ellen Page, or the abundance of immersive storytelling showcased at E3 cannot possibly get me excited if it’s going to be the same QTE-fuelled gameplay-devoid experience that was otherwise known as Heavy Rain.
There’s nothing wrong with developers trying new things, publishers issuing challenges to their competitors to push boundaries and gamers demanding more from our entertainment medium. But even as a lover of characterisation and narrative advances in games, they’re only a part of the pie that makes up the overall gameplay experience; an important part, yes, but not the be-all and end-all.
I can still emotionally connect with a game that’s entertaining me and making me happy without the need to love the characters or believe in their plight. Just look at Crysis.