The Silly Season…

With the start of the US-centric “holiday season” comes a glut of high-profile releases, with November seeming to suffer the most from the weight of numbers (and expectations, too, with all the “AAA”s being thrown around). Most years I find it easy to ignore The Silly Season: I can tune out of the gaming world, knowing full well that the hyperbole that gets thrown around will be forgotten – along with the games that encouraged it – in a few months time.

Not this year, though. Three triple-A titles, one on each of the major consoles, coming out in the same month… and all are likely to be List-dwellers for some time.

Towards the end of the month comes the latest Zelda title, Skyward Sword. I remember seeing some promo movies a while back, and wasn’t particularly impressed: the style for this outing seemed to be a non-committal cartooning of Twilight Princess-era graphics, without pushing all the way through to create something as unique (and stunning) as Wind Waker. The idea of Motion Plus-inspired controls didn’t fill me with optimism, either, so I was thinking that maybe I could sit this Zelda out.

And then the press started buzzing.

Typically stingy-scorers Edge gave it a 10, calling it “a triumph”. Pro-press and lucky bloggers alike waxed lyrical (within the constraints of their embargoes) about the game, many expressing their delight at how they were surprised by a franchise as familiar as Zelda.

So that’s pre-ordered, then.

A week or so before Zelda? Halo: Anniversary. I’ve literally been suffering flashbacks to my original Halo Legendary run, and wondering how the hell I’m going to manage the same again. And that’s before tackling the rest of the Achievements, some of which encompass the tricks I know and love… and some of which look insane.

So that’s pre-ordered, too.

The final game in my Silly Season is Uncharted 3, which I picked up last Thursday and pushed through on Easy over the course of a couple of sessions. And that first run was significantly more enjoyable than my first playthrough of Uncharted 2, with a notably improved graphics engine. But my most recent Uncharted misgivings remain, with all senses being co-opted to drive the storyline along, distracting the player from the loose gameplay.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like the game; lord no, it’s a genuinely thrilling experience. And it certainly encouraged me to go back and start a second playthrough of Uncharted 2 (and dip into the multiplayer of both, which has proved to be both surprisingly fun and exasperatingly annoying). But… the Second Coming it most certainly is not.

And, whilst the storyline of Uncharted 3 is quality B-movie action, it’s the conversation around the game that has been most entertaining. Eurogamer’s Uncharted 3 review spawned one of the most amazing comments threads I’ve read in ages, with the (UK branch of) EG awarding the game a healthy eight-out-of-ten score… raising the ire of many. Apparently, many readers are unable to comprehend the idea of modern “reviews”, leading to cracking messages like this:

How can this get 8/10 when Uncharted 2 got 10/10?!

Or this:

So is it 8/10 like you say, or is it 10/10 like Eurogamer Italy gave it today. I don’t want to hear that’s it’s your opinion man, opinions mean shit, is the game 10/10 or 8/10

Are you trollin or is Eurogamer Italy talking shit, because you can’t both be right

Which is, quite frankly, pretty funny. One of those things that, like drunk Facebook photo postings, people will regret having committed to the Internet in their middle age.

But then, you also find comments like this one:

You, as a player, are not required to do anything from a gameplay perspective. You’re carried along on a strictly linear Cinematic Emotional journey and are even bolstered, as mentioned in the review, at certain points, should you fail, just in case the “narrative” is interrupted. The player has absolutely no agency in this game at all; they’re not really the primary participant. They just get to press buttons now and then.

Indie designer Keith Burgun came up with a great term for games like Uncharted and Call of Duty (yes, I consider them products of the same school of thought): asset tours. It’s perfect. Because that’s what they are. The developers create a bunch of beautiful assets and then the “game” itself is just about dragging you along to look at them.

The narrative itself may well be compelling from a “storytelling” perspective, but the narrative the player tells through his or her actions is nonexistent. That’s not what a game should be.

And that is brilliant. That post captured so much of what I think about Uncharted‘s later iterations that I feel frankly embarrassed about my own ramblings. I’ll try and chat more about the player agency (or lack thereof) in the Uncharted series at a later date, but – in the meantime – let me just say that “asset tours” is a perfect phrase.

In the coming week, though, I’ll be forgoing my agency and looking at pretty pictures onscreen… and getting dragged into the emotional slipstream that the Uncharteds supply. And then hating myself afterwards for being sucked into a shallow experience. And then playing through it – and getting sucked in – again.

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