I’m starting to feel as though sporadic writing isn’t doing wonders for my self-esteem. Having already aired my self-pitying grievances with regards to gameplay difficulty, my tropologically designated gears have been well and truly ground by another venerable idiosyncrasy of video gaming convention.
They’re called adventure games, and they’re apparently seen as veritable staples of the gaming medium, serving as forerunners to the interactive narratives we cherish and savour so fervently in today’s age of ostentatiously crafted gadgetry and multi-million dollar budgetary razzle-dazzle. In a sense, they’re the glimmering examples of a pioneering era in which video games truly underlined their capacity to amuse, engage, excite and even shock living, breathing players by using the age-old art of storytelling as a genre-defining fulcrum.It’s just a shame I can’t figure the bloody things out.
Yes, it’s time for another bout of florally-articulated passive aggression because adventure games just seem to have a knack of bringing out my inner embodiment of Lucifer himself.
And I’m not even sure where to begin because, on the surface at least, the adventure genre ought to be right up my squalid, darkened alley. After all, I’m an unabashed sucker for poignant writing, subtle characterisation and a light smattering of dialogical rumpy-pumpy in an interactive setting, and the traditional point-and-click interface certainly serves as a more-than-adequate conduit from mind to screen by way of index and middle fingers.
“…the game nailed all the fundamentals of effective storytelling with all the aplomb of a Nobel Laureate, yet it tied me in knots.”
Yet it’s all for naught when you’re a nitwit, and a nitwit I most certainly am. Dump a piece of string, a banana and a glove puppet in my in-game inventory and you could circumnavigate the globe a dozen times before I worked out I was supposed to incapacitate my foe with the string whilst posing as a racist Disney caricature in order to curry favour with a small child, whilst my already swelling levels of befuddlement are unlikely to be assuaged when I’m dropped smack dab in the middle of a puzzle sequence in which I’m forced to decipher a radio broadcast comprised of morse code transmissions played in reverse.
But these are the cards with which adventure players are so often dealt, and these are the sobering barriers that the logically exiguous of us must overcome. That’s because a typical point-and-click escapade is little more than a combination of rigidly assembled narrative set-pieces separated by a slapdash motley crew of arbitrary puzzles. Of course, that shouldn’t pose a problem in its raw conceptual form because, all being whittled down to its common denominator, that’s more or less the formula that every story-driven game adheres to. No, my qualms with adventure games stem not from their contrived status as interactive films, but from the fact that they’re usually so knob-gobblingly convoluted and unfriendly.
Let Me In, Mr. Twelve
Let’s take XII Games’ Resonance as our exemple du jour. Blessed with a rich plot, a punchy cast of vividly imagined protagonists and a scintillatingly well-realised and gritty setting straight from those dystopian novels you used to write on the underside of your maths book, the game nailed all the fundamentals of effective storytelling with all the aplomb of a Nobel Laureate, yet it tied me in knots. With four characters to control simultaneously, a heavily-touted long-term memory system through which to solve puzzles and a series of puzzle sections apparently designed by the most elitist and vitriolic of intellectuals, Resonance was a bona fide idiot’s nightmare with a barrier of entry that a paraplegic must face when being forced at gunpoint to ascend Mount Olympus.
And then there was the backtracking – my goodness, there was the backtracking. For your average cognitively challenged plebeian, trawling for multi-pronged solutions to all the quandaries thrown out by adventure game designers is taxing enough when travelling in a single direction, but chuck in the apparent necessity to traverse each area of the gaming world multiple times – with multiple combinations of characters, no less – and you’ve conjured up a brainteaser to make grown men weep openly.
“It’s overtly clear that nowadays, thanks in no small part to the independent gaming scene keeping them alive, adventure games have enjoyed a renaissance that has endeared them to a whole new audience of anoraks and cleverclogs”
Obviously, I shed no tears because I prefer to suppress my emotions in preparation for that sociopathic maiming spree I’ve been meaning to get round to, but I’m sure you get the point. For me, point-and-click adventure titles are the very epitome of what I’d like to refer to as “so near, yet so far syndrome,” a virile condition that assures that a developer will dangle a tantalising morsel before my eyes before snatching it away because I’m just too stupid.
That stupidity has festered over the years and has inhibited my enjoyment of more or less any adventure game that doesn’t include at least one patronisingly straight-talking hint system. Thankfully, a handful of studios, Telltale being perhaps the most prominent among them, have seen fit to humour us cretins by implementing increasingly explicit, not to mention completely optional, clues in their games to help guide us in the right direction as we take control of such lovable pop culture luminaries as Sam and Max and Marty McFly. Who cares if they ultimately amount to such asperse instructions as “Put the fish in the kettle, you hapless buttplug?” Not me, that’s for sure. I’m just happy I get to enjoy the story I paid for.
So, am I intent on overseeing the permanent demise of the adventure game in the modern gaming realm? Not really. I’m a proud subscriber to the “different strokes for different folks” doctrine, especially when it spawns quirky sitcoms involving Mr. T cameos and child-molesting bicycle salesmen. It’s overtly clear that nowadays, thanks in no small part to the independent gaming scene keeping them alive, adventure games have enjoyed a renaissance that has endeared them to a whole new audience of anoraks and cleverclogs, and it would be amiss of me to deny them that which keeps them ticking, even if it fills me with seething envy of the smug gits.
Besides, willing away the existence of an established game variant is tantamount to denying the inevitability that one just can’t be a connoisseur of all trades. Live and let live, as the insufferable ultra-liberal hippy douchebags would say.
Unless, of course, an alternative genre hasn’t been popularised by the point at which the arthritis kicks in and I can no longer handle games requiring a modicum of manual dexterity. In that case, if I’m left with nothing but turn-based strategy, adventure and spurious Zynga-developed rip-offs to play, kindly start the revolution for me.