Metacritical

Because games are about more than headshots

Archive for August 2009

Narrative Narcisism: F.E.A.R

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Long time no update, is what someone might complain if they actually read this blog. However, I sort of see it as a blessing to you all, in that I’m forcing less of my drivel down your throats. However, if you do read for some ungodly reason,  sorry for the unexplained absence, I turned 18 and a bunch of stuff happened 😦 . Also I didn’t feel terribly inspired by some games, most notably Crysis, which had less visual storytelling than I remembered. Also, the pc port of SF4 happened, which has been sucking my time away like a vacuum sucks all remaining oxygen. However, one of the caveats of turning 18 is material consumerism, resulting in my obtaining of this here EEE pc on which I shall blog more regularly in the future, during the commute and various other down times.

But enough of that, how does Monolith’s 2005 release FEAR (First Encounter Assault Recon) tell a story? Well, read on and you can find out 😛

  1. Ambient Narrative

This is the term I shall hopefully coin to describe all of the incidental/environmental devices that FEAR uses to expand upon the core narrative that players experience. Throughout the game players encounter three types of this ‘Ambient Narrative’ namely Televisions, Answering Machines and ALIENWARE Laptops (Seriously, the oddest product lament. All the bad guys use alienware? Good job :P). The laptops are the least interesting, as they really just prompt your radio operator to make a quip or expand upon the story a little, which while optional storytelling is nice in a game, environmental prompts for speech have been there since Duke Nukem and are thus hardly notable. Also these never feel very incidental, there’s always an air of artificiality surrounding the top secret and relevant ALIENWARE laptops lying around.

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Better is the ‘Answering machine’ technique, basically an opportunity for the player to practice some voyeurism. Each phone provides about 30 seconds of audio and it’s a great idea, providing the players with both a different perspective on what happens but also increases the player’s immersion by reminding the player there are people in this world that aren’t your SS esque enemy. However the execution of this is flawed, in that the vast majority of of these messages simply aren’t interesting. None of them are funny or engaging, all of them really seem to merely reiterate the events happening around you instead of providing any new information. For example, after gunning your way through 40-50 replicant soldiers in a particular office building, you come across a phone with which a person made a call 3 hours ago saying ‘The phones and lights have been cut off, I have no idea what’s happening’. These things should either make the player more involved in some way or provide more information to the player, neither of which the writing accomplishes. It’s a good idea and seems far more naturalistic than the laptop idea and overall does good things for player immersion. Making them optional was a good decision.

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The best of these ambient narrative is the news reports you hear from incidental televisions. For some reason in these power-less buildings of FEAR, the emergency power grid is also wired up to these televisions, which is odd. These things self activate and are generally placed in little ‘goody’ rooms which possess no threat to the player, yet the televisions provide something for the player to be engaged with while they go about the menial (however satisfying) task of picking up ammo and health. The news reports are also better than the other two elements for reasons other than their placement, in that they’re interesting. News reports are by nature interesting and in FEAR are a good way to give information to the player that he could never otherwise get, such as the wider picture or government response to what’s happening. The writing for these could be considerably better, as at times it sort of dips into the same sort of ‘retell the player what they’ve already witnessed without any embellishment’. There was great potential for these news reports to do really clever things, such as playing with the extent of the players and medias relative knowledge., which could have been good satire. More reference to how organizations and the world were reacting to the events of the game might have been more interesting than what was implemented however. Also, these provide the best immersion to the player, as they not only reinforce that the world is wider than the corridor you’re shooting in, but also that someone would want to watch that.

Staring contest.

Staring contest.

  1. Physicality Revisited

One of FEARS greatest immersion techniques is it’s Half Life -esque recalcitrance to leave the protagonists perspective, a feat especially impressive considering the supernatural content. It’s the very physical elements (such as the time you get thrown out of the window) are both memorable and immersive, tying the player’s experiences to the protagonist. The game could easily have gone into a Resident Evil 5 type of detachment with the character, which would have invariably made the character’s reaction to the ridiculousness of the world alienating and unimmersive. From the way that the player’s vision is directed when he performs a sliding kick to the little hand actions the player performs when he disembarks from a helicopter. The physicality of the game only applies to it’s narrative however (and sliding kicks), as during the game play there s almost no physicality. Doors swing open without any interaction via the protagonist, and ammo is picked up without the protagonist moving a muscle. The great use of physicality in the game’s narrative elements just make the lack of them in the gameplay feel quite odd. But the immersion generated in the story via these elements is really well done and impressively creates player interest and attachment in a narrative which is all in all disinteresting and fairly bland.

Not the physicality I want!!11!

Not the physicality I want!!11!

Well, that’s a blog post. Look for one soon (this week, I swear), possibly discussing narrative elements in Oblivion or complaining about the techniques used to enforce linearity in FEAR. Thanks for reading and sorry for the delay, Aon.

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Written by Aonshix

August 3, 2009 at 10:21 pm