Complusion Games caught my eye at this year’s E3 when they exhibited a rather juicy gameplay introduction sequence that struck some distinct Bioshock-y notes. The prospect of a Microsoft-endorsed Orwellian adventure game that seemed to hint at narrative exploration into:
- Neglect of national tragedy
- Chemical suppression of depression
- Orwellian state
- Censorship of press
- Civil war
- Political subterfuge
Had me gushing considerably.
If you’ve read anything on my site then you know I’m a huge story geek. I don’t know what it is, I just love to sit down and pick apart at a subtextually rich narrative that can proudly flaunt its effort at advancing our medium. The Bioshocks, the Insides, the Dear Esthers.
Having downloaded and experienced the Game Preview free trial for the Xbox One today, I just can’t reposition my mind into that previously held optimism I had before today.
Dude, the game’s jank.
It’s not even that it’s jank, it’s that it’s not really anything like what we expected. Essentially the gameplay is entirely centred around a survival mechanic in which players must frequently have to satisfy levels of hunger, sleep, thirst, pain, sickness and other criteria. The problem with this is that it is so demanding that it detracts from any other kinds of focus a player might consider, like environmental exploration or questing. Resources are sparse but the levels of survival criteria deplete at a rate which makes satisfying them over a long period seem nonviable unless you spend 90% of your time rummaging through drawers and trash cans. No matter what task you have chosen to undertake or what your personal priority is, survival will always be your imperative.
This, combined with the procedurally generated map makes is seem as if this I.P is more of a roguelike than the adventure game we were expecting.
If you ask yourself why narratively heavy adventure titles like Bioshock and Dishonoured were not procedurally generated roguelikes then I’d hope you’d think that the answer fits somewhere along the lines of:
Because that’s a bad idea.
Disregarding the fact that these titles had significantly larger development teams and budgets, these titles probably did not choose to play as first person action/adventure games for the sake of orthodoxy (although there is an interesting discussion to be had on why Infinite was not an adventure game), but rather because these games recognised the value in, and so took advantage of the potential in environmental exposition and architectural atmosphere.
A procedurally generated world essentially extinguishes any possibility of both of these things. We receive general aesthetics and general architecture. What could this possibly add to a title that regards narrative and Orwellian aura as its imperative? Or is that now not its imperative?
I really wonder now why it is that Compulsion Games chose now to release its title onto early access. If they want an opportunity for technical feedback then my, oh my, do they have their work cut out for them technically. The RNG is broken, the inventory is jank, the dialogue has people talking over each other incessantly. Jim Sterling who actually voiced a character for the game’s final product couldn’t even progress past initial stages in his playthrough because of the severely broken RNG. Leaving your own investors with little option but to slam you is not a good thing.
On the other hand, if Compulsion just wanted an initial consensus of reception for what they consider to be an almost fully gestated product…