A lot of focus this generation has gone into improving the art of storytelling within video games. From indie titles like Braid and Lone Survivor to AAA titles like Bioshock and Metal Gear Solid, much of peoples focus gravitates to the tale that a game can tell them. For those not inclined, they may keep an eye on the steadily improving graphical advances from the likes of Unreal Engine 4 and CryEngine 3, trying to glimpse a new level of technical brilliance and visual appeal. Me? I like those things. I’m shallow enough to admit that some new advance in graphical output is sometimes enough to warrant a purchase, or a cool story with bad gameplay might just entice me. However, since the genesis of my gaming history, one thing has hung around in the background, colouring my opinions and the amount of fun I am having; movement mechanics.
There are a fair few games I feel exemplify a desire on a developers part to introduce new and/or interesting ways to navigate the worlds they have crafted. So, at the risk of appearing to produce a “Top Ten Things a Thing Does!” list, here, in no particular order, are some games that I had fun getting about in.
Prototype series – Radical Entertainment
The now defunct studio in its dying moments produced one of my favourite games this generation; Prototype 2. The samey story and rather dull colour pallet did little to save the game from mediocrity in the eyes of the audience at large, but just like the Grand Theft Auto’s of yesteryear, Prototype set out to do something that the likes of Vice City and San Andreas never allowed; free vertical movement (with or without a helicopter).
Okay, so you couldn’t actually fly, but the nifty tricks that Alex Mercer and later James Heller could employ as they wreaked havoc upon the violent and gory streets of Manhattan below pushed the game beyond being another open world superhero game like Crackdown and inFamous. If I wanted, I could scale the Empire State Building in about fifteen seconds, glide from one landmark to another, before pummelling fists first into the ground below, possibly taking a tank and a battalion of soldiers with me. For this reason, Prototype and Prototype 2 stand as two examples of my favourite power fantasies.
Portal series – Valve
This is a no brainer. Whilst I feel the game could have still stood out from the crowd with its amazing writing, the unique mechanic employed through the Portal gun pretty much turned two entire genres on their heads. A puzzle game without blocks? A first-person shooter without the killing? Sadly, its not an example that has been followed too keenly by the mainstream, but there’s no denying the cheap thrill of trapping your co-op partner in an endless loop between your two portals before sending them hurtling into a ravine.
Gravity Rush – Japan Studios
Gravity Rush was a game I was hesitant about buying, mainly because I sometimes have a hard time getting into what you might refer to as “overly-Japanese” games (says the guy currently obsessed with Muramasa: The Demon Blade on Wii). However, possibly through sheer curiosity as well as severe PS Vita release schedule-dehydration, I took the plunge, and have no regrets. Gravity Rush to my mind should be a system seller; a charming and beautiful game with a likeable protagonist, and one of the best uses of movement mechanics on a handheld to date. As Kat, your average white-haired teenage girl with a transparent cat, you have the ability to change how gravitational forces act on you, choosing in which direction it pulls you. As Woody the cowboy would put it “That’s not flying, that’s falling with style!”. Through this mechanic, you can fall gracefully sideways through the five districts of the games sandbox, dodging buildings, kicking enemies at 200mph, and eventually just falling for the fun of it. It has been a while since I played a game where I was happy simply to explore the world and do little more, but Gravity Rush managed to make me get up late for work after sating up until 3am collecting purple shiny things, hypnotised by the image of buildings and the ground flying past me.
Assassin’s Creed series – Ubisoft Montreal
The most obvious choice on the list, Assassin’s Creed (the first one) was another example of a game that saw Grand Theft Auto’s “go where you want” mentality and raised it “how about upwards?” Whilst there is a general consensus that the first Assassin’s Creed was a somewhat repetitive affair, I can’t count the amount of times I climbed that cathedral in Acre, before having to find an excuse for what I was doing and throwing the French guards on top off. Free-running is a mechanic that is slowly penetrating the platformer sub-genre, with the likes of Prince of Persia and Mirror’s Edge clearly having sat and taken notes.
Dishonored – Arkane Studios.
I’m probably in the minority of people who played Dishonored and didn’t quite get it. It felt like Hitman crossed with Dark Messiah: Might and Magic crossed with Bioshock. Were it not for one small redeeming feature; the Blink ability.
With the Plasmi… I mean, powers bestowed upon you by that floating guy who seems to be of little importance to the overall story, amongst them you will find the ability to teleport a short, upgradable distance with the click of a mouse. This opened up the rather nicely designed world to me, meaning I could stalk prey from the rooftops, dodge detection by teleporting into a vent, and generally find as many excuses as possible to make that teleport-whisper-noise happen. Were it not for this ability, I doubt I would have had the patience to do a zero-detection run, but with it, I had the most fun stabbing people in the back since my stint at Youth Parliament.
VVVVVV – Terry Cavanagh
A game whose main characters image I have shamelessly stolen for my header image, VVVVVV came to me by way of a Steam sale. I’ve had some fun with the Commodore 64-esque retro-imitation crowd, but none can compare to the short but ever so sweet couple of hours I spent one rainy Wednesday in unemployment with VVVVVV.
The games unique twist comes through Captain Vermillion’s ability to spin the axis of the universe, so that up is down and vice versa, thus allowing him to navigate the often hair-pulling-out frustrating and yet awesome puzzles this snazzy budget platformer has to offer. Like many of the other games on this list, VVVVVV is a game that would be doomed to mediocrity (which is not a slight against the games amazing 8-bit soundtrack) were it not for its unique approach to movement.
Dead Space series – Visceral Games
Unusual choice? A survival horror turned action horror series of games featuring a demonic cast of nastiness? A heavily armoured chap named after two science fiction writers who trudges noisily from corridor to corridor? Well, to the unacquainted, Isaac Clarke’s slow-paced horror may not sound like much of a mover, but with the addition of the anti-gravity sections and the ensuing puzzles, as well as what I have dubbed the “jet-pack legs” sections from the latter two games, Dead Space is a series which knows how to spice things up when it comes to getting from A to B.
Just Cause 2 – Avalanche Studios
Finally, a game which seems to not know the limitations its overpopulated genre conforms to. Just Cause 2 features a bland cast of awfully voiced characters on a mission to stop someone who might as well be Kim Jong-Un from blowing up everything and keeping all the oil ever or something. I stopped paying attention to this ones plot quite quickly, later substituting the games audio for some Radiohead and Depeche Mode, which really didn’t work on reflection. However, even if the game had looked absolutely horrid looks (which to the contrary, it really really didn’t) Just Cause 2 represented freedom, much as many of the games on this list do also. Freedom to surf on a jet before hijacking it and jumping off anyway. Freedom to use your grappling hook and a parachute as your sole means of transport. Freedom to steal a helicopter and hold down the right trigger for about ten minutes before leaping out and falling for a further ten minutes just because you bloody could. On reflection, Just Cause 2 was rather awful in almost every way. The shooting mechanics were bland, the cars all handled like a hearse, the voice acting and plot were embarrassing, and despite being a very pretty game, it boasted an enormous but incredibly dull and unvaried world. What redeemed it however was the ability to fall at said world for about ten minutes whilst listening to David Gahan or Thom Yorke whine about something or other.
In conclusion, developers, you could make the most colourless, bland, badly written game in the whole world, as all it seems to take to please me is the ability climb buildings, fall off buildings, defy gravity, and teleport, which I’m only now, at the end of this article, starting to realise doesn’t show me in a very good light. Without further ado, happy falling everyone! Now I’m going to go have a bit of a think…