I'm looking for something to sink my teeth into for a while
The first Deus Ex
Beneath a Steel Sky has a good story (as far as I've got into it), and is free on GOG. I also like Cave Story's story so far.
Don't know how relevant this is anymore, since Skyrim's out by now (so I hear).
"Harry uses the One Ring to defeat Magneto and save the Rebellion!"
With thanks to RaveTurned in comments on the main page.
Hmm. Are you looking for a good narrative or good storytelling? Consistent and tight, or just immersing? Or something else entirely?
Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. They are both among my best video-game equivalents of a "page turners". I always wanted to know what happened next. They aren't especially long, and there's plenty of comic-book style idiocy at work, but the gameplay is excellent and I at least felt incredibly well engaged with the stories--even the parts I find lukewarm looking back. If you can forgive the issues prominently discussed here on RPS and the lack of weight behind her animations, Catwoman doesn't detract from the second offering either--though I feel she doesn't add to it except in one part I won't spoil. The first game is definitely tighter and more narratively sound, but the second offers more variety and more surprises: exactly what you would expect given the longer, more open format of the second game.
I'll second Alpha Protocol. It's good trashy. And it gives surprising weight of consequence to many player actions. You certainly won't play it for the controls, the gunplay, the stealth, or really for anything else. It's a nice little narrative game that does a lot more than it promises--both good and bad.
I'm going to recommend Aquaria. Not because of the story it tells, but because the style of gameplay scratches a similar itch for me. It's a game about exploration and the environments you move through all seem to have a rich story to tell, just a little too quietly for you to hear. The gameplay is solid and can be fairly challenging if you get enthusiastic enough about your exploring.
Mount and Blade is very different from shooting things, and it tells a great story: Your Story. Usually filled with horrible, horrible decisions, poverty, wild combacks, and bad luck, more poverty, more wild combacks, and more bad decisions. You could probably write a really interesting novel inspired by a daily gameplay log of your typical Mount and Blade game. "Inspired by" here being as loose a phrase as when used in Hollywood trailers.
Edit: Mirror's Edge if you haven't played it. Completely different gameplay. The story is trashy and throw-away, but kind of like Aquaria it is the world that saves the game here. There's such an incredible sense of place that the world tells its own kind of story. I also felt the story was the good kind of trashy, but too light for me to recommend in the same way as Alpha Protocol.
While I'm at it, Prince of Persia (2008). The gameplay is light and throwaway, the story is ... odd. If you try it though, play all the way to the end. That is essential.
Edit again: Were it not for you mentioning fatigue of shooting things, I would name Fallout 3. Not for the main plot. For all the little sideshows. Some of the little stories Fallout 3 tells are incredibly awesome and weird. Operation Anchorage is one of my favorite gameplay sequences ever. Fallout 3 has a lot of flaws, many of them narrative, but the writing often has a lot of intelligence behind it. It misses a lot, but I felt it hit a lot more and well enough to make up for the misses.
Last edited by gwathdring; 08-01-2012 at 10:36 PM.
Starcraft. A great story told not-particularly-well. In fact that goes for a lot of Blizzard's stuff: looks good from afar, just don't zoom in too close. If you can read/hear dialogue, that's too close.
Last edited by Rii; 09-01-2012 at 12:42 AM.
The best story is the one you make yourself. Play Far Cry 2 or STALKER or Dark Messiah of Might & Magic for a few hours and come back.
Mirror's Edge if you haven't played it. Completely different gameplay. The story is trashy and throw-away, but kind of like Aquaria it is the world that saves the game here. There's such an incredible sense of place that the world tells its own kind of story. I also felt the story was the good kind of trashy, but too light for me to recommend in the same way as Alpha Protocol.
Mirror's Edge has an AWESOME aesthetic, which goes I long way, I think. It's general look and style are very well thought out and realized. So, yeah, it's story is very bare bones, but I think it's universe is very convincing.
I'd say the same about something like "Rock of Ages"--it really has no story, but its aesthetic is brilliant and thus the game succeeds at being entirely captivating/immersive without really needing a storyline.
My favorite environment-as-story games are STALKER (the Zone) and Mercenaries (NK with phenomenal and ominous soundtrack), and I'd go with MGS3's "The Boss" for best character ending.
Vagrant Story is my favorite game story, for outstanding presentation, great writing and translation, and characters with motives that keep you guessing. The soundtrack still floors me. It falls down somewhat for being too easy upon replay or new game plus (though there are lots of ways to limit yourself for a better challenge, and NG+ has a nasty bonus dungeon), juggling a very complex cast of characters you can get confused about, slow item combining (your inventory is limited, and you have to save to swap out gear to storage chests), and basically sank itself at launch by poorly explaining the combat mechanics (hit Gamefaqs first if you're a new player). VS is terribly low tech by today's standards (also fairly cheap on PSN), but still unmatched in some respects, and overall a fantastic game.
"Warping the minds of men and shepherding the masses has always been your church's domain. You lure sheep with empty miracles and a dead god." -Sydney Losstarot
I always like Jon Irenicus in BG2. Can't go wrong with a lot of the LucasArts adventure games either. Lately, though, there's nothing that's been jumping out at me a whole lot.
To be fair, he's being a little misleading when he says those games are stories you make on your own. They're more games that create story with environment and that create emergent, atmospheric nuggets that amount to a sort of on-the-fly narrative. These games also have a traditional narrative following along behind the Choose Your Own Adventure bits.
There is very small number of games with good stories,so won't search for that in games. Just enjoy the gameplay.
... I take the lives of a few to protect the lives of many. I commit acts of war to preserve the greater peace. I take no joy in killing, but make no mistake; I'll do what needs to be done. Because it's my job. It's my duty. My name is Sam Fisher, and I am a Splinter Cell.
And to contribute something of actual worth to the topic: System Shock 2 hasn't been mentioned yet and managed to impress me quite a bit in terms of writing. Not so much the plot itself, but the way it unfolds through the various audio logs and the environment. Having a really memorable villain helps, too.
There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but in my opinion two of the medium's greatest strengths are freedom of choice and exploration of space, things offered to a greater degree in games than in almost any other medium (excepting installation art, perhaps - there are arguments about immersion and spacial exploration to be made either way).
Because I see those as gaming's greatest strengths, I favor approaches to game making which place those experiences front and center. As such, I see gameplay as more important than 'traditional' (pre-defined, written by a writer) narrative in games. Some of the best story experiences I've had recently in games have been mine alone (my rags-to-riches triumphs in Mount and Blade, my wanderings in Skyrim, the series of events leading to my demise in Project Zomboid, etc.)
Of course games are a young medium and these emergent experiences have not been as nuanced (and certainly not nearly as structured) as 'traditional' stories. I would not want to read the novelization of my Mount and Blade-ventures.
All that said, Portal 2 is one of the best-written games of all time. It's the exact opposite of what I love in games (completely structured, totally linear, limited player expression), but the quality of the narrative arcs, characters, and mise en scène (the importance of spacial exploration, again) are second to none. It truly is a brilliant demonstration of using the medium to tell a story, playing to many of its strengths. And the ending! And the foreshadowing! And the acting!
Last edited by Smashbox; 09-01-2012 at 04:18 PM. Reason: apostrophizing
I appreciate freedom of choice but, to me, given a totally blank slate, nothing is important. If one adds restrictions, then playing against those restrictions becomes the motivator.
For instance, Witcher 2 is portrayed against the backdrop of a foreign invasion amidst an ongoing spat of local wars. Your personal ability to change that is nebulous and seemingly futile, but the choices you do make affect which side of the war you fight on and why.
9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors is a DS game, half visual novel, half room escape game and has an amazing narrative structure where multiple paths through the game reveal different aspects of the whole, leading you to slowly figure out what's going on and eventually find the optimum route through the game. For example, one bad ending sees a character turn on you and kill you. Unless you get that bad ending, you won't know he's a killer. Even though the good ending is the 'real story' the game is made to be played multiple times and the unchosen narratives inform the story. And then it writes that into the plot.
Dragon Age 2 was a mess but it created a story about people and how different people reacted to set events. Again, even though the story is on rails, the characters can change hugely based on how you treat them, different play-throughs revealing different aspects of their personality.
We're currently only scratching the surface of what can be done with narrative in gaming, but I find this dichotomy of "well-written story on rails with maybe one or two branching decision points, likely at the end" versus "complete freedom to make your own story in a world with little narrative structure or sense to it" frustrating.
I don't want a movie, and I don't want to write my own story. I want to explore a story in a way I otherwise couldn't do in other mediums.
Those games sound really interesting. I'd love to give them a try.
As for Dragon Age II, I had a major moment in there where the "writers' story" became problematic:
SPOILERS for those who've not played through act 1:
Throughout the whole of Act 1, you're playing a series of pre-set events (as you mentioned, that's the game's structure. I have no problem with that.) The 'play' part of the story comes from making decisions about what your Hawke will do, usually binary, usually in conversation. Made up example: "I'm a robber and I'm robbing you." "No you're not, because [I'm killing you.] or [I'm talking you out of it.]"
The game uses this framework (swords and conversation) throughout the entire first part of the game, probably 10 hours. Plus it's not a new thing, it's what happens in Bioware games. So, no problem, I get this, my story enjoyment comes from player choice within this pre-set path. I'm invested in my character and his choices. MY choices.
Then at the end of ACT 1 (I think this is the right number), you go on the deep roads expedition. I left my sister at home and, lo, upon my return she's being led away by two, (TWO!) armed guards, the likes of which I've killed dozens of times over. My dialog option upon being confronted by this situation was "Over my dead body." Yes. I'll pick that one. That's what my Hawke would say. Then the game tells me, nope, that's not an option.
It all came crashing down for me. The facade of choice tipped over and I lost all interest and investment in the story I had 'created' for my Hawke.
I understood why the decision was made. Their story needed three act structure. But I didn't care. When Bethany told me "No, Hawke, don't make a fuss. It's better this way" (or whatever she said), my Hawke (me!) would have said, "The hell it is!" and chopped those men to pieces. And left the city. And the rest would have been different.
TLDR: My increasingly bothersome problem with pre-set stories in games is that the idea of CHOICE (the act of playing a game) and the idea of a writer writing you a story seem completely at odds. Sometimes it works, but when you see the seams, its a major turnoff.