Choice is all the rage in games currently, or at the very minimum causing all the rage about video games - from Crysis 2 to Dragon Age 2 or anything with a "2" on the end, the lack of choice in many RPG and FPSs has become a large issue.
But is it such an issue, and are we just kidding ourselves that we have any form of choice in a piece of software?
Let's take a look at a few examples.
Crysis - Maximum Freedom
Ahhh...Crysis, full of so many choices there are times when you aren't even sure what choices you have. Seriously, there are times when this game gets so vague in its mission objectives you run around the map for 30 minutes until you find that cliff you disregarded forty minutes ago was your route out. But there's no point whining like it's 2007, let me get to the point.
Crysis has the same number of choices as the sequel.
Yup, that's right - the jungly awesomeness of the first game is just as limited as the "consolised" sequel that many have come to hate. Let's take the Assault mission as an example:
We came, we saw, we got shot to pieces
It's open, but really you have three choices - sneak down the left flank and jump over the wall, go in guns blazing through the front entrance, or go around the right flank and either jump the wall or swim in. Either way, you still have have to get to the AA artillery and blow it up.
Your choices are illusory - while there are many different points at which to jump over that wall on the left, it doesn't make a huge difference.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room - Crysis 2, the red-headed stepchild of dear-departed Nomad.
Maximum Controversy/Moaning/Bad nanosuit jokes...
Crysis 2 had the PC gaming crowd up in arms over its streamlined design - consolisation to some, a brutal betrayal of its PC gaming heritage to others. There's still only 3 choices here (the 4th one here is resupply, not exactly Montgomery or Patton). Crysis 2's cardinal sin here is perhaps that it tells you what your options are (at least you don't get lost for 30 minutes), rather than just saying "Get over there" and leaving you to it. Much like Crysis, you've still got to get to your final objective (the door at the bottom right)...no matter the choice, you've still go to get there.
But it's still consolised! you might cry. Well, maybe...but no. About 20 minutes or so after infiltrating that port in Crysis I'd killed a few guys and got some weapons...I hadn't even seen the AAA yet. For an FPS, there wasn't much shooting going on. It's a bit slow...particularly when you're not being stalked by flying killer aliens (which always help ratchet up the tension, see the original AvP and AvP2).
Crysis is a wonderful, slow burning, adventure; while Crysis 2 is a spectucular cinematic experience. If anything, Crysis borders on being an "RPG lite" with all the running around, something its successor puts aside to put both feet into the wild and CoD-infested world of the FPS.
Speaking of RPGs...
Dragon Age 2 - Rise to Power by any Moans Possible
I must admit, I'm not a hardcore RPG fan. I've been around pen and paper RPG people (I'm a wargamer, personally) for around 10 years...and they're strange folk with all their D10s, enormous charts and people shouting in silly accents (but then it would be a pretty poor role play if you didn't).
I've played DA2 and Dragon Age: Origins. While DA:O was a game with impeccable standards...my god, was it a slog. I quite like RPGs, but there comes a point where there's so much running across town and so many random encounters for a minor step forward in the plot that it gets a bit wearing. In the middle of a massive, world-ending invasion you're trying to stop, apparently only ever on foot, it seems quite impressive you can criss-cross a country of several hundred miles...but I digress.
As we all know, RPGs are the epitome of choices. These boys have decision trees in spades...a veritable arboretum, no less. But let's be honest, the decisions you make are generally quite limited - you either please some people, just about please both sides with a hideous "I want the shiny sword" option, or annoy one side enough to make them kill you (which generally happens anyway).
Dragon Angst 2?
DA2, of course, lacks the scope of Origins. Like Crysis 2, it's much tighter and cinematic than its predecessor. But are you really getting any more choice? Origins saw you install your preference for King of Ferelden on the throne, which came down to three choices. Different stories, different length, different scale - but the choice available in both games is still pretty much the same when it comes to making decisions (value for money, on the other hand, has to go to DA:O).
I liked DA2 - it was trying to be a computer game instead of an RPG. It was an entertaining shadow of Origins. Origins was War and Peace - massive scale massive story; DA2 was Oliver Twist - small scale character story.
Give them the ol' "Mass Effect Point", Shepard!
Look, I'll show you some videos. That always goes down well (You might want to avoid these if, for some crazy reason, you haven't completed Mass Effect):
Saren: Renegade ending
Saren: Paragon ending
Listen to Saren's dialogue in each - oh sure, you are getting all conciliatory/threatening, but Saren is giving the same dialogue each time. Now that's what I call an illusion.
How does this end?
In this case, you don't get a choice...it's a blog, after all. Games are designed to give you an illusion of choice - that what you're doing actually makes a difference to the outcome. It can do up to a point, but really you're going to be restricted to the handful the designers want to give you. You threaten a few people and put some guy on the throne...and that's about it (slight oversimplification) - the end result is still going to be highly scripted.
Freedom, on the other hand...is something they can give you. Crysis has freedom (up until you need to complete your objective), C2...doesn't. Neither Dragon Ages really give you any freedom - it's a bunch of paths through a town/forest/mine (or the same town or forest or mine in DA2) so you can complete the next quest for the King/Elf/Witch/Witch King.
What do we want? Freedom!
Will we get it? Sort of...
It is all an illusion, after all.