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Story and Game Play in Replaying Games

Gaming has a certain art to it, certain finesse. By and large, gamers want to enjoy a game, be challenged by it, be entertained by it and have them wanting more. There are precious few games that can achieve this. But is it a fifty-fifty split between story and game play? Some games have great stories, but are too short or the game play doesn't quite match it. Some games have great game play, but the story is lacking. Looking back, I've only ever played two games through twice, I'm picky that way. Reviewing both may shed some light on this debate.

The first game I ever replayed from beginning-to-end was Grand Theft Auto Vice City. As I type this, the only thing about the story I can remember was that the main character ended up in a super huge house at the end and was possibly in charge of all the gangs in Miami. I think that answers the first half of my debate. I have never found the GTA games to have compelling plots (Red Dead notwithstanding), but I've always enjoyed them at the time. In this iteration of the game, Rockstar added a great deal of 'other' game components to the game. While most gamers have picked up at least one GTA game, the basic recipe is the same throughout: build credibility mission after mission and ultimately take over the area. There are always side missions, only some of which are optional. This comes to the most memorable thing about the game for me: the ice cream truck. I would spend hours and hours just driving around, selling 'ice cream' and listening to the very engaging soundtrack for the game. I'd be doing this for no clear reason. Yes, the character would make money, and that is some slight goal, but not really. In GTA, money became negligible as you get further into the game. I really just did it because I enjoyed it.

love the ice cream truck

Score one for game play, I think. It wasn't the story that had me coming back, no the game was fun to play, period.

The only other game I've played from beginning twice was Resident Evil 4. I'm a fan of horror games, but I did find myself unable to play this one after dark, or if the house was empty. Although I'm a loyal Silent Hill fan, I found this to be just as scary. The story in this game is very compelling; daughter of the president gets kidnapped by insane cult who turns out to be much worse than imagined. The game play for this game is actually extra-ordinary and quite revolutionary. The switch from first-person to third-person shooting throughout makes it realistic in a different way, even though Metal Gear does the same thing, for some reason, in a horror setting; I found this more engaging in this game.

As the story progressed, and the twists and turns were revealed through the plot, this game proved to be very well written and well directed. At times, yes, it showed signs of campiness, but that doesn't detract from the whole effect. Not in the least. If anything, its an homage to the old school horror movies we all grew up with. No, the story is really compelling, but was that what had me replaying the game? No, in all honesty, I did it because I wanted to unlock the unlimited rocket launcher. Seems silly, I realise, but once I had it, I blew through large section of the game, almost literally.

unlimited rocket launcher makes all things better

So does that give me two votes for game play? That can't be right, can it? I think gamers would pride themselves on playing games for the story, the first time around, but once you've played it, you're going in to unlock things or interact with a fully alive environment. I love a good game as much as the next gamer, but maybe I am like the traditional movie goer, once I've seen it, I've seen it, the story doesn't entice by itself.

Addiction, Anyone?

Once again, I found myself rushing to the Gamestop to get my pre-order of a new game, this time, it was Dead Space 2. Hype notwithstanding, I found myself finding time, during office hours (hours in which I probably should have been working) stopping and grabbing the game. As soon as I got it in my hands, the excitement began to ebb. Maybe I suffer from buyer's remorse, but in more than one instance, I find myself more excited that I got a game, than playing it. Granted, most times I pre-order an exclusive of some sort, DLC can be super cool, but for the most part, even buying from Amazon or in-store I get hyped when thinking about getting the game and then it sometimes seems a chore to get through it.

Is anticipation enough? I am sure I'm the exception and not the rule. As of now, the game is still sealed sitting in the queue of games I need to play. Of course, with the DLC content dated, I can't let it expire, so it'll jump up the queue as that date nears.

I've never known anyone to act this way about games except me, and I think what's really going on is something all kids feel, but when they're grown up, it doesn't stay pronounced as it does with me. When I was younger, my parents, like most parents, didn't see the value of video games, or any toys really, so I never got a lot. And with my meagre allowance, I found that I could grab a game once a year, if I was lucky. That's not to say that people should feel bad for me, I think most families were like that. It's only now, in this generation, that kids have access to an abundance of games; it's far more prevalent now than it's ever been.

As I grew up and bought my first adult system, a PS2, something clicked. I didn't buy one game; I bought two, to start off with. Before finishing the first or even second, I grabbed a third and fourth game. To this day, I am still 'behind' in the gaming queue. It's an addiction, I see something I want, and because I now have the means, I get.

Does this detract from the gaming? Probably, but more interesting is that this doesn't extend to anything that isn't electronic. I don't have 600 pairs of shoes, as most women would. No, I have about 11 games in my gaming queue and more than 30 DVD's in my viewing queue, never to be taken out of order.

Is it a sickness or addiction that needs tending? I'd say no, but what do I know, I just saw another game I wanted online and I might need to get it.

When is Enough, Enough?

I've been gaming for as long as I can remember, and while I enjoy a good laugh at the GameFly commercials, I sometimes wonder when is the point when you throw in the towel? I love to finish games. As lame as that sounds, I do feel a sense of accomplishment when I get through an entire game, trophies or not, its still a great feeling. What I've never truly been able to negotiate is when do you have to give up? When is it bad time after good?

Some games are challenging, and rightfully so. I remember one of the first games I played on my brand new PS2 was Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. That game is not a great first game, and I put it down and picked it up again six months later, more for feeling bad I didn't give it due time. I don't know what compelled me, at that time, to pick it up, but needless to say, I adore the MGS series and bought the limited edition PS3 for MGS4 just for it. At that juncture, there was no question, I'd dropped $50 on the game, didn't want to lose the investment, and heard nothing but amazing reviews for the game. I assumed that millions of people couldn't be wrong, there must be a great game hidden under very challenging game play, and I was right.

Dante vs. Virgil

A few years later, I picked up Devil May Cry 3, after loving the original, and found myself at the very last level, with no possible solution to get further. At the time, I did go online, and while there are cheats, I prefer not to go that route. I think there's something to be said for gaming guides being sold and cheat codes being found online, that's my dividing point. I have no trouble consulting a game guide, there's no point in wasting time, but cheat codes are just plain cheating, but I digress.

As I played the end level again, and again, and again, and to the same result, Virigl using his Devil Trigger to heal while I Devil Trigger and get no-where fast, something inside me clicked. It was that split-second, where you realise, either you replay this game from the very beginning, never using health, like I'd when I played Onimusha, or you put the game down knowing you'll never pick it up again. That time investment didn't seem prudent.

I don't think it's even optional to most gamers, you get to that point, the breaking point, where you just can't tolerate overly difficult or seemingly impossible games. I've given up on maybe 6 games, of more than 60 that I've ever played (PS2 and higher systems only). Ten percent isn't a great, but I can't abide wasting time on something I know I won't succeed at.

I wonder if there's a way to track completion rate on games. I understand that how much money you make off the game and ancillary products is key to the company's success, but is that enough? Does that really give the company an understanding of how the game is, overall, doing? Of course not. How many of us have bought bad games and finished them anyway? I've finished more than one game that felt like a slow root canal, but only because it seemed like a waste not to, even though the story, game play or characters were atrocious.

Thanks to trophies, I imagine a gaming company can just as easily go online and use Raptor to see the percentage of how many people have what trophies. Statistics can tell you almost anything, I just hope it tells those gaming companies that make overly difficult games to give the gamer something more. A great story can save a mediocre game, but a game that can't be finished won't ever win anyone over.