brass-lantern

Are adventures perceived as old and rusty?

As a long time adventure gamer, it has constantly amazed me over the years how the genre has gone from being gloriously at the forefront of interactive entertainment in the early 90’s, to now emerge as the downtrodden and shunted, would-rather-be-forgotten cousin of computer games in general. I often wonder why there has became such a sharp contrast in critical opinion of these games?

By no means am i suggesting that an adventure game, by its nature, will be a good one. Certainly, the classics of the genre often seem behind us, with the shift of Lucasarts in particular towards 3D Star Wars and Indiana Jones games indicating that this won’t change anytime soon.

Still, it saddens me to realize that a lot of good adventure games seem to be put down now simply because of the genre they happen to come under. Take, for example, the following review (from a well known British newspaper).

ceville review002

To explain how I am reasoning this line of thought in the first place, please let me place it in to some sort of context. Recently, as a student journalist and freelance writer, I was happy to be able to start writing articles for Adventure Classic Gaming. The first one was to be a review of the newly released adventure game Ceville. And as I read the above text in my newspaper having just finished the game myself, I  first became angry, then slightly saddened.

By no means am I suggesting that a reviewer is not entitled to their opinion. Regardless of what people may claim in the name of fairness, I have to argue that a review is in actuality inherently bias anyway, no matter how balanced. It all boils down to personal opinion! However, as I was myself thinking about how to review Ceville, the ignorance of the above review quite frankly insulted me.

Now sure, I am fully aware that overall adventure games haven’t advanced much over the years. It is seldom possible today for a developer to get the kind of money they would have received in the past to make a 2D adventure game, hand drawn and lavishly produced. 3D seems here to stay, and the 3D of the likes of Ceville is never going to match something like Heavy Rain, due out on the PS3 later this year, or the heavy hitters of the FPS action world like Killzone 2 or Bioshock.

Still, adventure gamers know this. Adventure games are arguably not even held in direct comparison to these games. I myself have always been a Playstation gamer. I love sneaking around in Metal Gear Solid, crawling through the rain, shooting guards. I also love escaping from the cops in GTA, my radio blaring, the whole world open to explore.

Still, this doesn’t stop me loving the slow, story heavy experience that is an adventure game. Using the mouse to simply click away, relaxed, absorbed, admiring the little things. The details. The script. The music. I am not the only one. Grim Fandango may have used the keyboard to control Manny, but the main ingredients were all present that I have described, and many fan sites are still going strong over 10 years later to remember this fantastic gaming experience.  Also, the graphics still have enough charm and identity to easily still stand out in a world of powerhouse computers and consoles, showing that sometimes, a strong story and great art direction is all it takes to prevail and endure.

The review that sparked this article in the first place begins: “This is billed as an adventure game, though its static screens and point-and-click interface fail to live up to that description.”  This in itself is a shock to me. Correct me if I am wrong, but the adventure genre is often known for its static screens and point and click interface? I may as well review Metal Gear Solid 4 for the PS3 and criticize Konami for not allowing me to be able to speak to the enemies and offer them items from my inventory.

Phrases such as “the patience of a saint” and “dull as dishwater” may sound effective, but they actually do little to expand on the actual reasons why this is the case, beyond the reviewer obviously despising the identity of the game in the first place.

This wasn’t the best game in the world, and I only gave it 3 stars myself, but it is an insult to everyone involved to so flippantly condemn it and destroy it in a major newspaper just because of a view of disdain for the adventure genre in general. The bog standard GTA clone Wheelman got 3 stars on the same page simply because of all the whizz and bang on offer. I have noticed this consistently on many major gaming websites with regards to adventure games over the years. It seems that only specifically adventure-focused websites can address these games for the target audience they were intended for, and give what a review should be in the first place: an assessment of how well something performs, in contrast to what was actually expected of it in the first place.

To conclude this ramble, I would like to say that I truly hope the genre starts getting the respect it deserves. It sew the seeds of gaming way back before virtual shooting and driving was even possible. And I still think the best action games are the ones that incorporate the traits of the adventure games of yesteryear to involve the player on the same level as a good book or film, with story at the forefront of the experience.

I wonder if other adventure gamers ever feel the same sense of loss that I do over these issues? Or perhaps it is better to be part of a select club of gamers who don’t care about living slightly in the past, regardless of the views of the mainstream gaming press. Afterall, where else can you have bottomless pockets, endless walking energy and interrogate complete strangers on a whim?

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More writings from the article’s author – Martin Mulrooney – can be found at his own Alternative Magazine Online and at Adventure Classic Gaming. And if you’d like to check out his famous Grim Fandango tattoo you should see here.