In video games there has been a debate about how to balance story telling and gameplay since games moved from an 8-bit medium to something that could imitate a more cinematic experience. This debate comes down to how much control is given or taken away from gamers. Often developers rely on cut scenes to tell their story, generally at the expense of the player’s play time. Long cut scenes tend to keep gamers away from gameplay for far too long. Critics of cut scenes want a game to feature only gameplay, so control is never taken from the player. With a gameplay only scenario, developers would need to deliver the story within the gameplay. Neither option is necessarily correct. Without the ability to tell a sophisticated story then gameplay is merely a tech demo, but with an over reliance of cut scenes then the player is essentially watching a movie. One genre that has become more and more about taking control away from gamers while going against the spirit of it, is the action genre. Action games have over time come to rely on cut scenes not only to tell the story, but to have the main protagonist do some of the most outlandish and amazing things in the game independent of the player. Devil May Cry 3 has one of the craziest and most ridiculous moments ever, but unfortunately, gamers did not have any control or choice in Dante surfing that missile. Apparently, not only does Charlie not surf, but gamers don’t either.
On the other side of the spectrum is Metal Gear Rising, a game that oozes insanity and pulsates with manic energy. The Metal Gear Solid series is notorious for its overly long and drawn out cut scenes, but Revengeance avoids this problem by keeping the cinematics down to a manageable length. What Platinum Games has done is meld the seriousness of the Metal Gear series with their own personal flamboyant flair. They never, however, try to take too much control away from the gamer. By cutting down the cut scene lengths they make a good move toward giving back control while still telling a good story. Yet what makes Metal Gear Rising innovative is that the flamboyancy and over-the-top moments are not relegated to pre-rendered cinematics. The gamers in Revengeance have more control than before because of some smart and revolutionary gameplay elements. The game introduces Blade Mode/Zandatsu and the Ninja Run, two mechanics that make the player feel like the ultimate bad ass. With Blade Mode, anyone can cut enemies into small pieces and then cut those pieces into confetti. Traditionally, something so impressive and violent would be done in a cut scene, but Platinum Games gives the power to gamers. The other half to give back control and power is the Ninja Run, which seamlessly lets the player automatically jump over obstacles with acrobatic prowess and agility. The Ninja Run also lets players slide through obstacles effortlessly. When prompted players can use Ninja Run to step on missiles to approach airborne enemies and then Zandatsu! Having Raiden run up the side of a building could easily be done in a cut scene, but with Ninja Run, the player gets to run up the side of the building. Platinum Games have made a brilliant take on a modern action game by balancing story telling in cinematics and allowing players to have a great degree of control in addition to letting them control the cool, ludicrous moments. Ultimately, that is all anyone wants from an action game to slice a Metal Gear Ray’s face into atoms.
The biggest thing about both DmC and Metal Gear Rising is that they both do not rely heavily on what became an overused action game staple, the Quick Time Event (QTE). What become popular through Shenmue to keep the gamer involved during cinematics found a new home in the God of War series as finishing moves and reached its apex last year in CyberConnect2‘s Asura’s Wrath. In God of War the use of QTE became novel, but it broke up the flow of action and quickly became frustrating. Yet it is what the series has become known for, outside of Kratos being so damn angry. After the popularity of God of War, the QTE became proliferate among action games (and video games in general). A game couldn’t get by without some form of QTE, regardless of how responsive the controls were. The best (or perhaps most extensive) use of it in action games had to be Asura’s Wrath. It was Capcom’s most exciting action game in a while, but it really was a QTE game with combat in between. The game made use of heavy cut scenes to tell what was an involved story of revenge, gods and cyborgs with giant expansive boss battles that left Asura reduced to merely a torso, head and legs. What the game did was try to keep players involved through QTE while it told its story. It was not so concerned if gamers wanted to fight more enemies with explosive punches or kicks, it had a story to tell and it was going to do it. However, it was going to make sure that the player was engaged by giving them button prompts to progress the story. Despite the inherent weakness of this approach, there was something fascinating and compelling about Asura’s Wrath. By no means should another action game rely that heavily on QTEs because had Asura’s Wrath been one degree off, the game could have fallen completely flat. March will see the return of another popular action icon with God of War: Ascension. Will Kratos’ QTE finishers be able to compare to slicing guards in half with the swift strike of a HF Blade?