Adventure Games Feel Good
Part one – Out of the Box
There are lots of Computer Game review sites to look at. This is not one of them. I’m not here to rate the programming or use of the game engine. However, if my computer is on, and I’m not blogging, checking/responding to email, writing, accounting, and maybe even doing a little work–I’m probably playing a computer adventure game. (Really, not for THAT many hours, and not every single day, honest). My focus here is on games that allow me to feel really good while playing them. I mostly play adventure, rather than puzzle or role-playing or action games, because I like to become immersed in the story. If a game is good, it’s somewhat like reading a novel or watching a movie, with the addition of getting to participate and make some decisions.
Although adventures are considered the “soft” genre of computer gaming, even they often include “overcoming one or more ‘badguys'”* as a major component of the story. It must be a challenge to design a plot without an evil-other. I don’t play the games that have very, very bad “badguys”, or really gross or violent ones. But I do rationalize allowing a certain amount of “badguyness” if the story is otherwise positive, with an ending that leaves me feeling uplifted, or, at least, poignantly moved. Again, story is at the top of my list. Solving puzzles, if they are intriguing, logical, and support the story, are fun, too. Next comes atmosphere. A game is worthwhile if the music, graphics, and sound effects help to pull me into the story. And obvious necessities are characters I care about, as they would be in a book or movie. I like elements of mysticism in my games, as I do in my life, and I like to feel I’ve learned something from them.
All right, so what boxed games meet my high standards? Of the ones I’ve played so far, I’ll give my top five(ish).
#5 Beyond Time. I like this one because I became immersed in Egyptology. The graphics are stunning, the atmosphere rich with detail. I had to read scrolls, learn to interpret hieroglyphics, and participate in religious rituals, while exploring ancient Abydos and other cultures. The presentation of modern-day technology is impressive, too. It’s a solve-the-mystery game (most of these are) with only a small amount of “badguyness” to contend with.
#4 Myst. All of ’em, really, but especially the first two. Their graphics were mind-blowing at the time they were released, and just got better. The “badguys” are actually pretty bad, indeed, but since I didn’t have to observe them actively doing their bad stuff, but just learned about it after the fact, I was able to cope. A lot of folks don’t like all the mechanical puzzles in the Myst games, but I find them clever and unique. They pull me into worlds that are just a little out of the usual, and I like visiting. The running story about how realities are created is worth the whole journey, and got me to read the novels, too.
#3 AMBER: Journeys Beyond. While many consider this a typical ghost/haunted house story (something I’m NOT attracted to) I found it instead to be a fascinating speculation about using technology to explore what happens beyond the physical. Again, fabulous graphics, four captivating stories, wonderful music and atmosphere. I got to use cool gadgets and help out a friend. There is one “badguy”, but his “bad” behavior is only a small part of the overall story. A nice surprise ending. I loved the house where much of the action takes place. Beautifully rendered. I found myself visiting even when not actively playing the game.
#2 Zork Nemesis. I’ve played all the graphic Zorks, and started with the Zork Underground text adventures. I highly recommend any and all Zorks. They’re great stories, and laughing-out-loud funny — except for this one. Zork Nemesis is certainly the darkest game in the series. The atmosphere is decidedly gloomy, but it needs to be in this case. I can’t really comment on the “badguy” factor here. I see the characters as looking for more from life, and perhaps a couple of them are willing to go to any lengths to get it. There are elements of the ol’ Zork humor here, too, if I’m clever enough to notice them. The main theme, which fascinated me, was Alchemy. You learn a lot about alchemy if you play this game. Absolutely stunning atmosphere, characters, costuming, acting, otherworldliness. I felt I had spent quality time unraveling the complex story. Just a small warning: There are a couple of rather gruesome scenes, but there are alternatives to one of them–you can find out the needed information in another way. And the other was so preposterous it made me giggle.
Finally, my number one boxed game so far: Syberia (and Syberia II which you will need to play afterward, as it’s a continuation of the story, but, particularly Syberia I). When I started Syberia, my jaw literally dropped during the opening scene. I eventually got my mouth to stay closed, but never lost the sense of awe and wonder the game evoked. This is another game that put me into a world that’s slightly left of reality. The rules are a little different. Society and mechanics are not quite familiar. There are no “badguys”. (Well, in part II there are a couple of “villains” but they’re so inept that it’s hard to take them seriously). There are a few rather irritating individuals, but as the main character, I got to experience my self-image evolving, and I learned to deal with them. I was in tears at the end, both because of the poignant place it left me and because it was time to leave.
Next time: The Best things in (virtual) Life are Free!
* My use of “guys” within the word “badguys” is intended in a non-gender-specific way, and as a colloquialism. It in no way intends to imply that all less-than-pleasant people are male. :~)