Category Archives: video games

Which video games have the best lore?

Some people play games for the gameplay. Some play them for the multiplayer experience. Some play them because they’re addicted to them, even though the game is a pretty transparent money trap disguised as a mobile phone app. And some people play them for the story.

And these days, video game stories can be very, very good.

It’s always boggled my mind that video games are written off as a waste of time, when we live in the age of the TV box set and Netflix binge. If a video game can have a story at least as good as a television series, isn’t it necessarily a better form of entertainment given that you can also interact with it?

And recently there’s been a renaissance in so-called ‘narrative games’. These are games that are literally all story! From the neo-text-based-adventures of Inkle Studios to the choose-your-own-adventure games from Telltale there’s a lot to get stuck into. With Telltale especially, the parallel to TV is super obvious; they’ve made games about Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic Park, Game of Thrones, and (most notably) The Walking Dead.

But today I’m not thinking about the difference between TV and video games. I’m interested in video game lore, which I’m defining as the story and mythology a game offers. The ‘lore’ of the Batman comic book series, for instance, is the tale of Bruce Wayne and his efforts to protect the citizens of Gotham City. Batman’s lore covers all of his villains, their origins, places and locations, big events in the storyline, and so on. It’s an extensive lore, worked on by lots of writers over the years, and can be studied in depth.

Likewise, lots of video games have very deep and interesting lore. The Warcraft series for instance, has a whole Tolkien-esque world to explore. Beyond the video games, there are whole books, board games, comics, and even a movie to get stuck into. It’s a rich lore that rewards deep exploration.

Some games, of course, aren’t fussed with lore. The Super Mario Bros series, for example, has never been too bothered with it. There’s established characters, sure, but no real over-arching storyline. The setting seems to change from game to game, and the events of previous games don’t seem to tie into the others. We don’t even know who Waluigi is, he just seems to have turned up to play tennis once, and stuck around since. They’re still great games, but it’s hard to be fanatic about Mario lore.

I’ll now talk about a few of my other favourite examples of games with great lore.

Bloodborne

Bloodborne is just a fantastic game anyway, but it really hooked me in with its lore. In BB, you play as a ‘hunter’ in the town of Yarnham, which is seemingly overrun by werewolf-like beasts. As the game goes on, you learn more about the town and its inhabitants, but without any direct exposition. The story is told through whispers (literally through doors), by scraps of paper you find, and in item descriptions. The picture bigger of what’s going on turns out to be weirder and more fantastic than you expected at the start, with some super amazing Lovecraftian stuff going on I don’t want to spoil.

The fact you have to piece the story together yourself is part of the fun. It’s why you can watch hour-long videos on Youtube trying to piece it together. And you should check out this great Kotaku article where someone is trying to argue for their interpretation.

The Metal Gear Solid Series

Metal Gear? Yes, Metal Gear. A series of ‘tactical espionage action’ games that are so much more than sneaking and shooting.

Metal Gear tells the story of, um, well… it’s more like a bunch of different stuff going on at once. The games take place over a span of about 50 years, and cover themes such as genetics, war, peace, technology, politics, conspiracies, and a man made out of bees who shoots a gun made of bees that shoots bees at you. It’s a super rich lore, and open to lots of interpretation. There are even scenes in later games where other characters attempt to offer their own version of events which are later contradicted by others.

Like, just read the MGS Wiki entry for Ocelot and see if you can give me a straight answer as to who he was working for all along. It’s just not possible. And I love that.

Final Fantasy X

The Final Fantasy games almost always have a great story. And the best thing about them is that they are pretty much entirely self-contained. You don’t need to have played FF1-FF9 to understand FFX. Which is great for me, because X is where I started. And it’s my absolute favourite.

Final Fantasy X tells the story of a Blitzball (a fantasy version of football) player who is transported across time and space to another world and tries to find his way home. There’s a whole bunch of wonderful twists and turns on the way, and the world itself (‘Spira’) is very fleshed out and interesting. FFX is one of the few Final Fantasy games to have a direct sequel, the polarising FFX-2, and I think that’s just because people couldn’t get enough of the world.

The story of Spira, and the cycle of death and destruction it’s stuck in, caused by the eternal return of a massive monster, is really interesting. Every time I play through it, I notice something new or make another connection. Like, did you know that the aeon Anima is meant to be Seymour’s mother? I didn’t!

The Half Life Series

Half Life is strange. There’s only been four ‘main’ games: Half Life 1&2, and then Half Life 2: Episodes One and Two. There’s been spin-offs like Opposing Force, Blue Shift, and Decay, but they’re not crucial to the main narrative. And yet, with just a couple of games under its belt, Half Life is regarded as one the best examples of storytelling in games.

That’s because the story is great. It’s about a scientist, Gordon Freeman, who unwittingly takes part in a science experiment that opens a rift to another universe, bringing through alien creatures and, eventually, an entire army that take over the planet. The series is the story of his battle against those aliens and the occupying army, but it has mysterious elements, such as the enigmatic G-Man who gives Gordon orders from time-to-time.

To this day, fans debate the meaning of things that happen in the Half Life games, which makes it all the more painful that it’s looking increasingly likely that the much anticipated finale – Half Life 3 – will never be released.

Honourable mentions:

  • The Fallout Series is a great series, set in a post-apocalyptic America where people have survived nuclear war by living in deep underground ‘Vaults’. Each game focuses on a new location and the problems that crop up after people start coming out of the vaults to occupy the nuclear wasteland. Fallout: New Vegas is my personal favourite.
  • The Mass Effect Series is a good bunch of games, telling a pretty epic story about a space commander’s efforts to save the galaxy. The story is a bit deeper than just ‘bald space man fights aliens’, and lots of people love the story.
  • The Elder Scrolls Series also has great lore, although a lot of it is written down in huge epic in-game books. It’s never been my absolute favourite though, as I find it a bit dry in places. Still, it’s worth mentioning for at least making the effort.

And that’s all I’ve got for today. Which other games have great lore? Let me know in the comments! (Sorry for comment-baiting).

Analysing a scene from one of my favourite video games

Metal Gear Solid 3 is a weird game. It’s a fantastic game. But it’s really bloody weird.

Released in November 2004 on the PlayStation 2, it was technically the fifth in the Metal Gear series – depending on how you’re counting. Historically the Konami-published games had a tendency to be a bit odd already (a boss in Metal Gear Solid 1 could only be beaten by physically unplugging your controller), but MGS3 ramped it up a notch.

It featured this guy for example.

The_Pain

He’s called The Pain. And he’s a man made out of bees, who shoots a gun made of bees, that fires bees at you.

Bees.

Seriously, bees. Bees everywhere.

It totally bananas, but we all loved it. I still DO love it.

And with the latest entry in the series – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – coming out VERY SOON, I wanted to take a look back at the best cutscene in the game. But first, some background.

Chronologically, MGS3 is actually the first in the series (mind-binding twists happening ALREADY just in the title omg) so you don’t really need to know much about the characters or backstory. Basically, our hero is a guy called Snake – a codename, as he’s an agent who’s been sent into deep Russia to find a Soviet rocket scientist to extract back to America (the game is set in the Cold War).

In this scene, Snake has just found the scientist and is escorting him off. But he’s ambushed by his former mentor – The Boss – who…. is defecting to the Russians!

Let’s go through this line-by-line shall we? [Script courtesty of MHamlin]

Snake: Boss?

(The Boss drops the cases, causing the bridge to go unstable)

Huh. Why does she do that? She’s trying to get Sokolov (the scientist) back, and he’s clearly not the steadiest walker. He could literally fall off, and making the bridge wobble for NO REASON isn’t really going to help.

Boss: Good work, Jack.

Snake is called Jack I guess.

Snake: What are you doing here?

Boss: Sokolov comes with me.

(A swarm of hornets then appears)

This is gonna be good!

Snake: Hornets!?

Oh yeah. Snake has this super annoying tendency to verbally repeat everything he sees and hears. I don’t know why he does that.

(In the confusion, The Fear descends down, grabs Sokolov, and pulls him up to
a helicopter)

Right so The Fear is another of these wacky characters. He’s basically a human spider. I don’t know what the hornets were for. Some kind of annoying distraction?

Boss: My friends… let us fight together again!

I don’t think she’s talking to the bees. The weird guys in the copter are her old squad from WW2. So I guess this is her announcing her defection. But they didn’t know already? She just did it just then by shouting up at the helicopter? So they previously thought she was with Snake or something? I’m a bit confused.

Fear: I have waited long for this day.

Nobody talks like that.

(The Pain, The End, and The Fury are also in the helicopter)

So The Fury is this angry astronaut dude who shoots fire at you. And The End is a well old sniper who is LITERALLY DEAD some of the time. Yup.

Pain: We will fight with you once more.

End: Welcome back, Boss.

Boss: Now that the five of us are together, it’s time we go to the depths of
hell itself…

Huh, what does that mean.

(It begins raining)

Does she just mean it’s raining. Because rain isn’t the depths of hell. Hell is usually depicted as a really hot place. Not much rain.

Boss: It’s raining blood…

No it isn’t. It’s raining water.

(A ghost of The Sorrow walks up behind The Boss)

The Sorrow is another member of this team. But he’s a ghost. You still have to fight him at one point (a boss fight that just involves walking down a river until he goes away. It’s the worst).

Boss: …is he crying?

Is who crying? What’s the object in this sentence?

(Colonel Volgin walks up and joins The Boss)

Colonel Volgin is like the leader of these soviet chaps. He’s a weird character. His special power is shooting electricity out of his body. It’s so stupid. Also, where was he up until now? Just hanging out in the bushes, waiting to show up?

Volgin: Kuwabara, Kuwabara… Ah… What a joyful scene.

Probably the oddest line. It’s a Japanese phrase used to ward off lightning. But he’s Russian. So I don’t know why he knows it or is saying it now. He’s also electroconductive – so I don’t know why he wants to ward off lightning. Overall, it’s a bizarre entrance for a character we haven’t met before in the narrative.

Maybe it’s because Konami is a Japanese studio. But maybe if you’re writing a script set in Russia with Russian characters saying stuff, don’t put obscure local folklore references in?

The way he delivers “What a joyful scene” is also hilarious. Nobody would say that.

Boss: Colonel Volgin…

Volgin: Welcome to my country… and to my unit.

The way he punctuates this with his fist is super incredible. Also I guess he heard her yelling up to the copter from the bushes.

Snake: Boss? What is this?

Dude, it’s pretty clear. She’s defecting to the Soviet Union.

Boss: I’m defecting to the Soviet Union. Sokolov is a little gift for my new
hosts.

See? Way to have to make it super explicit.

(Volgin picks up the two cases)

Volgin: Recoilless nuclear warheads… these will make a fine gift for me…

Ok wait what. Recoilless nuclear warheads? Is that a thing? A thing you can just carry around in a box? That doesn’t sound plausible. And they’re a gift for him? I thought she just said Sokolov was the gift?

And “a fine gift for me” – what does that mean? His use of “these will” makes no sense. Say “these ARE” or something.

Snake: This can’t be happening!

Volgin: Who is he? Another one of your disciples? Are we taking him with us?

Haha, Volgin has like no idea what’s going on. He’s in charge, but seems pretty down with the idea of just bringing people along who happen to be standing about.

Boss: No. This is one is still just a child. Too pure for us Cobras. He has
not yet found an emotion to carry into battle.

First off, Snake is no child. He’s like 30 or something at this point.

Too pure? What does that mean? Snake is a seasoned veteran. He’s seen war.

He has not yet found an emotion to carry into battle. What, like the emotion of BEES? C’mon.

Snake: (aiming his gun) What are you talking about!?

I wanna know too.

Boss: Think you can pull the trigger?

(The Boss grabs Snake’s gun and dismantles it with her bare hands. Snake tries
to attack but The Boss grabs him and breaks his arm)

Volgin: He’s seen my face. We can’t let him live. If Khrushchev finds out
about this, we’re finished. He must die.

I think if Khrushchev found out about this he’d been all like “wait, what’s the deal with the bee guy?” not “what was the guy’s face like?” Also, Volgin says the same thing twice here for no reason.

The thing with the bullets is weird too.

Boss: Wait. He’s my apprentice. I’ll take care of him. Jack, you can’t come
with us.

(She holds out her hand. Snake takes it and The Boss rams her elbow into his
ribs. Snake grabs hold of her bandana as The Boss throws him off the bridge
into the river below)

That throw is pretty impressive. This is also technically the origin story for Snake’s bandana from the other games if you’re interested.

Pain: The new blood has been rejected…

What.

Volgin: Are we done here?

Boss: Now… on to Sokolov’s research facility.

Why is The Boss saying this? She literally just defected but now she’s calling the shots?

Volgin: Shagohod is ours!

Shagohod is this walking tank thing that’s gonna destroy the world. It’s the ‘Metal Gear’ of the game’s title.

Boss: Drift away. My place is with them now.

Snake just fell down a whole canyon. He’s probably dead, mate.


And that’s that! If you wanna see what happens next, it’s pretty dumb. Basically, Sokolov fires one of the missiles at the weapons facility to frame America or something. Snake (who survives the fall and is just sitting around) sees the explosion and is like “daaayuummm” but apparently doesn’t die despite sitting really really nearby.

Volgin also has the great line “remember the Alamo” which is totally dumb, but might just be the best line in the game.

Anyway, I highly recommend the game. It’s all this wacky, and one of the better ones of the series.

Metal Gear Solid V comes out September 1st. Be cool like me and pre-order the special edition that comes with a mini ROBOT HAND.

Remember the Alamo.

ps. I also recommend Hiimdaisy’s take on this scene, as part of their whole MGS comic.
Part 1
Part 2

Funny Games

There was some great news this week. GoG.com released the first batch of LucasArts games they’d managed to secure the rights to.

What’s that mean in English? Well, GoG.com is a website that specialises in “good old games.” They get the rights to games that you can’t buy anywhere any more, make them work on modern machines, and sell them for a bargain.

If you’ve heard of things like Dungeon Keeper 2, Planescape: Torment, or Baldur’s Gate – those are the kind of things GoG specialise in. Basically, they’re just great.

But I’m particularly excited about the LucasArts games that are coming onto GoG. Yes, LucasArts as in Star Wars George Lucas. Actually a subgroup of LucasFilm, LucasArts are/were a video games development studio famous for their adventure games in the 1990s, as well as endless Star Wars games since.

The adventure games were things like Monkey Island and the Indiana Jones series. And they’re pretty much all amazing. It’s a great scoop for GoG, and something a lot of people have been waiting on for ages. And mostly I’m excited because LucasArts made games that were funny.

Video games today have a tendency towards gritty realism. Everything is a grimdark shooter supposed to make you think about depressing stuff. Things like Spec Ops: The Line are great for making you think about the horrors of war and so on (it’s a third-person shooter adaptation of Heart of Darkness, by the way), but it’s pretty light on laughs. Games take themselves far too seriously now, so thank god the LucasArts back catalogue is arriving to remind us all what fun they can be.

So without further ado, I’d like to talk about some of my favourite “funny games.”
Games that just want to have fun.

Sam and Max Hit the Road [wiki]

I start with Sam and Max because it’s the one of the first that GoG have uploaded. And it’s a great example of the LucasArts style.

Recently, remade/rebooted/recarried-on by Telltale Games, Sam & Max is about a dog and a “rabbity thing” who solve crimes. Wow. What a concept. The dog, Max, is a hard-boiled detective with a dry wit, and Sam is just an outright insane psychopath. So lots of the humour comes from the interplay between these two characters.

The story itself is a bonkers tale about a missing bigfoot, with misadventures aplenty along the way. It’s basically just an excuse to visit lots of zany locations (“hit the road”) and comedic set-pieces. But it’s entirely fantastic and the writing is consistently hilarious.

Honourable mentionsI’d like to include pretty much every LucasArts game, for similar reasons to Sam&Max, but most particularly: the Monkey Island series, Day of the Tentacle, Time Gentlemen, Please! and Grim Fandango.

Borderlands 2 [wiki]

Yes, it’s a modern shooter, but the Borderlands series sets itself apart from the crowd with its humour. In a sea of Call of Duty clones, Borderlands games are a breath of fresh air – bringing colour, excitement and humour.

I’ve picked Borderlands 2 especially because the original Borderlands didn’t quite meet the same levels as 2, and was still finding its feet in terms of voice. I also haven’t actually finished the latest game Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (so-called because it is set between 1 and 2). But even that title is great, an admission of the awkward spot the game holds in the series.

Borderland’s humour is based around excess. The gameplay revolves around a random generator of weapons – there are literally millions of possible combinations. So it’s all explosions everywhere, and this carries through into the dialogue. There’s one character (“Mr Torque”) who shouts in all caps all the time, and it’s all amazing. And there’s Claptrap too, the yellow robotic fan-favourite character who sees the world with unbridled optimism and is prone to random outbursts of dubstep. Funtabulous.

Honourable mentionsBulletstorm, Jazzpunk

Team Fortress 2 [wiki]

440_screenshots_2013-11-22_00003

TF2 is a game I’ve somehow ploughed 476 hours into. Yes, almost 20 straight days of my life have been spent playing this game. To sum it up, it’s a team-based shooter with a cartoon aesthetic. Oh, and hundreds and hundreds of hats (in the above screenshot, my Heavy is rocking the ‘Hound Dog’ head cosmetic item).

The reason I’ve ploughed so much of my precious lifetime into the game is partly that it’s really fun and addictive, but also because it’s just damn funny. Just the way it looks is great – a timeless wackiness that just screams FUN. And all the playable characters are perfectly designed as full rounded characters; the Heavy is a hard Russian gun-nut, the Engineer a mad texan tinkerer, the Scout an arrogant Boston teen, and so on.

There’s also a whole surrounding universe to the game – most famously, the ‘Meet the..’ shorts that helped promote the game in the old days. Check out Meet the Scout for a great example. They’ve even made a 15 minute short film just about these characters, with almost nothing to do with the game itself.

They even have a comic which is absolutely hilarious. All in all, it’s great.

Honourable mention: Portal 2

Grand Theft Auto V

Everyone’s heard of GTA. It’s famously controversial for being that game where you steals cars and run over old women. But it’s easy to forget that it’s a keen vehicle for social commentary too (some people don’t even know that it even has any humour in it at all, I’ve found).

I’ve picked GTA V as my entry for this list, though the same can be said of any of the games from GTA Vice City onwards (the very originals were most cheeky/irreverent than outright humorous, and GTA 3 was just kind of bleak and depressing. Even the little touches like the in-game radio stations are great, with adverts satirising things going on in popular culture.

Of course, GTA can be a little heavy handed in its approach. Literally EVERY shop is some kind of pun or double entendre. And a lot of it is extremely crass, but it’s the sheer weight of comedy is great. Ricky Gervais even does a standup routine in GTA IV.

Honourable mentionSaints Row

And that’s just the ones I can think of. I’m told that The Stanley Parable is also fantastically hilarious, but I’ve yet to play it.

Humour is an important part of any medium. And it just makes video games so much more memorable as experiences.

So let’s have more of this:

And less of this:

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For the lols.

Did I miss a game? Let me know in the comments or maybe even in real life!