The writing is always the weak point of any given video game, even good ones. I like Gears of War and its sequel, but how the hell did they get away with the character of Augustus Cole? That guy is pretty much the most stereotypically black character I’ve ever seen — his nickname is “The Cole Train,” his favorite words are “bitch” and “suckas,” he’s a former pro athlete, and he RAPS OVER THE END CREDITS. I mean…seriously? I know, it’s Gears of War, what am I expecting, but come on. Though, of course, the game development was lead by this guy, who clearly reeks of the ghetto, so maybe I’m being unfair.
The best you can hope for, normally, is a game in which the writing is so thoroughly mediocre that it can be overlooked. It is rare — so rare that I could count them on one hand (but won’t, because you couldn’t see it) — that you run across a game in which the dialogue, story, etc., are actually good. And then there’s The Orange Box, a collection of games by Valve, including Half-Life 2 and its expansions, as well as Portal, and Team Fortress 2. These games actually have really excellent writing. There’s a (relatively) successful video game romance, a touching father-daughter relationship, a strong, vibrant female character who remembers to put on pants and never once has to be saved by the male lead, and of course, one of the most original, complex, and hilarious video game characters I’ve ever seen, who delivers an end-credits song which is actually both catchy and funny.
Portal is the real stand-out from the writing and gameplay perspective — it’s different, atmospheric, and amusing. But while Half-Life 2 and its expansions are not as consistently compelling (which is partially because it’s an absolutely massive campaign), it’s still an A+ as far as I’m concerned, for the constantly changing and challenging gameplay elements, and particularly in the way it manages to tell a strong story without ever resorting to cutscenes. In fact I don’t think there’s a single cutscene to be found in this entire package, which is something I wish more games would do. Like Gears of War. I don’t mean to keep harping on them, but every cutscene in those games lasts forever and feels like a Michael Bay pitch so stupid even Jerry Bruckheimer would refuse to fund it.
And Team Fortress 2 is good also, I think, but you have to play online, which is just awkward. Or with friends, but sadly my arty hipster friends are way too cool for video games.
Next up, a return to current games with Brutal Legend.
Published by: Valve Corporation
Developed by: Valve Corporation, EA UK (Playstation 3 version)
Genre: First-person shooter, puzzle
Number of Players: 1-player campaign, 16-player multiplayer
Release Date: October 9, 2007
ESRB: T-M BBFC: 15 OFLC: MA15+ PEGI: 16+
Also Available On: PC, Playstation 3
Photo Courtesy of Valve Corporation