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The Bad and the Worse of Decision Based Gaming

Gamers were promised a land where we can play games with plots that are affected by the decisions that we make. A true immersive gaming experience. Sadly, I’m still waiting for the big one – the game that will set the standard for all decision making games and blow us all out of the water.

A bit of a warning – I may come off like a whiny gamer kid right now, but I’m ok with that.

We picked up Deus Ex: Human Revolution last weekend for the PS3. My fiancé suggested it because it looks awesome and was getting a bit of buzz. After getting it home, we dove into a gorgeous futuristic world, interesting story line and a great character. I understood that I had to get Praxis points to upgrade my character, and that I earned points by being generally kickbutt. However, I was given two options for kicking butt – I could either go on a killing spree in rooms filled with guards or I could crawl through vents and hack secret doors to avoid detection. I took the stealthy route, only to get to the first boss too weak to beat him. Imagine going through Final Fantasy 7 not realizing that you were going to have to defeat the face of evil at the end, and getting to Sephiroth at level 70, too weak to do anything but start the whole game over again. Now, of course, it didn’t take me days to get to that first boss, but come on. Why give players the option to set their character up to fail? I spent the few Praxis points I had on mental upgrades to hack my way to a boss that was faster, stronger and had better aim than I had. I was not ready! So…I returned the game for store credit. I refuse to let a game make me make a fool of myself. (Plus, any game that uses “square” as the default action button is ridiculous.)

On the other hand, there’s LA Noire, a game that pretended to have an extensive decision-based plot but was really just an ok game in “Game of the Year” clothing. I was so stressed out going through it, worried that any missed clues or facial cues could potentially affect the outcome of golden boy Cole Phelps. However, no matter how great I was doing, or how many wife stranglers I released back to the streets, it didn’t matter. Cole was going to screw that lounge singer and take his tumble from glory. Even worse, I would realize that all of the interrogation I did on those murder cases meant nothing, because that one creepy dude killed all those ladies and framed everyone else. And, the icing on the “Screw Your Expectations” cake – no matter what you do, Cole Phelps is going to kill himself at the end. I finished that game feeling empty, questioning why I even bothered. This reaction shocked me, especially after experiencing the same type of loss at the end of Red Dead Redemption. However, the difference, for me, is that I never felt that I was supposed to try to do anything to stop John Marsden from getting killed that day. It was supposed to happen because I was a part of a story that I was playing. On the other hand, I was made to feel that I could save Phelp’s soul through my stellar police work, which was never true.

I will admit that I haven’t experienced any other decision driven gaming plots. I’d love some suggestions, since we have a bit of downtime until the new Modern Warfare and Saints Row 3 are released. All I can say, for now, is that I’m disappointed in how decision based video game plots either manipulate gamers into believing they have more control than they really do, or drop you into a situation too real to be a game, where your ignorance can cost you in the long run. If only there was a happy medium…

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