[We Need to Talk is a weekly feature that puts you in the driver's seat of the discussion. Got something to say? Hit up the comments and keep the discussion alive. Got a lot to say? Register for a Gamer Limit blog and write a response.]
Adventure, as a genre, doesn’t really exist anymore. We have some studios like Telltale who make nice, traditional adventure games that not many people play. Aside from that, you could ask a random gamer what the last adventure game he played was, and he’d probably look at you weird and ask, “You mean like God of War?”
Honestly, I’m not in any rush to see “adventure games” make some sudden, miraculous resurgence. Instead, I’m much more interested in those games from other genres that still feel like grand adventures. You know – setting out to explore a huge land, meeting eccentric inhabitants, and generally feeling that sense of adventure that never fails to excite.
But even the sense of adventure seems to be disappearing, and it’s quite troubling.
A true adventure can be found in nearly every game genre, from a first-person shooter to a puzzle game. However, it seems that games are beginning to shy away from such stories, and I can’t rightly figure out why.
Let’s start with an important question: what is an adventure? Of course, we recognize the defining attributes of adventure games as a genre, including puzzle-solving, exploration of often strange environments, and a focus on a grandiose story. Many of these carry over into the basic idea of what adventure in itself is.
One of the most important is the grandiose story, which is achieved not through length or scale but by the events themselves. More often than not, adventures don’t put the adventurer in dire, immediate, and constant danger. Instead, conflict comes about through other means, often ones that the main character enters into willingly. For instance, many adventures begin with someone setting off in search of an item; any adventure involving pirates can suffice as an example. This stands in contrast to war stories that are based more on the serious business of conflict. I wouldn’t call going to war an adventure.
Exploration has always been important to me in adventure stories, but it has to be coupled with other elements to feel truly adventurous. For instance, Fallout 3 has more exploration than you can possibly hope to experience, but not all of it feels particularly adventurous. In essence, your exploration in that game isn’t performed on the pretense of adventure; it’s a matter of survival. There’s no fun to be found in exploration (at least from a story perspective–playing the game is plenty fun) because that’s simply not the point. Adventurous exploration must be done willingly, even if some of the danger involved isn’t exactly desired.
Then there’s that illusive element: fun. As above, I’m not talking about fun gameplay; the inimitable sense of fun that comes along with an adventure cuts right through to the overall experience, from the music, the atmosphere, the characters, the story, and, yes, eventually the gameplay.
Think back to some of the greatest adventure films – the Indiana Jones movies, for instance. They’re incredibly fun to watch from start to finish, largely because everything about the films is crafted to be that way. The familiar musical theme is catchy, the characters are memorable and interesting, and the story never takes itself too seriously even in the midst of mortal peril.
In essence, what I’m trying to say is that not every game needs to be serious business. Give us that fun, lighthearted adventure occasionally, even if it happens to occur during a period of extreme conflict.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West seems like it could be one of the best adventures we’ve seen in years. From what I played at this year’s E3, it will capture many of the elements found in great adventures (much like Ninja Theory’s previous game, Heavenly Sword, did), including memorable and fun characters, exploration through wonderful and unique environments, and a truly epic story. It’s based off of one of the four great classical Chinese adventure novels, after all.
Yes, there are a few recent games that do feel like halfway decent adventures: Uncharted 2, Dragon Quest IX, and so on. But what I need is a game that takes me in an epic journey and leaves me thinking, “Damn, that was an adventure.”
There’s a lot that goes into making an adventure that stands out from the rest. What sorts of qualities make a really great adventure for you? Have any recent games felt like a true adventure to you? Let us know about them in the comments. Bonus points if you make a really adventurous blog about your adventures. I’m keeping score.