Games that end up linear and boring.

I think most people would understand that the post title of this entry is referring to Final Fantasy 13.  It’s been lambasted for being a linear experience. But why is it suddenly reasonable to judge a game on it’s linearity? I think about the games that were purposely linear, and those that simply end up as being linear. There isn’t much of a difference between the two ideas. One is done on purpose and the other one is accidental.

So which one is FF13?

In any case, FF13 looks like it’s combat is okay. The story is always up for interpretation, debate, and nerd-rage. And the graphics are alright. Any of the silly short phrases a gamer would spout to defend or lambaste this game are as follows:

  • Gameplay is king.
  • Graphics aren’t everything.
  • I played it just for the story.

Talking like that just tells me they’re pricks that don’t like gaming discourse. In particular, the three main facets of gaming we seem to stress upon so much can bring down the enjoyment of the rest of the game. It doesn’t matter if the story is great; a shitty gameplay system and horrible graphics would have me burn the disc in disappointment and anger.

I side-stepped the question “Is FF13 linear on purpose, or accidental?” because I haven’t played the game. But it’s safe to say FF13 is linear on purpose. And at this point, we can’t do anything about that. None of the Final Fantasy games were ever non-linear. Having additional side-quests doesn’t make a game open world. A story is an even bigger obstacle to game design that prevents a game from being non-linear, especially if the developer(s) in charge has a specific vision.

Two games I can think of at the moment that are linear on accident are Infamous and Red Faction Guerrilla. Both games focus on free-roaming and emergent gameplay. The desired result is that no gamer would have the same experiences as the other. Infamous and RFG get pretty close to letting a player progress through the story out of order simply by having an explorable world that doesn’t try to hamstring the player for deviating, but fall short. In the end, these games were linear. Why are these games linear? It’s because there’s a clear intended goal for the player. But even that as criteria would dig up other games that would have to be stamped as exceptions. There’s an intended goal for the player in Morrowind. But that doesn’t stop a player from jumping directly to end-game and beating it in less than 5 minutes. Sure, that’s going from Point A to Point B. That alone still doesn’t stop us from tagging Morrowind as being non-linear.

Any of the games I’ve mentioned all have good graphics. To reiterate that in a more interesting fashion: Games with good, great, or excellent graphics have a presentable image and informative visual system for the player to enjoy the game, and do not detract from the experience. Graphics alone don’t make a game good, but graphics alone can make a game unplayable, despite gameplay and story.

I don’t really remember where I was going with this, and I’m just going to say that a lot of gamers liked Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a linear game.

So what’s your experience? Do you play the game because of it’s characters, even if the story is shitty? Have you played a game with sub-par gameplay, but has great graphics? Was the story so truly great, that even horrible collision detection wouldn’t deter you?

* Screenshot from S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl, a game that’s better than FF13.

Games that end up linear and boring.

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