Plot-twists, instant deaths and naked missions

What has been the event within a video game that has shocked you the most and left you reeling? Maybe it was a major plot-twist, the death of one of your favourite characters or a gameplay element that seemed to come out of nowhere.

This is the subject of the latest EXP Share, a monthly collaboration hosted by DanamesX over at Tales from the Backlog to encourage everyone in the community to share their experiences. Here’s the question: “Share a story where an event in a game, television show, movie or book left you in shock and your reaction to it.” I always turn to video games when I have free time so most of the following anecdotes are to do with gaming, but I’ve thrown in a couple about other media for a bit of fun.

There are spoilers in the following paragraphs. If you haven’t yet experienced the game, television show or book, you may wish to consider navigating away from this post now and coming back later.

Video game: Final Fantasy XIII

As part of last year’s game-swap series, I was challenged to play this title by Ellen from Ace Asunder back in September. I’ve never been a fan of turn-based combat so I knew it was going to be difficult for me but I didn’t realise the sheer frustration I’d feel with the last boss. After its health drops below 80%, there’s a possibility it could use its Instant Death power – and getting unfairly hit by this several times at 03:00 in the morning meant I was ready to rage. I’m not sure I’ll ever pick up another Final Fantasy game.

Video game: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

The game-swap before the one in the paragraph was with Athena from AmbiGaming and she challenged me to complete my first Metal Gear Solid title. I now have a lot of thoughts about the series in general, especially its depiction of women, but the strangest moment was when Raiden was captured and stripped naked. Seeing the protagonist perform attacks which had him doing somersault kicks – while firmly holding his crotch to keep his dignity intact – was perhaps one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen in a game.

Video game: SOMA

This was a release which left me thinking about its story long after I played it in September 2018. I think it’s very cleverly written: all the clues about what’s going to happen at its conclusion are there all along but it’s so easy to overlook them and focus on your pursuit for escape. The questions it asks the player, such as what it really means to be human and how you would feel if you found out you were a copy of yourself, are far scarier than any monster hiding in the dark corridors of PATHOS-II.

Video game: The Eyes of Ara

My other-half and I decided to pick up this title after completing Quern – Undying Thoughts and being in the mood for another similar game. It started off well and we enjoyed the puzzles-within-puzzles, even if we weren’t overly concerned about finding all the various collectibles. That was until we reached the final section and raged when we realised the blue orbs weren’t optional. A note for developers: never trick your players into believing that an object is a collectible when it’s not, because it’s really not fun.

Television show: Behind Her Eyes

It’s rare that Pete and I watch television, but this was a mini-series we watched last month after finding ourselves with a free evening and picking the first thing that came up on Netflix. Although he wasn’t overly keen on the thriller storyline which suddenly turned supernatural, I really enjoyed it and loved the twist at the end. My allegiance kept switching between David and Adele all the way through because I couldn’t work out who the real villain was; so Rob’s body-switch and then Louise’s subsequent death caught me completely off-guard.

Book: Pet Sematary

I used to read a lot of horror novels when I was far too young for them and Pet Sematary by Stephen King will always be the one I remember the most. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so scared by a book since and I can still recall the feeling of clammy palms while forcing myself to turn the pages. Being rather attached to my pet at the time, I was both fascinated and horrified about what happened to Church in the story, and the thought of a zombie-cat lurking around the house was terrifying.

Thank you to DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog for another interesting subject this month! If you fancy joining in with March’s EXP Share, you have another week until the deadline and can find all the details in this post.

Silence should have stayed quiet

Although I’m an adventure fan, I don’t enjoy releases by Daedalic Entertainment. There’s something about their logic I can’t wrap my head around and the puzzle solutions don’t make sense to me: give me a mouse to obtain a pair of pantaloons and I won’t have a clue.

It’s therefore weird that I added Silence to my Steam wishlist after hearing about it in late 2016. Despite being created by the developer and looking way more ‘cutesy’ than the releases I’d usually go for, there was something about the trailer which attracted me to it. The story about a brother trying to find his sister in the world between life and death intrigued me and the artwork was particularly nice: not as cartoony and with more subtlety than the stuff usually produced.

When the game appeared as part of the recent Humble Daedalic Bundle 2018, I decided to give it a go despite my aversion to the developer. I had a few days off work scheduled so the timing was right; I could pick up Silence at a discounted price, give money to charity at the same time and dedicate a decent amount of time to playing it. It was just a shame that State of Mind wasn’t included in the bundle as it looked great at Rezzed in April and seemed as though it would be more my thing.

The first two hours of the game were pretty good, despite my reservations. Instead of being a literal point-and-click, it featured the use of some other mouse movements which added a nice little twist on the standard adventure gameplay. The story wasn’t as cute as I thought it would be and there were elements of darkness and danger hidden behind the pretty environments; exactly the sort of thing that would drag you in and hold your attention for a lazy day of gaming.

But then doubt started to slowly creep in. During a conversation between two characters, details about their history were revealed – but not in a this-is-the-part-where-we-share-more-of-our-backstory kind of way, but with a we’ve-been-here-before-and-are-repeating-it-for-your-benefit vibe. A quick Google search revealed that Silence was actually a follow-up to 2009’s The Whispered World and there are several reasons why this has completely p****d me off.

Firstly, the game’s description on its Steam page makes no mention of the fact that this is a sequel. As I discussed with Bandicoot Warrior at this month’s blog party, I have a weird gaming habit where I can’t play the latest release until I’ve completed the others; for example, I can’t touch Fallout 4 because I haven’t played the previous instalments yet (and I can’t get the original title to work on my PC). I wouldn’t have bought Silence yet if I’d known this was the case.

Secondly, I had to stop a playthrough two-hours in and switch to another title. Fortunately The Whispered World was reduced by 90% in GOG’s #SummerGaming sale so a short download later saw me gaming again – but it’s everything I hate about Daedalic Entertainment adventures. The story is full of characters who aren’t particularly likeable, the protagonist has a voice and attitude so annoying it makes me want to punch him, and the puzzles don’t make sense (who’d use a mouse to reach some pantaloons?).

Thirdly, and worst of all: Silence spoiled the original game for me even more than the main character did. That conversation I wrote about earlier turned out to contain a complete overview of the story – even the plot-twist – and now every moment of foreshadowing in The Whispered World is blatantly obvious. I’m stuck playing a title I’m coming close to hating, with the aid of a walkthrough to get through it as quickly as possible, and without even the payoff of a revelation at the end of it.

I understand that developers want to make their projects as accessible to as wide a group as possible, and that means making them playable by gamers who haven’t already completed the previous games. But surely recaps and backstory-sharing in the latest game can be done with far more subtlety than this approach? And what’s wrong with confirming that your title is a sequel in its Steam page description so potential players are aware of its history?

I know some people would tell me to give up on the original instalment or watch a gameplay video and move straight onto Silence. But as I mentioned above, I can’t bring myself to do it; wanting to see those credits before moving on to the next game in the series is my little quirk. But what I will say is that I dislike Daedalic Entertainment’s games even more now than I did so before – I’m not sure I can forgive them for this oversight and it’s highly unlikely I’ll play another of their titles in the future.

But State of Mind though…

Ok. Ignore that last paragraph.

Too much, too soon?

I remember a time, 25 years ago, when Radio 1 would spend a large part of Sunday afternoon counting down the top 40 singles of the week. The big highlight was the top ten, of course, but also a lot of focus was given to the highest climber with a single often improving their position by twenty places or more.

As for the Number One, it was always a question of whether a song had climbed high enough to topple the previous incumbent or how many weeks said incumbent had remained in top spot. A new entry at the top of the charts was extremely, extremely rare.

Over the years the dynamic of the charts has changed. Assessment is done on airplay as well as sales and the digital marketplace also factors alongside physical copies. The biggest difference between then and now, however, is that there is a new Number One every week. A new entry at the top of the charts and those that didn’t make it to the top spot littering the nine places beneath.

Top of the Pops, logo, icon, title

The main driver of this shift revolves around how singles are released and marketed. In my teenage years, singles were released to the public on the same day as radio stations. As the popular ones got more and more airplay, the buzz around them would increase and so would the sales. Hence the high-climbers and long stays at the top. In the 21st century the singles are being played on the radio long before release, social media and other avenues used to market the song loudly proclaiming the release date.

And when that date comes everyone rushes out to buy the single which in turn pushes it to the top of the charts before an immediate drop off the next week.

Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

I see parallels to this in the video game industry. Games, especially the big blockbusters, are revealing more and more about themselves in advance of a formal release. Usually I can deal with the barrage of trailers, demos, beta trails and social media exposure but there have been a couple recently that, in my opinion have gone too far.

I don’t want to see any gameplay of Mass Effect: Andromeda at all, let alone 17 minutes of a key plot point for one of the characters. Surely as gamers we want to explore the vast worlds and meet the people there ourselves? Do we really want to know what happens months before release and have the mystery of those moments stripped away? I’m not a fan of spoilers in any medium but given how central loyalty missions were to Mass Effect 2, the logic of revealing this footage so early baffles me.

Speaking of spoilers, here’s a cracker. Horizon Zero Dawn had been out for less than 12 hours when the Official PlayStation Magazine started tweeting about a hidden scene at the end of the game. 12 hours! And that’s counting from midnight. It was sent out at 11.15am on the day of release of the biggest exclusive game of the year so far. Unbelievable.

What do you think, am I being unreasonable? Or in the wake of the No Man’s Sky outcry, are we seeing a new trend of too much information too soon?