Video games are unlike any other storytelling medium. They tell stories that the audience themselves must directly interact with in order to progress. I adore video games for the compelling stories they tell as well as the sheer fun that they offer. Gameplay and story are the two most important components of any game. Gameplay can even enhance a game’s story if done well. However, many modern game developers see the story as the end-all-be-all and the most important part of the game. Some developers even leave gameplay as an afterthought. This style of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth and is the best way to create an uneven and underwhelming experience.
I was inspired to write this article because of a game I recently played. Alan Wake is a psychological shooter game from 2010, developed by Finnish studio Remedy Entertainment. This developer team has gained a reputation for their shooter games with intriguing stories and well-written characters. This is certainly the case for Alan Wake, which has a very interesting and cool set-up for a story. The titular character, who is a writer, gets himself trapped in a story that he created. The story is great — it’s really esoteric, it makes the audience question what’s real and what’s not and the acting and dialogue is top notch.
What isn’t top-notch is the gameplay. Alan Wake’s suspenseful story is not complemented at all by its stiff, unsatisfying gameplay. Its shooting and combat systems aren’t incredibly offensive — it just feels underwhelming. It feels like there should be another layer of interactivity between the player and the enemies, but there isn’t. Other contemporary shooters like Resident Evil 4 and even the studio’s previous game, Max Payne, have much more enjoyable gameplay mechanics. It’s deeply unfortunate since this game’s story is enjoyable, but the lack of interesting gameplay makes it have little to no replayability.
On the flip side, there are opposing occasions where a game’s story is middling, but the gameplay is incredible. Devil May Cry (DmC) is a Japanese action game series published by Capcom since 2001. In 2013, the series was rebooted after four entries, and this reboot was very poorly received, to say the least. DmC was hated by die-hard fans of the series due to the drastically changed themes, atmosphere and characters in comparison to the original series.
The story in DmC tries really hard to appeal to both new and old fans of the series. On one hand, it drastically changes the characters of the original series, but it also tries to not change things too much. Originally, Dante, the main character, was going to be a quiet, stone-faced killer with dark hair, as opposed to his original characterization, which had him rocking a silver fringe and throwing around jokes. The fans hated this change that was apparent in the first trailer, so they kept the dark hair but made Dante an asshole instead of a charming jokester. His character is still drastically changed, but not as much as he used to be.
The story of this game is just an utter failure. It tries to tell the story of Dante and his brother Vergil overcoming demonic enemies and culminating in a climactic fight between the two, but it all falls flat. This is because this same structure was used previously in the third game, with much more quality. In DmC 3, the story was told with much more nuance and finesse since the characters were likable. They were relatable, charismatic and charming, and this made the story of the previous games endearing and enjoyable. The reboot’s story lacks all of these elements and takes itself too seriously. The story isn’t enjoyable at all.
The gameplay in DmC, however, blows the story out of the water. It’s incredibly exhilarating and free-flowing in letting the player go off with a whole litany of combos. The gameplay is sharp and satisfying and super customizable. It’s similar to previous games in terms of gameplay style, and that’s great. It builds off the previous games in a way where it’s recognizable but unique in its own way. Whenever I boot up DmC, I have a great time with the gameplay. But only the gameplay. I always skip the cutscenes and story because they are bland and uninteresting. An ideal game has a good balance of both of these facets, instead of most modern games prioritizing their story.
Video games are an important medium due to their storytelling facets. They have various unique ways of telling stories through cutscenes and gameplay, respectively. Modern games really put an emphasis on the storytelling aspect, which is great, but the gameplay falls to the wayside. At the end of the day, video games are an interactive medium. They were originally designed to be played, and that original vision should be honored. That’s what makes them unique, and without a developer’s emphasis on making the gameplay experience great, video games will lose what makes them unique.
Nicolas Scagnelli is a senior majoring in English.