While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers, anyone who has not played Batman: Arkham Origins, Fable III, Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins, Golden Axe, Metal Gear Solid, Time Commando or The Secret of Monkey Island is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.
More than two years ago, when I first started Penstricken, I had this big idea that I was going to blog about all forms of story telling: books, films, plays and even computer games. If I’m being honest, however, there has been an accidental but undeniable bias in favour of posts about TV, films and books. When it comes to Super Snappy Speed Reviews, we’ve already done books (twice, in fact), TV shows, films and even Star Trek.
And so, for this edition of Super Snappy Speed Reviews, I’m going to give you seven mini-reviews focusing on the stories found in computer games (mostly retro games, because I’m an old dinosaur like that). As usual, the games I have reviewed here have been selected entirely at random from my own collection of dusty relics and do not necessarily have anything in common apart from the fact that they are all games (although you’ll be lucky if any of them are less than ten years old!). They are not necessarily games that I particularly liked or disliked, nor are they sorted into any particular order. I should also add I am focusing my reviews solely on the quality of the story, not graphics, audio or general game play.
As always, these reviews only reflect my own personal opinions and impressions, blitzed, pureed and truncated into a few short sentences. So without further ado…
Batman: Arkham Origins (2013)
Superhero games are often naff. This one is not.
The plot is simple but bold: there’s a price on Batman’s head and everyone from Gotham’s criminal element right through to the City’s corrupt police force intend to collect it while Alfred drives Batman to distraction by acting like a mother hen. The story telling is excellent and well-paced. The characters (and there are plenty of them) are well developed. The dialogue is excellent.
I love this game.
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Fable III (2010)
At first, the story of this game seems pretty straight-forward. You’re the brother/sister of a king who has recently begun abusing his power and so you set out to find allies to help you lead a revolution. Suddenly, just when you think it all makes sense and you’ve nearly won the game it turns out that there’s a weird semi-corporeal army of darkness coming to destroy everything and the whole reason the King was being so cruel was to help raise funds to fight in the coming war.
It’s not a bad story. A little simplistic, perhaps and the antagonists who appear at the end of the story feel a bit under-developed but it basically works. My main complaint is that the protagonist never seems to really develop, despite (perhaps even because of) the fact that game largely centres around making moral decisions that will influence your future.
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟
Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins (2000)
This story is set in feudal Japan and focuses on a small clan of ninja fighting against another ninja clan who have decided they’ve had enough of being stealthy and want to establish a world ruled by ninja.
I’m not sure how historically accurate it is, but I suspect the answer is ‘not very’. The story is quite simple to the point of even being a little bit silly but it is reasonably paced and the dialogue is… meh… okay. Character development is limited but it’s there. One of its big selling points is the fact that the three playable characters allow you to see the story from three unique perspectives (including the perspective of the bad guys).
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟
Golden Axe (1989)
Death Adder has taken over the kingdom and has kidnapped the King and Princess. He has no redeeming qualities. The good guys are noble and heroic. Also some guy called Alex is murdered by Death Adder before the game begins and is never mentioned again.
That’s pretty much it. No characterisation, plot twists or anything at all really… just a good old fashioned find the bad guy, kill the bad guy, save the kingdom.
My rating: 🌟🌟
Metal Gear Solid (1998)
Most computer games have half-baked or altogether non-existent stories. Metal Gear Solid is not like that. It’s got drama, it’s got conspiracy, it’s got plenty of characterisation and even alternative endings. It’s well paced with a strong balance of action scenes and softer, emotional scenes. Frankly, it often feels more like a movie than a game thanks to the sheer complexity of the plot and characters.
My only gripe with it is that it is a little overwritten and as a result, features quite a bit of info-dumping during some of the video sequences.
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Time Commando (1996)
Does anyone else remember this game apart from me? Well… basically it’s a classic ‘slay the dragon/save the princess’ sort of story– but much more ridiculous. Instead of a dragon, we have a computer virus (who resembles a giant fish) which creates a giant time vortex which threatens to consume the entire world. Stanley, the protagonist, very foolishly enters the vortex and battles his way through eight different time zones before finally fighting the virus itself in the strange world of ‘beyond time’.
Not only is this story ridiculous, but the game features ZERO dialogue of any kind (except for ‘oh yeah!’ whenever you find a secret) making it almost impossible to understand the plot without reading the game’s manual.
A fun game to play but the story frankly feels a little unfinished.
My rating: 🌟
The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)
I knew I was going to love this game from the very first moment I turned it on and saw this scrawny, blonde haired wimp politely inform a blind watchman, ‘Hi. My name’s Guybrush Threepwood and I want to be a pirate’.
When it comes to story telling, this game has it all: an unlikely hero driven by a strong motivation to become a pirate; a dastardly ghost-pirate antagonist; a strong, independent love-interest who turns out to be anything but a damsel in distress and buckets of humour. Even the supporting characters are vibrant, distinctive and hard not to love.
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
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