It’s official: we have entered a new age of video gaming. Bioshock, Okami, GTAIV, Braid, Castle Crashers; what do these games have in common? At the surface, each plays differently, features vastly different art styles, and target different audiences. It’s the 2nd of these characteristics that is the most illuminating, namely, we have reached the point in gaming history where artists can now express themselves HOWEVER they wish, with little hardware limitation. This gives an unbelievable amount of freedom to the artist, and really, also the game designer. I’ve never been more excited about games in my life.
But Bioshock and GTAIV go much much deeper than this. They have a distinctive difference that sets them apart. I might argue that it’s this very difference which has granted each of them exceptionally high review scores. The difference is very subtle: both games feature their worlds as characters. I use the term ‘characters’ in the loosest of senses, but world as character is a characteristic that these games were hailed for. By creating a world that FEELS alive, these games have created a sense of immersion which is considered the absolute best that gaming today has to offer.
When I first played Bioshock I was in… well, shock. Immediately immersed. Having read more than one of Ayn Rand’s books, I found the world that was created to have grabbed my imagination; it was absolutely believable and mesmerizing. The first few hours of the game are truly memorable in a way which is different than any game I’ve played recently. In fact, Bioshock may have set my own personal immersion bar higher; I hope to give players a similar feeling in my future exploits.
(As an aside, over time I realized that Bioshock’s gameplay itself was certainly less than polished, and a little shallow. What happened to the exceptional scripted events that the first 1/5 of the game contained? A good example of this is parts of Rapture flooding or falling apart – in the beginning those events kept me on my toes, but since no similar events ever occurred after the first few hours or so, I quickly became confident. I kept hoping for new types of enemies; none came. I kept waiting for new and innovative plasmids, none showed up. Regardless, I’m sad to learn that the Bioshock team isn’t working on Bioshock 2.)
GTAIV’s world as character needs no explanation to anyone who has played the game.
I had considered putting Oblivion on this list, but Oblivion didn’t quite have the… what’s the word?... cohesiveness that these other games had. Oblivion is amazing in that you can create your own story, and absolutely one of my favorites (I’ve clocked over 100 hours on that game, possibly the highest of any game I’ve ever played). But I didn’t really get the sense that what was occurring in one place had any relevance in another place. To put it another way, the lore, concerns, and happenings of one side of the world didn’t seem to mesh with the other side of the world. The world is big, but it’s not THAT big in the real world sense of the word (16 square miles, if I remember correctly). Granted, it’s easy to be the critic.
But I digress. Innovative and visionary artists: I’m talking to you. Your time has come.