The pen is NOT mightier than the sword
Video games have told some amazing stories. Some are heroic epics with dozens of colorful characters. Others provide just enough detail to excite your imagination and let you fill in the blanks. When these stories work well, they can cement a games place in our minds for years after the credits roll. Some may even inspire you to take up the pen and try your hand at writing fiction--maybe even find your lifes calling.
Other games should just stop it already. They dont all need some big, epic backstory to justify or strengthen the action. Sometimes a bald space marine is just a bald space marine, and thats good enough. Here are eight games that made us stop and scratch our noggins thinking, "Whats the point? Does anyone actually read this stuff?" Theyre the kind of games where, when you reach the end, you had no idea what actually happened, but you had a blast getting there.
Destiny is a fun game with such an ambiguous story I thought its key narrator--poor old Peter Dinklage--was going to nod off before it was all over. Since the games release, hoards of fans from across the internet have gone out in search of the "real" story hidden between the lines. Rumors of cut plot points and heavily revised sections have been making the rounds, painting a very different picture of what could have been the games backstory.
What plot points remain arent exactly IN the game, per se. Instead, theyre collected within special Grimoire cards, which you unlock by completing in-game achievements. Then you have to bounce over to Bungies website to actually view the cards and digest that sweet, sweet lore. It a tad cumbersome, especially when you consider the internet thrives on distracting you with goofy cat pictures. The end result is a player population thats having a blast shooting each other, even if they dont understand why, and a...oh, oh wow, this one is really cute.
Titanfalls campaign--and Im using that term "campaign" loosely here--left me feeling dazed and confused. Whether I was playing as the IMC or Militia, I was never sure what I was fighting for, or why. There also didnt seem to be any real resolution to anything, so what did I even do? Did it matter? Is shooting a bunch of giant robots from inside of another giant robot some sort of commentary on the human condition? Somehow, I doubt it.
I guess this is what happens when all your exposition is relegated to a bunch of talking heads and random commanders screaming in your ear. The game is filled with massive, explosive mech battles, but its plot is regulated to a nonsensical radio drama that plays out in the loading screens and mission briefing between matches. This is in stark contrast to the regular matches where all the drama is angry teenagers yelling at each other.
League of Legends
League of Legends doesnt need more than a Team Fortress 2-style framework to get its message across. You have two teams, they hate each other, and chaos ensues. Simple, right? Now compare that with League, which has woven together a Tolkien-esque tapestry of people, places, and events that have shaped the lives of its champions--and the Summoners who control them--giving them reason to do battle day after day with one another.
Apparently not, since developer Riot Games has decided to nuke the current backstory and return to the drawing board, essentially pulling a New 52 on the entire LoL universe. Now theyll have to come up with a whole new set of reasons why a scarecrow and a werewolf and a strange tree monster want to whoop the tar out of each other. Perhaps they should take a page out of Twilights book and play up the supernatural soap opera angle. I can see it now: Soraka and Gragas are star-crossed lovers whose wedding day is shattered when Mordekaiser, Sorakas amnesiac lover from the future, finally awakens from his coma. This stuff writes itself.
Diablo III revels in cutting down massive swarms of enemies with flashy spells and abilities, but its colorful backstory ultimately contributes little to my tried-and-true "kill everything, everywhere, really fast" strategy. Its hard not to recall a fight in which Deckard Cains gravelly old-man voice wasnt delivering some treatise on carrion bat mating rituals as Im hucking fireballs across the screen. Oh, really, these bats like to nest inside their mutated brethren? Thats fascinating Uncle Deckard, but how about you discuss their weaknesses? Dislikes? Foods they dont particularly enjoy?
Meanwhile, every threat the bad guys lob my way ends up ringing hollow. Its like every five minutes some demon calls me up on its demonic cell phone, ranting about how this time I was totally going to die. "HAHA," they bellow, "YOU WILL NEVER DEFEAT MY BEST GENERAL, oh wait you just killed him. WELL, NEVERMIND THAT BECAUSE YOU WILL NEVER DEFEAT ME--oh wait now Im dead." I can only hear Azmodan cry wolf so many times before I start tuning it out.
Street Fighter IV
The Street Fighter franchise has an insane amount of backstory, but if you were to ask the average player he or she likely wont know more than: Ryu throws hadoukens, Ken wears the red outfit, and everyone who plays online is better than you (or maybe thats just me). Even so, this hasnt stopped developer Capcom from trying, though weaving a compelling narrative around a cast that includes a Turkish oil wrestler, psycho-charged dictator, and green monster man is a tall order.
And lets not kid ourselves--no one is picking up the next Street Fighter to learn if Chun-Li finally shuts down Shadaloo and avenges her father, or to see if Ryu overcomes the baleful influence of the Satsui no Hado. No, theyre buying these games in order to trick their less-experienced friends into playing big money matches, and then winning all their dough (again, maybe thats just me).
Almost every Sonic the Hedgehog game ever
Sonic the Hedgehog should never have evolved beyond the Super Mario Bros. school of storytelling. In brief, villain (Dr. Eggman) steals thing (Chaos Emeralds) and hero (Sonic) rescues said thing. Its a simple formula, one that carried the blue blur through numerous games in the 16-bit era. Then the Dreamcast dropped and everything flew off the rails. Before you knew it, the gaming community was elbows deep in Big the Cat and Rogue the Bat and whatever the heck an Omochao is, and eventually a whole generation of players lost touch with the focused purity that made Sonic great in the first place.
Sonic is at its best when it hits that perfect balance of speed and exploration (and chili dogs). 2011s Sonic Generations nailed that balance well enough, but someone at SEGA still felt it needed a weird birthday/parallel universes plot stapled on top. Before that we had the scandalous human-on-hedgehog relations in 2006s Sonic the Hedgehog. Then Bioware jumped into the mix with a Sonic the Hedgehog role-playing game on the Nintendo DS. And Ive got no idea where that werehog fits into all this. Point is: keep Sonic simple (and his friends to a minimum).
Super Mario Bros. 2
The year is 1988. You love playing Super Mario Bros. on your Nintendo Entertainment System. The sequel--Super Mario Bros. 2--finally comes out. You buy it, boot it up, and BAM, its all totally different from what you expected. Theres a heart gauge now and you can pull vegetables out of the ground and you can play as Peach. You can play as Peach and she can fly. What the heck is going on here?
If you took the time to crack open the manual, you wouldve learned theres this whole kingdom called Subcon and its being taken over by some dude named Wart, but who really has time for that? Nintendo couldve left it as one big confusing mystery. Im sure our collective, adolescent brains couldve come up with a better explanation for this madness than--and this is a spoiler alert for a 26-year old game--it was just a dream all along. I'd call this a twist, but it's literally so uninteresting that I completely forgot what I was talking about just now.
Most racing games have some sort of basic premise that explains why all these competitors have gathered in one place. MotorStorm Pacific Rim--precursor to Apocalypse--did this, and it worked just fine. Theres a bunch of anarchist-types on a tropical island, and theyre having a crazy driving festival. Sure, why not? Its a goofy premise to be sure, but its also simple enough that you can just focus on the racing.
Apparently, that wasnt good enough for MotorStorm Apocalypse. This game cobbled together a fully-fledged, cringe-inducing story about a bunch of anarchist-types taking over a (mostly) abandoned city. There might have also been an evil corporation and a goofy homeless guy at some point, but who knows for sure? Basically, it reads like someone threw a bunch of action movie cliches in a box and then kicked it down the stairs. The resulting carnage then became the "plot," and it is sheer pain. I mean, for Petes sake, the first character you meet is a video reporter named "Cutter." Get it? Because he cuts videos. Genius!
Why cant I skip this cutscene?
Thats it, storytime's over, boys and girls. Can you think of any games that would've been better served by leaving its story in the dust? Bonus points are awarded if your game also includes unskippable cinematics. Leave your selections in the comments below.
And if you're looking for more, check out 8 games that forgot to have endings (then tried to fix it later) and The most difficult weapons to unlock (and how to get them).