Ask any gamer why we love to play, and sooner or later we're bound to start philosophizing about “interactivity.” Games, you see, are the only kind of entertainment that let the audience influence the characters' actions. You can't stand up in a movie theatre and tell the actors who to shoot next; how well would it workif comic-book writers asked readers to write in to determine characters' fates (opens in new tab)? We crave interactivity, and thus, we love gaming.
Above: Imagine the interacting you could do with that lot!
But plenty of games aren't that interactive at all. Some are designed restrictively; others offer chin-scratchy commentary on the nature of gameplay; some were just made by folks who like cutscenes a bit too much. For whatever reason, plenty of software is less “game” and more “TV show with occasional button presses.” Interactive entertainment? Here are a few games that forget at least half that promise.
The game: Every once in a while, Capcom graces us with a new IP to add to their stable of zombies, zombie-killers, zombie-photographers, sociopathic street-brawlers, and Mega Man. A particularly novel addition has been the Ace Attorney series. At last, we could subject ourselves to the fun of negotiating the legal system, without the hassles of dealing with a lawyer's income or lifestyle.
Above: A joke about that lifestyle, courtesy of 1986
What could you do? “You can't handle the truth!” “This whole courtroom's out of order!” “Yes they deserve to die, and I hope they burn in hell!” “Denny Crane!” Just a few of the legal-eagle catchphrases you were free to yell into the DS' microphone, enabling you to feel exactly how a real law-talkin' guy feels when he's legalin' it up.
Above (top): Dynamic legal action!
Above (bottom): Streamlined user interface!
What did the game do for you? Told quirky courtroom tales while you were hollering at your console and occasionally tapping the screen to move the story along. It's not that the game's bereft of things to do; there just tends to be one right way to pass a level, and once you've found that way, no real reason to go back. Unless you've got some choice new John Grisham quotes to yell, of course.
Above: Looks like a thought just hit him... fatally. [Don sunglasses, cue title sequence]
Seriously, this is less interactive than... Finding a reason to go to court, for reals. Have you been to court? Shit's better than Halo.
You may think this looks a lot like us advocating illegal activities, but you could not be more wrong. Please restrict yourself to confessing to other peoples' pre-existing crimes.
The game: Taito's jungle-infiltration actioner paid homage to balls-out action movies of the day like Rambo, Commando and the oeuvre of one Mr. Carlos Ray “Chuck” Norris. The game adopted a then-rare first-person perspective, letting you see the whites of countless warmongering foreigners' eyes.
Above: It's you or Libyan Charles Bronson. Only one is getting out alive
What could you do? Shoot them! Or, if you were feeling pacifistic, be shot by them!
What did the game do for you? The character parachuted behind enemy lines, sabotaged ammo depots, negotiated with civilians, shook down double agents, rigged explosives and more... but you didn't even get to tell him when to walk and when to stand still. Your sole responsibility was to aim the gun and hope someone was standing in front of it.
Above: Maybe someday a game will let you press the “Explode Everything” button yourself
Seriously, this is less interactive than... Most of the variations that followed. Op Wolf didn't invent the rail shooter, but it breathed life into the genre. Later imitators would add small but vital ways for players to have a tiny bit more to do, culminating in the uber-bizarre Aerosmith vehicle Revolution X.
Above: The popular thing to say was, “Play it until the bit where you get to shoot at Steven Tyler"
Shark firmly jumped, it would fall to Sega's Virtua Cop to bring rail-shooters back into the realms of “games people might conceivably want to play.”