Wherein I wish games were movies

When Telltale Games came onto the scene back in 20-aught-whatever with their brand new Sam and Max adventure game, I was elated. I’ve always been a big fan of point-and-clicks, and TTG did a really great job of capturing the spirit of those beloved old LucasArts games. Following up with projects like Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People and Tales of Monkey Island, the future looked bright for episodic point-and-click adventures.

But then something happened, and Telltale’s games made a dramatic shift from point-and-click adventures to more streamlined, narrative-focused experiences where 95% of the gameplay consists of quick-time events and a few dialogue choices. I don’t even like referring to this current generation of Telltale products as “games,” because they’re really just movies where you have to press a series of buttons to make it keep going every once in a while. Sometimes you get to make your character walk forward a few metres with the option of examining some random scenery details.

I have only played two games of this sort: Tales from The Borderlands and Batman: The Telltale Series. And while I would recommend both, because I did end up really liking the stories they told and the characters involved, neither one was especially fun from a gameplay standpoint. In fact, in both cases, the gameplay really just got in the way of the story they were telling. Sure, one might argue that your actions influence said story, but I don’t really care. The various twists and turns actually take away from the experience, as there are a number of lines in dialogue trees that don’t make a lot of sense or seem really out of place. I think both games would have benefited from a tighter, more linear script.

This isn’t to say that you can’t do a more modern take on the classic adventure-style game! I submit Life is Strange as a perfect example of how you can have a semi-linear game with a strong focus on plot, but still fit in some simple puzzles and gameplay that feels meaningful. Yes, you’re still set on a pretty straight path in Life is Strange, but at least you get the freedom to explore every scene and interact with other characters at your leisure. Not that its story is perfect either, as there is a huge variance in the quality of voice acting, and sometimes dialogue feels really forced and there are many lines that feel very stiff and/or unnatural. But my point is that the gameplay never feels like it’s detracting from the overall experience. Also there is never a single quick-time event.

At the end of the day, I think Telltale’s modern games are great stories that you can absolutely get yourself invested in. They have a certain style and charm that makes them easily distinguishable and a lot of fun. But they would really be better off as simple non-interactive mini-series. No “core” gamers like quick-time events and they make a rather high barrier to entry for casual players, so I guess my question at the end of this is; who are these games even made for?

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