One of the main criticisms I've seen levelled at Mirror's Edge Catalyst - out later this week for us normal plebs, but the reviews have started rolling out already - is that the story is weak.
Uh... yeah. I can't even remember the story from the original Mirror's Edge, and it's still one of my favourite games ever.
I mean, the story - if you're comparing it to a more traditional notion of story - is weak in the vast majority of games, isn't it? Certainly in the vast majority of action games. Y'know... tell me if I'm wrong here... but I don't think many of us are going to be buying Mirror's Edge Catalyst for the story. We probably don't need the opening half a dozen paragraphs of your review telling us how bad that story is.
It's madness, yet I'm seeing more and more reviews criticising a game's story - I've read at least three in the past week alone. Since when did games reviewers care so much?
Here is the thing: for the most part, the story in video games is a delivery method for the action.
Take Far Cry Primal. Can you tell me what the story actually is?
There are a lot of mostly very skippable cut-scenes, but it's just a load of stuff that happens. It's lots of people in caves grunting at one another.
The handful of missions with Urki the Thinker - an abject idiot whose absurd plans get him killed every time you meet him - suggest a knowing sense of humour that would've benefitted the game elsewhere. You can get away with a lot if you hide it behind the funnies.
The Witcher III? There's a lot of information and stuff happening... but an actual story? No. It's all over the fricking place, because of its structure, and told mostly via a series of big info-dumps. Halo 5? Lots of lore, lots of backstory, lots of exposition, and portent. Story? Not so much.
OFF DA CHARTS
I've talked a lot about the storytelling in Uncharted - but, for me, storytelling is something distinct from the actual story.
Good storytelling can deliver information without some big, expositional, info-dump. It makes you understand and care about characters without feeling duped into doing so. It conveys a sense of place and time. It's invisible. That's what Uncharted - and Naughty Dog - excel at. The actual story in, say, Uncharted 4 is fairly unremarkable next to the pantheon of great stories... but it's revolutionary, as far as games go, in how it TELLS its story.
Thing is, I don't mind if a game has a weak story. I don't play games to be told a story. IF there is a good story it's a bonus, but that isn't why I'm there. I don't need big, long, cut-scenes. Same as I find action boring to read about in a book, I find story in a game - which I have come to for its interactivity - tedious to watch.
As far as games go, story is a way of building the brand, something a - hopefully - recognisable, iconic, sellable character can piggyback on.
The only time I ever get really irritated by story in a game is when it becomes obsessed with its own weight and self-importance. When there's no option to skip a cut-scene.
The Halo series certainly flirts with that. Tomb Raider continually rubs me up the wrong way, whenever I read about what a strong female role model the new Lara Croft is.
And what's really concerning me is that now reviewers are starting to criticise the story in games, studios are going to be investing more heavily in the story... once again in thrall to the Metacritic bottom-line.
And what worries me with that is that inexperienced storytellers think that darkness, drama, lashings of humourless portent, is good storytelling - when it isn't anything of the sort.
Certainly, if a game is trying to shove its story down your throat, and insist you pay attention to it, give them the kicking they deserve, but focus on the main event, the reason we play games.
They are not a story-telling medium. You wouldn't have marked down Pac-Man because the character was bland, or laid into a Mario game because you had no insight into the psychological trauma that was driving him to smash his head into bricks and stomp on turtles, or Sonic because there weren't enough long, drawn-out, scenes of him wrestling with PTSD.
Something like Mirror's Edge - for all its high-budget gloss - is simply the modern equivalent of an old-school platform game. It doesn't need to be Tristram Shandy or Wuthering Heights.
So please. Reviewers. If you're reviewing a game, particularly an action game, and its story can be skipped past, ignored, or otherwise glossed over, don't dedicate half of your review to it. Honestly. We don't care, and you're just going to make things worse.