First Person Plot


Last week the guys spoke about which FPS had the best plot ever and now they proceed with that discussion here for your enjoyment.

Chris: There tends to be a very distinct separation between the first person genre of games and all the rest when it comes to story. We’ve all got our favorites, but when we go to Best Story in a Videogame, we don’t typically turn to an FPS (though Best Story in a Videogame is sure to show up on No Right Answer someday). Our debate had Kyle arguing in favor of Half-Life while Dan went with Bioshock, and I was sitting all alone in the judge’s chair. Ultimately I went with Bioshock as the best, partly because I thought Dan argued it more correctly, and also because Bioshock just has a story that’s permeated the medium of video games far better than Half-Life‘s story.

When I say “permeated,” I mean that we instantly go to Bioshock‘s story first and foremost, whereas Half-Life and its sequels are touted as having the superior level design and combat innovations, specifically the Gravity Gun and such. When my associates turned to me after their drinking rounds failed to result in a spit-take, I was forced to give this explanation:

Bioshock is the only game that has a GameFAQS plot summary that I passed onto my wife as it was so fascinating, ultimately causing her to retort in a conversation about science with a group of friends months later about how scientists have found a species of sea slugs that apparently have cancer-curing properties, only to have me point out that she was referring to Bioshock‘s backstory.”

It may seem simple and anti-climactic to learn that about the decision, so instead I want to talk about the throw away comment I yelled from right off camera before getting shut down by Kyle. I can’t in good faith argue this as being the best against anything else in the FPS genre, but Metroid Prime is still the FPS I jump to in terms of story and all around excellence. And yes I’m a fanboy, so let’s just get that out of the way right now.

Why I’d personally go with Metroid Prime over so many more obvious choices is because I have the greatest personal involvement with it. I’d never played a Metroid game prior and only asked for it for a Christmas gift as sort of an obligation to want to play the big title from Nintendo that year. Thankfully, my parents were smart enough to make that my big, unexpected present that year, and then even more thankfully I decided to give it a go. My goodness, I’ve rarely had a more emotional experience in any other video game. The music for Phendrana Drifts can still make me tear up.

The reason for it all is just the general feeling of isolation and aloneness. Samus is on an entire world with a rich history, but she’s utterly by herself. As with a lot of good game stories, the important details are given to you clearly, then the rest are left for you to discover as you progress. This creates a much more personal experience with the narrative as you haven’t been complacent to it’s existence. You aren’t punished at all for refusing to scan sections of lore throughout the game, but if you decide to ignore it you’ll miss the entirety of the game’s real meat. This same method is used in Bioshock as well as Portal to some extent.

I’m just glad that we’ve shifted away from World War II as the definitive FPS story, though I am sad that we’ve moved instead to “conflict in the Middle East involving Russians” and “dude, space aliens be wack yo.” Let’s just hope that Bioshock Infinite brings us something truly imaginative already. You with me? Alright, wolverines!

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Kyle: Perhaps my greatest failure this week is my failure to highlight Half-Life 2 over the first game. But I still maintain that the plot of this series is far superior.

While Bioshock feels like a one or two man show, a very personal and self-contained story (there’s no coincidence that it takes place in a sealed-off underwater metropolis), Half-Life 2 gave the sense that it was a much larger story that I had the privilege of roaming around in.

Also, the characters in Half-Life have much more weight to them. When they speak, the player listens. In Bioshock, when the NPCs talk, the player is busy picking a genetic superpower with which to crush them.

And when the characters die in Half-Life, even the throw-away henchmen and rebel citizens of City 17, the player feels more submerged in danger, probably because you are easier to kill than your Bioshock counterpart Jack. Vulnerability helps to amplify the plot of an FPS. Did you hear me, Activision and EA?

As far as plots go, Jack gets a twisted Ayn Rand version of Alice in Wonderland while Gordon Freeman gets an entire narrative through-line.

While you start as a fish out of water, a scientist wielding weapons with untrained hands, you soon turn into a desperate man on the run. Then a rallying point for the resistance, a symbol of defiance. Then an unstoppable force with an army of dangerous beasts in your grasp. Then you’re marked as Anti-Citizen One, a freedom fighter and a leader of your people. And through the course of your journey, you become more proficient and deadly. You change from the scientist with a gun to a soldier, a hero. It’s a breathtaking way to experience an FPS, especially when compared to the plot of Bioshock, which demands that I constantly be jumpy and obedient to the commands of unseen fellows on a radio.


Dan: I’m going to lay some truth on you all, so get ready to swim in it and get all prune-y. I honestly didn’t expect the response to us including Half-Life as one of the contestants last week for best FPS plot to be so … positive. I mean, sure, people are debating if it should have won or lost, but I thought we would have taken a lot more flak on even considering it a plot. I mean the first game was more concept than plot, and the second game fleshed things out very well, but the famous lack of resolution was a sore I thought disappointed more people. That being said, Half-Life and Bioshock in their entirety are my two favorite video game series.

I took the first point despite being cut off by Kyle, I guess I need to work on my pattern of debate to be as good as Chris is. My argument here is that Bioshock has a very simple reason why the plot is so twisty: It’s a city full of the smartest people on the planet augmented with the reality-bending steampunk technology and McGuffin of Adam. Those three things make for a rich plot that is instantly engrossing. Kyle tried to get a point by recounting the Half-Life plot, but running away from aliens was all he got out.

Second point quickly nabbed by yours truly with the low-hanging fruit of the twists in Bioshock‘s plot. Weeding out the people who are jaded beyond hope, there are some pretty fantastic plot twists in Bioshock. One in particular throws into question the very nature of the player-avatar relationship and is just too fantastic not to win a point for. Half-Life has the G-man, but until Valve finally explains … aannyytthhiinngg about him, Kyle has no chance in that category.

Plausability. Kyle has it. He comes out of his gate late, but strong with the argument that my main character is waaay too accepting of jabbing steampunk gene splicing goo into his arms. It was a very weird moment that only occurred because you are playing a videogame. Gordon Freeman basically reacts the way we all would in his situation, given some time at the range, a doctorate and a shield-suit. I remember a point where I was being shot at in Half-life 2, and I kept ducking into storage containers thinking that I was getting way off the path. Turns out I was going the right way all along. This may be arguably gameplay rather than plot, but when the plot is reacting the way normal people would, then I say it’s a win.

Some people were confused as to why Kyle got this next point, but there was a reason. Kyle made the argument that Bioshock‘s delivery of all the answers is really cathartic, but Half-Life‘s abundance of questions and tightly rationed answers leave us all wanting more Half-Life games, if only to finish the story. I don’t think the group of people who want another Bioshock game outnumber the number of people who want that elusive part three to exist.

Kyle said Bioshock was better than Half-Life. I gave myself a point for that. He was lucky I didn’t just call a TKO.

Trying to pull a late win, Kyle used his drinking argument to compare the Half-Life plot to Die Hard. This was a smart move, and almost got him a spit-take win. Die Hard is not an overly complicated plot, yet it is rock-solid and keeps you focused without being confused. Bioshock does come a little heavy-handed with it’s plot, and sometimes it is a bit overwhelming.

That being said, Kyle dug his own grave when he said Bioshock is 80% atmosphere and 20% plot. This ration would only be a bad thing if those two partitions didn’t complement each other so perfectly, but they did. The audio logs, the dead bodies you find in their final positions, the music … it was all masterfully done and made for a plot that verged on artistic.

Some day, one of these games will be made into a film. And I will go see that film. Perhaps with Goobers.

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Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.