With their latest first-party exclusive blowing up the UK and US sales charts, PlayStation have cemented their commitment to providing players with well-rounded, polished games that are best experienced solo. The new God of War is certainly the most story-driven of the series yet, with Sony Santa Monica successfully reinventing what was essentially a shouty man’s thirst for revenge into a melancholic adventure with fatherhood at the heart of all things.
It’s an unfortunate state of affairs when such a critical darling is contemporarily perceived as the exception, rather than the norm it used to be during the last generation of consoles. Multiplayer-centric titles like PUBG, Fortnite, and Radical Heights all are hoping to ride the limited-time wave of success that is Battle Royale. It doesn’t take a veteran to identify that this popularity can only last so long and is at great risk of being saturated.
There’s something to be said about games like God of War, Nier: Automata, and Horizon: Zero Dawn which actively seek to push the video game medium forward, proving time and time again that there’s much more narrative potential here than even movies and books. By comparison, multiplayer games have their place, but as we’re currently seeing, refuse to innovate or provide enough of their own spin to feel unique. When Activision changed the landscape by introduction perks in Call of Duty 4, this idea was then replicated to death by almost every competitor.
Some games are best experienced alone, without the disturbance of others. Sadly, titles that centre on story are becoming increasingly pricier to develop, leading many publishers to instead rely on a short burst of capital from early access multiplayer games. PlayStation has been doing a great job at investing in the opposite, however, maintaining an impressive hit rate of unmissable exclusives that are simultaneously deep to play but also provide a worthy story.
Microsoft’s big bet on the recently-released Sea of Thieves could’ve been great, but without a fair amount of context to back it up, players are left wandering with trying to find things to do. “emergent experiences” – a lazy way of telling players to make their own fun through interaction – will always pale in comparison to games that emphasis an engrossing story. You need to give your in-game actions meaning, and this simply cannot exist without the makings of a good story.
While we may have lost Visceral Games (the creators of Dead Space) last year, the hope is that publishers will take notes from the effort put into PlayStation’s first-party exclusives, recognising the value in games that can potentially have an impact. Otherwise, the statement “video games are art” will be at high risk of losing its honesty.