A lot of games set out to tell engaging stories. Some use a narrator, lots of cutscenes or branching dialogue systems. Others embed plot points in the environment. Success rates vary, of course. But what's the worst storytelling in video games? Why, Gears of War, says Dead Space story producer Chuck Beaver.
Eurogamer pulls out a few quotes from an interview on EA's official blog where Beaver slams Epic's shooter series for its writing. In the original article, Beaver says the following:
Story can only ruin a game for those people who care about story, so it's a conditional answer. For instance, Gears of War. It contains atrocious, offensive violations of story basics. Yet it doesn't seem to ruin it for many, many people. It's literally the worst writing in games, but seems to have no ill effects.
He also takes the publisher's own efforts with Dead Space to task as well, though:
We knew so little about story back then, and overruled our writers on a lot. Dead Space was just a simple haunted house story that we later pasted a personal aspect on top of — a lost girlfriend who is really dead.
Dead Space 2 was a huge challenge. All these elements from the original game that were poorly thought through, like the Marker Lore, Necro ecology, etc, had to move coherently forward into the next narrative. The first story we had was a wreck of unrelated events and broken structure, so we cut our teeth getting that into shape, and didn't fully make it.
Plus, we got lost a bit in complicated lore and plot elements that didn't come through. And don't even get me started on the final boss sequence that they put in without me in the meeting! That was fun.
However, Beaver's most telling quote isn't about any one game:
Games are games first, and need to engage on that level. Story is a giant competitive edge to add to your offering, but pure story can't rescue craptastic game design.
That makes a weird sort of sense when I think back to the Dead Space games. They're more triumphs of tone and atmosphere than narrative successes. Similarly, Gears of War's success comes from delivering adrenaline-rush action sequences where you feel threatened from all sides. You don't need a good impetus to be drawn into those experiences but a video game can be more memorable when it has one.