Long gone are the days of running and jumping along a seemingly endless corridor of land in the olden platformer games that ruled gaming in the past. Nowadays gamers are less than content with being given a boring linear path to follow, resulting in more and more games incorporating decision making as a large part of their player experience.
Even in FPS games now you see player choices having an impact, from deciding which gear to take into battle, to choosing whether and when to kill a strategic target in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Until recently this sort of choice and consequence mechanic was limited to games with more traditional RPG or RTS formats, so it is refreshing to see it also expanding into other genres.
That said, there has been a lot of hullabaloo in recent years about the whole cause and consequence mechanic being implemented unsatisfactorily – remember the mahoosive fuss kicked up by players unhappy with the ending to Mass Effect 3?
The crux of the problem comes in when you think more thoroughly about the effects of choices in really any game and it seems that players demands for greater realism have led to expectations of near infinite possible reactions within games. This is simply not possible.
Developers will never be able to create a game that fully emulates real life cause and effect relationships, where everything a player does changes what might happen in the future. The complexities are just too great. Telltale Games recently made a fantastic effort with The Walking Dead where even small choices are at least referenced later on. However, taking on the bigger picture view you realise that you are still more or less shepherded down the same path throughout the story.
What players need to realise is that the impact of their choices is not just about having an effect on the games ending. Particularly in the case of Mass Effect 3 many overlooked the fact that their choices throughout all three games had noticeable impacts on the way the story evolved, and each playthrough did have it’s own unique sequence of events – the fact the ending cutscene was unaffected by these choices does not detract from the consequences felt by the actions during the rest of the game.
One area I’d really like to see more creativity in is the moral choices in RPG games like the Mass Effect or Fallout series. It is more often than not an obvious decision between good and bad, all leaving you feeling a bit binary.
What I’d like to see are more grey questions, where there are no obvious answers and the consequences may not always be clear or backtrackable. This was done quite well in the famed Heavy Rain and with developers Quantic Dream due to release their latest game, Beyond Two Souls in 2013, who knows? This may just finally happen.
What games do you think have successfully pulled off decision making mechanics? Which ones have done it poorly?