Sunday, January 1, 2012

Silent Protagonists

When Crysis was announced as a downloadable title for Xbox Live and the Playstation Network, I was ecstatic. I never was able to run that beast of a game on any PC I owned. The minute it was released, the game was downloaded onto my hard drive, and I enjoyed every second of it. Once I completed the game, I wanted more. Knowing there was a sequel already released, I decided to pick Crysis 2 up and continue the nanosuit experience. It started out well enough, but one thing I noticed started to really bug me: Alcatraz is a silent protagonist.

Some may think nothing of this since it is a technique used in many games, but I actually find this really annoying. While I am fine with this in the Half-Life and Legend of Zelda series (because those two have shown their success utilizing silent protagonists), I hate this mechanic when used in other video games such as Dead Space or Call of Duty.

Yes, I know that the reason for this is to "immerse yourself into the world" and "make you the character," but I don't feel that when I play. Plus, I don't play video games to be myself; I play to become a badass soldier or and spaceship engineer. Let's face it, I am not Soap, I am not Alcatraz, and I am not Isaac Clarke. I cannot throw a knife with pinpoint accuracy into someone's eye while injured, I cannot cloak myself to stealth kill enemy soldiers, and I cannot dismember necromorphs while floating in zero gravity (although all of these would be really cool). So, when I play video games, I enjoy the fact that I am controlling these characters and utilizing their abilities; not my own.

It also ticks me off when conversations occur in video games with silent protagonists. They are always one-sided and it is awkward (at least to me) when another character asks a direct question since they are always answered with silence. If I am supposed to be the character, I wouldn't stand there with my mouth closed while being spoken to. Being in the military, when someone orders me to do something, they want a response. If you do not give them one, be prepared to get chewed out. I also wouldn't be able to keep quiet when chaos is taking place. There are missiles dropping, aliens invading, and people dying. I understand keeping calm under pressure, but the occasional "Shit!" or "Look out!" would add some life to these characters.

There are times when silent protagonists don't even make sense, like the Modern Warfare and Crysis series. In Modern Warfare 2, Soap talks the entire game but the moment you take control of him, he zips his lips. In Modern Warfare 3 however, Price won't shut up when you take control of him. Why is this? Why? Why?! It makes no sense! I apologize for the outburst. That is simply a mystery I cannot seem to solve.

With Crysis, the first game had a protagonist who spoke, and it was a nice touch to hear his dialogue when traversing the alien infested mountain. Why did the developers feel need to alter this in the sequel? Early on in the game, Gould mistakes Alcatraz for someone else because he is wearing Prophet's suit. Eventually, he discovers the truth and even pulls a gun on him. This could have all been resolved had Alcatraz stated, "I'm not Prophet." Some people say that the reason for this is because of the injuries Alcatraz suffered at the beginning of the game. While I can accept that, no character in the game states this is the reason behind his silence. I know I may seem like I'm asking for a lot; but it would have been a nice touch if any scientist or main character said, after analyzing the suit, "His larynx has been badly damaged resulting in a loss of speech." Then, I would have thought, "So that's why. Okay, I can deal with that."

However, not all games need a character speaking out loud (I know many characters whom I would love to have shut up), but he or she can still be given a voice. Take the Penumbra series or Amnesia: The Dark Descent, for example. The character speaks during the introduction yet, for most of the games, you can only see his thoughts from the subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Sure, there aren't (m)any characters to interact with but the character is thinking. The subtitles allow the player to read his thoughts and discover what he is feeling, giving him a voice.

I simply feel a character with a voice is much more effective. Take into consideration Dead Space 2 and the Jak & Daxter series. The characters, once given a voice, evolved into people with emotions and desires, instead of mindless zombies taking orders without debate. Because of this, I develop a deeper connection to the character and their plight.

After some disappointing cutscenes in Crysis 2, I needed to share my reasons on why this mechanic doesn't work for me. I know you all have different opinions on this subject, and I'm fine with that. To each his or her own. That being said, what's your take on silent protagonists? As always, thank you for reading!