'You can't tell an adult story in a sandbox world'

Mailbox: Should Rockstar give up?

In last week's mailbox Jack Wilson discusses the impact the recent obsession with multiplayer has on the single-player experience and the overall product.


This week Michael Haylett e-mails in to talk about the disconnect between gameplay and storytelling.

To have your letter featured on CVG's Mailbox, drop us a line. Over to you Michael...

So I'm playing L.A. Noire and I'm off to question a suspect. When I approach him he jumps in a car and speeds away, forcing me to give chase. As I pursue him through the busy city streets, he smashes into at least three pedestrians, but nobody says anything; not Phelps or his partner. I think to myself, "Oh, this must be scripted. We'll stop him and then charge him with murder." But no.

When I catch the suspect there's no mention of the people he just slammed into. This kind of thing really ruins the immersion for me, and it's a problem I find in a lot of Rockstar games. As far as I'm concerned you can't tell an adult story in a sandbox world. The same thing happened in Grand Theft Auto IV.

I was on a date and she was saying how sensitive and nice she thought Niko was as I was turning crowds of pedestrians into gruesome, bloody pavement art. This is what I call narrative dissonance.

Imagine you're reading a serious novel, you turn the page and there's a Garfield comic - that's what it feels like to me when this kind of thing happens. I'm a big boy; I can handle a linear game. Heavy Rain did this, even if it did have the odd moment of madness; like Ethan having sex with a woman he'd known for all of five minutes while his son drowned in a warehouse. But even so, I found it to be a much more engaging narrative than any Rockstar game to date.

I love GTA: San Andreas. It's totally silly, and the story goes from gang-banging to stealing jetpacks and jumping out of planes, revelling in the fact that it's a daft, exaggerated video game. Look at all the collectibles in L.A. Noire. What do you get for finding them all? A Trophy. What did you get in San Andreas? A tank and a goddamn Harrier Jump Jet.

Until Rockstar shake the notion that every game, even serious adult ones, have to be set in open worlds, this narrative dissonance is sure to happen time and time again.

PSM3 says: It's true: these moments can really shatter the illusion in a story-led game. We'll always remember the dramatic, serious cut-scene in Red Dead where a horse started hovering in mid-air.

But, really, it doesn't bother us that much. We were still totally immersed by L.A. Noire and chose to forgive the moments its mask of realism slipped. Rockstar's 'thing' is open worlds, so don't expect a radical change in direction any time soon.

CVG says: We agree Michael. The problem lies in the freedom, the moment you give the player the freedom to do what they want chances are they'll do some rule-breaking activity like run over pedestrians or nick cars. It's a problem endemic to the genre, and one that we're glad we don't have to solve.