We thought we’d stick to the theme of atmosphere in gaming, as it’s such a broad subject.
What turns me off of a game the most is that feeling that I cannot be in that world; that I cannot sympathise with that world in any way, shape or form. For this, I have one game in particular that I will be picking on and I apologise in advance as this is a popular game and I’m sure many people won’t agree with me.
Before this though, let’s talk some more about good atmosphere in games that you might not necessarily think had any form of atmosphere. How about a game like The Sims? I’m talking about the original game of The Sims, the first in the franchise.
The Sims in concept is pretty bland. You basically have these characters that you create who needs you to hold their hands lest they turn into little slobs and finds life to be pretty tough. The Sims is one of these games that splits the audience somewhat, due to some gamers believing that a game should have some form of action. The Sims does have action for the record, but it depends how you play it.
When you start, you’re looking down at your little Sims and you’re trying to make sense of who and what they are. These guys are near clueless as to what to do and you have to help improve their home, their social lives, their careers and yes, their finances. You can have the walls of the house up, or the walls down so you can look in the house easier. The standard view alone gives you the impression that you are in control of what you’re looking down at. In fact; Compare the view to children playing with their doll set. That is basically the premise of this game: You are playing with some dolls. They’re your dolls, made to your specification. You are in control, not them!
To add to this, you feel like you’re in the world of the Sims. You watch them while they watch TV. You listen to their conversations which is seemingly a language devoid of any true reasoning; Simlish. The scariest thing is: That language is “proper”, it has an actual meaning behind each weird word they say. Check out this blog that I found dedicated to Simlish and tell me that isn’t cool?!
So whilst in The Sims, the world tries to make you believe it’s a real world, there are other games that have atmosphere without trying to make you “believe in the world”. They want to give you that amount of disbelief to where you just happen to think it is indeed a “real world”.
Toe Jam & Earl was a really simple game, where you literally go around and get pieces of your rocket ship together. The game the whole time is ridiculously silly and over the top. This is why this game has a perfect atmosphere. Your characters are aliens who have crash landed on this bizarre world called Earth.
The game was satirical and yet you could completely believe the world these aliens landed on. See, these aliens were really far fetched, I mean just look at them both in the above picture. It was silly, it was “radical” and all in all – It was fun. These were funky aliens who landed on this strange world that you and I see as normal. It was really well done and the whole point was for you to explore this weirdly different world.Whilst the aliens were different to you and I, they found our world alien and strange. It looked strange to them too – Which is why this game worked so well. It was just a simple, easy to relate to story of an outsider looking in at our (okay now outdated) culture.
So then, those are two games with great atmosphere for the world they built. So what is that popular game that I mentioned that didn’t have such a good atmosphere? I’m very sorry:
Take this not as an insult to those who enjoy Doom 3 as it is a super game. It’s well done and it’s very, hmm, scary? I’m not really too big on jump scares in games as it never feels like it worked for me, however that was exactly my point.
Each moment the game felt like it was going to open up more and become a bigger, scarier game – Well that was all it did. it just got scarier and didn’t leave me “included” in the game. I couldn’t get behind the characters and it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere any time soon.
Instead all I had was random jump scares and incredibly bland, stale characters. I am afraid to say that the voices of the characters felt like they were done by one man only. It didn’t matter what the character looked like, they were just different octaves of one guy and on top of that: The characters didn’t really react to things or talk in “human ways”. To me, this killed the suspense through the dialogue alone.
For all of its accomplishments and how great fun the game itself is (I’d recommend playing it!), it’s not particularly “absorbing”. You don’t feel connected to Mars and you don’t want to really get involved with the world: Because you can’t.
So, what did you all think? Can you give us any more examples of popular games that aren’t particularly atmospheric? What about older games that are incredibly atmospheric? Alternatively, what games are atmospheric?