The Rise Of Walk-Em-Up: A Exercise In Being Pointless?
If there’s one trend I can never understand within video games it’s the rise of the Walk-em-up. The sheer amount of titles popping up with the same core concept, in which not much happens, is utterly bizarre. I’ll play anything on anything, I’m open to trying ‘new’ genres and video game experiences, but for the most part, walk-em-ups just feel…cheap. I can briefly recall playing Myst way back when, a odd title that confused me during my childhood, but it still had a curious appeal.
Myst was a gateaway into point and click games for me, opening up a whole new world of often amusing story driven games.Franchises like Tex Murphy, Sam and Max and sneaky plays of Phantasmagoria all reward me with some vague memories of video game enjoyment. Those video games contained a huge amount of character and charm, allowing them to grow into more than a simple puzzle game.
Who could of predicated that the progression of point and click would eventually lead to the arise of modern Walk-em-ups. It’s not that all of these games are bad, or even cheap, in fact some of them mater the art of weaving vague instructions and exploration perfectly. Amnesia is a prime example of how this genre can work. It’s vague, it’s well paced and it has a point. The atmosphere is dark and brooding, almost become a character within itself. Walking around trying to solve puzzles is given more validation thanks to a crafty insanity mechanic, halting the player from ever truly feeling safe. It all works in tandem, never relying on one element to prop up the game.
On the opposite side of Amnesia’s dark arts is The Stanley Parable, a quirky, comedic title that uses the basic outline of a walk-em-up to feed into it’s material. Conforming the game’s style is what makes the game funny, it’s the spine of the experience, it gives the game it’s heart, cumulating in a fresh video game experience. Gone Home is where the shift started to appear. Placing the player in a location, with vague hints towards a plot, players walked around filling in the gaps. At the time of Gone Home’s release, and subsequent critical praise, the question of if it was a actual game started to pop up. The whole game consists of walking around and looking for clues that create the plot.
Gone Home, at least for me, was dull exercise of just looking at things while text danced around the screen. Simply walking around, picking up items in the hope it trigger something felt whole heartily dragged out. The sheer amount of padding at each turn of the game’s one hour length result in the experience becoming frustrating. The plot covers some topics that most games shy away from (to avoid spoilers those themes won’t be mentioned) but this didn’t cover up the faults Gone Home suffers from. This was the first case of a true walk-em-up I had witnessed, my confusion over the praise the game received still remains to this day, but indie developers took notice of this success and wanted a slice of the action.
We now find ourselves besieged by walk-em-ups, mostly on steam, with the odd appearance on consoles. The sheer amount of them currently clogging up steam is staggering. A quick look at Greenlight or coming releases will display at least one walk-em-up per page. Most aren’t even trying to be different from each other, not that there’s much you can really do with the concept to begin with. Walk here, look at this, repeat, it’s the heart of these games. There’s a few exceptions in which the game bothers to formulate a reason for the player to ‘play’ the game, rather than just dumping them into a world. Titles likes The Vanishing of Ethan Carter blend walk-em-ups with a touch of point and click, complete with dash of cinematic story telling. While there’s still blanks for the player to fill in, it doesn’t feel half as empty as other titles in the same space.
It’s not that Walk-em-ups were a bad idea, the issue lies with just how quickly the concept became stale and over saturated. It’s not the first, or same genre, to be flooded with games, but it’s easily the most limited. The recent release of Everybody’s Gone to Rapture highlighted just how bizarre the genre is. A number of publications and critics raved about the game, throwing high scores and compliments in it’s direction. I, among many others, stand utterly confused at it’s success.If there’s any game that represents how dull and limited this genre has become, it’s Everybody’s Gone To Rapture. The game boils down to (slowly) following a orange light and listening to some audio clips that create the plot. If you were to be a little more honest, plot may not be the best word to use.
Sure the game looks pretty and sounds great, but that’s all it is. It’s production value is the only thing separating it from the hordes of efforts found on Greenlight, and even they at least sometimes try to be different. Everybody’s Gone To Rapture represents everything wrong with Walk-em-ups, it’s barely even a video game. There’s more gameplay in a old text based role playing game, so why are these games so popular? While everyone is entitled to chose what they like and play, i can’t help but shake off the idea that these games carry a pretentious appeal.Much like a non-nonsensical art house film, Walk-em-ups seem to carry the notion that people who don’t like them simply ‘don’t understand them’. It may indeed be true that people might not simply ‘get’ them, but what’s to get? what is their to gain from walking around gather snippets of a (often) TV soap quality plot?
For every The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, there’s about five Everybody’s Gone To Rapture. Much like the emergence and subsequent saturation of ‘Found Footage’ horror films, The Walk-em-up is a limited concept that rarely tries to do anything new, or even tries to better itself. Are they even games? there’s a valid debate to be had over a number of them, especially Everybody’s Gone To Rapture. The rise of Walk-em-ups is a miserably statement on the modern industry.
Barely any gameplay, barely any plot, barely any point, barely a game. Where does the genre go from here? should it even go any further? while these games may have their fans, i can’t help but question the point of many of them. The whole point of a game in to involve the player, interact with the world while the world reacts to the player. Most Walk-em-ups fail to do any of this.