Aging beatnik narrativist seeks Xbox360 bliss
May 8, 2009 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend some smart, nifty-looking, story-heavy Xbox360 games for an relatively artsy, overly cerebral, 30-something newbie.

Hey all,

After a decade and a half of being an almost total FPS and console gaming philistine, I have recently completed Bioshock on the XBox360, and I have fallen in love.

Now what should I play? My husband and I have amassed a pretty decent stash of relatively recent releases, but none of the ones I've tried so far have been even 1/10 as compelling as Bioshock. Can youse guys hope me?

Below, you'll find way too much information about my likes and dislikes. I've decided to err on the side of being too thorough, so feel absolutely free to skim or skip if it's not helpful.

Here is a random sampling of some of my favorite other art/media/literary things, to give you an idea of my tastes:

a) 100 Years of Solitude
b) Alice Munroe
c) Hitherbee Dragons
d) Daniel Pinkwater
e) Max Ernst
f) Louisa May Alcott
g) Edward Albee
h) Maria Sibylla Meriam
i) Heavenly Creatures
j) The Museum of Jurassic Technology
l) James Ellroy's My Dark Places
m) Octavia Butler
n) Joe Lansdale
o) Manuscript Found in Saragossa

Here's what I liked about Bioshock, in order of importance:

1) Excellent story with lots of detail and meat to it

2) Gorgeous, intellectually and aesthetically satisfying visuals, and really swell music.

3) Low friction (I.e., it's easy to get into the game and start having fun. You don't have slaughter boars in the woods for months, or wander around identical-looking levels clicking on every pixel to get the fun started.)

4) Attempt at a moral/ethical dimension (Yes, I know this was half-assed. I give them props for even trying.)

5) Good gameplay for a beginner-- i.e., not a lot of individual limb movement, combos, etc. (I'm willing to learn this stuff, but right now, given that I'm very much a n00b, I'm liking games wherein deficits in muscle memory and dexterity don't utterly stall out the gameplay. )

6) Vague and impressionistic sciencey-ness: The game sort of paid homage to science, but instead of being apologetic about its implausibilities (like, say, Star Trek-TNG), the designers decided to revel in their absurdity (more like, say, Alfred Jarry.) Me likey. Me really likey.

Here are some games that I've recently started, and what I liked (marked "+") and didn't so much like about them (marked with a "-" ):

I) Condemned: +Backstory (i think; I just stared); +metaphysical and crime motifs | -seems to be on rails; -relatively high friction; -desite the fact that this is a crime-solving game, I don't get the sense that there's going to be a whole lot of deduction required; -killing faceless, identical junkies for no good reason (I know it's an FPS, but I'm an (inactive) member of the criminal defense bar! I don't want to shoot these people; I want to get them favorable plea deals and then get them the hell out of my caseload!)

II) Psychonauts: +Story (i think; again, I just started) + pop-surrealist flair | -dexterity puzzles (more frustrating than challenging for me at this point, maybe I'll feel differently in a few months); -Family friendly. Way too family friendly.

III) Mass Effect: +Story, +Character/ethics appear to play a big role; +Dexterity requirements are sympatico; | -unreconstructed space opera/ aesthetically kind of blah; -high friction. (I'm walking around talking to folks. A lot. Just walking around. . . .)

Thanks for your help with this, guys.

I suppose I should also mention: We have a PS2 in addition to the Xbox360, so PS2-compatible recommendations are welcome as well. No PC games, please, unless their hardware requirements are extremely light, or unless they're so unstoppably awesome that you just can't contain yourself. My laptop doesn't really have the CPU or the graphics card to handle anything too intense.
posted by palmcorder_yajna to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Everyone is going to say Ico and Shadow of the Colossus for the PS2. Everyone is right.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:00 PM on May 8, 2009

Good thing you have a PS2. I'm going to sound like a broken record because these two games are recommended on AskMe all the time: Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. The stories of both games are actually quite simple, but extremely effectively told with just the right amount of mystery. SoTC definitely has a moral/ethical dimension, but I shan't spoil it. Control and learning curve is relatively short for both, but SoTC can be a bit fiddly as you're basically making your character cling onto giant moving behemoths.

On preview, I've already been beaten to the punch.
posted by zsazsa at 4:05 PM on May 8, 2009

Fallout 3? It doesn't get more open than that. It has a story and good/bad morality. Fallout 3's (technological) predecessor Oblivion is also supposed to be quite open. Thief 3 is not as open as Thief 1 & 2 but it has a decent enough story.
posted by chairface at 4:13 PM on May 8, 2009

However, neither Ico or Shadow are available for the XBox 360, which is what the OP is looking for.

My suggestions veer towards the following:

- Fallout 3 (advanced in some ways, but an awesome story)
- Braid (hard Mario-like puzzle game, but intelligent and vaguely impressionistic)
- Castle Crashers: Especially good for two people, amusing, and not terribly difficult to get into
posted by ellF at 4:15 PM on May 8, 2009

Oh, and a PC game that is both unstoppably awesome and has light system requirements is Another World/Out of This World. It is somewhat along the same lines of Ico, but in 2D and with more running and twitchyness. It's an old game, and was refreshed in 2006 to run on Windows machines.

ellF, the OP states that PS2 recommendations are welcome.
posted by zsazsa at 4:18 PM on May 8, 2009

Zsazsa: Right, my bad. :)
posted by ellF at 4:42 PM on May 8, 2009

Stick with Psychonauts. I don't know what part you're up to, but it takes a slight bit to really get going. It seems you're using "family friendly" to mean childish, but it's far from that. It's very layered. Don't be fooled by the bright colors and humor. The game is excellent. One thing is that while the game is generally fairly easy, the difficulty really gets ramped up for the last level.

One of the darker game moments in my recent memory occurs in an optional spot though and has to do with the character of Mia.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:09 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Er, that should be Milla.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:10 PM on May 8, 2009

I agree with you about Bioshock. The combination of compelling gameplay and gorgeous visuals makes it an unforgettable game.

Fortunately, Bioshock 2 is coming out this year; unfortunately, not until Fall.

I hear that Riddick: Dark Athena for the Xbox, which just came out last month, also has the same visual/gameplay intensity, but I haven't played it yet.
posted by misha at 5:12 PM on May 8, 2009

I'd also recommend Beyond Good & Evil if you can locate a copy. It's on the PS2 and generally available for under $10 used.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:23 PM on May 8, 2009

I'm led to believe that Psychonauts (an original Xbox game) would be highly worthwhile for you to play -- it's available as an "Xbox Originals" download.
posted by pts at 5:32 PM on May 8, 2009

I'm going to add to the suggestion that you stick with Pyschonauts. I enjoyed a lot of games over the years but I've honestly never enjoyed one as much as Psychonauts. Maybe it was the right time for me to play the game, but I'm inclined to say it was the rich story and absolutely beautifully executed levels and shifting game play.

By the way, why do you say it's family friendly? Sure there aren't swear words or anything... but if my neighbor said "Hey should my 6 year old play this game?" I'd summarize by saying "No. It's pretty fucked up."
posted by JFitzpatrick at 5:45 PM on May 8, 2009

Half-Life 2 (part of the "The Orange Box" package). Sci-fi FPS with decent enough plot, the only FPS I've ever played with an amusing and engaging AI-controlled sidekick. The Orange Box also contains Portal which is a first person puzzle game, pretty much, with a novel gameplay mechanic and an awesome antagonist. The Orange Box is basically awesome value for all the stuff you get on one disc.

Seconding Fallout 3 (lots of ethical choices, great visuals and sound, some great retro-futuristic 50s sciency stuff), and Braid (don't own it but fits the cerebral, artsy requirements very well).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:34 PM on May 8, 2009

Another vote for Braid and Fallout 3. Based on what you said above, if you try Braid and you don't like it, I'll eat my hat.
posted by systematic at 7:21 PM on May 8, 2009

Portal - an absolute must, but get the version in The Orange Box.
Shadow of the Colossus for PS2 - another absolute must
posted by mattholomew at 7:57 PM on May 8, 2009

I am always on the lookout for games that have an actual story and engaging gameplay. Finding one or the other isn't too hard, but both together is quite rare.

Pretty safe bets:
* Portal (360). You can buy it as part of the Orange Box (mentioned above), but you can also download it by itself off Live. You can also try it in demo form. It's short, and there isn't much "story," but the writing is excellent, and the puzzles are clever without being too twitchy.
* Psychonauts (downloadable on 360). I also gave up on it at first because of the not-so-great platforming, but it's completely worth it. But if you give up on the absurdly difficult last level (the "Meat Circus"), I wouldn't blame you.
* Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (original Xbox, runs on 360). Excellent gameplay, well written; though not a very detailed story. Not to be confused with the new "Prince of Persia" on 360, which is pretty, but consists mainly of collecting shiny objects.

* Knights of the Old Republic (original Xbox): Made by the same people as Mass Effect. One of the best game stories I've ever seen, and often very surprising. Especially if you try to push how "evil" the game will let you be (very!). You'll probably have the same complaints about it, though, re: space opera and walking around.
* Indigo Prophecy (original Xbox): It has a lot of really clever interactive-storytelling tricks, but there are annoying action sequences, and 3/4 through the story it takes a real WTF turn. I'd recommend it because it's story-driven and unique.
* Fable II / Oblivion / Fallout 3 (360): All epic games with large, sweeping stories, though I would say none are as focused as Bioshock. Fable II and Oblivion have more arcade-y gameplay, Fable II and Fallout 3 try to bring morality into it. Fallout is like Bioshock in the sense that there's a lot of backstory left around the world that you miss if you don't look for it. All three are very pretty and fairly easy to play, but have a bit of "gameplay grind" involved. They're all essentially the same genre, though, and it's a matter of personal taste, so I'm not quite sure which you would like best (if any).
posted by Sibrax at 8:32 PM on May 8, 2009

I quite liked Assassins Creed and Fallout 3.
posted by saradarlin at 10:43 PM on May 8, 2009

You're looking for a good story plug good gameplay
with excellent immersion?

Portal (initially a sweet treat that turns out to have more meat).
Fable II (easy for beginners, with depth if you want it, addictive gameplay).
Grand Theft Auto IV. (there is a semi-moral dimension, and a city that is more immersive than any gaming environ I have ever experienced in my 2 decades of gaming - truly breathtaking).
The Darkness (tremendous, with astonishing drama).
Fallout 3 (spent 70 hours in this, didn't regret a moment of it).

Glad to hear you started Mass Effect. It's fantastic.
posted by Sully at 11:46 PM on May 8, 2009

While it doesn't meet your story criteria, Rez does meet 2,3 and 5. It is one of the more unique takes on a standard video game genre, and the 360 version is both cheap and great. Dead Rising might also interest you, although I would warn that it has high friction and a controversial save system. Call of Duty 4 does some interesting things with the single player mode, but is not a very good single player game overall. If you are interested in the multiplayer or can find it cheap, it might be worth your while. Fable II is a very flawed gem, and if you are willing to go along with the game conceits and overlook a few flaws, it sounds like it would satisfy you. The moral dimension of the game is a major mechanic. Fallout 3 also sounds like it might be up your alley. While the main story is lackluster, the story of the world is rich and full. I would say it also meets your other criteria.
posted by The Castle at 11:53 PM on May 8, 2009

Have you considered interactive fiction? A lot of it is playable on pocket calculators these days, so I figure that fits the "extremely light hardware requirements" exception to the "no PC games" rule.
posted by hades at 12:28 AM on May 9, 2009

seconding fallout 3 if only for the immersive soundtrack.
posted by aqjabib at 1:30 AM on May 9, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks so much guys!

I'm not going to mark any best answers in this one, because you pretty much all gave the best answer.

On your collective advice, I went back to Psychonauts last night, and-- yeah. Okay. It is indeed fucked up and awesome.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:11 AM on May 9, 2009

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