If you’ve been reading my not-reviews of Winter Voices: Avalanche, then you already know how I feel about the game. If you haven’t been reading them then I’ll humor you by legislating this introduction to the lowest common denominator ( you lazy reader, you). More studied readers can skip ahead to the next paragraph. To you, lazy reader, I say that I did not care for Winter Voices: Avalanche. It was boring and grueling and taxing and frustrating and exhausting.
It was also smart as a whip, ideologically brilliant, and well worth playing for anyone who considers themselves a connoisseur of electronic virtual gamez. Here are three reasons why the game deserves mad props, daddio, handily doubling as three lessons game designers could learn from it. Convenient how that worked out….
1. Battles That Aren’t Battles
It’s an all too common (and, arguably, unavoidable) issue with games today: our heroes are mass murderers who never feel an ounce of remorse or empathy for the lives they violently destroy. That’s pretty much the definition of a psychopath. And we make it work; in our minds, we parse the dissonance between narrative (our do-gooder avatar) and simple gameplay conceit (shooting/stabbing/exploding people). That’s just where games are right now, and it’s fine (for now).
You gotta give Winter Voices a hand for trying to solve that dissonance. Battles are metaphors; the enemies aren’t people or animals or monsters, but manifestations of the protagonist’s emotions and memories. Your arsenal to combat these shades is your ability to repress, deflect, forget, and ignore. You can’t even kill these emotions, because short of a serious blow to the head, you’re never going to completely abolish your memories and feelings. All you can do is continually drive them off, run away, and keep them from beating you.
Winter Voices’ metaphorical battles are nothing short of divine inspiration… theoretically. Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned in my previous review, in practice they really kind of suck.
2. An Intensely Personal Story
With so many games being about something inconceivably grand and important, like saving the world, or the galaxy, or the universe, or the time-stream, or the souls of the innocent, it’s refreshing to see Winter Voices tell a story that’s purely about its protagonist’s personal journey. Sure, there are games about saving your child, or your sibling, or your friend, or your significant other, but all still wind up being about something so much more by game’s end; stopping a plague, preventing a disaster, ending a villain, or just killing lots and lots of dudes and/or zombies.
Winter Voices: Avalanche’s story is about your character overcoming her grief, coming to terms with her troubled childhood, accepting the inevitability of change, and making a decision to move forward in life. And that’s all that it’s about
3. A Skill Tree Woven Into the Narrative
This is another one of those ‘Narrative vs. Gameplay Conceit’ things. If you’ve played an RPG, you know how strange it seems when your warrior can’t hit things with her shield until she unlocks the Shield Bash skill, or how your rogue can pick level 2 locks like a pro, but can’t grasp the concept of a level 3 lock enough to even attempt picking it (until he unlocks the next tier of the Lockpicking skill). RPG skill systems are silly from a narrative perspective, but we have to gauge player progress somehow, right? And unlocking a new skill is a fine carrot to chase after.
Winter Voices: Avalanche makes your skills an intrinsic part of your character’s personality and how she develops as a character over the course of the game, both in terms of skill and as a person.
She creates an imaginary friend to deal with her loneliness, which manifests as a decoy target she can summon in battle. She learns to deflect the concerns of others with sarcasm, earning her a boost to her humor attribute, which in turn unlocks more humorous conversation options. The skills actually mean something. By the end of the game the skill tree (or skill snowflake, in the case of WV) practically writes a psychological profile of your protagonist.
Originally posted at Digital Hippos