I’ve played through a good number of games lately, and I’m noticing a design trend I don’t like much. Specifically, games in modern and futuristic settings are routinely providing the player-character with a constant telecommunications link to NPC’s in other locations, ostensibly so the plot can continue without the player having to return to base for each new mission. Fair enough: I enjoy a well-motivated device as much as the next guy.
Unfortunately, this ‘in your ear’ voice-over capability is being used for a whole lot more than just advancing the plot. It’s also being used to cover for lack of a plot, lack of a coherent plot, bungled level design, and worst of all, for the player’s own exploratory inputs. The final straw for me was an early mission in Splinter Cell, in which I was told by an NPC in another locale that I needed to go through door X, climb staircase Y, and open door Z – which, it turned out, was pretty much the only route I could have taken anyway!
Now, maybe some of this is necessitated by the reach to a broader, less hardcore audience, but I don’t think even that kind of pandering is a good idea. Any player who bought Splinter Cell and managed to load and launch it should probably be given the option of exploring for a while before a voice-over helper tells them what to do. Wind Waker seems to do this pretty well so far, with Tetra only popping up to tell you something new, or to point out that what you’re trying to do is something you won’t actually be able to do for a while.
— Mark Barrett