In real life, I am able to walk in straight line, without feeling the need to leap into the air every two seconds. I can park my car between the white lines; I have no impulse to roll out of the car before it has come to a stop. When I catch the train, I make a habit of going as a passenger; I’ve never thought that the journey would be more efficient if I was driving. Furthermore, I have never looked at a parachute and thought “this would make travelling to the shops so much easier”.
In the world(s) of video games, that sensible, logical part of my brain goes to the back of my head, reads a book or has a little snooze. Games offer an overabundant collection of ways to transport ourselves from A to Z, and a significant number of those methods sprint, jump and fly in the face of rational thought. Sometimes it’s the most straightforward; sometimes it’s the most hilarious; sometimes we travel a certain way just because we can. In this post I would like to address some of my favourite random modes of transportation that convert the basic need to travel into an entertaining spectacle. Why walk when I can…
…slide down a sand dune? (Journey)
It seems only natural to mention Journey in a post about travelling. The primary objective of the game is to undertake a pilgrimage to the top of a mountain. It’s a simple, gorgeous game where walking seems to be the main requirement. In the early stages of the game you find yourself at the heart of a blistering desert. Those first few levels can be completed quickly, if you are content to trudge steadily through the sands to your destination. That would mean travelling in the right direction… but is certainly the wrongway to go about it.
Instead, the correct way to play Journey is to go out of your way. Hop, skip and jump to the top of the nearest sand dune and slide on down the other side. If you happen to drift down the dune towards the objective, that is a bonus. If not, well then you get to go again.
The game creators clearly understood the singular delight in such a simple yet joyous feature of the game. Firstly, by exploring in this way you can often find trinkets and secrets off the beaten path (or the path that would be beaten if this was not a desert). Secondly, there is an entire level dedicated to a descent down a giant sand dune. As I’ve mentioned, the aim of the game is to walk up to the top of a mountain, so this descent is pretty illogical. This however, is not an idea that occupied my brain at the time. Back then, there was only really space for one thought:
…tow myself through the sky? (Just Cause 2)
Did you know you can drive cars in Just Cause 2? I’m as shocked as you are.
I would never resort to anything quite so menial myself. I often look down on the residents of the Panauan islands from on high as they flit about, and I scoff at them as I glide onwards to my objective. I’m not in a plane though. Oh no, I could soar through the skies in an aircraft in some other gaming universe. I’m taking the more majestic, serene route. When you can fly by parachute, why would you travel any other way?
For those who haven’t played the game, Just Cause 2 takes great delight in continuously throwing a middle finger up to Logic with one hand, whilst flipping-the-bird at Physics with the other. This is a game where you can surf on the roof of fighter jets and cars (which is the only way I have ever travelled by car in the game). This is a game where you can prevent falling face first into the ground by pulling yourself towards the earth with your grappling hook. Flight by parachute is also possible, and is my preferred method of transportation.
From a standing position you grapple the ground several metres away from you. A second after you begin your very brief and very horizontal journey, you deploy your (regenerating) parachute. With the smallest of efforts you are able to tow yourself up into the sky. Once airborne, you only need to pick a spot on the ground ahead of you and fire your grappling hook once more to pick up speed. Repeat the action when you start to slow down. That’s all there is to sailing gracefully through the sky.
…drive a bouncing taxi? (Grand Theft Auto)
A good sandbox game should deliberately offer too many things to play with. There should be a sense that the creator added something to the game with an “I’ll just leave this here” mentality. The Grand Theft Auto series provides a smorgasbord of travel possibilities. Cars, trucks, motorbikes, planes and helicopters are the main ways to get about, many of which will get you where you need to be in no time at all. I shouldn’t have any reason to complain. Nevertheless, whenever I slide into a taxi in GTA V, I sigh quietly to myself. The taxis don’t hop anymore.
In earlier versions of Grand Theft Auto, such as Vice City, taxis had an unlockable feature. Complete a set number of taxi missions, and the car horn would be replaced with a ‘Boost’ ability. One tap would send the car upwards. If speeding forwards, you could easily clear the car in front of you. If you were travelling against traffic (because this is GTA so that’s probably what you’re doing) then you could clear three or four cars in one mighty bound. If the police were chasing you, you could often re-enact the classic “good guy leaps out of the way and the bad guys crash into each other” cliché.
I sure there’s an argument against this game feature – it doesn’t make sense that a taxi in GTA V could leap straight up into the air or bound over oncoming police cars with ease. That kind of argument would hardly convince me that a hopping car isn’t something I deserve to have near me at all times.
…pretend to be a train? (Infamous)
There are so many ways to travel around in the Infamous series, but you would find it difficult to convince me that there’s more than one correct way to do so:
Me: Choo Choo!
Boring People: RHP, you know that there’s free-running in the Infamous world, right? The parkour element of the game is pretty sweet. You’re quick, agile and once you’re up on the tops of buildings you can grind along power cables between buildings. You can even glide for short distances using static electricity! Getting back down to ground level is easy – there’s no fall damage – and it’s entertaining too. You can perform a power bomb that takes out enemies all around you. You can go anywhere you want, as long as it’s not damp. The game creators put a lot of effort into letting you explore anywhere you want to go. Are you even listening?
Me: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. I was too busy BEING A TRAIN! Choo. Choo.
…ride a Chocobo? (Assorted Final Fantasy games)
My posts often suggest an idea or ask a question, or celebrate games in some respect. Now and then though, I’m aware of when I am about to say something distressingly controversial. In this case: Chocobos are better than horses. There. I said it.
I’m not adverse to horse riding in video games. Shadow of the Colossus, Red Dead Redemption and Ocarina of Time are all games enriched by the addition of a faithful, four-legged steed. If however, I was offered the choice between a horse and a chocobo, you can be sure I’ll pick the one that goes “kweh” over the one that goes “neigh”.
They are fast and nimble. There’s much less effort required to turn these two-legged beasts in another direction when you are in a tight spot. In some cases they come in a range of colours. They also have the unparalleled ability to be constantly cheerful and happy to see you. They even possess the ability glide across chasms when the situation calls for it. (That last point would have certainly prevented one particularly heart-wrenching moment in one of the games mentioned above…)
So often when playing games we hammer the sprint button or seek out shortcuts or switch to fast travel so we that reach our destination faster. I’m not about to preach that “the journey is more important than the destination” because the destination in a good video game is going to be pretty exciting. That’s where all the explosions and monsters will be. My view is that a great game makes travelling just as exciting as the place you are trying to get to. Furthermore, I believe that most gamers feel the same way. Think about the number of times you were meant to be walking a straight line in a game, but failed to do so because you were double jumping or dodge-rolling repeatedly instead.
Finish the sentence, “Why walk when I can…” and explain why that mode of transportation made a game more special, entertaining or exciting for you.
Thank you for reading.