If you ever find yourself in the Ishtar Collective on the planet Venus sometime in the far future, you can rest easy that you have several mass transit options available, at least according to Bungie‘s new console game, Destiny.
A hybrid first-person shooter/role playing game with a shared online game space set in the future, Destiny visits several close-in planets during its twenty-odd mission story campaign, including a terraformed Venus where subway stations apparently don’t need to have names. Computer games, particularly shooters, often use subway maps as set dressing in order to suggest a deeper, wider world, creating an illusion of depth and breadth beyond the narrowly confined channels the developers want you to walk down. A subway map drives home the point that, though now gone, people lived and worked here.
Rather than feeling a sense of a wider world, though, seeing the map just confirms how small and lifeless the game’s world really is. The map serves as a metaphor for the game itself. There’s no subway station nearby to explore, no tunnel network to search through. (A later game level, set on Mars, does have a constrained transit station.) There are hints of more to come in Destiny, of detail under the surface, but it’s just not there. The game simply provides a series of set piece locales with a varied—and quite often beautiful—mise en scène in which to fight aliens and other players. An odd complaint, perhaps, to make of a game billed primarily as a first-person shooter, but it speaks to my slight disappointment with the game, as I wanted it to be a more engrossing and detailed exploration experience than it turned out to be. I was hoping for a faster-paced Fallout 3 rather than a Halo re-skin with random loot drops.
Fallout 3 provides both a subway map (loosely based on the real Washington, DC, Metrorail map) and the ability to travel to quite a few of the stations via the subway tunnels themselves, but then it is a role playing game with shooter components rather than the reverse. Fallout’s structure encourages such exploration, whereas Destiny herds you from objective to objective. I can’t fault Destiny for not being the game I wanted it to be; I just hoped that the creators of the Marathon series could find a way to combine a cutting-edge first-person shooter with a captivating world that rewards exploration via something to find rather than new things to shoot. Marathon and its sequels, though purely first-person shooters, told a story to those willing to look for it in way Destiny, twenty years later, does not.
Still, I’m enjoying my time with Destiny, even if I can’t get hopelessly lost in the imaginary tunnels of the Venusian Green Line.