Secret World: put your hands in the air…oh, wait, never mind

, | Game diaries

Sure enough, there’s a theme park in Secret World. Haunted, natch. But otherworlded or otherwise, I love a theme park in a videogame. One of my favorite theme parks was a whole level in the Battle Out of Hell add-on for Painkiller which included a working roller coaster. Theme parks — I’m going to lump circuses into this category — aren’t as novel as they were back in the day of the original Blood or Bad Day on the Midway. But they’re still just as welcome a sight.

The recent corridor shooter Darkness II had a disappointing theme park level, which makes me wonder if theme parks aren’t better suited to open-world games. Part of the appeal of a theme park when you’re a kid is being set loose to do whatever activity you want: ride the rides, get some junk food, play some of those games to win prizes, go through the fun house, whatever you want. Bully really got this with its theme park, which was like an open-world game inside an open-world game. Grand Theft Auto IV and Crackdown both had abandoned theme parks. Were abandoned theme parks always this forlorn, or does that partly come from seeing those famous pictures of the ferris wheel at Pripyat after the Chernobyl disaster?

After the jump, how does Secret World’s theme park measure up?

One of the things Secret World does so well is build a world with visible landmarks that let you get your bearings. The Savage Coast, which is where the theme park is located, does this particularly well with the ferris wheel and the lighthouse, both pulling you into areas with quests you won’t want to miss (also both featuring frustratingly bugged quests that I wasn’t able to complete when I first tried them).

The towering ferris wheel brings you to Secret World’s theme park. But once you’ve come in, the roller coaster is probably the most prominent feature for how it threads its way around the park. You’re constantly walking amoung the supports for the track. The roller coaster is everywhere you look. Eventually you’ll come to the platform where you get on the roller coaster cars. Sure enough, there’s an interaction symbol when you mouse over the roller coaster car. Are you ready for this?

Of course, maybe it didn’t occur to you that you haven’t seen the cars moving around while you’ve been doing the quests in this area. Maybe you’re like me and you thought you were actually going to ride the cars around the track to get a better view and a rush of speed. Maybe you expected something along the lines of the roller coaster in Painkiller, or even the roller coaster in Lego Batman 2, which whisks you and your co-op partner along the length of its track.

But here’s what you get in Secret World:

It’s a letterboxed cutscene of someone riding the roller coaster. Some ghosts pop out. Big whoop. I wanted to ride the roller coaster and all I got was a movie of someone else riding a roller coaster?

One of the problems with Secret World is that it does a horrible job situating your character in the action when you’re not doing the quests or MMOing your way through the world. It’s telling much more of a story than the usual MMO, but when it comes time to tell that story, you’re little more than a mute placeholder. This is understandable, since not every MMO can record dialogue for the player’s character, like Star Wars: The Old Republic. So in this game, the NPCs — some of whom are wonderfully written and voice acted — either talk to each other while your mute avatar gawks awkwardly, or the NPCs just hold forth with a contrived monologue. When you face down a villain, he has no choice but to monologue ridiculously, because you’re sure not going to say anything. There are even a few points in the game where Secret World makes a joke about you not talking. You aren’t amused. As a participant in the story, you’re a big fat hole where an actual character belongs. Such is the lot of an MMO that tries to tell a story.

I understand the technical limitations that keep the roller coaster from working as expected. But it doesn’t mean I’m any less disappointed for not being taken on the ride I expected.

Up next: does this hazmat suit make me look fat?
Click here for the previous entry.