Vanilla is a product of Lussumo:Documentation and Support.
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Portal 1 didn't show you how to solve every puzzle and even had a couple different ways to solve some. Portal 2 is basically find the white walls.
I agree with Stawes re: Portal 2. Portal 1 allowed and encouraged experimentation within the test chambers, with a huge scope for mistakes and physics fuckery. Portal 2 made sure almost every non-critical wall was un-portalable, meaning that all you had to do to solve each puzzle was find the white squares, identify which would shoot you where, and work backwards, regardless of which tool you were using at the time.
"... what? What rule is this? Usually a character that tries too hard to be the player is a silent, boring blank slate that ends up being preposterous instead of immersive. I'd much rather play a well-rounded character than a Gordon Freeman. Silent protagonists tend to blur into each other after I've played a hundred of them."Miscommunication there, sorry. What I was thinking of when I wrote that was the video from the last Modern Warfare showing the player just trailing along behind the companions as they shot everything in sight, leaving the player as a supporting role whose input was barely necessary. That shouldn't happen, ever.
The best version of Earth Defense Force is still Global Defense Force, which is the PS2 version of EDF2. The best GTA is still San Andreas. Final Fantasy peaked with FFIII, on SNES. I keep hoping someone will do a new game worth playing based off the Star Control gameplay, and would love a proper remake of the 3DO version of Starfighter. Grim Fandango is still the best adventure game I've ever played, precisely because the story was so incredibly strong. Each of these games is old to some extent, and some are better for story and others for the actions they allow the player to perform. There is no winning formula in making these games come to mind as special gaming experiences. This is why I say that, while story isn't irrelevant, it isn't what gaming's about.
I'd much rather play a well defined character like Garrett, or Adam Jensen, or Faith, or Isaac Clarke, or Sareth, then make a well defined character like Soap or Jackson or Price walk through a bunch of heavily scripted set pieces that would play out the same way whether or not they were there.
FEAR also has a lot of variety within the fire fights. Of the numerous times I've played it, the fights always played out slightly, but noticeably, differently.
Also, generally when talking about something like Call of Duty causing a reduction in player agency, the subject is shooters. And while there are some very note-able exceptions, I don't think it's an unwarranted observation.
Perhaps in the AAA titles that do best in the charts, but that's much like movies in that the stuff that appeals to the widest audience isn't always the most interesting stuff.
DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION, RESISTANCE 3, CRYSIS 2, BORDERLANDS, BULLETSTORM, LEFT 4 DEAD, METRO 2033; there's quite some variety in gameplay design of shooters, and the amount of player agency will depend on the style of each.
And which of these made $450 million dollars in five days?
Publishers will go where they think the money is, and right now they think the money is in the CoD on rails with occasional arena design.