This was inspired by Danielle and Rob’s discussion on Idle Weekend, about the seemingly inevitable death of the Immersive Sim.
Let me take a step back. I don’t think I had ever heard the term “immersive sim” before the last couple of years. I don’t know if that’s a result of the genre’s forerunners coming out on PC while I’ve always gravitated towards consoles, or if it’s just become more prominent. But the foundations of the genre were basically laid out by Ultima Underworld, then defined by 3 games: Deus Ex, Thief and System Shock. There’s a more-or-less straight line from those games and their sequels, to BioShock, the new Deus Ex games, Dishonored and now Prey. Some people also put Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls and Fallout games in the category. [As a brief aside, can I say how depressing it is that one of the Godfathers of the genre made 2 Epic Goddamm Mickey games? And that they were both terrible?]
I think one of the things that has me questioning the usage & definition of the genre is the almost universal comparison of Prey to BioShock. Other than “Left Trigger: Power, Right Trigger: Shoot,” I really don’t see those games as very similar at all. BioShock had no stealth, no inventory, virtually no character progression beyond finding new powers, and no sidequests. If someone went into Prey hoping for the frantic, seat-of-your-pants firefights of BioShock they would be seriously disappointed. Likewise if someone played Prey and decided to go back and check out the BioShock games, they might be taken aback by the lack of character progression, sidequests, or environmental exploration. It seems like the comparison is entirely built on both games being ostensibly inspired by System Shock.
It got me thinking: if Prey and BioShock are both immersive sims, then why not Halo or Half-Life? Is mapping some sort of supernatural power to LT really the only distinguishing factor? I would’ve always assumed first-person to be a requirement, but I’ve seen people call Hitman an immersive sim. If Hitman counts, why not Assassin’s Creed?
Anyway, I was organizing folders on my PS4 and decided, with Deus Ex, the BioShock collection, and now Prey, that I could use an Immersive Sim folder. I ended up putting more games in there than I would’ve expected, and it made me feel a little better after Rob’s prediction that Prey may be the last AAA immersive sim.
My criteria was basically the following:
- Must be first person (Sorry, Hitman)
- Must involve some elements of exploration, puzzles and combat (I think “Walking Sims” can stand as their own genre. A separate branch of the same tree.)
- Must be multiple approaches to encounters, beyond just Guns Blazing (I had to figure out why Doom wasn’t an immersive sim)
- Player can affect the world, at least temporarily, through environmental or emergent interaction (eliminates CoD and most straight-forward FPS)
- Tells an overarching, non-repeating story (To me, nothing breaks “immersion” like playing the same mission over and over. Sorry again, Hitman. And Borderlands.)
- May or may not include sidequests
Here’s my PS4 Immersive Sim list:
- Alien: Isolation
- BioShock: The Collection
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
- Dishonored: Definitive Edition
- Dishonored 2
- Dying Light
- Fallout 4
- The Magic Circle
- Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
What do people think? Are Immersive Sims really a dying genre? Is BioShock really an Immersive Sim? Are my criteria and list accurate? Let’s have some fun arguing inconsequential semantics!