Some of my earliest memories are of video games. I have very fond memories of watching my family playing the SNES and also playing it myself. When I really think about it, the memories of playing Zelda: Link To The Past are some of my favourite and the impact the Zelda games have on me is amazing. Back then, these games were incredibly hyped up and very rightly so, as now they are timeless classics! Well, I say hyped up, over in our neck of the woods the SEGA Megadrive was the more favourable of the 16 bit generation due to Mattel making a real cock up of the NES when it arrived over here. However heading back to the point at hand, if we flash forward some 19/20 years to the present, here I sit having recently finished one of my most anticipated games for a long time. I can’t help but feel like there is an element of magic lost in the world of gaming. Whereas before we used to get fully completed titles that really capture the imagination of people who play, now we get re-hashes of the same titles year after year and products that come unfinished and leave a very sour taste in peoples mouths. Could this be sucking the life out of gaming?
The biggest change of all is the integration of the internet. Internet gaming has become a huge factor in console gaming whereas before it was only a thing those fancy pants PC people used to have. While I think the idea of being able to go online and play with friends and random people is a great addition to gaming, for some games it is the main feature. At the time of writing this, the latest in the ever popular Call of Duty franchise is a mere 2 days away, because of this I’ll be using Call of Duty to–how do you say it?– “pick on”. For a short time these games were getting increasingly better and better, then the franchise hit it’s peak. Shortly afterwards it got tired of itself (and the creators just didn’t get the message) Modern Warfare was released around the time online gaming was rearing it’s head and making a big deal (yes, there were attempts prior to this, but they didn’t quite take off as big) because of this being a fresh new experience, many people, including myself, loved Modern Warfare and still do. Because online gaming on consoles was still in it’s younger stages, everything felt complete. In Modern Warfare there is a great compelling campaign for those who enjoy the single player aspect, the split screen (oh yeah, that’s a thing of the past too now!) is excellent and the match making is fun, quick and easy. The game created many good nights for me. The next game in the series came out and I must say that the campaign is badly ramped down with the focus being multiplayer. The Multiplayer trend then continued further and further into the series with people often asking “does Call of Duty still even have a campaign?” I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that game design got lazy. People accepted that this was the way it was and the demand for the same thing just kinda grew. Despite knowing absolutely no-one who is excited for the new Call of Duty, it’s still going to sell incredibly well for reasons, I personally, cannot fathom. The main issue is that many game developers are just not willing to make the risks that they used to make. They seem to hit a formula that makes them millions, so why change? Business is all about making money, which again, I totally understand and is what these companies all do very well. Yet, I still find this very frustrating.
However, occasionally, a games company will come out with something that I genuinely believe to be an incredible marvel of video gaming. Unfortunately most of the time these games are niche and are never apart of the massive media hype/gravy/GWR train, or whatever you call it. The gaming industry has become stale and originality is often frowned upon. The first example of “an incredible marvel of video gaming” is the incredibly good, Far Cry 3. Far Cry 3 has a fresh redesign compared to the dated Far Cry prequels. It has enjoyable characters and game play, which although is not completely new, takes an existing idea and revamps it into a thing of… beauty I guess? (Yes I am VERY partial to a bit of FC3). On the flip note of it’s success, the latest installment (Far Cry 4) is a regurgitation of the last. The phrase “why fix what ain’t broken?” springs to mind. But while there is some truth in the statement, after time the idea will run out of steam because if you release the same game over and over, why bother buying the new one? At the time of Far Cry 4’s release, Far Cry 3 copies will go for £5, with Far Cry 4 costing £50, I can’t help but feel the developers should be trying to make me part with the extra £45 by offering something new and improved! (A man in a pink suit isn’t the correct answer.)
In addition, this push for fast releases has altered the “normality” behind gaming. While many people see “Day 1 patches” as a common thing, to me it’s just a developer saying “hold on guys, didn’t finish this!” I’ve been trying very hard to avoid this phrase but BACK IN MY DAY, we didn’t get this. Why? Because games were shipped complete! And if they weren’t to be completed on time, they got delayed to be completed. We never got unfinished games damnit…
…*Enter Chloe* Um, if I could just interrupt Tom, I would just like to make a point. Yes, back in our day, games were always completed before they were sold, but at times the developers would have to rush the game in order to complete it on time. Not many companies were willing to delay popular titles. As a kid, I grew up loving the original Spyro series (as you already probably know) and I was super excited to here that there would be a fourth installment, Enter the Dragonfly, which would directly follow on from the PS1 games. Enter the Dragonfly was meant to be considerably longer in length having 25 levels. Instead it only has nine and only one home world. The other games have at least three or four home worlds! The mechanics are clumsy and there is an unbeatable speedway (well I could never do it anyway). Even it’s story line is pants! Nasty Knorc is meant to team up with Ripto, but Nasty isn’t even in it. When I think about how terrible Enter the Dragonfly game is and how amazing it could have been, it just makes me sad. If the developers had more time to complete the game then I honestly think it could have been a good game. If patches and DLC existed at the time of release the game could have been saved. But, errmm, Sorry Tom, as you were saying.
Going back to developers completing games, this was actually something continued up until the end of the Xbox 360, Wii and PS3’s life. The main reason for this was that most games on these consoles did not require an online connection to play and as such they had to make sure the finished titles worked. When the Xbox One had it’s (rather lame) announcement that one of the big features was that the console must be connected to the internet constantly, along came the patches. With the recent release of Halo 5, with it came a 9GB patch. This is absolutely absurd! This seems even more absurd when a game like Conkers Bad Fur Day is 64MB in total. 9GB is a massive amount of memory to be missing from the final release. Without these patches the game cannot actually be played! Some companies do this to add multiplayer on release (yeah big whoop.) I’ve heard many journalists defend this with very valid points, mentioning that these games will have to go off for ESRB ratings, manufacturing, publishing, reviews etc. giving the developers some extra time to finish a game. I feel this would be time better spent making DLC to release at a later date to increase the life of the game instead of finishing a product that has already been released. A prime example that immediately comes to mind was the last Assassins Creed game, ho boy was that a mess. The internet quickly filled with disgust as this clearly unfinished product was now available to buy, with many comparing it to buying a sandwich with a slice of bread missing.
Moreover, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, (this was the game that I mentioned earlier about being my most anticipated release for a long while) was rubbish compared to the previous games in the series. Before I talk about what I disliked, I will add that this game is an incredible experience as far as gameplay goes, Hideo Kojima once again made a game that felt great to play and has enjoyable missions. The story is once again, fantastic… When I say fantastic, I mean fantastically unfinished, like not even a joke, not finished. What I always loved about prior Metal Gear games is that Hideo was very much a perfectionist and he finished what he started. However, due to either Konami forcing the game out early (which caused him to leave the company. That is just my theory.) Or Kojima getting about 75% through and thinking “yeah that’ll do” left us with something that was incredibly disappointing for a long time fan. I won’t ruin any of the story(s) but what I will say is that it doesn’t end correctly. There are 4 main story arcs that run through the story line and these make up the big picture. 1 of these is finished up nicely, 2 more of them sort of get an ending, leaving a few questions open about the true identity of characters, but the final story has no ending on the game. The only way to see the ending of this game is by buying the special edition and watching the unfinished production of the final mission that actually wraps up key story points. Yet what appears to be a solid tactic at making more money comes undone as you could just watch it on YouTube. (This is what really makes me feel Hideo wanted to finish the game but Konami didn’t let him.) Even with all these 4 stories wrapped up, it still lacks that complete finish that could of easily made this game one of my all time favourites, however, the unfinished nature of it leaves no desire to play it again, which is a shame because the plot twist is great. There were plenty of opportunities to do some great stuff with it, but no.
So to wrap it all up, it probably seems like I paint an image that says “all video games suck!” and well, most of them do (in my opinion). However there is one developer who time after time delivers and that is Nintendo! After all you really have to really think, what’s kept me here after all these years? Why do I find Nintendo games to be the best? The simple answer to this is that they’re mostly original and are very fun. I have the 3 main consoles of this generation; Xbox One, Playstation 4 and the WiiU and while the WiiU has a smaller library and is filled with some god awful titles, the Wii U’s first party lineup is what really sells the console. I’m very likely to play many of the WIIU games in my collection again because of the enjoyment they gave me. Ok, so some of the series have become dated, the New Super Mario Bros series has gone past it’s prime and could be laid to rest for a while, yet some of the other Mario games we’ve had over the past few years have been a true testament to how Nintendo can still deliver great titles. Examples being the 2 Super Mario Galaxy games.
On top of Nintendo, a fantastic breath of fresh air has been many of the indie developers that have emerged thanks to sources like crowdfunding which allows individuals to create new and exciting projects. I write this having come away from playing the indie title, Shovel Knight, which is a great throwback to the 2D side scrolling days. But aside from throwbacks, there are some great indie titles out there. I personally have not played many as there is an unfortunate over saturation and so picking the right ones are hard, but when I look at the content these people are making, I love the look of many of them and some day I’ll get round to actually trying some out. Of course I only added this point in to quickly talk about how much I love Shovel Knight…
To wrap up my wrap up, the magic of games has almost faded for me, perhaps it’s just because I am getting older and more miserable, or maybe I’m just trying too hard to be one of those super cool angry game reviewers? While there will always be magic, it’s becoming harder and harder to find it in the industry today. Will it come back? There have been theories that the games market is due another crash and while I’m not expecting it, I wouldn’t be too shocked should it happen. But until that time, I shall stick to mostly retro gaming which despite its own issues, I still love. (I’ll save that subject for another ‘ranticle’.)