Why a Second Crash Would be Good for the Games Industry (Part Two)

Welcome back to my long-winded rant on why everything you like is dumb and I’m right, as usual. Read Part One here!

Reason Two: Bigger Budgets =/= Better Games

Video game budgets are spiralling out of control. Tomb Raider cost almost $100 million to make, and it was still considered a failure after only shifting 3.4 million units in its first month on sale, because it needed to sell at least 5 million just to approach being profitable. Surely all this money must be getting put toward good use, though, maybe funding extra development time to really come up with some new and exciting ideas?

Since we brought up the subject of PC gaming last time, let’s, uh, talk about it. I recently picked up the aforementioned Tomb Raider for £15, finished it in about 6 hours with a 100% collection rate, and then traded it back in because –outside of the cynically tacked on multiplayer– there is no reason to ever play it again. Meanwhile, I bought Rogue Legacy in the Steam Christmas Sale for about £3.50 and, at time of writing, I have logged 26 hours of play time. For the sake of my point, here is how the games look, respectively:

Ironically, Rogue Legacy actually involves a lot more tomb-raiding.

Ironically, Rogue Legacy involves considerably more tomb-raiding.

Why have I sunk so many hours into a game that looks like it could have run on the SNES and ousted the several-million-dollar budget, creepy beaten-up woman simulator? Well, aside from the sentence I just wrote, while there will always be an element of personal taste, Rogue Legacy is pretty challenging –and at times outright dickish to the player– but it rewards patience and perseverence: you learn to time your jumps perfectly, how to dodge attacks effectively and you are constantly upgrading your character to better tackle the castle. It’s much how I imagine my experience will be when I finally decide to take my balls out of the velvet purse in my bedside table and finally play Dark Souls.

Meanwhile, you start off Tomb Raider shooting dudes and climbing on walls, and then that’s it. Apart from some surprisingly well written audio logs that flesh out the islands history, there is absolutely no substance to the game. Sure, it looks pretty, (at least when it isn’t brutally murdering Lara in creepily graphic ways,) but if I wanted to see exotic locations or buildings of historical significance I’d watch the Discovery Channel. In terms of gameplay, there is literally nothing to bring you back after you have completed the campaign.

This happened with Sleeping Dogs, as well; another Square Enix title. While I still have at least four or five hours left in Rogue Legacy just to wrap up the games preset achievements, it took me approximately 20 hours to do absolutely everything there was to do in Sleeping Dogs; and that was including wrestling with several extremely irritating glitches, like the one that would occasionally cause my car to flip ninety feet in the air during a race. To be fair, though, my run time doesn’t take into account the games DLC…all of which costs as much or more than the full Rogue Legacy game.

"Zombies are still an original idea, right guys?"

“But zombies are still an original idea, right guys?”

Now, with all that in mind, which game seems worth a £40 RRP to you?

Tomb Raiders problem, and to a lesser extent Sleeping Dogs, is that they don’t try to do a single new thing with their respective genre. There is literally nothing in either game that you haven’t done before in at least two other titles. This is especially true in the case of Tomb Raider, which dropped all of the series traditional elements and became a shameless carbon copy of Uncharted with some estrogen injections, instead.

Rogue Legacy, at it’s bare bones, isn’t a particularly original concept, (hell, even its name is essentially an homage to the game that started the genre,) but it does enough different to distance itself from other similar games like Spelunky or Cave Story or La Mulana; in this case by making you choose a different character every time you die, each with unique and amusing strengths and weaknesses, (Knights who are too fat to be knocked back; Ninjas light enough to run over spike traps; Miners with a sweet but utterly useless headlamp, etc..)

Meanwhile, a console game is considered impressive if it can come up with one unique feature, the most egregious example in recent memory being Syndicate: a despicable nostalgia cash-in on a popular 90’s franchise that ended up being nothing but a bog-standard FPS that crowbarred in four special ‘powers’; the effectiveness of which ranged from quite useless to totally fucking pointless, like the ability to make an enemy’s gun jam for a fraction of a second.

The money triple-A publishers are pumping into games certainly isn’t going toward making them more fun to play. In fact, the longer this generation has gone on, all it’s seen fit to do is tramp down every unique series and re-purpose it into a committee-designed, focus group pleasing blob of mediocrity. And then these same people have the gall to turn around and act surprised when people don’t want to buy their pale imitation of a more popular franchise.

Dead Space 3 is easily the biggest offender in recent memory. Whatever your feelings on the franchise, Dead Space was one of the few original IP’s of the last generation and did a lot to evolve concepts laid down by the genre-defining Resident Evil 4. The real-time menus that didn’t interrupt gameplay and re-purposing of engineering equipment into weapons of mass dismemberment –along with a surprisingly robust zero-gravity mechanic– really made the game stand out, even while the story was at best ripping off most sci-fi horror films and at worst just the film Event Horizon with all the relatable characters taken out.

Then Dead Space 2 came out and pretty much abandoned any pretense of being a survival horror game to instead focus on the joyous carnage that can only come from impaling a shambling monstrosity through a pane of glass to create a vacuum that kills everything else in the room. It was a ridiculous amount of fun, and a worthy –albeit tonally inconsistent– successor to the original. There was every indication that Dead Space 3 was well on track to becoming Army of Darkness and not Spider-Man 3.

Never forget.

Never forget.

When it did come time for Dead Space 3 to take the stage, however, seemingly every member of the dev team responsible for fun ideas was fired and replaced with a marketing guy whose every creative input served only to cripple and neuter the series’ charm and individuality; the most notable of which being the fucking insidious inclusion of micro-transactions or, as EA like to refer to them, ‘CHA-CHING!’ Not content with tarting Dead Space up into a whore, though, that bold young man’s vision wasn’t quite complete, yet…

Dismemberment? That’s out. Now, instead of shooting a monster’s legs off to disable it, you can fire an entire clip into it’s face and it still won’t go down. This was presumably partly thanks to the new scavenger feature, which let you meticulously upgrade and tweak every aspect of your weapons performance. The problem was that every single upgrade that wasn’t a rocket launcher was completely useless, because without a maximum power upgrade every gun packed as much punch as gently brushing past someone in a queue.

So the gameplay has been dumbed down to appeal to the cover-based shooter crowd, but at least you’ve still got a unique setting in the form of a mysterious, abandoned space station, right? Well, yeah, and this time you even get to freely zoom around space in your jet boots to repair satellite relays, because apparently the developers felt a series about an engineer killing shambling terrors from beyond the void with a rivet gun needed more actual engineering.

The space parts of the game really are cool, though, and the absence of sound is a really neat touch, especially when an enemy you can’t hear sneaks up on you and rams a tendril up your back passage. Of course, no good idea can remain unsullied in this game, so only a fraction of the game actually takes place on the space station, with the rest of the plot unfolding on a frozen planet inhabited by giant insects with glowing orange weak spots…hey, why does that sound so familiar?

Uh, yeah. but Lost Planet doesn't have the blue bar? Original!

Uh, yeah. but Lost Planet doesn’t have the blue bar? Original!

Okay, so maybe they’re unabashedly ripping off Lost Planet with the setting, but this time around there’s side missions, too, to flesh out the planets creepy backstory. Lost Planet never had that! Well, until Lost Planet 3, anyway…Also, really, there’s just one side mission in Dead Space 3, that you do three or four times which involves moving through several abandoned warehouses, fighting off waves of ‘oh, you burst through the vents; how thoroughly unexpected’ enemies until you finally reach a room where you have to wait for a mercilessly slow elevator to descend while fighting off more waves of dull bullet fodder, whereupon you’re finally rewarded with a chest full of loot that the games aggressively small inventory space means you’re mostly forced to abandon. Don’t fret, though, like I said most of it is totally useless anyway.

I’m really not joking, by the way: at least two of the side missions I played were exactly the same, right down to the copy-pasted elevator room at the end. Sadly I wasn’t able to confirm if all of the side missions were the same though, thanks to the games other much-touted new feature: the co-op system.

citizen-kane-clappingOkay, I’m not going to complain about how adding an extra player totally destroys the horror aspect of the game because it really wasn’t that horrific to begin with, but my issue with the bewildering addition of a co-op system to a game that didn’t remotely require it is two-fold:

One: It’s that particular brand of co-op seen in other games such as Little Big Planet where, as opposed to just scaling up the enemy numbers and strength, large sections of the game are just locked to single players, with big ‘you must have this many friends to enter’ signs plastered across the door.

That’s a pretty bitter pill to swallow for a game that costs £40 at full retail; that you’re now telling me I can only play some parts of the game I own if I agree to/can find another person to play with. There isn’t even the alternative by way of a thick as shit in the neck of a bottle AI partner, like in Resident Evil 5 or Army of Two: if you don’t find someone to join your game, then you don’t get to play.

This leads me to my second point: After the co-op element was announced, the developers addressed understandable concerns by saying they were working hard to make sure it was perfectly integrated into the single player experience and didn’t impair it.

Well, I’ve already explained how that was a fat lie, but it actually goes deeper than that. First of all, if you don’t get someone to play the co-op sections of the story with you, then the plot makes no god damn sense. Whoever isn’t in control of Isaac takes on the role of a space mercenary whose name I forget because honestly who gives a fuck. Despite being initially hostile to Clarke, for no readily apparent reason other than just about everyone else is, the pair eventually foster a heartwarming bromance by the end of the game after Isaac learns all about…actually, I have no fucking idea.

At the very end of the game Space Jim, by this point picking out wedding invitations with Isaac, mentions something about his family and redemption, but aside from that there is literally no other character development for him in the single player campaign. I assume that playing through the co-op missions you get to learn more about his backstory but, as we’ve established, I am a hopeless loner, and so the game remained steadfastly tight-lipped about why I should give a single solitary shit about this dickhead.

If you don’t care about story, though, then you can probably just brush off the gargantuan plot holes as some sort of weird Space Amnesia that Space Jim and Isaac were suffering from, and then you’ll only have to face my biggest issue with the co-op integration, and the problem that moves Dead Space 3 past disappointing sequel and into utterly broken mess. This game shares a very similar problem with Dead Island, in that the single player game is in no way optimised to take into account the absence of team mates.

I mentioned before how weak the guns are in this game in relation to the scavenging element, but I assume the main reason behind the watering down of your firepower was made to balance the fact that there are now two people taking on the Necromorphs instead of one. The problem is, when that second person isn’t there, the enemies don’t get weaker or diminish in numbers and the boss fights become an exercise in frustration because they are blatantly designed to be fought with two people and not one.

If Dead Space 3 had just been different to Dead Space 1 and 2 then I could have lived with that: I would have accepted that it just wasn’t for me, anymore, and found something else to play. That isn’t what happened. Dead Space 3 makes so many frankly amateur design mistakes that it becomes repeatedly apparent every single aspect was designed, not to satisfy players, but to trick them into buying the game by convincing them it was just like other shit they’d already played, and most insultingly of all, they couldn’t even do that properly.

This is the real problem with the current way of thinking in the triple-A industry: it’s not about stealing a popular idea and then expanding upon it or putting your own spin on the genre, it’s about copy-pasting huge sections of a design document, whole-cloth, and plonking them into your own game which ends up becoming an embarrassingly inbred, disheveled chimera until the greatest mercy is to just put two barrels in its mouth and kill the series so you can prep it for a reboot in a few years.

And so we come full circle, as Tomb Raider (2013) manages to achieve both these feats, at once.

And so we come full circle, as Tomb Raider (2013) manages to achieve both these feats, at once.

It’s only getting worse, too. If you examine the list of launch titles for every console, you might notice that, even though the Xbone and PS4 have longer lists than most previous consoles, they feature almost no new games. I’m not just talking about sequels, I mean that a lot of the games are just re-released ‘definitive’ editions of games that are already available on other consoles. They’re not even trying anymore.

That’s not to say that the endless sequel-whoring isn’t a problem, though. While it only took the PS2 about a year to pump out a number of new franchises (Onimusha, Devil May Cry, Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, Zone of the Enders…I could go on for hours,) out of all the currently announced PS4 titles the majority are sequels (Infamous: Second Son, Killzone: Shadowfall, Kingdom Hearts III, Final Fantasy XV) and most are also getting a previous-gen release, anyway, (Watchdogs, MGSV) so all this really begs the question of why we need another console generation, at all.

Well, I guess you need some way to keep the Console Wars raging on…

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9 Responses to Why a Second Crash Would be Good for the Games Industry (Part Two)

  1. I feel beaten up by that rant. Soiled, bruised, and full of self-loathing, but strangely satisfied.

    Event Horizon had relateable characters? 😛

    • robsimple says:

      I’m grateful you even managed to make it the whole way through.

      The only thing I remember about Event Horizon was Sam Neill pulling his eyes out, but even that was more rational character development than anything Isaac ever got…

      • On a serious note, I agree with a lot of what you are saying. I think games in general have gone the way of Hollywood – crass, bland, obvious shit you wouldn’t feed to a child, let alone yourself.
        I loathe the term “Triple A title” when connected with a following statement about how the game is mostly broken shit, but gee, don’t it look purdy?
        We accept shit, we will keep being fed shit. I’m with you brother. Hand me a picket sign, where do I sign up, and do I get a blank badge?

        I’ll get around to reading part one once the bruises have faded.

      • robsimple says:

        Thanks, it’s always good to know I’m not the only one polishing my tin-foil hat and preparing for the end times. The one thing I’m really grateful for, with all this blandness and dumbing down, is that it’s really pushed me out my comfort zone.

        I recently got back into PC gaming for the first time in almost a decade and I can’t think of a way to describe how refreshing and illuminating the experience has been without sounding like I’m being sarcastic. I really didn’t realise just how jaded the Triple-A experience had made me until I got onto Steam and discovered you could have a thousand times more fun for a fraction of the cost.

        Also, just a heads up, but there’s two more parts two come in the future, as well. I’m just warning you now because I think, after a certain point, your insurance might refuse to cover any injuries sustained.

  2. Pingback: Why a Second Crash Would be Good for the Games Industry (Part Three) | Still R.O.B.

  3. Pingback: Why a Second Crash Would be Good for the Games Industry (Part Four) | Still R.O.B.

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