I’ve been hating on video games a lot this week. First, there was my rather abrasive rant about the massive failures of Fable 3 (which I stand by), then I wondered if the entire industry was stuck in a creative loop, and then yesterday I ripped into Microsoft’s lackluster Kinect experiment, which lacks a ton of functionality for it to truly be a step forward for gaming.
But it’s not all bad news. Today I’ve decided to lighten up a bit and discuss moves the industry is making that I think are really excellent, and I hope to see them continue progress in these areas in the future. Read on to see what five things modern video games are getting right.
Video games didn’t used to have plots. Well,they did, but they were usually no more in depth than say, rescue that princess, or kill that boss, or fight those ninjas who have kidnapped the president.
But today, we find ourselves in an era where some video games can be more engrossing than movies. How is this being done? I’d say it’s a combination of morality and character development.
Morality comes into play in a game like Mass Effect, where your actions have real consequences about how those around you feel about you, and it goes so far as deciding who lives and dies on your crew. Through excellent voice acting, powerful writing and a real sense of humanity among the characters (aliens too), Mass Effect feels like a living, breathing experience rather just a simple shooter, which during the core gameplay, it in fact is, and a very simple one at that. To feel real emotions toward in-game characters is a relatively new phenomenon, and it’s a trend that’s growing into many story based games.
God of War is another prime example of a series that outshines most movies these days. It’s modern day telling of a lost Greek tragedy seamlessly blends mindless violence and a compelling plot. While previously hack and slash titles were among the most mindless games you could buy, the God of War series shines brightly as having a compelling story to accompany the chaos.
A lot of this has to do with graphical engines we’re working with in games today to render such detailed environments, but it’s also tied into storytelling as well. Games not only create characters and enemies, but now entire worlds that effect the feel of the game.
Dead Space has probably been the best use of atmosphere in a game in a while, with its dimly lit, claustrophobic corridors creating a constant source of tension for those playing. When things jump out at you, it’s more terrifying than its ever been in a video game, and it’s an effect barely movies can even capture at this point.
But from space to the earth, where the last few Call of Duty games have taken us, to war zones with levels of detail never before thought possible it feels as close to real as we’ve ever imagined it.With streets and buildings littered with bullet holes and bodies, the environments FEEL authentic. And when they’re integrated into the story, the effect is even more profound. I’ll never forget my character crawling through the wreckage of a nuclear blast or watching and particpating as an airport full of civilians are gunned down without mercy. Powerful stuff, and very few moments in past games have elicited the same kind of reaction.
Evolving our criteria yet again, exploration branches out from atmosphere. Open world games are more rich and vast than ever before, and true exploration is a concept that didn’t really exist a few years ago. At least not to this extent.
I’ve complained about the Fallout series not evolving recently, but between that game and Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, they’re the leaders in single player open world exploration, which is why players can sink a hundred hours into one of their titles without batting an eyelash, and at the ends of the earth still stumble upon new things.
For too long, games have led us along a linear path, and it’s nice to be able to finally have some freedom at last. Whether that mean rampaging around New York City in Grand Theft Auto IV, or exploring the rooftops of 15th century Florence in Assassin’s Creed 2.
4. Genre Expansion
The mention of AC2 brings us to my next point which is that developers (at least some of them) are looking to non traditional places to bring us new ideas for games. The Assassin’s Creed series is my best example of this, as setting a game in the third crusade of centuries old Italy is a big risk, but one that paid off for the studio.
The Prince of Persia series is a great genre switch up as well, though that series history extends a little further back than most recent entries. I’ve most recently been impressed with Red Dead Redemption, as an open world cowboy shooter simply didn’t exist before, but Rockstar handled it with grace and ease and created a game that’s included every good element I’ve listed so far.
It should be a lesson to the myriad of companies currently crafting Space Marine or Modern Warfare-ish shooters. There’s a time and place for those, but it never hurts to evolve, and some companies appear to be stuck in the past while others are branching out to unexplored areas.
I previously have speculated that achievements might be, in fact, hurting gaming rather than helping it, but I no longer view that as the case. I have realized that I have one or two OCD tendencies that causes me to pursue certain achievements relentlessly at the expense of having fun with the game.
But taking a step back, I think the new trend toward unlockables is good for games as it encourages replay and will at least give the player the sense they’re working toward something, rather than just a useless win/loss ratio or kill/death ratio. Now you’re pursuing useless titles or armor! But hey, it’s something.
The best examples of this are in the Modern Warfare series, which has players mixing up their play style to unlock different guns and camo and titles. Even though some guns might be unequivocally better than others, it forces players to mix up their play style with different weapons and perks, making each game more diverse than it would have been without that encouragement. At the same time, for loyalists, it rewards sticking with one gun with high level unlocks if it’s used enough.
Halo: Reach has done something similar with its new credit system and armor unlocks. Yes, absolutely everything with this system is useless for actual gameplay, but at least players feel like they’re working toward something, saving up money to increase their standing among their peers, at least in a cosmetic sense.
So yes, for as much as I complain, the fact is I love playing video games, and these things are much of the reason why. I only criticize because I want the industry to keep moving forward, and I’m worried a parade of not-as-good sequels in our current generation just isn’t doing that.
When I look at how far we’ve come, I’m proud of how much the medium has evolved, and I can’t wait to see it in a another 5-10 years.