Top 5 Worst Trends in Gaming
It was recently revealed that the sequel to EA's survival horror masterpiece Dead Space (which earned the prestigious honor of being my top video game of 2008) would focus more on action than on horror and that the game would feature a multiplayer component. This is a good example of everything that is wrong with video games today. The first Dead Space was built, from the ground up, to scare the hell out of you. There is some fanboy disagreement out there, of course, but Dead Space finds a spot on almost any list of most terrifying video games ever made. This is what the game is, and to ditch that so you can make a game more like other games (like Modern Warfare 2 and Uncharted, as the article says) takes away everything that makes the game unique.
|This "game" is guilty of at least three|
The cautionary tale is that of Resident Evil 5, another game that decided to ditch horror in favor of action and multiplayer. While sales were high thanks to the hype--and while the game is very well-made--most agree that Resident Evil 5 is a huge disappointment. This is because it never feels like a Resident Evil game; it feels like a cookie-cutter action game. Similar things have been happening to almost every well-known horror series out there, and many were starting to believe that the survival horror genre was dead. That was, until Dead Space came along and proved that, not only could survival horror be done on next-gen systems, but it could be even more frightening and engaging than it could on older console generations.
But instead of carrying this torch into a bold new era of survival horror video games, they've decided to focus more on action than on horror. They've decided to add a multiplayer component. They'd rather fill the screen with bad guys than build any tension. They are eager to create adrenaline-fueled cutscenes. They want you to be surrounded by people instead of being by yourself. Dead Space is one of the best games of the last few years, but Dead Space 2, if all these reports are correct, will probably be an abomination that I have no intention of buying.
But, like I said, it's a symptom of greater problems within the gaming industry. With that in mind, here are the top 5 worst trends out there in the modern gaming industry.
If you can read this, your television is too expensive
If you have a big, overpriced, widescreen, digital LCD HD television set, feel free to move on to number 4. For the rest of us, though, I know I'm not alone when I say it is incredibly annoying when game developers assume we all have such ridiculously decadent screens to play our games on. This is especially true of many Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 games, where fonts are often so tiny you have to have a minimum 45 inch screen in order to read them with a magnifying glass. Yes, these games utilize powerful hardware and are often much more impressive when viewed in overwhelmingly high resolution, but that doesn't mean it should be a requirement. Just because I can't afford to go out and buy a new television set, the folks at Microsoft and Sony are perfectly fine with me having intense eye strain.
Just in case you think only Nintendo is guilty
I'm happy for Nintendo for being able to avert certain death by cornering a huge new market and, in the process, easily winning the console war for this generation. But the price they paid to do it is a hefty one indeed. Casual gaming has always been with us, but now, thanks to Nintendo, all the executives behind the scenes know that it is amazingly profitable. There is little need for quality control, expensive development cycles, and big budget masterpieces when the masses will flock to the latest installment in the Chicken Shoot series. This reality has all but killed the hardcore Nintendo fanboy, because Nintendo--the guys who own such greats as Zelda, Mario, and Metroid--no longer has any interest in putting out a serious game that has any challenge to it whatsoever. The only games we get that even come close are designed with old-school aesthetics, like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Mega Man 9, but we only get those because they are cheap and easy to make. But it's not just Nintendo; this trend has already infected Microsoft and Sony consoles, and if we can't find a way to keep it in check (or at least greatly raise the standards of the casual gamer), we may see an end to hardcore gaming altogether.
Just in case you think puzzle games are safe
The financial bottom line has done more than spawn casual shovelware, however. Producing video games can be extremely expensive--sometimes even more expensive than producing a Hollywood blockbuster--and game companies find themselves more and more afraid of taking risks. What has resulted from this is an explosion in the first-person shooter genre, a genre that is almost always profitable. Ninety-five percent of all the highly anticipated games coming out in the next two years are shooters, and most of those are first-person. The market is absolutely saturated with FPS war simulators, games about supersoldiers shooting aliens, and once-frightening zombie games turned into non-stop trigger-happy shooting galleries. I like a little action now and then, but there used to be other types of games out there. Games used to offer challenging puzzles, deep mysteries, compelling storylines, and methodical adventures, but those days are mostly gone in a frenzy of bullets and explosions. Even the seemingly invincible horror and platforming genres are being taken over, and it's only a matter of time before every single game on the shelf is the exact same cookie-cutter guaranteed-to-sell FPS we've all played a thousand times before.
TOO MUCH DLC
But wouldn't it be more awesome if your post-apocalyptic role-playing game allowed you to be a ninja in outer space? Coming soon for only 1600 Microsoft Points
I've already devoted an entire blog to the subject of downloadable content, but the situation has only gotten worse since then. Now DLC comes packaged with the game (don't ask how this makes any sense whatsoever), is offered as a reward for preordering a game that hasn't even been reviewed yet, and can be purchased to change the look of your personal avatar. Worse yet, there is talk of doing away with game discs altogether, so that every game developed in the future will, in essence, be DLC. This represents far more problems than I can list here, but sufficed to say, it's a trend that needs to stop right effing now.
I love it when my dark and moody zombie game takes place in broad daylight with me shooting at my friends
First of all, I'm not talking about MMOs here; that's a subject I have no interest in touching at this time. With that disclaimed, let me say that one of the reasons why the aforementioned first-person shooters are so popular among game developers is because it's easy to tack on a multiplayer component. And surprisingly, people never seem to get sick of running around and shooting each other. Don't get me wrong; there should be multiplayer games out there, because they fill a popular niche. However, this doesn't mean every single game should devote development time and resources to finding a way to include multiplayer, especially in games that don't call for it. There are games out there designed (or should be designed) to be solitary experiences, like Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, Fable II, and of course Resident Evil 5, but each of these has multiplayer shoehorned nonsensically in there. Resident Evil 5 is the worst offender, because the game was actually created with the intent to include multiplayer. It even punishes you for playing by yourself by making your mandatory sidekick a computer-controlled waste of space (she'll actually sabotage you on harder difficulty levels). A Resident Evil game should be the definition of a solitary experience, because this is the franchise that truly brought survival horror into the limelight. But no, gone is the sense of survival and the sense of horror, because you can play with a friend, and if you don't, you'll still have to play with an annoying sidekick! At least there's Dead Space to fill that void... oh wait, nevermind.
I don't want to leave you on such a sour note, because there is still plenty of hope for the gaming industry. There are trends that should be embraced--like increasing immersion, non-linearity, actual consequences to in-game choices, professional voice acting, and a whole host of innovations in the small downloadable games market--and despite the gloom and doom above, I don't believe hardcore gaming is going anywhere. Eventually, the saturation of casual games, shooters, DLC, and mindless multiplayer games will cause the market to adjust, and we may well see the rebirth of many seemingly lost genres of video games (like the interactive adventure game--if I had a PS3, I'd so be playing Heavy Rain right now), along with the birth of brand-new genres heretofore unimagined. As for the HD reliance, hopefully I'll have a ridiculously overpowered HDTV in the near future so that I won't think it's a problem.
-e. magill 3/2/2010