Despite the seemingly endless tide of doomsday articles being written about the video game industry — death of consoles this, casual iPhone games are taking over that — it is easy to see that video games are bigger than ever. It’s still in its infancy, but if you compared now to the ’80s, you would see two entirely different pictures, and this is where my point comes along. Should we still give otherwise unspectacular games a pass simply because they work?
In the era of Pong and Pac-Man, games were judged almost entirely on the functionality of their mechanics simply because games were just their mechanics. There was really no story to speak of; as long as the game was colorful, the art style got a pass; and soundtracks — even if they were catchy and fondly remembered — were just soundtracks. With games becoming more intricate than ever, bringing with them more things to consider than mere functionality, why should we give games a pass for simply working?
Last Fall, I gave iD’s open-ish-world shooter, Rage, a 6 out of 10. Before that, I had given Bodycount an extremely low 1 out of 10. Why? For the exact reasons I mentioned above. With other shooters such as Resistance 3 - – with it’s very unique “what-if” World War 2 scenario; Deus Ex: Human Revolution – with it’s incredible art style and unique cyberpunk world to explore; and Battlefield 3 — with its shiny new Frostbite 2 Engine coming out, why should these games be given a pass when both brought nothing new or unique to the table in almost any way shape or form (Rage‘s great driving mechanics notwithstanding)?
Certainly, it would be unjust for us to stack every game up against the blockbusters with budgets the size of…well…something really big. However, there are plenty of games out there that show you can make great things — things that go beyond simple functionality — with (seemingly — show us your ledger sheets already, developers!) smaller budgets. Majin and The Forsaken Kingdom , for example, was, while not wholly unique, a great adventure game with an enormous amount of artistry and character put into it.
To name some more games: Risen turned the idea of loot-driven, characterless RPG’s on its head and made a game where getting that new sword really meant something and showed true advancement and the main character was not the faceless adventurer recently released from prison, but a witty jerk who found a wholly unique way to tell each and every person to shove it (it some way or another).
Then there was this year’s Sniper Elite: V2. While it was by no means polished to a metallic sheen, it shot down the idea that a game had to be either full on shooter or stealth — or that WW2 games were a thing of the past. Taking on a unique perspective of WW2 — namely, the end of it — players had to snipe their way through Berlin. Every well-well placed shot was rewarded with an x-ray view of the bullet deconstructing a Nazi’s innards. The fact that hardcore snipers could tweak the game to factor in windage as well added even more to the experience.
To be unique — be it artistically, in the narrative, or mechanically — a video game does not need a big budget. Games can be more than pure function — and we should reward that. With so many options on the market today, we should not always be okay with a game that just works (here’s to looking at you, Homefront). I’m in no way suggesting we all become snobbish jerkwads and that game critics start to be more like the over-analytical dorks at pitchfork (go read some of their music reviews). It wouldn’t hurt, however, for us to be more discerning.