There was a time, within living memory, when every new video game brought a different dimension to an unestablished genre. As late as the early 2000s the likes of GTA III were reinventing the way we think about video gaming. Today, it’s all about who can create the most high-tech toys (case in point – Xbox Kinect) or who invents the next groundbreaking feature (LA Noire) regardless of storyline or actual gameplay experience.
So, where do we begin with this cascading shitstorm? In my title I say that I’m going to look at the current best selling games and we’ll get to that in a minute. Firstly though, we need to have a look at gaming as a whole to understand how it is we’ve got ourselves in to this predicament.
We all look back fondly upon games of the 80s and 90s which consisted of simple coding, endearingly poor graphics and crack cocaine levels of addictive-ness for one simple reason: We expected less from our gaming experience. There was time prior to the 1990s when finally owning a video game console was like a Buddhist reaching nirvana.
Though, one would imagine the Buddhist to be somewhat more stoic about the whole experience.
Now, however households are likely to contain at least one video gaming device, if not several. As a result, the market is saturated with hundreds of new games every year with little room for expansion or surprise and we’d like to imagine that developers are forced into a corner where they have to keep producing new innovations to maintain our interest as consumers. This is not the case. Instead businesses churn out game-upon-game like a melancholic Santa’s grotto production line with little (if any) modification.
Outside of the obvious (graphics etc.) the biggest change to gaming in the last 10 years has been the introduction of reward and achievement systems pioneered by consoles such as Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, in which you can go around the usual mundane tasks and be awarded points that account for nothing except for demonstrating your own lack of social life and commitment to portraying that to your virtual friends. In 2010 Xbox released Alan Wake, a game in which you play as the title character battling through a nightmarish world in an attempt to rescue your missing wife. The game is accurately described as more of a psychological thriller as opposed to third-person adventure. It featured a heavy marketing campaign to reiterate its TV series style storyline. But, even that does little to hide from the fact that the actual gameplay consists of walking from one place to another and occasionally killing things that jump out at you. At least House of The Dead had the dignity to admit that it was just a glorified fairground house of horror… with guns. 2011 also saw an exciting innovation with neo-noir detective adventure LA Noire. The game crosses real life detective work with Hollywood simplicity with ludicrous counter-factual storyline but the major pull of this title lies in the facial scanning technology used on all of the game’s characters to perform ‘realistic’ facial motions during conversations and interrogations. While this is something I would love to see in more games in the future, it was also one of the most comically infuriating features I have ever encountered in a game. I thought myself a crack interrogator and considered applying for the Met before I realised that real life human beings don’t have a seizure every time they bend the truth.
Aside from these two shining examples, the only other real development in the world of video gaming has come from companies deciding to do away with the controller all together. Like the facial scanning, these seventh generation devices are still thwart with flaws, most common they are seeming unable to recognise a human form instead favouring the possibility that you’ve just been shoved through a meat-grinder.
The issue is that, expect for a few notable achievements in the last decade, developers have accepted that there is far more money to be made from producing series of games that form some sort of intertwining narrative and doing the bear minimum to actually develop anything at all. This is not a new criticism of the gaming industry, we’ve been saying it for years. And, for that matter, it’s not just games. It’s TV, films and music too. There’s a system and developers have to respect that system for fear of the video game Mafia (presumably Sony or Microsoft) coming round and breaking their legs if they actually produce anything remotely new or interesting.
I mean, just look at the latest Call of Duty, aside from a few extra weapons, perks and annoying optional gameplay mode what have they changed?! The story still consists of a load of jumped up rich Americans saving the world from a man that I’m not wholly convinced is actually a terrorist! The best part about me writing this is that when the next CoD is released you can read that sentence back and it will still be applicable. I played Halo 4 for the first time the other day and I had no idea what was even going on! I gathered that Cortana has some kind of STI and as result you have to run through a series of identical looking landscapes with no sense of direction and killing shit. How novel! Fifa 13 has to be one of the biggest annoyances in my life right now. Aside from rearranging the single-player mode menu in the same ritualistic way Sky Sports do every year and including transfer deadline countdown that’s somehow even more irritating than theirs; the game is still responsible for broken controllers everywhere with it’s inability to understand some of the most basic rules of football or distinguish which pass it is you actually wanted to make. I’ve not even bothered to play the latest Assassins Creed yet for all the superb reviews I’ve heard explaining how all the killing (ie. the fun stuff) has been replaced with walking for miles on end to pick flowers for some lazy idiot and, the worst part is how slow video games make you walk, it’s as if Earth’s gravity has been increased ten-fold.
Video game series are the bane of my life and it’s unlikely to ever change. It would just be nice if we could have a few more games that throw the formulaic monotony in to question every now and again like we did with the original Bioshock. I’m not saying there isn’t any hope for video games, I’m just saying that the major developers aren’t giving me any.