Random Rant: Shut Up And Enjoy The Game

Published on March 11th, 2013 in: Gaming, Over the Gadfly's Nest, Random Rant |

By Luke Shaw

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We’ve got it better than ever, so shut up and enjoy the game.

At some point in 2011 I held an opinion that I had read frequently on Twitter feeds, website comment boxes, and Op eds about games. I was “lamenting” the lack of creativity in big budget games and griping about the apparent absence of quirky titles on the shelf. “Where is my Gitaroo Man 360?” I wailed. “Where is my turn based isometric battler loaded with pop culture quips?” I groaned, possibly dribbling a bit of coffee whilst mouthing these words. You see, I never really said any of these things; that’s a lie. I did type them however, on Twitter, and on a forum, and maybe in other places, too.

Now it’s the beginning of 2013, and we have confirmation from Sony that the PS4 will be out in quarter three or four depending on territory. Black Ops 2 made $500 million in 24 hours last year, becoming one of the biggest entertainment franchises in the world, let alone gaming franchises, and the juggernaut rolls ever on. First Person Shooter and Third Person Shooter after Sequel after Reboot. “The Industry” many say, “is stagnating, it’s lacking in creativity! All blockbusters are terrible, we want a million versions of Portal 2 and The Walking Dead!”

Piffle.

Sometime in 2012, probably towards the end of the year whilst trying to pick my favorite game, I realized that the whole myth of the lack of creativity was just that: a myth. Without wanting to waffle on about my perceived game of the year, I had summed up that in amongst the top ten were Halo 4, Resident Evil 6, Hotline Miami, Faster Than Light, X-Com: Enemy Unknown, The Walking Dead, and Kid Icarus: Uprising. After a few days of musing, I was hit, as if by a euphoric light, that gaming was still brilliant and it had always been brilliant, and it will probably continue to be brilliant.

Contrary to the opinion that “everything is getting worse” with bigger budgets and over the top spectacle, I think it’s getting a whole lot better on both ends of the spectrum. Resident Evil 6 took a tremendous amount of flak for being bloated, ridiculous, and supposedly lacking the “survival horror it was famous for.” This faintly asinine view entirely forgets that the very thing that made Shinji Mikami’s Resident Evil 4 so seminal was its departure from survival horror to out and out action, with a large dose of horror for good measure. Both RE5 and RE6 followed the plans plainly laid out by RE4, and although they are not as ruthlessly elegant, they were certainly never trying to deceive the large amount of fans that took to the Internet to bemoan the “distancing from the survival horror we loved the series for.” Why they somehow felt aggrieved at the splendid reams of content RE6 offers up, and its wonderful exploration of horror, large and small, from survival to action, I’ll never know.

Even the towering behemoth of Black Ops 2 was attempting something slightly different with its strategic asides during the main campaign, and subtle tweaking of its already finely tuned multiplayer component. During the reign of blockbusters such as Resident Evil 6 and Halo 4, tiny titles like FTL and Hotline Miami have also shown that there is still room in the market for finely crafted auteur style titles, reverential homages to bygone systems, and arcane rougelike mechanics. The idea that the bigger titles are stifling any kind of creativity is simply confusing; if anything they make way for even crazier homebrewed ideas.

If any confirmation is needed of the “lamentations” directed towards sequels and their blockbuster aesthetics, look no further than the reaction to Dead Space 3, which is being brought to task by fans of horror games for its near full-on lurch into the realms of “thrilling action game” replete with cover segments and eye-watering, titanic fights against gigantic mutations. Personally, I can’t see why this an issue as Dead Space 2 had already significantly moved onwards from the foundations set by the original, creeping into action territory with a faster paced, more ruthless design. All the reviews point towards Dead Space 3 as being a slick, well-oiled, large-scale adrenaline rush complete with a few scares, instead of a tense, slightly clunky, small-scale adrenaline rush complete with a few scares . . . where exactly is the problem here?

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Expecting Dead Space 3 to return “back to basics” is making the same strange mistake as trying to pigeonhole the sprawling Resident Evil 6 into a genre it had abandoned by its fourth mainstream, multiple-award-winning iteration (ignoring a significant amount of formula mix-ups alongside). This demand of a back to basics approach in a franchise efficiently misunderstands how games and markets for them evolve, and how the studios involved will get bigger and increase their ambition. In the case of Dead Space through to Dead Space 3, it also conveniently forgets that the game drew many of its inspirations from Resident Evil 4, an action-horror title.

The strange hang-up that the community and press appear to have with horror only being a viable genre if it is twinned with survival is rather baffling. If you are given a bigger gun, this does not instantly make a situation less “horror,” especially when the number, size, and ferocity of the hordes also increase. Horror is flexible and fluid; it can be fast paced, contemplative, intense, subtle, creeping, or full-on, without detriment to the scares or tension. The idea that the solitary survival aspects of the original Resident Evil and, to an extent, Dead Space, make them “true horror” and that the fraught, tense, and vicious group management of Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space 2 are “not horror” is ridiculous.

If you still aren’t convinced that horror can exist in these two forms, and absolutely cannot abide the idea of a tighter, leaner, more powerful experience then, remarkably, if you want the original Dead Space it is still freely available, and for a low price might I add. If that isn’t satisfactory, then maybe it will warm you to know that Shinji Mikami is promising to re-invent survival horror with his enigmatic Zwei; why must we rely on a singular franchise to retread old ground? Surely a new Intellectual Property stands more chance of taking a fresher look at the genre?

Similarly, Ninja Theory have come under fire for daring to touch the hallowed ground of Dante’s platinum blonde locks, as modeled in previous Devil May Cry titles. In daring to offer up their own take on the prime hack’n’slasher, with their own unique narrative spin, gorgeous visuals, giddy combat animations, and high concept level design, Ninja Theory have not only secured the Number One slot in the UK, slightly undermined by the lack of competition, but also the Number One slot for swathes of Internet commentators to criticize the entire game off the back of a rather short demo (have demos done anything good this generation?) and one that really doesn’t let the user experience the generous new palette of chaos available to Dante. It’s a confusing thing to see, as a fresh new take on an old favorite not being allowed the room to impress, yet Black Ops 2 can rival the biggest film releases of the decade despite only offering incremental changes.

It was this exact kind of snubbing and dismissal of great content which forced me to reevaluate my opinion on the state of things. In reality, we’ve never had it so good. Instead of lazily comparing games to films because they both involve moving pictures and a fair amount of action, I find it easier to look at Comics as a parallel. We’ve got our flagship heroes and franchises such as Batman and Resident Evil, and we get both run of the mill and truly exceptional titles out of them. There is room for quirky bedroom scribbles, conceptual twisted indie efforts, and the possibility of reinvention in the hands of another creative team. For every Dark Knight Rises there is an Arkham Asylum and for every Resident Evil, there is a Resident Evil 6.

To lament a franchise which has already dabbled with action for not “returning to its roots” is pointless. As blockbuster games have pushed into the stratosphere in terms of budget and scale, the rest of the sky is open for yet more developers and studios to set their sights. All that we need to do is sit back, enjoy the wealth of great titles out there, and learn to love games again.

One Response to “Random Rant: Shut Up And Enjoy The Game”


  1. Cameron:
    February 7th, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    so true man. So many people want to focus on the negatives of games before they play them. Its like the art of just enjoying video games is a dying trend.

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