Saturday, November 19, 2011

Would I rather want a game than have it?

Darksiders II

It occurred to me recently that nearly all the energy I put into video games is anticipatory. I care infinitely more - as a general rule - for a game that hasn't been released than one that has. I seem to care more about games when they haven't come out yet.

Take Resistance 3, for example. Prior to its release I was actually hyped enough to consider buying it over Dead Island - and now that it's out, I find I couldn't really care less about it. Now, no doubt the fact that my gaming calendar has been packed tight since mid-September has something to do with that, but still...

We pour over previews and read multiple reviews and keep track of every single trailer released for a game - for many titles (Enslaved, Uncharted 3), we may invest more time in consuming their media prior to release than playing the actual game.

Perhaps that's the nature of the beast, here. Nobody cares about the movie that came out last year - we're all concerned about what's coming up. We're insatiably curious - we want to see new things and have new experiences - but is that all it is?

I don't believe so.

Spec Ops: The Line

I think - perhaps have to think - that it's a sign of hopefulness on our parts. We want to believe that the next great-looking game in our favorite genre could be The Game. The game that could be the game we believe can exist. Like Skyrim - I wasn't very hyped for Skyrim, but I wanted to believe.
"I must admit, after sifting through its media and reading previews, I have bought into the hype that Skyrim could be the Elder Scrolls game that lives up to the game we foster, wrapped in swaddling in our fertile gamer minds. A rich, full world teeming with smallfolk and small stories. A grand scope and inspired scale, a leveling system that makes sense (and doesn't require you jump everywhere you go to increase your acrobatics skill) and a game that's not rife with technical errors. The fantasy world that lives and breathes within our imaginations - I want to play that game!
I choose hope."
-Games of November 2011-
Once a game comes out, it's (almost) never The Game. Skyrim is bloody incredible, and still suffers from your standard Bethesda technical gubbins. Uncharted 3 is the most gorgeous game I've ever seen, and remains very imperfect.

Some times, though, a game actually manages to achieve what you hope it will be. More often than not - for me, at least - those are the games that manage to successfully suspend your disbelief. Games like BioShock and Dark Souls and yes, Skyrim, that overcome the fact that they're merely video games with such fantastic immersion and atmosphere that you forget - for a moment or a mile, here and there - that you've got a Dualshock in your hand.

I think that's what we hope for the most, when we spend our time watching trailers and reading previews and pouring over media. We hope for a game that can truly, for a time, become our world entire.

The Last Guardian

Perhaps that's it. Maybe it's because Darksiders II or Spec Ops: The Line or BioShock Infinite really could be all these things we haven't experienced in years or ever in our lives.

Once BioShock or Darksiders comes out, of course, that's what it is - and that's all it can ever be. Prior to its release, it has so much more potential. It could be anything. It could be The Game.

I'm gonna' go watch that Grand Theft Auto V trailer again.


  1. I've been thinking about this a lot recently, actually, so I'm glad to see you reflecting on it. The entirety of the enthusiast press is based around the idea of hyping up the next big thing, because people want to read about and see what's coming next, likely for the reasons you've detailed here. The demands of the readership, coupled with the journalists' own need to keep up with all of the new releases, means that the press never stays on any one product once it's out.

    I think about GTA IV, which was hyped for so long and had ridiculously positive reviews when it came out. Lately, I've only heard it mentioned when critics need to compare some problematic mechanic to a "relic of the past." I feel like the same thing's been happening with Red Dead Redemption. Those are two games that I know I should play, but whenever I look into them a bit, I see people talking about the faults that they've realized in retrospect or I'm dissuaded by gamers who think that I should be keeping up with the next big thing. As a relatively new PS3 owner, there's so much that I still want to play, and it's tough to balance the new with the old. I still have to play the Uncharteds, Heavy Rain, Ico & SotC HD, Arkham City, maybe Red Dead, maybe Valkyria Chronicles, maybe El Shaddai for the visuals, maybe Enslaved for something new, then the PSN stuff I've missed like PixelJunk Sidescroller, Scott Pilgrim, maybe Rochard, maybe Costume Quest... I'm getting a headache just writing this stuff. Having played but not finished AC2, should I try Brotherhood? Should I play ME2, or just wait for ME3? I wasn't interested in Skyrim, but now I'm intrigued. Journey's coming, Bioshock Infinite's coming, The Last Guardian's coming... and I feel like I need to finish Deus Ex and Dark Souls before moving on. It's a great time to be a PS3 owner, but I feel overwhelmed. Gotta take it one step at a time. At least I got back into Dark Souls this weekend. Picked it back up and blew through Sen's Fortress - almost through Anor Londo now.

  2. I feel that RDR and GTAIV suffer a great deal of critical backlash simply by virtue of being fabulous. That's not to say they're perfect - but things tend to ebb and flow. In every forum thread on Shadow of the Colossus, for example, you'll find folks who want to point out everything wrong with the games.

    When the recent HD up-ports came out for the Team ICO stuff, a lot of reviewers took issue with the games' controls - not an argument I'm prepared to make myself.

    I feel GTA IV was one of - if not the - first game to truly keep the promise of the current gen. In terms of structure, sure, it was very much in keeping with previous GTAs - but in all other ways it was something which could only be accomplished on current-gen hardware. The Euphoria engine and physics-based driving and open-world cover-based shooting - it's delicious, in my opinion.

    That being said, I wouldn't suggest anyone gets stucked into the trap I find myself in - playing everything, I mean.

    Just play what you want. If that's Dark Souls or Deus Ex, power to ya.

    One of the benefits of the PS3 is that - in addition to the phenomenal library of third-party titles, there's a glut of exceptional first-party content which adds up to some spectacular games for every taste. Want a great online FPS? Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, Killzone 3. Want a story-driven FPS? BioShock 1/2, Half-Life 2, Portal 2. Want an excellent platformer? inFamous, Bionic Commando, Ratchet & Clank Future, Mirror's Edge, Assassin's Creed II/Brotherhood. Third-person shooter? Uncharted, Wet, Dead Space...

    Want a great western RPG? Do you prefer a linear one or an open-world one?

    You see where I'm going with this. If you just play what you want, you'll find it's very difficult to make the wrong choice. There's too much awesome.

  3. Haha, good call. I sorta figured that would be your response - you said as much to me in an e-mail when I was getting ready to buy my PS3, that I should play what I want and not get overwhelmed and buy too many games at once - but it's sage advice. Accordingly, I'm going to spend my weeklong break from increasingly-stressful law school classes continuing to get sucked back into Dark Souls and finishing some of what's on my plate. There's no rush to jump into new/more games just because they're constantly being released. On the other hand, I did enjoy being part of the release-window fervor surrounding Deus Ex, Dark Souls, L.A. Noire, Portal 2, and Sonic Generations. I can probably blame the PA forums for that. But as far as older, not-yet-purchased games? Gotta take my time and take it all in hour by hour. The games of early next year don't particularly interest me, so it'll be nice to have plenty of older (new to me!) titles to enjoy at lower prices.

  4. There's a double-edged blade to 'release fervor.'

    On the one hand, I feel a video game is (almost) never as good as it is on release day. Consider Shadow of the Colossus or Metal Gear Solid or Uncharted 2 - those games are snapshots of what technology was capable of at that moment in time. They let us know what's possible - they spark the imagination and often, thanks to technology we'd never experienced before, provide an exceptional sense of immersion.

    When you return to a game a few months or years after its release, it's not uncommon to be less forgiving of its flaws, since technology has moved on since (Resistance: Fall of Man). There are games, of course, whose design manages to push them beyond such shallow considerations (Bionic Commando).

  5. All of this may be true, but you should still play Resistance 3. You can knock out the campaign in around seven hour and it is very, very good.

  6. I'm hoping for a similar sale the way R2 had one. At the Sony Store on boxing day, the year it was released, they were selling brand-new copies of it for $10.

    I have more than enough gaming to tide me over, for now. Still gotta' get reviews done for AC: Revelations and Skyrim!