Tag Archives: call of duty

DICE – As Lazy as the Competition – On Push-Start Now

14 Mar

Another article of mine on Push-Start.co.uk, this time a reaction to DICE calling their competition lazy.


Go read it, leave a comment too, if you like.

And here’s another cute thing:


Killzone 3 Review

28 Feb

The latest in a series better known for its graphical prowess than its gameplay, Killzone 3 is one of Sony’s system shifters. It’s a first person shooter, the bad guys wear gas masks and clothes with red trim and it has an action style somewhere between Call of Duty and Halo. This is the kind of thing that sells in the millions with a little marketing, and Sony have put a lot of resources into making sure everyone knows that KZ3 is playable in 3D and has eye-wateringly good visuals.

The problem with telling the world that Guerrilla Games have made the best graphics since time began is that it makes otherwise forgivable flaws seem exaggerated. While the characters are chunky and detailed, environments look good and boring details like explosions are excruciatingly well animated, there are plenty of little errors that catch the eye. If you’ve played the demo you’ll have seen how pretty all the snow looks in that ice level, but what really stood out was the two dimensional water hitting the sides of rocks and boats. It looked pitifully lacklustre, as if the developers had either forgotten to finish it, or decided no one would care. If I was buying KZ3 for graphics I’d be thoroughly disappointed. Attention to detail is important when visuals are such a selling point and this kind of thing should be eliminated.

Detailed, but hardly interesting

Other than the few minor flaws, which are only magnified by the visual quality of the rest of the game, I will concede that the graphics are very good. That’s not particularly unique anymore, but they are some of the best on any console, which I suppose is an achievement. The problem is that this is the game’s focus. It’s so obvious that the developers want me to be impressed, that at times I have no idea what’s going on around me. Reloading is dangerous not only because the gun is unusable, but also because the animation is unnecessarily long and takes up almost the entire screen. As always with newer shooters, being shot or taking damage leads to the screen being obscured by a blood effect, but when the game is so graphically detailed, it’s hard to see enemies who wear camouflage as it is. Even the great particle effects just get in the way, with explosions making dust clouds that make seeing enemies impossible.

All the graphical power is wasted really, as it was in KZ2, which had incredibly bland environments. This game tries to do a little better, but inevitably the plot means that most locales are varying shades of grey. The art design is generic, with enemies having no personality and the same being true of the player characters. It’s as if they were pitched as a cross between the awful, jingoistic heroes of Modern Warfare, and the muscle-bound brutes of Gears of War, but with nothing to make them exciting or unique. At least Marcus Fenix et al had some personality, even if it was all a bit over-the-top. KZ3 just doesn’t know what it wants to be. It lacks the pseudo-seriousness of Infinity Ward’s efforts, but seems to want to emulate it, but in space, with big guns and the Empire from Star Wars.

Snow is Guerrilla's one attempt to liven up the environments

The plot is equally bland, a hollow re-imagination of Halo, but with more ‘grit’ and ‘realism’ and human enemies. The characters are not only boring, but mind-numbingly irritating. They chatter as in Modern Warfare, but it’s mostly grunts rather than words. The voice actors sound as if they’re straining to maintain the gruffness in the voices of ‘Sev’ and ‘Rico’ and enemies just shout the same things over and over. Cut-scenes are over-elaborate messes, that never seem to focus on telling a story, rather on the pretty incidental detail that the developers think will impress. The whole thing plays out as little more than Modern Warfare rebranded and set in space, same glorification of war, same irritatingly unoriginal characterisation and same failed effort to turn meat headed morons into compelling characters. Even Master Chief had more personality.

I could forgive much of Killzone 3’s faults if the gameplay was good enough, but it just isn’t. Killzone 2 had exactly the same flaws and its sequel does nothing to address them. The cover system, for example, is awkward, requiring a shoulder button to be held down in order to stay hidden. Unfortunately this is one of the most poorly implemented elements of the game. Instead of, as in other cover-based games, snapping quickly to cover, Killzone is somewhat erratic in when the cover system works. I suppose this is to make things seem more ‘realistic’ but I’m in space shooting Stormtroopers cosplaying as Nazis and frankly, I want to be able to just press the button and hide. The game is hard in the sense that trying to make it fun by shooting as dumbly as one presumes the characters you play as would means certain death. Playing it tactically though, is impossibly dull, and since the cover mechanic is flawed the ‘cover, shoot, move, repeat’ gameplay can’t stand up to continued play. The single player campaign is mercifully short at least, but if you were to like the game enough to continue playing, this would be a negative, so no one wins.

Is that a robot wearing kneepads?

There are further gameplay issues. Iron sights is present and correct (Sir!) and even more frustrating and counter intuitive than ever. While CoD managed to both make iron sights work (though I can’t say I’m a fan) and make it suit the context, Killzone makes it one of the most exasperating aspects of the game in one simple control choice. You have to click the right stick once to enter iron sights and click again to exit. There’s no quick snapping to a target, and it just feels awkward. On top of that, I’m part of a civilisation that’s invading another planet, surely they’ve made some guns that shoot lasers like it’s a light show of infinite destruction by now? The guns are stupidly underpowered for that matter, and useless unless iron sights is used. It all adds up to a frustrating and boring experience that sacrifices fun for strained realism and graphical grunt.

Killzone 3 will no doubt sell in the millions, which is a depressing thought. With a story and characters that fail to do anything other than irritate, a focus on realistic war in a setting which has no place for it and some astonishingly poor design choices, this is a game so mired in mediocrity that it should appeal to no one. I honestly can’t understand why anyone would want to play a game where the characters could only be relatable to someone with the imagination of an earthworm. It somehow glorifies war, yet makes it seem boring. There’s just no imagination here whatsoever. This does nothing the previous game in the series doesn’t do, and steals all its ideas from other sources, on top of implementing them poorly. With no reason to find out what happens next in the world’s least interesting storyline, grinding through the turgid gameplay is only for the most masochistic of souls. Even that one remaining selling point, the graphics, either falls flat due to mistakes, or because the visuals get in the way of the gameplay.

Bland, uninspired, mindless and utterly derivative, Killzone 3 is the poster child for everything that is currently wrong with the games industry. If you want a big dumb shooter, go get Gears of War or BulletStorm. If you want to feel like an imperialist soldier intent on destroying the country/planet of another race, buy Modern Warfare 2 and hum ‘Star Spangled Banner’. If you want great graphics and good cover mechanics, try Uncharted 2. There is nothing about Killzone 3 which hasn’t been done better elsewhere.

No More Zombie Games, Please

18 Feb

If the videogames industry is anything to go by, I’m the only person who isn’t sick of zombies. After watching the Dead Island trailer, which seems to be getting a lot of viral hype, I was remarkably underwhelmed. It was dramatic, probably overly so, and interestingly put together, but nothing altogether new. Adding a melodramatic score and the harrowing death of a child did nothing to move me. This must be what it’s like to be a Saw fan, sitting at the sixth or seventh movie, popcorn in hand, gleefully awaiting another grisly death in the hopes that my bloodlust is ignited. Dead Island just held no appeal. The apparent depth on offer was just cheaply achieved, with no real weight. I know the same methods are used to sell movies and such, but with zombies in a game, well, it’s just too late for me.

Capcom share much of the blame for the current zombie holocaust affecting videogames. Resident Evil was the first game to offer that horror movie experience, and did so very well indeed. By the time Dead Rising appeared the potential for zombies had been realised, they are easy to kill. Shambling around the screen slowly, human yet inhuman, mowing them down (literally with a lawnmower) en masse had a certain appeal, and I don’t criticise Capcom too much, because they have at least attempted to innovate, even moving away from zombies to slightly more human foes in Resident Evil 4. The villains of the piece, as usual, are Activision. Nazi Zombies gave gamers with little imagination just what they wanted, cheap, repetitive gameplay with a zombie twist. Plus they’re Nazis, all bases are covered. This has led to more zombie antics in the latest Call of Duty and a mission pack for the otherwise thoughtful and occasionally poignant Red Dead Redemption. Everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon, yet no one wants to do anything all that interesting with the undead.

Zombie game law #17 - Must have the word 'Dead' in the title

I may be a little harsh in making this assumption, but part of the reason zombies seem popular with developers, rather than gamers, is that they take the effort out of programming. There’s no need to give them any proper AI, they just shamble about, or move toward the protagonist. They can all look similar too, no need for much variety in enemy when they’re all grey, bloodied corpses. Left4Dead at least took a unique slant, giving some ‘personalities’ but they were simple in terms of actions. Humans attempt to use tactics, change approaches and may require complex interactions. Zombies are a facile way for developers to add mission packs and little more. It’s lucky really, that gamers seem so obsessed with the groaning hordes. There’s also the reliance on cheap shocks and gore, which are ever popular. Games seem to have, for the most part, missed the point of zombies in terms of storytelling.

Humans are interesting, there will never be a shortage of things to say about humans. We’re multi-faceted, with emotional depth. Games, movies and literature tell us about ourselves because we have personalities, and we can identify with characters. Zombies in media exist to facilitate the stories of people and society. George Romero understood this more than anyone. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead brought zombies to popularity in cinema, both of which dealt with social issues through the medium of horror. The former dealt with racism, particularly in its poignant closing scene, and the latter consumerism. The zombies were there to illustrate and explore aspects of humanity, rather than cheaply frighten. The tension was created by adding depth to the characters in ways Frank West in a dress could never have. Even Resident Evil knew this. The first two games were about the folly of man, the greed of large corporations and the lust for power of Wesker leading to an interesting plot twist.

Why are there always cornfields?

In their desire to appeal to the zeitgeist, developers have entirely missed the point with zombies, they have attempted to make them the focus, rather than looking at the humans involved. While comic book ‘The Walking Dead’ garners praise for its use of a tired concept in interesting ways, games fail to offer any compelling reason to keep playing the same thing. Games do have a certain amount of leeway to just create a fun experience, but Left4Dead and Dead Rising have covered that already. The subject material just isn’t interesting anymore. It could be if someone tries to tell a compelling story that just happens to involve zombies, and Dead Island may do just that. From what the trailer told me though, it’s just another zombie game, with the same old mechanics. The only difference is some schmaltzy emotional rubbish about a family, or some such nonsense.

Looking at gameplay screenshots only exacerbates my fears for the game, the ‘tank’ enemy of Left4Dead returns, but in a straitjacket. This is a game about survival on an island that wouldn’t have guns and the like. It wants to be taken seriously, but what tropical resort has a local mental asylum? Taking liberties with realism is fine, but not when you’re asking for an emotional response as that trailer does. That requires a certain level of consistency. Zombies can be interesting, and zombies can be part of a great story, but not unless the human element is the focus. Nazi Zombies may have been a fun diversion, but now developers seem more and more willing to structure an entire game around what is little more than a gimmick, no amount of overwrought drama playing out in slow motion and in reverse will make it worth playing.

Games as Art – Part 3

3 Feb

Games are not movies. It’s obvious isn’t it, not a fact that escapes anyone? Well, not really, no. Developers, especially in the current generation of games, but going back to early titles like Dragon’s Lair, have sought to emulate the on-screen excitement of a big-budget blockbuster. Prime examples are some of the most successful current generation titles, and some of the most critically acclaimed. This is a worrying trend in some ways. While it creates a game that feels like an exciting rollercoaster ride, it also removes any hint of substance from proceedings. There is opportunity to explore storytelling possibilities, yes, but only through cut-scenes. This is redundant, it’s almost as if the developer and writer wanted to make a film and decided to throw in a few interactive sequences.

I’ve read many times that the sequence in Call of Duty 4, in which you crawl from a helicopter destroyed by a nuclear explosion, is pivotal, wonderful and dramatic. It’s not though, it’s a pointless attempt to use interactivity to add drama to the moment, but it amounts to pushing ‘up’ on the controller or keyboard. It looks great, genuinely like a movie, but it’s a game, and the vague reminder that we need to keep pressure on the controls is hardly using that to help tell any story. If Gradius had an overblown and complex plot, would anyone have cared? Of course not, it’s a shooting game. So is Call of Duty, but with the graphical power at developers fingertips they can make it more than that. But why bother? A poor version of a Tom Clancy adaptation is hardly going to keep me playing, the gameplay does, same as in the past, and enough of its audience are quite content with explosions as drama.

It makes sense that games turned to Hollywood for inspiration, to be fair. We do a lot of shooting, running and jumping, it’s like playing the action hero. Alongside Call of Duty; Uncharted, Gears of War and many others give the player the feeling that they are the hero of a Michael Bay movie. It’s fun, I won’t deny that, but again, that’s the gameplay. The stories are poorly acted (Lester Speight aside) and poorly written, merely tacked on as a sort of reward to the player, some vague sense of progress in lieu of a high-score. A phoned-in celebrity voice cast is usually enough to gain high praise though, and so we rarely see much better in that sense either. Big explosions, set-pieces which involve the player’s character, but are purely background are exciting, but at this point it’s easy to ignore them, games are over-saturated with these movie moments and ultimately, they add little to the overall experience unless used extremely sparingly.

I suppose though, for once, I should give Infinity Ward a little credit. They did attempt to use the interactivity of the medium to make a dramatic and powerful statement with ‘No Russian’ in Modern Warfare 2. It turned out to be one of the most pointless and heavy-handed pieces of storytelling since ‘P.S. I Love You’ was adapted for the screen, but they tried. The problem wasn’t the lack of choice, that would have made no sense in context, but the lack of development. Thrust into the body of character who the player is in no way familiar with, to then be told to shoot civilians in an airport, should have had a little more exposition than a loading screen debrief, but what followed was far worse. Immediately after the killing spree, your character is shot and killed. No warning, no plot advancement, just shot in the face. A character who should have spent the rest of the game agonising over the choice he was forced to make was simply removed. A few levels later and I’m breaking some sort of Sergeant Major from the Boer War out of a prison in Russia, with all the drama that entails. I had to google the character after the big identity reveal, and I’d finished CoD4. As I said, the story is pointless. But again, I’ll give IW some credit, it was an interesting experiment, and had they invested in some actual writers it may have been tremendously successful and a real statement about the power of games to speak to us.

2010 saw the release of Heavy Rain, which almost overnight became the poster child for the kind of interactive storytelling which could be unique to games. It had a lot of promise, but ultimately in its rigid structure, which sought too much to emulate movies, it failed to offer the kind of experience it’s creator, David Cage, was so sure it could. The controls were well implemented, and I don’t necessarily think that games need a challenge. The fact that some characters could die and the game would continue was a brilliant concept. The execution was let down in the lack of any real emotional depth. The plot was closer to Criminal Minds than a classic thriller and attempts to be ‘edgy’ came across as crude and somewhat ill-advised. Was it really necessary, for example, to have the female lead strip to escape her captors? Surely the option to simply refuse immediately, rather than drag it out would have made sense, and offered a far more empowered and interesting character. In following the plot and inevitable the cliches of the movies, Heavy Rain simply failed to deliver an interactive experience of any more depth than a choose your own adventure book. It was a compelling way to spend a few hours, but only in the same way it’s often enjoyable to sit down and watch a few episodes of a favourite TV series, or a movie franchise. In the end all the choices led to were varying over dramatic endings, we assume they’re meant to seem intelligent because they’re all depressing. A lost opportunity perhaps, but not the direction games should go in order to take advantage of what makes them unique.

The problem with games is that for the most part they fail to capitalise on their interactivity. Moral choices are nice, but never really live up to their hype, always falling into the trap of black and white decisions. Give the homeless man a bottle of water, or set him on fire and eat his charred remains. What games can do though, is use the fact that we have input to create something altogether different to a movie. As much as I say Bioshock had an over-rated story, and it does, the ending was something that no other medium could offer. That, for me, was an incredible triumph. Games can tell a story that even the greatest novel never could, and like all great art, makes us think about ourselves and the world, but more so how we engage with that world. Interactivity is a tool which is rarely used for anything other than allowing us to shoot the bad guys, there is no other choice. Games like infamous may ask whether we want to be naughty or nice, but ultimately, we still kill the bad guys. When a game asks us why we do this, the violence suddenly seems all too real, it’s not Bruce Willis or Arnie killing indiscriminately, it’s you. Even the greatest novel can never say ‘you’re a killer, but why?’ A game can.

Developers have very occasionally used this power to aid their storytelling, and it’s a disappointment. The few which have, as ‘No Russian’ has shown, are hit and miss. Shadow of the Colossus might be the best example of what a game can ask, because great art doesn’t just tell stories, it asks questions. Killing the Colossi, the enormous beasts which wander serenely through a barren land, makes the player feel evil, it’s almost depressing. You quickly start to question your motivation, and whether the entity which guides you to kill in order to save the girl is truly on your side. This hasn’t stopped players from adoring it, the bleak atmosphere is beautifully imagined, and the gameplay is wonderful. These things make it compelling to play, but the moment you see that awful black liquid streaming from what was once a peaceful giant is harrowing. It’s an incredible way to use a game, and it reveals to us as players the role we are playing in shaping the world we inhabit for that all too brief period. It should, by all accounts, put us off, but it’s almost complete silence begs so many questions. The answers are never the right ones, or the ones we want, but that’s not the point, it says so much more than shooting non-descript Middle Eastern and Russian people ever could, and that’s without sacrificing gameplay or graphics. Games have an incredible position, a wide audience, and a means of storytelling that’s as yet hardly been explored. They are primed to be the next great storytelling medium, as long as games like SOTC continue to be made, and continue to sell well enough to encourage others to go further with how they use that medium.

Games as Art – Part 2

27 Jan

The Discerning Consumer

In explaining why the gaming press fails to separate those games with a more artistic nature, it led me to us, the players, and our role in shaping the industry. With the press doing nothing to tell us which games are really special, it falls to the consumer. Unfortunately, gamers are, as a group, not exactly discerning. We probably buy far too many games, and still the more interesting ones are ignored. The marketing of certain releases is obviously a big influence, yet we don’t generally go out of our way, as a film buff would, to actually learn what is really good. And how are we expected to when the games a vocal minority of gamers cry out for are simply given the same, or worse review scores as those which permeate the consciousness through advertising and media coverage. It is rare that a smaller budget, or more artistic game is previewed extensively, and games thrive on the hype machine, aided by the internet and rabid fanboy-ism. Gamers are, to pigeonhole, ‘nerds’ and as such, cling to certain franchises as horror fans do (Someone kill the man who made ‘Saw’- preferably in an ironically over elaborate trap). The ‘hardcore’ audience simply demands more sequels, or even remakes from their developer or publisher of choice. The smaller community, if it even exists, who want games to transcend these stereotypes are largely ignored, it is far easier to make money from a core consumer base that will support even a substandard product.

It’s usually developers and publishers who suffer the criticism of the vocal minority, but that seems rather reductionist. Gamers need to point the finger in some other directions. I’ve already mentioned the gaming press, but more so – at themselves. The publishers are merely satisfying the incredible demand of the majority of consumers, the same way movie, book and music companies do. In that sense, the gaming press serves a similar function, they are populist, they offer a product which praises across the board, for a variety of reasons, because there are many reasons we play games, as there are many reasons we go to the movies or read a novel. As I said in the previous article, games have not been separated as other media have. There are trashy novels, to be read on holidays or for a light read before bed, and there is literature, which is to be savoured, debated and reflected upon. In gaming terms, we consume and reflect on everything. Call of Duty (I think it’s fair I single this series out, but it’s not alone) is simply a ‘holiday read’ or ‘popcorn movie’ but it is debated ad infinitum, along with Halo, Battlefield and every other major release. The problem is the subject of these debates.

Gamers don’t look at their hobby the way a film buff does. They pore over technical details, differences between consoles, graphics, frames per second and every other aspect of the coding. Content is last on the list of priorities and story has only recently become a strong focus, but only as far as looking to generic Hollywood action movies for inspiration. I’m sorry, but Uncharted 2 is just not that good, it’s another generic cover shooter with a slightly more interesting exploding background. It’s not that there’s no place for that kind of thing, I enjoy a simple distraction from the existential dilemma of modern life as much as the next man, but I often want more from my entertainment, I want to think and be challenged. Games very, very rarely do that. What young game designer, who has creative and intelligent ideas, has a chance to use them in an industry so dominated by large publishers, huge budgets and worst of all, an audience that rewards mediocrity and repetition. Did we really need another Assassin’s Creed game this year? Yes, the sequel was an improvement on the original, but maybe the developers would have been better off spending far more time crafting a third instalment which was a huge improvement over the second, which told a new story in a new way. The critical praise and consumer reaction to Assassin’s Creed 2 however, meant that the publishers wanted to strike while the iron was hot, and build a franchise. There’s more profit to be made now, and into the future as things stand in gaming, from franchise-building, which has become the goal for publishers.

Gamers should celebrate the original, the new IP, but we stick with the brand we trust. Magazines don’t drop review scores even if the sequel is almost identical, and we continue to give money away for a few more tries at something we enjoyed, in absence of guaranteed fun from a brand we don’t know. This incredible lack of trust in a new commodity has led to countless iterations of the most tired of formulas. Final Fantasy may change its story and characters in each new game, but the brand remains, despite the game being unrecognisable to those who remember its heyday. The franchise has changed, but utterly failed to innovate, and that remains true for most of the industry. Mediocre games which achieve even moderate success garner sequels. Was it really necessary to give us another ‘Kane and Lynch’? Well, yes, of course it was, the gaming public never tires of shooting people. Even Rockstar, when attempting to create a game set in the Old American West, an entirely admirable change from the greys and browns of urban grime or warfare, chose to resurrect an IP most had no knowledge of. Pointless, but they surely had their reasons to do so, and it boils down to the importance of brand recognition in generating interest. Even an obscure brand is more valuable than an entirely new entity.

If we want to see games challenge other art forms and establish themselves as worthy, then we need to change the way we approach the industry. Firstly, buying every major release, or most of them, is an exercise in futility, they’re mostly the same as each other, and most of those which offer something different end up being clones of other games. How many versions of God of War have appeared since Kratos first ripped the head off a mythical beast? And God of War is derivative itself, it’s just a more polished scrolling fighter. If sequels, imitations and remakes stopped selling as well as they do, then developers would be forced to push the envelope and create something more unique. This in turn would increase competition to provide the most originality and creativity, to offer something different, be it story or gameplay, and to innovate rather than imitate. It is through this that we might see more artistic games. We also need to stop clinging to our precious franchises. Yes, the characters might be ones we like, but seeing them in their seventh game is simply absurd. I’m not quite as critical of Nintendo for this however, they do attempt to create a new Mario or Metroid experience somewhat regularly, and while say, Mario 64, Sunshine and Galaxy share similar core mechanics, they are vastly different games. There is a good reason why Nintendo continue to compel a new audience, and it is quality and imagination, not the same game over and over.

The backlash over Metroid: Other M is an interesting example of the problems with how we approach our hobby. Metroid Prime had three games in its series, it had run its course after adding the innovation of Wii controls. Nintendo wisely moved the franchise, which they know makes them more money than a new IP, that’s the market reality, to a new developer. (As much as I’d like to see a whole new game, setting and character, Nintendo do have to make money.)This was a disappointment for many fans, but do we need a fourth Metroid Prime game? Yes, Team Ninja changed some of the main character’s traits and personality, but they also made something different, and that should be commended, and Nintendo praised for taking a risk when every other company is content to offer the same thing in a different box. We, as consumers, even those of us who consider ourselves informed, are failing to reward intelligence and innovation, and the backlash against us has begun as the games we play have become more bland than ever. Thank goodness for the downloadable games of XBLA and PSN, where some wonderfully original titles like the beautiful and poignant ‘Flower’ or the unsettling ‘Limbo’ can be found. The problem however, is that without marketing from the companies, without reviews and press reflecting it, and without gamers making the effort to seek it out, imagination will always be trumped by the safety of the familiar, and this will inevitably lead to the continued lack of respect games receive in the artistic pantheon.

Games As Art – Part 1

20 Jan

Why games should be critiqued

This is part one of what will be a multi-part examination of games in terms of art. As far as I’m concerned, games can, are, have been and will be art, but this is far from an accepted view, just ask Roger Ebert. In saying this, I can sympathise with those who see games as mere entertainment, if not violent pornography. The industry at times seems to be regressing, in terms of creativity, originality and most importantly, content.

The reasons for this are manifold, from publishers and developers simply wanting to cater to their perceived audience, to the obvious profit to be made from games which sell well despite their derivative nature – yearly iterations of FIFA being a prime example. We, as consumers, have failed to reward the developers who make something more than a ‘product’ and transcend the medium. Sales figures for Ico or Okami, for example, reveal that these niche titles fail to garner the support they deserve from what is considered a niche community already. But that in itself is a problematic viewpoint, movies, books and any other medium are dominated by the same throwaway entertainment that games are. Mainstream media is entertainment without substance for the most part, and sub communities have emerged which support independent music and arthouse cinema. No one really sees the latest ‘Transformers’ movie as art, and film critics reflect this in their analyses of media such as this. The same goes for the latest albums by pop acts. Games have quite clearly become part of mainstream media culture, the tremendous success of the latest Call of Duty games, amongst others, have shown this. Yet, there is no real defined sub culture of gamers who value their medium on artistic merit. No one should consider Call of Duty games art, and I sincerely hope no one does, because they are simply mass-market entertainment, like most Hollywood blockbusters or X-Factor winner’s albums, but there are games that deserve to be considered pieces of art, certainly.

How do we, as appreciators of the medium, find the diamonds in the rough? Personally, word of mouth has been the only way I can distinguish a genuinely incredible game from a functionally good and enjoyable piece of fluff. It’s not quite the same as reading a film critic’s view when approaching a movie. The gaming press gives similar merit, if not more, to the latest big-budget, all action explosion-fest. There is no real attempt to separate the art from the games, and the video game press has a lot to answer for in terms of what we consume and why. Opening the latest copy of ‘Edge’ magazine, Rock Band 3 is the highest scoring game reviewed, earning a 10 out of 10, which surely means it is an incredible, amazing piece of entertainment. And to some I’m sure it is, but to me it’s another sequel to a series which has limited appeal. It’s just music with added button presses, no substance. Fun of course, I won’t deny that, but I could play Rock Band 1 or 2 couldn’t I? Call of Duty: Black Ops has a press average, according to metacritic, of 88%. But why? If it were a movie it would be panned by critics. It’s the seventh sequel in a franchise that has basically had the same gameplay for its entire lifespan, and made one major change in setting for the fourth in the series. Hardly an achievement, especially when the game is now repeated every year. Even the most derivative of books or movies doesn’t repeat on a yearly basis. (Except maybe Cecilia Ahern’s ‘novels’)

There is an obvious answer to why the gaming press see fit to award high praise upon these games however, and it’s not that they’re pressured or bought by the publishers (though this does occur). It’s that gamers value gameplay. If the game plays well, it’s good, simple as. This held true in the past, when games were simpler, and the yearly sequel, and incredible volume of copycat development had yet to emerge. Now though, developers have the power to create realistic virtual worlds, offer characters who can portray realistic emotion and really touch the player in ways that the technology never allowed before. But aside from a handful of cases, we get to shoot Nazis or zombies in the face, over and over. If we’re really lucky we get to play thinly veiled American propaganda and shoot terrorists. Why we can’t see a ‘Hurt Locker’ or similarly intelligent depiction of war, is down to two things. Firstly, developers know that gaming magazines and websites will praise a game, even if it’s the twentieth game of the year to offer first person gunning down of non-descript Middle Eastern people, if the shooting is well implemented and lots of things go boom. Secondly, the gamers themselves are the problem. Not only is there the mass-market, who hungrily lap up the opportunity to blow someone, anyone, into oblivion, but also the ‘informed’ gamer, who reads the reviews and buys accordingly.

The lack of separation between trash and triumph is a real shame. Every other medium has a community who will look past the mass marketed dross and find those hidden gems that have something different to say, a social comment or a different take on the human condition. Gamers don’t have this community and it may be down to the lack of a press which supports it. They do give games which tell a different story, or even the same one in a different way, praise, but all too often it’s overshadowed by the more polished gameplay and graphics of the latest blockbuster. Bioshock is a fine example, it earned great reviews and was heralded as gaming coming of age. Despite having a vastly overrated plot it managed to tap into the reasons we play and the things we do in games – a fine achievement. But the same press told us to go buy FIFA and Call of Duty as well, giving them similarly high reviews. Why review at all then? What separates a remarkable game like that from a by-the-numbers war-em-up, or a sports game only different to last year’s because it has the latest rosters? Why not just assume the games which get the highest marketing budgets will be the best. What does it take for a reviewer to point to Black Ops and say “It’s Modern Warfare with a slightly different setting.” and to actually award it a low review score because of this fact?

The gaming press fails to recognise the gulf between a game that has something to say, and one with something to kill. Reviewing games isn’t working, it just leads to derivative sequels being praised over genuine innovation and intelligence. The gaming press caters to an extent for the smaller niche market of supposedly intelligent gamers, yet gives as much, if not more, praise to the blockbuster games, the ones that have no substance and nothing new to offer. Where is the critique? Reviews can only give so much. Sometimes a film is poorly shot or even has some lacklustre acting, but is incredibly good for other reasons. Can’t the gameplay be a little less polished, but the game still amazing because of what it says to the player? If games were critiqued, and not simply reviewed, if they were seen as art from the offset, then we might see a more intelligent and rewarding game being, not the norm, but a larger part of the industry, a niche market in the vein of arthouse cinema.
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