I love games, but I hate…
The worst things about games, by someone who loves them.
I’ve probably been playing games for longer than you’ve been alive – that’s almost three decades. And when I started working with games, over ten years ago, you probably didn’t even have pubes. I’m a veteran of electronic entertainment and I love it. But, y’know, when you’re so close to something you see its flaws more clearly than anyone else.
So yeah, I have issues, problems and gripes with gaming as a whole and I’m going to share them with you because maybe you’ll agree with some of them and enjoy it for that, or maybe you’ll fervently disagree with others and call me names in the comments, and enjoy it for that. I just hope I feel better for getting all this off my chest. So, I love games, but I hate…
XP for no reason
As a lifelong RPG fan, I love earning XP and levelling up, but ever since Call Of Duty 4 more and more games are putting in XP and levelling up for absolutely no reason. I actually think it’s worthwhile and well implemented in the Call Of Duty series, but most games just use it as a cynical tool to keep you playing.
I’m predominantly a console gamer, but I do also love PC games and appreciate the importance of the PC as a gaming platform. Most game developers, for example, have their own roots in PC gaming. But some of them need to work harder at making their menus navigable for console users. I’m looking at you, Bethesda. I team of your caliber should know better than the “let’s just give ‘em the same as the PC version” menu system in Skyrim.
It used to just be sports games, but now several major franchises have gone annual and, personally, I don’t buy into it. I never even bought into it with sports games. I’m still playing FIFA 11 at the moment because I don’t like FIFA 12 as much. You might enjoy buying and playing a new Call Of Duty and/or Assassin’s Creed every year, but I’m sure you’d get a better experience overall if they were coming out every two or three years. The ‘when it’s ready’ approach to development scheduling will always produce better games.
I’m all for accessibility and I’m all for tutorials and I’m all for games that don’t require you to spend hours learning and practicing complex skills and techniques, but that’s no excuse for games being just plain easy. One thing more likely to turn a player off of a game than anything else is frustration, but boredom isn’t much better, so making a game that’s just a pushover isn’t the answer. I want my games to kick my ass sometimes, and if they’re well designed I won’t be frustrated about it – I’ll be itching to restart straight away and do right what I did wrong the first time.
If there’s something that really bugs me it’s credit being given to videogame stories where it is not due. Claims that the stories of games like Heavy Rain, Mass Effect, Red Dead Redemption, Uncharted, L.A. Noire and BioShock are among the best in any media are absolutely ludicrous. These games, among others, are driving storytelling in games forward, and should be applauded for that, but there’s still a long, long way to go and suggesting that they’re already on a par with the best stories cinema has to offer is letting developers off far too lightly. We need to stop heaping unreserved praise on these admirable, but ultimately failed, attempts to tell sophisticated, mature stories and push developers to do better. Because it can be done. Videogames do have the potential to tell great stories in their own unique way, but so far only one developer truly deserves to be considered a decent storyteller and that’s Valve.
There was a time when games would earn plaudits by exceeding expectations and defying the perceived limitations of what was possible. These days the trick to getting your game hailed as a classic seems to be to make all kinds of far-fetched claims during the build up to its release and hope that everyone would rather blindly go along with your lies than admit to themselves that games aren’t actually as innovative or as progressive as they desperately want to believe they are. And it works again and again. It’s sad, really.
I so rarely complete games. This is partly because I get loads of free ones and am easily distracted by shiny, new treats, but it’s mainly because almost every game I ever play gets boring about two thirds of the way through and grinds its way to a disappointing, and usually annoying, anticlimax. It’s understandable that designers want to get their best work in early to draw you in, and that any game is going to be more compelling during the midway period when it’s gradually drip feeding new features into the mix, but do the endings always have to be so crap? No, they don’t. Once again, see Valve. Half-Life 2 is guilty of dragging itself out a bit in the middle, but the final hour of Episode 3 is the best hour of gaming you’ll ever play. That’s how to do an ending – leave us desperately wanting more.
I don’t subscribe to the “graphics don’t matter” school of thought at all. Graphics do matter and if you’ve invested a large sum of money in a machine with powerful graphics technology at its core then you’re entitled to expect developers to take advantage of that technology. However, a lot of games – like a lot of people – seem to get away with being boring and uninspired simply because they’re damn pretty to look at. Worse still is the boring obsession gamers have with discussing graphics. What’s to discuss? Anything beyond “It looks good/bad” just seems like obsessive, nitpicky or both, if you ask me. Still, the fact that all three of the best looking games ever – Killzone 3, Crysis 2 and Rage – failed to achieve stellar sales suggests graphics whorism isn’t as prevalent as it can sometimes seem.
What is it with geeks and their inability to understand when a joke has run its course? You do realise that ‘meme’ is essentially a shorter way of saying ‘joke that has been milked to death already’, don’t you? This dead horse flogging approach to humour is as rife in games as it is on the internet. The worst example? “The cake is a lie”. A good joke is like an exotic animal. It thrives in its natural habitat, but as soon as you remove it from where it belongs you destroy its beauty and kill its spirit. Printing “The Cake Is A Lie” on a T-shirt is like making a dolphin live in a bucket. Leave it where it belongs! In Portal! There’s even a reference to the Portal cake in Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow! Not only is it embarrassingly unfunny it undermines the otherwise beautifully crafted atmosphere of the game. Stop it!
The basic design of a regular videogame controller has remained essentially the same now for nearly a decade and a half and by this point developing an intuitive control system ought to be a question of common sense. Yet some games still have unnecessarily fiddly control systems that repeatedly break me out of the game experience by forcing me to think about how to do what I want to do instead of just doing it. Metal Gear Solid 4 is probably the worst culprit of this generation, and playing those Resident Evil HD remakes reminded me of why I could never get along with those games the first time around. Then there’s Assassin’s Creed, a series with such a nonsensical control set-up that it has to dedicate a part of its HUD to telling you what each button will actually do at any given time. I’m not saying every game should have the exact same controls, but there does seem to be a lot of fixing that which isn’t broke going on.
Having just given Assassin’s Creed a bit of a kicking for its control system, I’m going to give it some credit here for being the exception that proves the rule of games seldom venturing beyond a very small selection of setting types. Assassin’s Creed’s detailed historical settings really are unique, distinctive and refreshing. But for every Assassin’s Creed, BioShock or Portal 2 one of these there are dozens of depressingly familiar game worlds. Even the settings of series like The Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect, despite being well flesh-outed and richly detailed, are still starting to feel a bit by-numbers to me.
A lot is made of how poorly women are represented in games, and they sure are, but this discussion often carries with it an assumption that representations of men in games are somehow far preferable. Maybe if you’re a thirteen year old dipshit with anger issues, but I’m not one. And I find the likes of Master Chief, Marcus Fenix, Chris Redfield and Solid Snake embarrassing. I didn’t mind so much when the macho men were just deliberately goofy stereotypes like Duke Nukem and Serious Sam, but now that we’re somehow expected to invest emotion and meaning into these meatheads, it’s just getting pathetic. Shall I namedrop Valve again? Yes, I shall. Eli Vance – there’s a real man for you.
The weird thing about this one is that I enjoy employing stealth in games that aren’t ‘stealth games’. That’s how I play both Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer and Skyrim, for example. But in the former I’m sneaking around real people and in the latter my sneaking depends upon clearly defined stats and perks, not on some arbitrary set of parameters and inconsistent AI. That’s what I hate about stealth games – the mechanics and AI are invariably stupid and unrealistic, and it’s so frustrating being forced to play by their crummy rules. Plus, there’s too much waiting, and that feels like a massive waste of time.
There was a plague of this early in this generation. The sandboxes of the last-gen GTA games were revolutionary and technically mindblowing on that hardware. It’s piss easy to make a sandbox game on a 360 or PS3 though and from a game design perspective, nothing could be simpler (and lazier) than building a big, open environment and scattering things around it to collect and destroy. It’s always dressed up in buzzwords like ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’ but it’s all bull. Sandbox games should require more carefully crafted design, not less. It’s most common among licensed tie-in games and is often seen alongside the more recent lazy trend of arbitrary XP systems. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention how much I hate it in racing games. Burnout Paradise isn’t a bad game, exactly, but the switch to open world robbed it of so much that I loved about the earlier Burnout titles.
This is why, despite their featuring a genuine with rare in videogames, I’ve never been able to abide the Monkey Island games. I dislike the point and click genre as a whole really, along with any game that leans heavily on prescriptive, single (usually illogical) solution puzzles. If I think of a solution to an in-game problem that makes logical sense then I want it to work, or I at least want to see exactly why it doesn’t work. I don’t to be told “You cannot use this here” or some other variant on “computer says no” just because the game designer had some other, more convoluted solution in mind when he or she made the game. It just ends up being a matter of pure trial and error and that’s not my idea of fun at all.
I love Guitar Hero, but I loved it more when the guitar added a very reasonable £10 to the RRP of the game. Once Activision got a hold of the idea, though, the peripherals got more and more expensive and more and more pointless. It all culminated in the ridiculous Tony Hawk board controller. At that point, Activision had apparently found the limit of just how much over-priced gaming clutter people actually want in their lives, and has since scaled back its gimmick flogging to the much craftier Skylanders brand. I hate it on principle.
Fanboyism is boring and annoying, that we all know, but that’s not the worst thing about it. The real problem I have with it is that if it isn’t kept in check, it’s far too easily exploited and this has a negative effect on everyone that isn’t directly profiting. It’s one of the reasons the games industry is so cluttered with endlessly iterated brands and spin-offs and reboots and remakes and nonsensical story arcs, and has such a hard time introducing anything new or truly progressive. A lot of gamers get really attached to dated, generic crap for some reason, and don’t seem to realise that almost anything billed ‘for the fans’ is there to exploit them.
I’d be alright with motion control if it weren’t for the inevitable lack of control. There’s fun to be had seeing yourself, or a version of yourself, on-screen in a game, but most motion control games just make it harder and more exhausting to do things that could be done much more accurately with a button and/or a stick. The whole idea that using your body to control games makes it feel like you’re really doing whatever you’re supposed to be doing is a lie. Nothing breaks the immersion of a game more than unresponsive, inaccurate controls and that, as far as I can tell, is the main USP of motion control – it doesn’t do what you want it to do.
The most obvious reason I hate cut-scenes in games is that they’re usually really badly done and the stories usually suck anyway, so who cares? But there’s a more fundamental reason I object to their use in games. Even when they are, in themselves, pretty good, such as in the Uncharted series, I still find it depressing that game developers are just copying cinematic techniques instead of exploring the unique storytelling possibilities interactive entertainment can offer. Sorry to sound like a stuck record, but this is yet another area in which Valve leads the way. It’s no coincidence that Valve almost never uses cut-scenes (only very sparsely in Left 4 Dead to bookend episodes, but Left 4 Dead is styled like a collection of B-movies, so it’s deliberate and applicable), instead preferring to use seamless, reactive, interactive storytelling that ensures you always feel like you’re at the centre of what’s going on and never jarringly pulls you out of the game.
As I already said, I love the depth and innovation of PC games, but hardcore PC gamers have to be some of the weirdest, most deluded, most inexplicably arrogant people on the entire planet. First of all there’s the very idea that a set of tools designed for typing and operating utility software is somehow objectively better for playing games than a device designed for playing games. I’m happy for some people to prefer using a mouse and keyboard over using a pad, but the way they say it offers precise control as if it’s a fact is so annoying. Once and for all, control in games is about movement as well as about aim and if you think four fricking arrow keys offers you more precision than an analogue stick then you’re an idiot. Oh God, and they cannot accept that they’re idiots just because they know a bit about how computers work, when to the rest of us it’s obvious they’re idiots because only an idiot would spend a small fortune (and Lord knows how much time) on a ‘rig’ just for marginally faster loading times and marginally better graphics performance. I hate them so much. That said, I’m always really glad to count one or two of them among my friends when I’m having issues with my PC. But I still hate them.
QTEs (“Quick Time Events”)
While I hate the idea of cut-scenes for reasons already stated above, some of the more action-orientated ones can be pretty entertaining. And this is why I absolutely cannot fathom why so many develops insist on punctuating them with button prompts. I hear what they say, that they want the player to continue to feel involved through the cut-scene, but they’re wrong. If you don’t want to break the player out of the game, don’t use cut-scenes. But if you really must break me out of the game with a cut-scene, don’t then immediately break me out of the friggin’ cut-scene. Or worse still, make me watch the cut-scene repeatedly because I don’t press a button quick enough. I’d rather be playing than watching, but I’d rather be watching than some awkward hybrid of both that’s seemingly designed to ensure that doing one makes it impossible to do the other properly. There is absolutely no defence for it.
Oh wow, that really does feel much better. A huge weight has been lifted. I suggest everyone tries this. Aaahhh…