We Are Turning Videogames Into Sludge
Killzone 3 is out this week, and long-time fans (such as myself) will note a number of tweaks, improvements and overhauls. Chief among these changes is the removal of Killzone 2′s controversial “input lag”, a deliberately slowed response that gave the game a tremendous sense of weight and heft. Following complaints from gamers who didn’t enjoy the sluggish feeling, Guerrilla sped things up. Moving, aiming and running all feel more responsive and fluid, and I think it worked out quite well. However, some gamers are unhappy with the changes, noting that they liked the weight. As someone who had no issue with Killzone 2′s controls and wouldn’t have minded seeing them return, I have to say that I sympathize — in fact, the arguments against Killzone 2′s controls smack of a wider-reaching problem — our desire to have all games be the same.
Somehow, Guerrilla was able to keep the sense of weight and “belonging” to the game’s world with Killzone 3. It’s probably a trick of the animation, but I feel the studio did a tremendous job in compromising between those who liked the meaty feel of the input and those who needed speed. It easily could have been a lot less successful, however, because it seems to me that what a lot of gamers really wanted was another Halo. Personally, I dislike Halo for a variety of reasons, and one of my biggest issues is how “floaty” it feels. A lot of shooters have this problem, where you feel like a disembodied spirit, gliding disconnected from the world around you. The fact that Killzone 2 added some realistic sense of sluggishness to the controls was, in my opinion, rather commendable. You actually felt like a beefy soldier in heavy body armor, lugging a firearm composed largely of thick steel. It felt different, and it actually felt good. However, if all you want to do is play another Halo, you’re not going to appreciate that.
Gamers seem to have a problem with taking games on their own merits, and I can partially understand that. It’s impossible to not compare games, especially within the same genre, and we all have personal yardsticks with which we measure the merits of our entertainment. However, there’s a difference between comparing two games and judging a game based on the fact that it is not exactly like your favorite one.
In the case of Killzone, did you really want a game that felt exactly like Halo? Why not just play Halo? What’s the point of even owning a PlayStation 3 if you just want it to play exact mirrors of Xbox 360 games? I can certainly appreciate different tastes, and I can appreciate that some people just didn’t like the sluggish controls, but I can’t appreciate a game feeling pressured to become just like all the others because a percentage of the fanbase kicked up a stink.
Another example would be co-op. Co-op, both online and off, has become a near mandatory feature in videogames these days. I’ve seen many gamers actively dismissing various games over the past two years, due to a lack of co-op. As a result, at PAX Prime last year, almost every game I saw had some form of co-op injected into it. Portal 2, Gears of War 3, FEAR 3 and Killzone 3 were just some of the games rocking co-op, and it seems to be because gamers demand it in almost every single game now. There are games that are being done a disservice by the inclusion of co-op. The FEAR series is meant to be an isolating, scary experience, with a strong focus on atmosphere and narrative. I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t focus on atmosphere and narrative when I have a voice chattering away in a headset, and I certainly don’t feel scared when I’m too busy focusing on what some other player is doing.
Once again, all these co-op games throw up the question — why do you need it? Who needs that much co-op? Why can’t we let some games be co-op games, and other games be single-player experiences? Every game needs co-op in order to be viewed as worthwhile in some people’s eyes, even if it’s a lazy, slapdash case of “throw in an anonymous second character with no impact on the story.” I just don’t get who these people are that need to play every single game in an identical fashion.
On a much wider scale, we have competitive multiplayer. I’ve been a huge opponent of en masse multiplayer for many years. I like multiplayer games, and I enjoy a few of them. Note, however, that I said a few of them. We demand that every single game boast a multiplayer mode, but how many of us play them all? Are you still playing FEAR 2 online? Or Wolfenstein? Or Overlord, Dark Sector and Streets of Rage XBLA? Of course you’re not. Most of you are likely playing Halo or Call of Duty. Only a very few multiplayer modes command much time and attention from gamers, because gamers have but a finite amount of spare hours with which they can play. Most gamers pick one, maybe two, online games and spend their time getting really good at them. If you’ve picked Call of Duty, you don’t have time to jump into Killzone as well.
It’s sad to see single-player games feel the need to toss in multiplayer, just to meet the unrealistic demands of people who don’t even want what they’re asking for. Dead Space 2 and BioShock 2 are a pair of prime examples — games that had excellent single-player modes with tacked on multiplayer that only made one question how much greater the story campaign could’ve been if they’d focused all their efforts and budget in that direction. The Dead Space 2 multiplayer is incredibly weak and messy when compared to the tight, stylish, thoroughly engrossing single-player. BioShock 2 is just a laggy, chaotic mess and it does an injustice to the quality of the main game.
The patently ludicrous reaction to Sonic the Hedgehog 4 a stellar demonstration of this myopic attitude in action. Conduct a Youtube search for “Sonic 4 physics” and you’ll find a considerable list of videos from self-styled fans complaining about the fact that Sonic 4 feels different from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. They don’t explain why this is a bad thing, they simply compare the two games and arbitrarily rule Sonic 4 to be the worst of the two. Yes, Sonic 4 has a very different feel to Sonic 2, but that’s because IT IS NOT SONIC 2. You can substitute Sonic 4 for Fallout 3 or Diablo 3 and get the same idea. As soon as a game wanders off the beaten path of self-plagiarism, it is hounded by the fanbase as a betrayal and an outrage.
I understand the benefit of one game replicating good ideas. For instance, Gears of War has become the blueprint for cover-based shooters, and I totally appreciate taking what worked from Epic’s game and putting it into another one. Videogames, like everything else, evolve through a selection process — we discard what fails (generally) and keep what works. However, the industry has gone overboard, and it’s all thanks to the audience’s expectations. A game that lacks multiplayer, co-op, and an incredibly familiar control scheme will be written off as incomplete. Similarly, any game that isn’t about burly space marines in the West or spiky-haired pre-teens in the East stand a far greater chance of failure.
This isn’t entirely unique to the game industry. Just watch what happens to special interest channels on cable TV. Either they broaden their focus to include reality shows and auction-themed programming, or they fall by the wayside. This happened to G4TV, in fact — it started as a channel for gamers, then had to show stuff like Cheaters in order to scrape itself an existence. Society as a whole seems to be moving toward a grey, indistinct sludge, where every TV channel, every movie and every videogame is churning out the exact same drivel.
I think it’s sad. In the name of “diversity”, everything has ironically become the same. Everything tries to offer everything, rather than specializing in what it’s good at, and it’s all thanks to the braying audience that expects each piece of software to be a catch-all presentation of every single feature you can find in any other piece of software. Honestly, what’s the point? Once you’ve captured the flag in Halo, do you need to do it again in BioShock? Can’t you just enjoy online modes in games that are built around them, and let those games that want to be single-player campaigns do their thing? Do you need to play every single videogame you have with your best friend? Can’t you play something on your own for once? Does every new game you play need to be a carbon copy of the last game you played?
We might as well just have one videogame for all eternity, if that’s the way we’re doing things. Let’s just release one Halo game for PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and handheld systems and have done with it.
Seems to be what we want.