Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Video Game Rant

So, hopefully it's no secret.  I like First Person Shooters.  I mean, hell, I've played some of the best in existence.  Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Doom 2, Duke Nukem 3D, the Unreal Tournament series (with the exception of UT2003, which was horrible but at least paved the way for the more recent UT games), and so forth.

So generally speaking, I know what's good when it comes to FPSes.  Give me some weapons with varying advantages and disadvantages, put me in a scenario with some enemies to shoot, and let me go.  Tie in a story that doesn't really matter at all and multiplayer where I can either team up with friends or kill friends and call it a game.

Naturally, with a lot of games following that same cookie-cutter design, the genre stagnates quickly.  Innovations are always welcome.  Innovations usually come in the form of new gameplay mechanics and weapons.  Ladders, hanging from ledges, and complex dodging maneuvers have been added to the standard repertoire of FPSes over the years.

As far as weapons go, the most recent noteworthy innovation was the Gravity Gun.

Many companies have tried to innovate by merging the FPS with another genre, typically the role-playing game.  Cue images of games like Borderlands.  Some have instead merged a third person shooter with a role-playing game.  Cue Mass Effect.  They also added in co-op (cue Left 4 Dead), which is a fucking joke because co-op has been in FPSes since the beginning, it's just that you weren't forced to play it so nobody ever did.  There has been variance in the enemy you're fighting (nazis, zombies, nazi zombies, etc.), but that can hardly be considered innovation.  Another fucking joke has been some of the "realism" adjustments where you can only carry two weapons and a handful of other things that fit in your backpack.  Bring back the FPS where I can carry nine or ten weapons and switch between them all easily and effortlessly.  When I'm carrying a rocket launcher and a plasma gun, and I can fall off a tall structure while only taking a few hit points' worth of damage, who the hell cares about realism?

But back to mechanics.  Lots of FPSes now have vehicles.  Some even offer multiple vehicles with different weapons, armor strengths, etc.  One of my favorites, Unreal Tournament 2004, is certainly no exception.  While they do diversify the gameplay, FPSes with vehicles really just make me wish I was playing a racing game with weapons.

I'm not talking about games like Mario Kart.  In Mario Kart your "weapons" fall into two categories: mostly useless and largely imbalanced.  To top it off, the game has an insanely tight rubber band on its physics.  In order to do well you have to sit back in 2nd or 3rd place and pounce on the last lap.  No thanks, I don't want to play a racing game where being good involves holding back.  Rumble Racing is an example of a Mario Kart-like game without a rubber band, and it's quite the underrated gem on the PlayStation 2.

What I'm actually wishing for is a game where you have a vehicle, whether fictional or real, where you can mount a couple of weapons (let's say one forward-facing and one backward-facing) and race around shooting your opponents.  You and your opponents would all have health bars and if you take too much damage you get destroyed.  The exact mechanics I haven't thought too much about, but it's the archetype that's important.

This was the entire reason I played the Auto Assault beta.  It was an MMORPG where you drove around in a car with weapons shooting things.  It sounded pretty cool.  Since it was the beta, there wasn't yet a monthly fee.  So...  I played it.  And I played some more.  I tried to get into it.  Then I got tired of driving around and shooting the bad guys because literally the third area I got to was too high level for me to go through.  So I spent most of my time, you guessed it, driving around basically making race tracks out of the terrain and generally exploring.  At one point I got to a town, which was actually an area where you had to get out of your vehicle.  So I'm walking around, and people are trading items I've never seen before for large amounts of a currency I haven't even gotten any of yet.  In the beta.

To be fair, it was an MMO, so I expected a grindfest.  That's another genre that's rather stagnated (the funny thing is, it's stagnated since the beginning).  In each one the people you represent and your enemies change, but the same basic gameplay still exists without notable innovation.  I play Guild Wars, but that's hardly an MMO seeing as how once you walk out of town it's just you and your seven party members in your own instanced version of the area.  Its gameplay is fun and compelling but overall it gives you plenty of great stopping points making it possible to have a life and play the game at the same time.

Now, there have been weapons-based racing games in the past, but none have really caught my eye.  Most have a long list of flaws ranging from bad controls to too much story.  Think about it.  First off, how do you screw up the controls on a racing game?  You steer left, steer right, accelerate, brake, and in the case of the sub-genre I'm talking about, fire weapons.  It's not a complex control scheme.  You can get all of that into a directional pad and three buttons.  Next, take a look at racing games and shooters.  Have racing games (well, make that good racing games, there's a lot of shit in the genre that gives it a bad reputation) ever had a story?  No.  Have shooters ever had stories that you actually needed to pay attention to in order to get through the game?  No.  So why does story suddenly come up when you combine two genres that don't depend on story?

Come to think of it, one of the best games in the weapons-based racing game genre is on the SNES: Rock & Roll Racing.  There's zero story, different cars with different strengths, different characters to choose, and a completely straightforward upgrade system.  All of this puts the emphasis on what really matters: the gameplay.  Driving on race tracks in crazy fantasy worlds while shooting your competitors and rocking out to 16-bit versions of classic rock tunes?  Hell yes.  All this from a system where the only 3D games had to have a special chip in the cartridge.

Am I missing something here?  Since when should a game on a third-generation console be better than a modern game in the same genre?  It seems as though modern games are stagnating in the gameplay department while simultaneously trying to one-up each other for prettiest 3D graphics.  Since when did graphics ever trump gameplay?  Sure, Unreal Tournament 2004 looks awesome, but it plays awesomely as well.  There are plenty of modes with different objectives and mechanics to keep you entertained and when that's not enough you can download a mod to spice up the gameplay.

Maybe the problem is actually me.  I largely prefer the arcade-style racers to the simulation racers.  I just want to hop in a car and drive fast around a race track.  The race track doesn't have to actually exist, the car I'm using doesn't have to be infinitely tunable, I just want the action.  Tuning the car is why real life auto racers have an entire team of mechanics and engineers.

I can understand wanting to tune your car yourself if you're into tuning street cars, but where's the alternative for people like me that just want to race?  Auto Modellista had a very simplified tuning system, but it didn't matter because regardless of how you tuned your car, the instant you touched your brakes you went into a four-wheel slide.  If you were lucky you could control it to a certain extent, but usually there wasn't much you could do to prevent yourself from bouncing off the walls.  That doesn't make the game fun.  Which sucks because Auto Modellista looked like a great game up until it was released and we actually got our hands on it.

Going back to graphics, this may seem weird coming from someone who signed the Diablo 3 graphics petition, but there are lots of games that just completely lack contrast between everything.  Your colors will be grey, brown, and red.  Remind you of anything yet?  Gears of War?  I signed the D3 graphics petition because the dungeon graphics were bad.  Where does an ominous green glow come from in an underground crypt?  The only light should be from torches and anything magical that generates light.  Underground crypts are supposed to lack color.  The overworld actually looked quite good.  Speaking of D3, has any of the music been revealed yet?  I'd be interested in knowing whether or not we're getting a rehash of the crying babies from D2 or if it's actually going to be decent music.

It's obvious from my point of view that the video game industry is quickly headed towards its second crash.  Think about it.  Two of the three major consoles have reliability issues.  Very few original games are being released.  The vast majority are continuations of a franchise, "ooh look someone else made an awesome game let's make one similar to it", or minor variations on the same concept (i.e. yet another role-playing game or FPS).  I call this shovelware.  They just churn out a mediocre game and shovel it into stores for all the hardcore gaming schmucks to buy.  Even the creator of Final Fantasy wants Squaresoft to stop rehashing the game.  If that doesn't tell you something, you don't have a brain between your ears.  It's the franchise born from the one final game Squaresoft was going to release before going bankrupt that turned into an unexpected hit and kept them alive.  So not knowing what else to do, they continue making games like it.  Occasionally they branched out and made something else like The Bouncer, but, well, The Bouncer sucked.

Oh and since I've mentioned both consoles and FPSes a few times now and somehow skirted around this issue, I might as well enrage some fanboys now.  Console FPSes suck.  Lack of fine-grained control = not being able to hit enemies when I know I should be hitting them = bad controls.  Mouse (or in my case, trackball) and keyboard are far superior to a gamepad.  Every time I've played an FPS on a console it's just made me wish I was playing that game on a computer instead.

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