Mad Mack: Games That Broke The Mould
(NB. FMV does not necessarily share Dave’s views, and accepts absolutely no responsibility for any offence his diatribes may cause.)
Welcome to my new (and hopefully) regular slot on FMV magazine. In this column I will be reviewing newly released games, as well as providing my personal commentary on the generally shit state of today’s games industry.
Now, most people would kick-off a new column by producing something that would set the template for future columns, like reviewing a recent release or something. However, having just moved house and finding myself without a TV, it would be quite difficult for me to put out a review for say, F.3.A.R. There is only so much you can do by spinning the disc on your finger and shining a laser pen at it while thinking aggressive, scary thoughts.
So instead, I thought I would treat you to a look at some games that I feel never really got the attention or credit they deserved. What if I was to say to you: “What do the following games have in common – Metro 2033, Assassin’s Creed and LA Noire?” If your answer is: “they are all shit”, then please feel free to finish jerking off over your Master Chief fan-fic, and piss off back to Gamespot*. If you said: “they were ok games but they were a bit shit”, then you can stay (provided you wipe your feet and don’t touch anything). And finally, if you said “OMG THEY WERE THE BEST GAMES EVERRRR!!!!!” then you need to have your doctor increase your dose.
Now, if I was to say: “What do these aforementioned titles have in common with Half-Life, Starcraft and Ocarina Of Time?”, well, you might find yourself a bit lost for words. After all, now we are talking about the giants of their class. The games that, not too long ago, redefined their respective genres.
Half-Life set the bar for first person shooters in terms of game storytelling, elements of which you can clearly see in the recent Crysis 2. Ocarina Of Time redefined how an RPG should play (Darksiders was basically an emo rehash of Ocarina). And Starcraft? Well, it’s Starcraft. Aside from all the failed marriages, neglected children and dead gamers it has left in its wake, Starcraft completely redefined the RTS genre, a genre which had not moved very far since C&C (and Dune II before that).
So, what do these titans of the gaming landscape have in common with a few fairly average, more recent games? Well? Anyone? No? I will tell you then. They all did something different.
First, let’s look at what made Half-Life a great game. Not just a good game mind you, a great game. Who remembers the first level of Half-Life? The level where you basically walk around being Gordon Freeman for a bit? You go to work, get your suit on, have a coffee, talk to some co-workers and then you do some science-ey thing that kills everyone. Oh the daily grind indeed. I seem to recall not killing anything for quite some time in Half-Life, yet one of the most enduring memories of the game for me is that first level (and that bit where you first meet the black ops enemies – that was fucking creepy). The reason that first level stood out for me was because it took its time creating the world that Half-Life was set in, really bringing it to life.
For those who have played Metro 2033, you get to see lots of similar ideas implemented that really make the gameworld come alive. From the attention to detail over how the weapons work (many of the guns in the game are put together from spare parts, and have very distinct characteristics that make them stand out from the usual FPS fare), to the way you have to time how long your gas mask filters have left to work, to how the game flows seamlessly between action FPS, survival-horror and exploration.
The game has its issues. The AI is at best average (at worst poor) and the stealth sections are pretty fucking dire, almost always devolving into a shooting match when the AI uses its Select-o-vision to sometimes see you when you are quite obviously hidden, while at other times it refuses to acknowledge you when you are huddled in the corner of a dimly-lit room (almost like it just wants you to steal whatever it is you were going to steal and then piss off).
I am not saying that Metro 2033 is in the same league as HL, but it certainly carries the baton in terms of using in-game mechanics to increase immersion and create an experience that transcends the buggy AI and average shoot em up action. At the very least, you are made to feel like your in-game avatar has a solid body that reacts to what is going on around it, rather than say a collection of disembodied hands, eyes and weapons floating around killing things and rooting around in the underwear drawer.
So what about Assassin’s Creed or LA Noire? How do they relate to this rambling diatribe? Well, if you look at some of the mechanics that Assassin’s Creed brought to game design, you might recognise them from pretty much every sandbox game that does not involve murdering prostitutes. The free, open environments are perfectly designed for your character Altair to get his parkour on and run, climb, jump and fall his way from one side of the city to another. I have seen similar game play in Prototype, the vast free roaming murder-a-thon in which your special powers enable you to run and climb and jump and fall from one side of the map to the other. Although Assassin’s Creed suffered mightily from a case of Control-V game design, it was nonetheless a new way of approaching the sandbox game.
You see, my point is that there is more than one way to skin a cat. There is more than one way to make a game really stand out against the backdrop of generic examples of others in its class. Starcraft redefined the RTS genre against a backdrop of many, many C&C clones that were on the market at the time and Ocarina of Time might as well have come with a voucher for a free blow-job behind the local McDonalds given how fondly it is remembered as a leader in its class (evidenced by its re-release on the 3DS, Nintendo apparently giving up all pretence of releasing new games and just accepting that it has not done anything new since Super Mario World).
In creating Half-Life, Valve took a look at the Unreal and Quakes of the world and whatever else was on the market at the time, and decided that they were going to do things differently. And, so I believe, did the makers of Metro 2033, Assassin’s Creed and LA Noire. They may have received mix receptions, they may have their issues, but at their core those are the games that are trying to stand on the shoulders of giants, if only to see a little further. If only more games would try to do the same.
*The author would like to assert at this point that there is little more behind this than jealousy and that he would sell his grandmother for a chance to work at Gamespot and actually get paid for the pleasure
**The author would also like the executives at Gamespot know that although he has never tried it, he is fairly sure he could suck a golf ball through a garden hose