Friday, 20 February 2009

Is the lone hero dying?

One man against everything. The world on his shoulders, everyone relying on him to make that final critical call. He has despatched a huge wave of nameless faceless grunts to get here and now it is his final challenge. Risk it all to save the planet and most likely a girl too. Seems like a lot of effort to go through. Maybe you’ll get laid.

These situations seem to be slowly thinning out from games in the market today for many reasons. The sudden surge of co-operative games is fantastic because it’s better to enjoy games with your mates. It doesn’t half cut away from the sense that you went through all the hard work alone though. Your victory has to be diluted between other people.

It’s a bit like winning the bottle of wine in a pub quiz. Only you knew all of the science questions. Without YOU the team would not have received the coveted prize of the house red, so why should you share the joy? Probably because everyone feels the same way.

The games that used to cast you as a lone wolf are now introducing partners who seem to be walking bullet sponges and mass executioners in a neat little package of doom.

Take Half-life for example. In the first game you were Gordon Freeman, the scientist who was trying to escape from the over run lab full of monsters that he had managed to summon. Sure you would occasionally meet a desperate security guard who could help you, but more often than not they faced their mortality as soon as you trusted them not to die when you went to explore another room quickly. At the end of the day it was a solo effort.

In Half-life 2, again, it is usually Mr Freeman against the odds. Every so often however you would get to hook up with Alyx, Barny or Dog (an eight foot tall robot that can throw heavy things). You have a little more help here, but you are still largely the one who does everything.

Increasingly now however, we are being put in squads or armies, sometimes just another faceless hero among a sea of faceless heroes. Take the Call of Duty series for example. I can not think of many situations when you are alone. All of the really memorable bits come from the AI partners that are with you for 90% of the game.

Tactical squad combat is also rapidly becoming a flavour of the decade with the likes of Desert Conflict, Rainbow 6: Vegas and Mass Effect. Even Half-life 2 has elements of squad command in it, usually as sniper bait to protect your supple behind from high velocity unpleasantness.

Personally, I would not say that the lone hero is dead. Solid Snake for instance is generally famous for being a solitary hunter who moves through everything unseen, but even in MGS4 there were sections when he had to work with a team (usually the loud and shooty bits).

I just think it would be nice to have that hero factor back in gaming. I know that by now I will be sounding like a looping CD, stuck in a van that goes around the same roundabout at the same time everyday, but a new Zelda might pull the hero factor back in again. Then again so could a number of any other protagonists such as Samus, Snake or even the guy from Bioshock if you could really call him a hero. That depended on how many children you let him harvest.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

An old dog that can bury itself

Teaching an old dog new tricks is all well and good, but sometimes you just want to get a brand new dog.

Nintendo are currently in a bit of a situation. I feel that the loyal Nintendo fan base is chasing the company with big pointy sticks, but is having difficulty finding any employees because they are lost in a big sea of money, gold bars and diamonds.

Their latest ploy to try and win back the people that used to love them is to bring back old games with new, motion sensitive controls that give the wiggling Wii audience something to stick their jaunty wrists into.

Resurrecting golden oldies such as Pikmin and the Gamecube Metroid games with the Wii in mind might be an attempt to bring serious gamers back, but I can not really see it working. Serious Nintendo ‘fan boys’ are going to have already played them to death seven years ago and so might not want to buy the same thing again to repeat the cycle

What could well happen is that the more adventurous folk in the new audience might try and give the old things a try and create a marmite-esque love/hate relationship with such titles.

This could be an advantage as the current audience that seems to be contempt to spend money on so much shovel-ware might be swayed to try other games that main stream gaming audiences have enjoyed for years.

I’m very much a believer in the camp of ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’, especially after my last remote controlled car imploded, and so I think that Nintendo should leave their greatness behind them. By all means use it as inspiration, but don’t just feed it back to us in a new box.

Perhaps this new range of New Play Control games is supposed to be a temporary bridge until some truly amazing new Nintendo content comes up over the horizon.

Until then I will wait for the chainsaw fun of Madworld to keep me brutally entertained in March, and still carry the hope that a new Wii Zelda is just around the corner.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Can boxed games retail keep up?

For me, going down to the shops these days only tends to be for the essentials, like bread, milk and biscuits, and the insides of shops such as Gamestation and GAME remind me of scenes from 28 Days Later. Not that the retail staff have turned feral and are ripping paying customers into sloppy ribbons, but the fact that they are quieter than an underwater library.

These days, my games are brought from the major online giants that offer me cheaper prices, wider variety and special edition boxes. Lately however, I have even been turning away from here to places without the inconvenience of even a game box.

With amazon.com recently releasing a digital games download service, possibly caving in to the competition, how long will it be before game boxes are no more than a crazy old person’s story about the past that no one will listen to?

Digital downloads are hardly anything new, with Valve’s very successful games distribution and playing platform, Steam. People may have laughed at them back in 2003, but now it seems that everyone is trying to jump on this bandwagon.

Since broadband internet is becoming commonplace, and connections are getting faster than a bullet train speeding towards a magnet, games can be delivered in a few hours down a cable, rather than four to five business days depending on how energetic the postman feels.

Will games retail ever completely die? Probably not. Old people and less internet savvy folk will always need to browse aimlessly around shops, hanging on to every word that the store assistant has to say in order to get a sale. Such people are slowly becoming few and far between in the digital age however.

With Steam now beginning to snowball with the support of publishers such as EA, Ubisoft and THQ, the giant digital distribution platform with a catalogue of over 500 titles is certainly impacting on boxed sales.

They have not just cut out the retail middleman with their own game sales; they have tied him up, kicked him in the balls and started to steal his business away from him.