The conventions refuse to relent. Brenna’s vanished in mysterious lands across the sea, and Johnny’s in a corner softly sobbing “Jehuty” to himself. But the headlines keep rolling. Here’s what it all means.
What happened: Pat picked Gears of War mastermind Cliff Bleszinski’s brain until all that remained was what he had for breakfast earlier that day and a casual conversation with me from GDC that he smartly repressed. It’s a lengthy read, but if you like videogames, odds are, something of relevance will chainsaw its way through your wall of cold skepticism. And if you don’t? Well, that whole chainsaw offer still stands.
What it means: First off, I’m absurdly thrilled to hear that this game actually, you know, ends. Like, for real. None of the usual “To be continued in the inevitable sequel and also Dom’s pregnant” videogame nonsense. It’s a conclusive – and, according to early reviews, smartly executed – ending that bids a satisfying farewell to Marcus and co. Games constantly charge out the gates guns-a-blazing and then lose steam en route to unsatisfying non-endings. And why not? Sad to say, very few people actually finish games, and it’s easy to slap together a quick-and-dirty cliffhanger. Kudos to Epic for sticking to its guns and refusing to take the easy way out.
That said, I can’t declare Bleszinski’s brain a font of infinite wisdom (and great hair) just yet. He took issue with a Gears 3 review from “a certain gamer of the Euro,” and I disagree with him entirely. For one, Eurogamer awarded the game an eight out of ten – hardly a number you’d associate with a spittle-soaked, profanity laden cry to have all the game’s discs overwritten with trial copies of AOL. And Eurogamer’s text reflects that. It’s largely positive, but not in a fanboy-froth-coated “ZOMG BEST THING SINCE BREATHING” kind of way.
Don’t get me wrong: I can understand where Bleszinski’s coming from. Gears 3 is – in all likelihood – the biggest, baddest, most badass game he’s ever made. After so much hard work, it’s only natural that he’d want everyone to agree. But criticism’s hugely important – especially when it goes against the grain – and reviews are more than just fuel for Metacritic’s dissent-snuffing fires.
Moreover, Bleszinski’s remarks only add to the perception that certain games deserve glowing reviews simply because of their franchise legacy. It’s not uncommon to see people work themselves into a keyboard-crunching blood frenzy over a game they’ve never even played. “What? No ten out of ten? Sorry, can’t listen to your opinion until you stop being the goddamn Antichrist.” A review isn’t “good” because it agrees with you. A good review tells you what you need to know – even if you don’t want to hear it.
What happened: Square Enix’s Yoichi Wada took the Tokyo Game Show stage in an impassioned attempt to get Japan’s game development scene back on track. After Nintendo famously demoed the latest and greatest in hiding-under-a-rock technology at GDC, it was refreshing to see Wada get speech equivalent of a critical hit on the issue. “The driving forces have changed,” he said of the games industry. “We have to accommodate this new generation.”
What it means: In spite of his company’s penchant for naming things by putting a dictionary into a blender and then putting the blender into a vat of illiteracy, Wada’s words flew straight and true. He’s right: a new breed of gamers – raised on a steady diet of Angry Birds and Farmville – is taking the place of the industry’s old, cracking foundation. Sure, triple-A will transition into its own fairly profitable niche, but “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t apply here. It is broke… er, broken.
Therein, however, lies the issue: Big-budget still brings in big money – at least, under the right circumstances. Giant publishers, then, have sort of backed themselves into a corner. It’s incredibly difficult to both pour cash into the resource-guzzling gas tank of new ideas and stay huge. So we get these situations where execs like Wada stand on their soapboxes and preach one thing, then get down and do another.
Square Enix, for instance, continues to butter its bread with 60 hour cut-scene-loaded JRPG behemoths. Meanwhile, its efforts on, say, iPhone could charitably be described as dismal. You want me to drop the price of 10-15 games on one barely optimized port? Try telling that to the dedicated flock of Angry Birds players you so desperately lust after.
Transition’s a scary thing. One wrong step, and the whole rickety bridge will twist right out from under you. You have to start someplace, though. Hopefully, Wada’s speech inspires action. Otherwise, I will break out the “treading Wada” puns, Japan. You think I’m kidding, but you’ve been warned.
What happened: Wait, Sony has a home console? Could have fooled me. The Japanese giant’s TGS showing gave the spotlight over to Vita and never looked back. After a series of slideshows and bowing so deep that it cemented Sony’s status as industry leader in respectful hip gestures, we even got a few surprise game announcements.
What it means: First off, Pat gave an excellent rundown of what may very well be Vita’s ace in the hole. Beyond that, though, the conference proper didn’t exactly join the ranks of previous Sony events in terms of entertainment value – intentional or not. Sure, Final Fantasy X and Zone of the Enders were nice surprises, but “Ports of precisely ten-year-old PS2 games” are right up there with “Ports of precisely 13-year-old N64 games” on the list of surefire system sellers. Short version: you can ask Nintendo how that one went.
For Vita, though, that’s only one piece of a very large puzzle. A solid launch line-up, smart online infrastructure, every social networking tool this side of Xanga – Vita’s basically the gaming industry’s latest, greatest hits wrapped up in one device. Games, however, are still at the heart of it all. Can a dedicated gaming portable still succeed in a gaming market that’s otherwise treating them like vestigial organs – unwanted, unneeded, and proof that we were probably awesome fish creatures at some point? If Vita can’t pull it off, it’s probably time to throw in the towel.
What happened: Monster Hunter. Monster Hunter happened.
What it means: Nintendo’s 3DS conference largely reiterated the fact that – yep – this is a Nintendo console. Let’s see, we’ve got Mario Land 3D, Mario Kart, Paper Mario, Luigi’s Mansion (probably featuring Mario!), and Fire Emblem. Monster Hunter 4 was the only real show-stopper here, but only time will tell if it’s enough to keep Nintendo’s portable show from stopping dead in its tracks. The prognosis, though, isn’t looking so hot. For one, this is sounding more and more like a timed exclusive with each unnecessarily cryptic exec comment. And then there’s the modern successor to Nintendo’s ill-advised peripheral throne – proud son of the Power Glove before it: the slide-pad. At this point, Nintendo’s poor little portable looks to be up the river without a paddle. Or a boat.
What happened: The worst-kept secret in an industry full of worst-kept secrets finally got its big unveiling. Syndicate’s back! [Cue raucous cheers.] And it’s a shooter. [Sounds of wailing, gnashing of teeth, loading of shotguns.]
What it means: On one hand, I still don’t entirely understand the logic behind this type of reboot. I mean, why resurrect this specific franchise if it’s going to be some shambling genre Frankenstein that frightens off longtime fans? Sure, people are finally coming around to, say, XCOM, but that’s only after 2K Marin spliced a strong tactical strand back into its DNA. Bottom line: From the outside looking-in, it all seems ill-advised. That said, Starbreeze’s track record is dotted with some absolutely amazing moments in Riddick and The Darkness, so the new Syndicate is in capable hands. They’re just, you know, not capable of the same things as Bullfrog back in the day. Odds are, it’ll be a solid game when taken on its own merits. Problem is, that’s like judging a fanfic while completely ignoring the original work; it’s sort of missing the point. Which brings us back to my original question: Why? Why attach all these expectations to the game when you’re trying to do something completely different?