When we play a game, we define it by a few different features; graphics, gameplay, sound, presentation and so on. But what features make you make a purchase? Photo realistic visuals? An unforgettable gameplay experience?
I know which one matters most to me- gameplay, and I get a feeling that many others do too. However, I bet you all have friends who took one look at a game like Crysis before they knew anything about it and declared it a game of the year due to it’s visuals. There’s nothing wrong with liking the graphics in a game of course, and good graphics can suggest a good game after all.
The first time I saw the CGI trailer for Killzone 2 at E3 2005, I was amazed. I wasn’t alone either; it quickly became a hit on the internet where a great debate raged on whether it was CGI or in-game. Of course, it did turn out to be CGI after all- but Guerilla Games shocked us by saying that they believed that they could acheive that kind of technical excellence in-game too. How many of you, then, said, “Wow! I’m buying that!”…
A similar example is the Alan Wake trailer released in late 2006. The atmosphere was clearly something unique, and more involving and engaging than anything seen before. A quick look, and we soon had people springing up in forums around the net saying, “Incredible! I have to buy that!” This kind of mentality is contagious; it spreads like wildfire through people and only those who are truly resilient can resist the hype. Immersion is an important factor for me; but I can easily enjoy a game with little atmosphere.
Is this the correct mentality to have with games? Should we allow ourselves to be ‘wow-ed’ by trailers and snippets of a full game? On the one hand, it makes us anticipate the game too much, such that we will be disappointed when the game actually out. Contrastingly, by going along with the hype following a game, you can build yourself up for an explosive release, and get your hands on the game first, all the while telling your friends, “I told you it would be good.”
Of course, there will always be slightly more conservative gamers who refuse to be part of the snowball of hype. They want to experience how the game functions, how it plays out and how it responds first. If they don’t like the way the fundamentals work, they simply won’t play it. Of course there are downsides to taking this viewpoint as well though; if you go by gameplay value, you won’t know whether you will like a game until you buy it- potentially a waste of money. Good graphics and technically proficient presentation can suggest a great game after all- but some big budget developers have no trouble giving a game incredible visuals and totally cocking up the gameplay side of things.
When Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 was announced, there were few who were not excited. Everyone started to gossip about possible new additions, modes and weapons. And quite rightfully so; after 6 years running, the Call of Duty franchise was becoming a household name, renowned for it’s epic battles, gripping story, and most recently, its superb multiplayer. However, as the game neared it’s release date, some folks, notably PC gamers, became more wary. Rumors were spreading fast. I’m not going to reiterate what has already been a thousand times around the web and back, but these snippets of info were nasty. They upset a lot of people. The release date drew ever closer, and many decided full stop not to buy the game. And what was this based on? Rumors. Assumptions. Speculation. Was this really fair? After all, the CoD franchise had flourished on every console, throughout every game since the first one came out in 2003 on PC. MW2 was looking set to have decent graphics, excellent and slick presentation, and as always, fast paced, gripping action. As far as the fundamentals were concerned, nothing had changed. Yet, many still refused to buy the game.
Another standout feature for some gamers is the storyline. This is something that, unfortunately, is starting to lack in modern games. Many games, particularly FPS games, now have either no story at all, or one with more holes than a well-trodden minefield. Of course, part of the reason for this is the focus on multiplayer gaming. Who needs a storyline when you can just shoot, right? The notion is fairly sickening for an avid single player gamer like myself. And, although most people have internet, what if my internet isn’t totally reliable? I want a decent story to support me through the times when my connection is bad, I don’t want to play multiplayer. I’m not saying a game is rubbish if it doesn’t have a good single player, but it adds so much more playability if it does.
Now, it’s prefectly possible for a game to look and play well, but what if I don’t want to go back and play it again? I think that almost all of us will agree that a certain aspect of replayability is key to help you make a purchase. Certain genres certainly have the capacity to be more replayable than others, with RPG’s topping the list. Especially in these times where games are increasingly shorter in length, it is important that some part of it makes you want to go back and play it. Think about it logically. Fallout may take 40 hours to complete the story mode, but how many times have you gone back for another go? Go back twice, and that is 80 hours worth. Go back thrice, and you have over 100 hours worth of gaming. So while a game that takes 60 hours for one playthrough may appear to be longer, and better bang for your buck, if it’s no fun to play again, you may as well go back to Fallout, or whatever other game happens to have great replay value.
Whatever aspect of a game draws your attention, there will always be drawbacks; you may find that you have just spent loads of money on a game that looks like a window into another dimension, but it may have all the playability of a shoebox. You may preorder a highly anticipated sequel to your favourite series, only to find that playing it is like looking through a muddy porthole. Of course, we would like to make every game look great, sound great, have great atmosphere and play great. But these kind of games don’t come along often- and when they do, it instantly rekindles my love for gaming.