Two Genres Sorely Missed This Generation
I love this generation of games. Truly I do. Some of the best games I’ve ever played, and some of the most exciting IPs currently around have emerged from the era of the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360, and the Nintendo Wii. And what’s even better is that it’s still not over, and there are plenty of games with incredible potential still on the way this year. But it hasn’t all been unicorns and rainbows.
There are two genres of games that I feel have been sorely missed this generation, and in fact have barely featured at all. Take a guess what they are. If you thought of horror and stealth, you’d be right.
In the last six years, can you even count on one hand how many great horror or stealth games we’ve had? For stealth, I would easily say Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots sits at the top, and I could also point out Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dishonored and possibly Hitman: Absolution if you consider it a stealth game, although its flawed disguise mechanics didn’t allow for perfect execution of stealth. Deus Ex was perhaps closest after MGS4, and some might be thinking of the original Assassin’s Creed, but I don’t consider it to be much of a stealth game. The thing is, true stealth games have taken a kind of backseat, and games have adopted an approach that adds stealth as a possibility, rather than the main focus of a game. It’s a bit sad when I think back to the old Metal Gear Solid games, Hitman series, Thief and more. These were stealth-focused games where you needed to be meticulous and precise in execution. Like only Deus Ex, these were games that were stealth first.
What of horror? I honestly struggle to even think of more than two when I’ve been asked lately. I quite liked Silent Hill: Downpour, and it had some great ideas and enjoyable horror moments, but it wasn’t a top of the range horror title. I can point to the original Dead Space, but it lost all sense of horror half-way or maybe three quarters into the game. At least it was fresh and had cool ideas too. Its sequels however absolutely failed at real horror. And that’s the end of the list for me. I can’t name more. Whether that’s my memory failing or that there just haven’t been any memorable horror titles is beyond me. But currently the indie sector of gaming has dominated horror, and really seems to be on top of it. Bring on Slender: The Arrival next month. I can hardly wait anymore for a top quality horror game.
It’s easy to think back about the past and try to say things were nicer, but let’s analyse the reasons for why this is. Stealth and horror, you could say, are niche markets. In mainstream, dare I use the term, there aren’t thousands or millions of people eager to dive into a great horror or stealth title as they are to get into the latest action game or Call of Duty. As such, triple A developers and publishers and their money-driven goals perhaps see this as a bad risk. Today’s world is about broader appeal, and many developers, as mentioned above, opt to include stealth or horror as elements or possibilities in the game rather than the main focus. However, that often leads to absolutely failing at it, like the sequels to Dead Space and its so-called horror, or in the case of Dishonored and stealth for instance, not having much depth with it. But I wouldn’t simply blame the target audience and goal to make money for this.
I have to also say that I feel triple A developers, under big publishers like EA or Activision, lack creative freedom. Or they lack creativity in general. As you can guess, true horror and stealth games require a great deal of creativity, imagination, inch-perfect execution and high quality level design to be top of the line. I’m not saying action games are easy to make or something like that, but I am saying that I believe good horror and stealth games are definitely harder, and more risky, to make. Indie developers can afford to take these risks and tackle this niche, and it wouldn’t even be risks for them really. There is an indie game called Outlast currently in development by Red Barrels Games, whose team consists of veterans from Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted, and this might turn out to be something I want from this generation. But, Triple A developers can’t do these things, and it really is sad to see that two amazing genres have sort of dropped to the bottom of the pecking order in a generation filled with so much possibility and quality. This is the one time I’ll say I miss the past.
And should I even get started on JRPGs? Well, that’s a talk for another day. There are plenty of amazing games still to come. Maybe next-gen will see these genres make a return, but for me they’re sorely missed this generation. I guess I can just say better luck next-gen, horror and stealth.