Is It Fair To Judge A Game On What Isn’t There?
Unless it’s Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes in which case there’s nothing there, amirite?!
Here’s a thought experiment for everyone presently reading this. You’ve likely played a game recently, and if not then you should definitely work on that. Have you perhaps felt that there was anything missing from the experience? Perhaps it was a subtle nuance or perhaps it was a glaring oversight?
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Where is the emotional investment in your Titanfall? Where is the thieving in Thief? Where is the game in Ground Zeroes? Yes, I’m going to keep beating on that horse until it has decomposed and then I’ll beat the ground into… zeroes — I never got over people unfairly criticising Lollipop Chainsaw as a short game, okay.
There was a recent press release that we received here at eGamer which had to do with inFamous: Second Son. There was some sort of trailer attached, I wasn’t really paying attention, but in the write-up, the so-called ‘blurb’, I noticed the following paragraph: “Like the previous titles in the inFAMOUS series, Second Son gives you the option to use your powers heroically or ruthlessly.”
But inFamous! What if I don’t want to be heroic or ruthless? What if I want to be an anti-hero?
Then I remembered all of the discussions on misplaced, mismanaged morality that came about as a direct result of either the inFamous games, Mass Effect or The Witcher, and I remember how smug I felt pointing out that the Fable series offered a unique perspective on it, somehow completely missing the inspiration from tabletop D&D — I was an idiot.
In any case, on the topic of inFamous: Second Son, we would likely criticise the game for being so black and white with no shades of grey. You’re either evil or you’re good and your morality works along a scale, but what if I wanted to be a little bit of both or perhaps neither? I’d end up in the same part of the scale and yet have taken different paths to get there. So is it fair to criticise inFamous: Second Son if it too suffers from the shortcomings of the morality system introduced in previous games? Or can we rightly expect better from it because, after all, the morality system does exist and so it stands to reason that there can be those types who are simply neutral.
I mean, even Mass Effect had neutral choices in the first game…
Still, that’s not necessarily something that isn’t there because, after all, the morality system was created to be there, so rather it’s in the execution of what’s there. But let’s say developers just opted out of including it.
As examples, can you criticise Titanfall for not having a flowing narrative or any sort of offline singleplayer of any kind, if by design that was never the point of the game in the first place? Likewise, can we criticise Journey for being more of a snapshot of a game, a singular experience rather than a holistic collection of such? Can we really look at Ground Zeroes with its under-two-hours-long game time and criticise its value for money?
“But hey, it has collectibles!” Oh? So did other MGS games and those had the effect of upping the game time into the tens if not hundreds of hours you fucking Kojima fanboy.
I guess in the end it’s all subjective. More than that, it’s relative to what is missing. For example, you can play through all of Need for Speed: Rivals (which is quite a well presented, beautiful game for racing fans) and hate it because it’s missing something we in the business like to call the ‘fun factor’ but on the other side of things, you can quite comfortably play the dissonant to the point of being broken, but otherwise functionally intriguing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, and it is never really much of an issue at all.
I suppose it’s far more compelling when something is missing and you absolutely know it should be there. You know, like any kind of AI programming while playing The Last of Us. I’m kidding, put down your keyboards. So to answer the question, is it fair to judge a game on what isn’t there? I would argue no, it isn’t because sometimes the game isn’t even trying to do that and it is you who puts unnecessary expectation onto the experience.
But then if all media forms a collage of our collective experiences, isn’t growth the point? Perhaps that’s something for you guys to decide. Let me know what you think in the comments.