By Thusian 12 Comments
After watching E3 play out and as I continue to work through my backlog, I am growing concerned that game mechanics are taking far too much of a back seat to storytelling and whiz bang showy cut scenes. I also believe we have been gradually moving this way since this generation started. Despite the fact that game horsepower is advancing we find that the bigger games have more linear levels, turret sequences, QTEs and overall more homogenous design. How I feel about this is that despite an increase in horsepower resulting in more options, and empowerment they have resulted in flasher sequences where you push a button when it flashes on screen. There are exceptions to be sure, Bioshock keeps you in control, decisions impact things in Mass Effect, and the way that guards change their behaviours based on fear in Batman is cool, but I would expect that to be the norm not the exception.
The thing that kills me the most is that I feel like the designs are overall taking a step backwards. I feel like games of the PS2 generation did not really lean on the crutches outlined above as much as we are seeing now and that we still had amazing action packed sequences where we still had full control without needing to wait for a button prompt. Consider the following two sequences released relatively close in this generation of hardware. Spoilers ahead
While I will admit that the end boss of Uncharted looks great with the rain and sweeping camera, but ultimately the player has very little involvement with the game at this point. The Zelda boss, running on inferior hardware, is not as visually impressive, but the player is actively controlling some badass actions. Careening around the pillar jumping back and forth and waiting for the opportunity to strike is amazing. I will admit I am comparing a fantasy franchise to one attempting to stay grounded in reality, but I feel like by and large bosses like the one depicted in Uncharted are more the norm. I will admit that Zelda adheres to the rule of three, but for me that formula is still fun and a lot better than a QTE or worse, you get to a turret sequence or my personal favourite, you need to take out the helicopter, conveniently there is an RPG here, use it to take out the helicopter.
So the PS3 undoubtedly has a great deal more horsepower than a Gamecube, more powerful than two of them duct taped together even, so why then is Uncharted’s boss battle inferior? My assumption and concern is that with all the animation that we expect from HD systems studios are being made to devote more resources to animation and effects than game design. If we continue our current course the strains of consumer expectations on visuals will actually hinder interactivity going forward. Games with a greater emphasis on player agency like (from what I have seen so far) Bioshock infinite will become fewer and further between in favour of flashy games which take control away. This is one reason I am personally not that eager to see a jump to a new wave of hardware, as I would rather see development costs lowered by familiarity with systems and game designs evolve.
Edit: for a better comparison on two humans fighting.