Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hybrid Gameplay

While the rest of the world wallows in the sty of God of War 2, I’m sloughing my way through the original, and finding that the hype is very much overrated.

The action, it must be said, is superb. God of War takes everything that worked in the Devil May Cry franchise and ratchets it up a fairly meaty notch. Controls are responsive, attacks are spectacular, and enemy executions are blisteringly satisfying.

Where it goes wrong is that it does all this, and then thinks it can be a platformer, too. You’re expected to jump from moving platforms like some kind of rabid monkey, scale vertical walls, rappel along ropes, and tiptoe your way along razor-thin rafters. Mistakes generally result in instant death, and you’ll be doing it all under the view of a camera that changes angles like a schizophrenic Hitchcock. It’s small consolation that some even more intense platforming levels were wisely cut from the game prior to release.

You get used to it. You shrug. Sometimes the fun will stop, and the platforming will begin. This is how life is.

But it’s what turns a potentially perfect game into one which is merely memorable. Hybrid gameplay. The developers wanted their game to be too many things and suffered as a result. After all, what’s an epic Greek adventure without a downfall brought about by hubris?

It makes me wonder whether diluting gameplay purity is perhaps by definition a bad thing. I’m looking at the games I’ve enjoyed the most this year, and there’s no question that they share something in common: Guitar Hero I & II, Ossu Tatake Ouendan, Elite Beat Agents, Excite Truck, Trauma Center, and Disgaea – they all have an unquestionable purity of gameplay. They take a central core concept and iterate it until it bleeds fun. They are definitive. They are archetypal.

There is no question that Disgaea is a turn-based strategy RPG. In fact, there’s no question that it is THE turn-based strategy RPG. It stakes out a space of gaming ground, and it does it better than anyone else. Excite Truck is a game about monster trucks flying through the air, and by golly never have there been more trucks flying through more air.
And that’s what these games do. They don’t need to muck around with minigames, or interludes, or pacing – they just serve up what’s on their stove in steadily increasing quantities until the player has some kind of culinary gaming orgasm.

If you’re making a hardcore action game, why on earth would you waste time on some half-assed platforming when you could be making the slice-and-dice festivities rock just that much harder? If leveling up is your goal, what possible use could there be in fumbling around in the world of dodgy rhythm-based extreme sports? Who wants a wide variety of mediocre instead of a single pinnacle of excellence?

It’s the traditional failing of movie license games, which feel the need to capture every element of a movie experience within a single game. It’s the failing of copycat games, which model themselves after a genre leader with no real ability to exceed the standards laid down by their predecessor. It’s the process by which good software is turned into unappealing crud.

I don’t need your hybrid gameplay. I don’t want my bloody haze of battle to rise while I navigate a platforming puzzle. Leave me to tremble in the ecstasy of non-stop over-the-top violence. I’m sure there must be a game out there like that.

Weren’t we due for another Dynasty Warriors game some time soon?

1 comment:

Josh said...

I would agree. I definately enjoyed the first one and look forward to trying out the sequel - but some of the mechanics were just jarring. Like the staircase of blades with questionable hit boxes? Quite unfun.

And I still contend that GoW somewhat falls apart at the very end - somewhat sadly in fact.

Plus I"m not sure I forgive it for ushering in an age where timed button presses become a staple :)