A Gamer’s Perspective — Why Sequels Suck
As our beloved Eskom has so vividly illustrated for us, putting power in the hands of idiots is a very dangerous thing. Unfortunately, the games industry has enough examples supporting this assertion that I couldn’t very well write a column on them all, for fear of doing irrecoverable damage to your posture as your read it and bringing severe nerve damage upon my poor fingers. And neither of those sound like fun. Especially not the former if you directly associate your spinal dysfunction with the length of my column and set out on a personal vendetta against me, using elaborate and somewhat concerning means to obtain my address before spending weeks cooped up in your basement, growing increasingly frustrated as your shoddy 3G connection refuses to retain a concurrent signal long enough for you to stalk my house on Google Maps and your rage eventually boils over, manifesting in you paying a euphemistic visit to me like a hunchbacked, significantly more morally questionable version of Dexter. No, I don’t think that would be fun at all.
Given that I’ve now probably convinced myself even more than you that doing an article of the aforementioned scale would be a less-than-inspired idea, I’d like to dedicate this Friday to those idiots out there who occupy a place very high up on my list of people responsible for what’s wrong with the world: game developers who think they understand what makes a game good.
There are, you see, some games out there which have the privilege of being really spanking good. A good example of this is Call of Duty 4. Infinity Ward was elevated to near-Deital status for presenting gamers with such a jewel of a game and so, naturally, when sequel-time came they wanted to repeat their feat. But! They don’t want to be labelled one of those studios who just pumps out the same product year after year (lol), so they decide that they want the sequel to be even better, which I really don’t have any problem with. It is very difficult to dislike developers making good games, after all.
Before we get onto what IW decided the best way to make a game better than CoD4 would be, let’s look at what actually made it a good game in the first place. Amazing multiplayer (obviously), functional and non-retarded gameplay and user interface, very high standard of graphics for its time and a flabbergastingly awesome singleplayer campaign are pretty much what earned the game its high stead among both critics and grassroots-level (think of it as the working man’s bonus level) gamers. Specifically, if you ask anyone what made the campaign stand out to them, I’d place high odds on it being that level where the nuke goes off and there’s that sudden moment of clarity when you realise that the shockwave of death hurtling towards you is, in fact, travelling faster than the helicopter you’re in. And then you get to play as the marine in the helicopter grappling with death and radiation poisoning and what not. It was awesome.
So, to take this nuke thing as an example, IW hears a butt-tonne of feedback telling them how awesome it was and how peoples’ faces melted while they held the ‘W’ key and desperately willed their dying marine to make it past the plastic crate just outside the helicopter and stuff, and they decide that people like nukes. Which is, in fairness, pretty true. Everyone likes nukes except for Japanese people, and they can’t even speak English to complain, anyway. And because if one nuke is cool, three must be really cool, naturally that was what Jason West and that other one decided to go for in Modern Warfare 2. The problem with three nukes is that the first one hits and everyone has their brains blown out (that was meant figuratively, but I suppose literally works as well). Just as they’re trying to recover from the shock of it all, the second hits and BOOM! Guess who just mutated a third arm! Suddenly everyone’s running around shaking hands and having arm-wrestles concurrently and stuff. This is pretty much the dictionary definition of awesome. Then the third one hits, radiation poisoning goes critical and everything dies. Which is about as much fun as it sounds.
To put that in less convoluted terms, the reason the nuke scene blew people away (again, figuratively) is that it was an imaginative plot device excellently juxtaposed with the rest of the campaign, or more simply: there weren’t nukes blowing up every two seconds and so the nuke scene was immensely impressive, which is why everyone raved about it. Had those things been raining down like candy out of the butchered remains of the metaphorical pinata of US Foreign Policy, you wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. A nuke going off would, ironically, have bored you.
That, my dear reader, is the problem with far too many sequels and even some standalone games these days. They’re packed with an ever-increasing amount of explosions, chase scenes and dual-pistol wielding protagonists with god-like powers, but instead of wowing us like they’re intended to, all those things really do anymore is add to how desensitised to all of it we are. The problem I have with that problem is that nothing is happening to curb it, and as such it is becoming a trend. Developers are still raking in the cash monies with games that you could very easily use as a reference when consulted for the antonym of ‘juxtaposition’, and every purchase of such a game we make not only disguises how misguided the developer is in thinking that gamers really find such a game entertaining, but takes them a step closer to laying off their Head Writer and promoting Carl from Animations (the one with the ginger sideburns who keeps sending out emails with Rickroll links to the entire staff) to Head of Explosions Quantity Control.
The harsh reality of our situation, fellow gamers, is that the quality of writing in games is degenerating right before our very eyes. And all we can really do to stop it is pray to Bethesda. Or assassinate someone important over at Infinity Ward and put me in charge instead.
I like that second one. Let’s do that.