Thursday, 27 December 2007

Rubbish but fun?

It is a with a sense of unease that I've noticed an interesting trend binding together the computer games I've enjoyed most recently: they're rubbish. It's a difficult thing to admit - I've been playing these games for many years and have spent many hours critiquing them; I like to think I know what makes a good game. But recently I've been playing a lot of Hero's of Might and Magic 4, Command and Conquer: Renegade (both on the PC) and Red Steel (Wii). In brief:

HoMaM4 is a vast, sweeping rpg / strategy game which chronicles the major events of six factions in the MaM world. Unfortunately the strategy is incredibly simplistic and the rpg elements came from the Big Book of RPG Cliques.

C&C:R was the first attempt to stick a first-person shooter into the ever-popular C&C universe. You play the Commando as featured in the first strategy game and must sneak into various installations and blow them up, occasionally running into an old flame who (predictably) wants to kill you. Unfortunately the game was a collection of set pieces and was impossible to actually enjoy until you gave up all pretense of stealth and simply rocked around spraying the badguys with automatic fire. The levels were uninspired, the weapons pathetic (they gave you the best gun right at the beginning) and the graphics were severely dated.

Red Steel is a lot more recent and hence its focus is on oriental criminal organizations. You are running around trying to rescue your girlfriend and protect a powerful katana from an evil clan of evilness. Occasionally there is a break in the shooting whilst you beat someone in the head with your sword. It's eerily reminiscent of C&C:R in that you have to give up on playing it "properly" and instead run around like a loon mowing down enemies with your shotgun and shouting every time a sword duel comes up because you have to engage in close combat rather than (say) emptying your clip into the idiot's head. The Wii controller jumps all over the place and the cutscenes appear to have been drawn in crayon.

Anyway, the point is the one thing these games all manage to capture is a sense of fun. Despite many, many flaws (and believe me, there are many) there is a great deal of satisfaction in beating them and a lot of excitement in running the gauntlet of minor bugs. Recently I've also played Resident Evil 4 on the Wii, which is far more competently put together - better graphics, much better use of the controllers available, better plot, better game design - but it'll be Red Steel I'll probably return to. I guess the point I'm vaguely stabbing at is that much as "great graphics don't make a game", neither does sound construction. It can still leave you cold; still be missing that X factor that really hooks you into a game. I really wish I could clearly define that feeling of entertainment - aside from making a fortune in the video games market I'd like to see where I could find similar effects in other walks of life.

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