Last fall featured one of the strongest holiday games lineup in recent memory. Games such as Bioshock, Super Mario Galaxy, Team Fortress 2 and Rock Band were all arriving within weeks of each other and life was good. However, it’s easy to overlook the fact that there were just as many major titles that fizzled in the last year. Consider the following sampling from Metacritic:
Lair, average review score 53:
Lair has major problems with its use of motion-controls, despite nailing basic movements. Flat out broken contextual sequences, a choppy camera, and groan-inducing level design are hardly reasons to recommend it.
Haze, average review score 55:
To be blunt, the actual gameplay of Haze is mediocre mixed with a side order of boring and I have to say this is really disappointing because we know the developers, Free Radical of Time Splitters fame have done much better games with far superior gameplay.
Alone in the Dark, average review score 58:
Every good idea here is brought down by bad basic design, including a shoddy third-person camera, a too-slow first-person mode, and bizarre forced switching between the two.
Too Human, average review score 65:
The game is simply schizophrenic; it attempts to be all things to all people and never succeeds in executing any of them well. The end result is in dire need of polish and focus, and that doesn’t solely apply to gameplay mechanics.
These were all hotly anticipated games, many coming from companies such as Silicon Knights and Free Radical that have a reputation for excellence. Even with experienced developers and boatlods of production capital, they managed to churn out games that were bland, buggy and unbalanced.
Some might blame the publishers for pushing games out the door without proper QA. Others fault the complexity of modern graphics and physics. While these are all valid complaints, these problems have been around for decades and are unlikely to change. What’s new is the culture of hype that surrounds these games.
The plague of endless previews in modern games journalism is inflating player expectations. Major titles come prefaced with up to a year of screenshots, videos, press releases, developer diaries, exclusive interviews, etc. These are little more than carefully worded company blurbs, but they get promoted as news by most gaming blogs. Furthermore, any independent opinions and reviews are stifled by NDAs and embargo dates. After ten months of glowing words and big promises, who could fault a gamer for expecting that the best thing since sliced bread was coming to their home console.
To combat this cycle of hype and disappointment, I firmly believe that games journalists must move away from pushing promotional material as news. Commendable online publications such as Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Giant Bomb already feature scaled-down preview coverage and increased original content. We can only hope that more blogs will follow their example, or we’re all in for a lot of disappointment.
In the meantime, I suggest following Yahtzee’s advice and defaulting to
pessimism cautious realism whenever a new title is announced.