Games

A Holiday Season Awash in Competence

What this holiday season in gaming seems to lack is not polish -- in fact, some of these titles might be too polished.

Last year it was 2s. This year it's 3s.

Battlefield 3, Gears of War 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Saints Row: The Third, Uncharted 3 . . . And then, of course, there's just a lot of other franchise entries, like Batman: Arkham City or, say, Need for Speed: The Run.

Now, this isn't Hollywood. While it is traditional to think that cinematic sequels are always weak imitators of original material, I don't think that sequels are necessarily a bad thing for a video game. This is a very different medium, and certainly, what you often get in a video game sequel is more polished play or better world building and character development after the ground work of an original IP is laid and it has been tested on a larger (and rather vocal) audience.

Assassin's Creed II is a far better game than Assassin's Creed, and Brotherhood is better still. Give me Vice City or San Andreas over Grand Theft Auto III. I love the original Metroid, but Super Metroid is polished 2-D perfection. Hell, Ms. Pac-Man is a far superior experience to playing the too-slow Pac-Man.

However, what this holiday season in gaming seems to lack is not polish -- in fact, some of these titles might be too polished. Batman: Arkham City is awfully good, but it just doesn't blow me away like Arkham Asylum did. The world is bigger and there is more to do but at the expense of the tightness of the first game's shorter plot and slower paced combat. Saints Row has refined so many of its features into nice, neat, efficient, and user friendly menus that the open world game seems to require very little input from a player. There's a GPS dotted line leading to every single goal and sub-goal in the game. It is the model of competent efficiency, without giving much of a nod to ideas like exploration or discovery, something that I associate open world play with.

Some of the other titles mentioned above are ones that I haven't yet gotten around to, but I have heard a disturbing amount of a sort of humdrum buzz around. There's an awful lot of “Uncharted 3, yeah, I mean it's good but . . .” or “well, it's a Call of Duty game.” Most reviews aren't saying that these are bad games (and indeed I don't think either Arkham City or the new Saints Row are lousy), but there seems to be a lot of “good, not great” this year. In fact, most of these games are receiving good reviews, and I almost wish there was something a little more raw to sink my teeth into, rather than so many games, so very well cooked.

I guess that I kind of got spoiled by some of the games from earlier this summer or the ones that came out just at the edge of the holiday hubbub. The most interesting and more innovative titles came at less financially lucrative times of the year. Shadows of the Damned, L.A. Noire, Dead Island and Catherine may have been a little clunky here or there, but there were fresh ideas in those titles. Shadows of the Damned is loud, brash, and offensive and awfully engaging for those reasons. L.A. Noire is fascinating to look at, and its trial-and-error gameplay makes me less afraid to err for some reason and more interested in pressing on. Catherine's puzzles are a weird focus for a whole title but surprisingly fun once you get their rhythm down. Honestly, I find myself looking forward more to finally getting my hands on El Shaddai in the coming weeks, than in getting any of the titles that I am supposed to want to see under my Christmas tree. I know that not everyone loves it, but I just want a fresher (and, again, maybe even less competent) experience.

Sure, sure, this makes no sense during the holidays because companies need to make money, not take risks, but one of the problems (I think) with the underwhelming sales of games like Shadows of the Damned or Catherine may be that they were released at a time when gamers' wallets aren't usually out. There's got to be something to be said for taking a least a few holiday risks that might get gamers interested in a new IP (or even better, more aware of a studio or development team) when they are primed to spend. I was out there on Black Friday, so I know that holiday shoppers are impulsive.

All I want for Christmas is just one title that surprises me. Oh, and Assassin's Creed: Revelations.

 

You can follow the Moving Pixels blog on Twitter.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Prof. Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.