No video game I played this year got it 100% right for me, and I played a few. Dishonored? A brilliant, open-ended game that used its narrative as nothing but a set of bookends. Guild Wars 2? A game that, despite being an MMO that integrates the idea of social connectivity into its gameplay so well, still manages to make me feel like a loner for most of its leveling content. Halo 4? The entry that took its single player component so seriously that it left the more important half by the wayside There are others, of course, but simply answering them like this would defeat the point.
The main thing I surmised from playing a variety of different video games this year was that, to enjoy most games, I needed to compromise. We might get a fully realised world,deeply entrenched in its own lore, but the same amount of time gone into the world weʼre planted in for the next however long has not been spent on actual ways to make living in this fantasy fun. We could be given a sprawling landscape that contains many different locations and environments for us to play around in, but there may be barely anything to do within it apart from see the sights. After months of reading article after article that built hype upon hype I started to become disillusioned with the whole process of waiting for a video game to be released. The trailers, whether CG or in-game footage, promise you feats of absolute wonderment that you can never quite recreate once you make your way through the game and the content spread across gaming publications are sometimes so overloaded with buzz phrases like “killer app” and “next-gen during this gen” that it becomes difficult to find out anything useful about the game. This can be seen particularly in the releases from the big franchises spread across consoles this year.
I am a massive fan of the Assassinʼs Creed series. I love the historical periods, their takes on them, the free running based gameplay style and yes, even the modern day story supplements. I was particularly excited for this yearʼs sequel, Assassinʼs Creed III, and was lured in by the “New game! New engine! New environment! New character! New! Yay!” hype locomotive that ran full steam ahead over me repeatedly after being overly disappointed with Assassinʼs Creed: Brotherhood 1.5 …I mean, Revelations. When I finally got my hands on it, from the get go I was let down. The prologue dragged on for what seemed like an eon, with four hours having been invested before even taking one step as the main protagonist, and when I finally got to be Connor, I had to wade through an origin story that not only bored me to tears, but somehow managed to fit an on-rails sequence in there as if the previous efforts to get this far werenʼt already some ploy for the development team to gain some sort of masochistic pleasure at my expense. The ending, to both the memories of Connor and Desmondʼs journey felt like a big massive “fuck you” with a chase sequence so frustrating that I actually had to seek help of a guide to finish (something Iʼm not too proud of to admit) and an abrupt turd of a final movie that indirectly tells us that weʼve got another trilogy to soldier through before we get anywhere again. To top it off, the game was (now thankfully patched) full of bugs and I felt like I had bought a AAA game that was only 3/4 finished. Usually, Iʼd take the time to clean out the collectibles and complete the meta-game with this series, but returned it to my local a week later.
Probably the biggest example of this discussion undoubtedly has to go to Mass Effect 3, and that ending. Itʼs no secret that Bioware really did a number on the finale to one of their biggest franchises, one that left a massively sour taste in a large portion of the seriesʼ fanbase. After racking up anywhere from 100 to a 1000 hours spent traversing the galaxy in the Normandy SR-1 & 2, and changing the fate of the species that inhabit it, most of us felt a little cheated that all our hard work and valiant efforts eventually boiled down to a colour scheme that painted a very similar trio of endings. I was initially okay with the ending, but it had been a long pan of time since I had played Mass Effect 2 and I could barely remember the first outing, so after I let it sit and retraced the steps I had taken over the course of my playthrough of all three games, it hit me that almost nothing I had done previously had meant anything other than a minuscule addition to that military strength bar that decided the “quality” of the conclusion. What followed then was weeks of uproar that probably couldʼve been measured with a seismograph, with the gaming community demanding at verbal knifepoint that Bioware go back and conjure up something that added a bit more palpability and sense to the endings and well, as many people know, persistent nagging gets results. The dev team served up an “extended cut” that was meant to deliver some sort of addendum without diluting the creative vision they had created in the first place but many were still seeking answers, now resigned to the fact that they got what they asked for, but still not what they wanted. The gameplay itself and everything else leading up to the end had been crafted masterfully and fine-tuned through the trials of the previous entries, so many people continue to ask even now why they had to simply just put up and deal with such a measly set of pre-determined fates that seemed to be a carbon copy of the similarly crappy “Door 1/2/3” conclusions waiting at the end of Deus Ex: Human Revolution that had come around just last year.
So as 2012 comes to a close, and with so many of its games offering up an experience that forced us to sit through its misgivings to get to the good bits, will next year learn from past mistakes? There is certainly a lot to look forward to, with Tomb Raider rebooting, Naughty Dog branching out with new IP The Last of Us and Platinum Gameʼs twisted take on Metal Gear with Rising: Revengeance being served up fairly early in the year, only time will tell how these and others end up. It isnʼt that we ask game studios to lock themselves away in a bunker until theyʼve given birth to the “perfect” game for such a term, in an artistic sense, is often subjectively perceived, but a game that delivers on its promises; a game that doesnʼt indirectly suggest we turn a blind eye to its sometimes major faults to enjoy it, and for Godʼs sake, Hitman: Absolution, a decent save system…please?