This year’s E3 was very much not what people who were attending it hoped that it would be. There were a lot of things that fell very flat, and the internet has been a buzz for weeks afterwards talking about this. This isn’t going to be a political post, as most of my articles are, but instead a cultural one.
Video gaming has most certainly come into its own. There is an interesting new pattern that is developing that one can follow with great accuracy – every time it is a great year for film, it is a poor year for gaming, and every time it is a great year for gaming, it is a poor year for film. 2011 was a great example. It was an incredible year for gaming. Between Batman: Arkham City and Uncharted 3, there was a lot to love about last year. This year is not shaping up to be so much of one. To know the reason why, one doesn’t need to look much farther than E3.
Now don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of great demonstrations. The new installment of Halo does show a lot of promise, giving us a new setting, new characters, and new enemies. There is also the reboot of Tomb Raider, which looks decidedly darker than its predecessors and a lot better. And of course, the previews for the new Assassin’s Creed game were amazing. This most certainly is a game that looks to deliver, on all fronts.
The problem with gaming right now is that there are lot of sequels, and not a lot of IP’s. Worse than that is that a lot of the sequels are starting to look formulaic. Take the new Dead Space game. Introducing a cover-based shooting system with human enemies, this game feels rushed out of the gate, borrowing from what every third-person shooter appears to be these days. Then there is Resident Evil 6. A lot of people, myself included, are on the fence about this game. Resident Evil 4 brought us back to the survival horror formula. It was a lot more action-based, but it still felt like survival horror. Resident Evil 5, however, did not. This game was an action game, and while it was fun to play, it wasn’t a Resident Evil game.
This new game does look intriguing, but we are hoping, more and more, that it will go back to the survival horror genre. This genre is on life-support, with more and more horror games being action focused. It’s time that the franchise returns to its roots, or at least starts heading that way.
But we want new stuff. We want a new game that challenges conventions and really tests things. We want to be intrigued and to have something different to play. Video gaming is supposed to be about trying new things, testing new ground, trying to reach new markets. It doesn’t really feel that way lately. Of course, there is some hope. The demo for the new game Watch Dogs most certainly intrigued, turning heads with a new concept, and a rather creepy realism to it.
But the single biggest problem at E3 is this – the lack of risk-taking by gaming designers. There seems to be a definite formula that game designers are following these days. Not to mention the fact that it has been over two years since Microsoft has not had any large-scale exclusives for the Xbox360. Games are sticking with what sells, but if the anticipation of games like Watch Dogs says anything, it is that people are interested in seeing new stuff, particularly stuff that works in a different way. Time-tested formulas are getting old.
Gaming is growing, and the quality of games is growing with it, but there needs to be a definite effort on the part of game designers not to slip into formula. Don’t do what the film and TV companies are doing.