Gaming has its own “professional” lingo, now. One word that I read about that was being tossed around at E3 was that games were being advertised as providing an “Asymmetrical” experience. This means that you and I could play the same game and have two different experiences depending on our choices. I have an older term to use in reference to the current developers that provide us with our digital goodness: Linearity.
We gamers are being provided with experiences so similar to one another that it sometimes really is just a matter of visual preference these days. Look at Role-Playing Games, which has in many cases devolved from the greatness it once was to a streamlined and very linear experience. Games like Bethesda IPs Skyrim and Fallout are rare. Let’s look at the Bioware RPG series Dragon Age and Mass Effect, which turns away from player choice and customization more with each installment. I’m not going to discuss in depth the problems with the Masss Effect 3 ending, it’s been done to death on every gaming website, but it proves my point that your perceived control was both irrelevant and an illusion. Dragon Age 2 is more worried about its well-written story than anything having to do with the gamer, providing us with another diluted Role-Playing experience. Not that these games are bad, per se, but I feel like I only have four of the five Power Rangers: Fighting with a robotic T-Rex is cool, but if it was just a little bit cooler we would have the badass mufuggin’ Megazord. Sigh…I digress.
Batman: Arkham Asylum/City is considered THE superhero experience in video games. It has a great combat system that is both complex and easy to learn, an outstanding Batman story and challenges the player to use Batman’s many abilities against an especially creepy and believable Joker. Seriously, that clown is wicked. I LOVED the Joker in these games. The graphical style and voice acting was spot-on with the exception of a few characters (not a fan of Poison Ivy’s look). The first time you successfully attack from the shadows, the remaining enemies reward you by showing fear of The Batman. It would be stupid of game companies NOT to try and replicate the success of the Batman games, the same way that Hollywood has tried to replicate the success of the recent Batman movies by making everything “Darker” and “Grittier”. Just like with those movies, however, the game industry ends up providing a lackluster experience by only successfully replicating one or two aspects of the successful game without adding any improvements of their own that could differentiate them and be specific to their franchise. Case in point is the new Spider-Man game, which features pretty much the EXACT same combat system from the Batman games. This game, however, lacks a compelling story. Oh, and memorable characters. The voice acting sucks, too.
I can’t tell you how disappointed I was, hoping for a good Spider-Man experience and receiving this lackluster game. Go ahead and spell it out for me, they wanted to release the game in time for the movie, I know that. If you were going to learn from Batman, why not learn NOT to tie your game to any movie. Why not learn NOT to rush production, and how could you NOT learn to innovate a little bit when it comes to creating a game that will net you loyal fans? This goes for MMO’s, action platformers that are all pretty much different skins of the same game (Darksiders, God of War and Dante’s Inferno, anyone?), and these loot-filled cookie-cutter RPG’s as well. You can only design a merry-go-round so many different ways; why not try to make something different that is still fun? Like a see-saw. Or a slide. Or a swingset. I’ll stop, but here’s the point: Innovate, people. Innovate.