New Tricks from Old Games: The Return of Fun

 

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Games are meant to be grey, gritty semi-tactical shooters. I felt the need to make that clear, regardless of all the evidence to the contrary. All games are Call of Duty – next time you play a game of Super Mario, please imagine crates and chest high walls, imagine assault rifles that all sound the same and please dub in Kiefer Sutherland as Bowser. It is to great alarm then that I have stumbled upon a few new releases like Overwatch and DOOM in recent weeks/months. Someone clearly didn’t get the memo here, as these games are so unrealistic to the point of absurdity! Everything is colourful and warm in Overwatch, nothing feels like the cold steel of an oil refinery, or the grimy dirt of a cabin in the woods full of foreigners. DOOM is even worse! Of course running through a horde of demons is allowed in a modern shooter, but only if they are socialist Islamic types!

In all seriousness however, it is becoming progressively more refreshing that games like Overwatch and DOOM are being released. In a gaming market that destroyed the idea of middle-ware, and has made all AAA releases copies of predecessors or genre stalwarts regardless of how stale the marketplace may become. It’s the marketplace that thought that’always online’ for the Xbox One was going to be accepted, the same market that releases Assassin’s Creed: Unity unplayable on certain consoles and then complains that consumers refuse to buy it. So to see a gap in the market filled by the big players in the gaming industry is certainly shocking, but welcomed certainly.

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A watershed moment was the release of Rocket League last year. That game to a large extent showed us that games can become viable e-sports regardless of realism or complex strategy. Rocket League is certainly an indie darling, being at the forefront of gaming in 2015 due to it’s surprisingly high popularity. It won numerous awards from various outlets (including this humble journalist harr harr) without needing a complex story, or groundbreaking mechanics to allow it to shine above that of it’s contemporaries. Not a single quick-time event included.

The ageing process is certainly a contributing factor to this. Gamers that grew up playing Super Mario and the Metroid games will look at something like Shovel Knight with a fond sense of nostalgia. Whilst gamers who favour shooter titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield can only look back to more of the same as some demented collector of FIFA titles, rating the games like a selection of fine wines in his gaming/porn dungeon. The similarity in games released is not the real point I am driving at, but certainly an important one when describing why recent releases are as refreshing as they are when they make their appearance.

Nothing bores me in quite the same way as sitting through press conference after press conference at E3, experiencing utter tedium while a crowd of hack journalists and industry big-wigs raise their hands and gnash their teeth. Grimly watching another game announced to mass applause, regardless of the fact that it is laden with tropes and internet memes. An ocean of cover based shooters and zombie survival experiences, an unnecessary reboot and ANOTHER JUST DANCE GAME! It’s such a predictable farce sometimes that it makes you wonder if people will fall for Watch Dogs 2 as with it’s predecessor… Oh wait of course they will. When after all that hot air, dick waving and self-congratulation is over, it turns out that  some people (like myself) just wanted good mechanics and a decent looking game. That’s it!

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DOOM managed to be released in this marketplace with a story that is completely forgettable, to the point where the ‘Doom Marine’ himself will not even allow characters to finish their lines before storming off to slay more demons. The game itself survives – shockingly – on it’s game-play alone, which is such a relief for a market that for so long seemed hellbent on competing with motion pictures rather than making games. Wolfenstein: The New Order was very much the same feel as DOOM and featured an interesting, thought provoking story to boot. Again though, relying on it’s core game-play as the driving force of it’s presentation Wolfenstein became quite the sleeper hit in 2014.

Overwatch however is a slightly  different story. While certainly it is a fun, solid experience for what it is, Overwatch is the next stage of character focused multiplayer that the MOBA phenomenon has pioneered. Instead of a cavalcade of the same grizzled, male, special forces agent armed with an assault rifle and a heart beating full of American pride, Overwatch presents you with a varied selection of characters to play as. As with the MOBA genre, its main appeal is getting to grips with it’s choice of playable characters and picking favourites to play as, learning their moves and skills and utilising them to best effect for the team. The first major attempt the apply the formula to an FPS in recent memory was Team Fortress and it met with major success for it’s interesting and often comedic roster. Overwatch feels much more like a MOBA than Team Fortress 2, with it’s ultimate abilities and the ways in which the characters synchronise with each other to seek victory. Unlike DOOM, character focus is key with these types of game, but similarly it is the sheer enjoyment of the game-play that makes the experience as fun as it is. It’s not so much about being the very best, or winning everytime, but instead about working as a successful team and making impressive plays.

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Of course, in retrospect it would be crazy to describe DOOM as a colourful game, but what it lacks in colour it makes up in sheer bombastic violence and crazy levels of energy. You simply can’t get bored whilst mowing down the hordes of hell, expelling shotgun shells into each demon that dares cross your path. The game isn’t afraid to overwhelm you with enemies and gore, encouraging ‘beserker style’ game-play by awarding health and ammunition for choreographed ‘glory kills’ and making your enemies explode into chunks of flesh.

In short, innovation took a few steps back, and this time for the better.

So perhaps now we can see a further increase in the wash of colour that has made its way slowly through the games industry. Perhaps gunmetal, grey and brown will be joined by a little blue and pink now and then, and grittiness can become funny rather than 9/11 levels of seriousness. The older games who aged with the platformers and side-scrollers that used to adore their Sonic’s blue and their Guile’s haircuts blonde, can now once again appreciate colour without the moniker of ‘casual gamer’ being put upon them. Seems really obvious now that I think about it.


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