Tina K. Russell

January 13, 2009

Don’t you know that overambition is waaaaaaay uncool?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:16 am

Crispy Gamer – Feature: Critic in Exile: Is It OK to Finally Admit That I Didn’t Really Like Fallout 3 All That Much?
I recently threw caution to the wind and whispered my anti-Fallout 3 sentiment to a fellow game journalist who edits a competing Web site. I was worried for a moment that this journalist would report me to the Fallout 3 Crusaders. I saw pitchforks and lit torches in my future. To my surprise, this journalist’s eyes got wide. She whispered, “You too? Man, I can’t play that shit, either; it just depresses me too much.”

That’s how I learned that I wasn’t alone.

I know of a least a half-dozen writers who included Fallout 3 in their top-10 lists who, I know for a fact, didn’t invest more than three or four hours in the game if that, and still felt compelled to vote for Fallout 3 — let’s go ahead and say it — because it felt like the right thing to do. In the end, it seems it’s not a question of how much critics liked or disliked the game, but rather an issue of not being able to argue with 1. the developers Bethesda proved with the Elder Scrolls series that they know what they’re doing, and 2. the game’s pedigree the first two Fallout games are already well-ensconced in the canon.

As someone who hated Shenmue, I feel this man’s pain. Shenmue was so profoundly overambitious, its gameplay ended up consisting mainly of talking to scores of fake people with dry and absurd dialogue. (“Hey, Mister!” and “I’m looking for sailors” are its legacy.) Shenmue was was so thoroughly saturated with hype and pretense at its release that the press honeymoon and fans’ cognitive dissonance formed an impenetrable shield against anyone who would impugn its “quality.” Shenmue’s action scenes, when present, were clunky. The mystery, such as it was, was thin, and the game was essentially a big-budget, next-gen, ultra-realistic episode of Blue’s Clues wrapped in layers of fluff about searching for your father’s killer (which somehow involves walking around the city asking about calligraphers). It was essentially an unprecedentedly realistic simulation of being bored, which is something I can already do for free. (Plus, the graphics are better.) It wasn’t until the series got an Xbox sequel with a wider audience that game publications woke up and started admitting the game was beautiful and empty. (EGM memorably gave Shenmue II the year’s “Shut Up and Hit Somebody” award, which they made up for the occasion.)

You may remember that my opinions about Fable are similar, but I played that game four years after it came out, so instead of going against the crowd by saying it was disappointing I went against the crowd by saying no, it’s not disappointing, it’s just bad. (It really was.)

All the time I see games try to be ambitious, be movies, be visual novels, be worlds, and I wonder when games will ever try to be games. (Jet Grind Radio and Katamari Damacy come to mind for me as games that relish in being games, as well as Crazy Taxi, Advance Wars… okay, all the games I like, basically. I hear Gears of War makes a similar accomplishment in form, by making the fine details as fun as the broad strokes.) When we try to cover up that aspect, the core gameplay of a work, we’re essentially being ashamed of the medium; if we try to “make games art” by making them more like other media, we’re essentially saying (against our intentions!) that games aren’t art. Games have story, games have visuals, games have voice, games have music, that’s all wonderful. Games do have expansive and beautiful worlds, and that shouldn’t change. Games are art, and that raises the standards we should all have for the medium: that the unique quality of gameplay, what only games have, should be used to tie all those disparate parts together into something greater than their sum.

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