Ask any hardcore gamer what they think about the games industry's tendency to rehash and follow the latest trends with no thought to striking out, and you'll likely find that most of them will be against such an idea. A vast majority of them will demand that we have too many Halo clones, too much exploitation of the cover system, and too many sequels.
However, when I line that viewpoint up with a number of the most common demands and complaints concerning the latest game releases, something isn't matching up properly. On the one hand, there is a crying out for new ideas and videogames that aren't afraid to buck trends. On the other, I see a mindset that only seems to encourage a gray sludge of indiscernible titles that might as well be conglomerated into Gears of Halozone: Guns of the Bio Fantasy XIII.
We accuse the games industry of lacking inspiration, but are we too so uninspired and imaginative that we cannot be pleased with new things ourselves? Are we part of the problem?
The trouble with gamers is that they are like anybody else, and we as a species tend to fear change. Just look at Resident Evil 5 and Killzone 2. Two games that, as far as I'm concerned, do very little wrong with their respective input and control schemes. However, many have complained about the "broken controls" for both of these titles, even though both games work perfectly -- but very differently. Capcom wanted a deliberately restricted inventory and method of combat in order to raise tension. Guerrilla wanted a lagging input in order to create the illusion of weight and produce a more methodical pace. As a means to an end, both Resident Evil 5 and Killzone 2 worked perfectly. They became exactly what the developers wanted, and that is commendable.
However, most of the complaints revolving around these two games have been focused on the controls. Of course, just because something is new, that doesn't mean it's automatically good. One cannot simply ignore that RE5 and KZ2 simply won't meet the personal preferences of some. However, what are the alternatives? A game that basically controls like Gears of War and a game that basically flows like Halo, respectively. That is ostensibly what the complainants want from these games. Just another pair of titles that fall into comfortable trends.
Neither RE5 or KZ2 are "broken." They both work perfectly fine. They require patience and practice, certainly, and that's where I think a lot of gamers are getting hung up. They want instantly intuitive experiences, but the only way for a game to be intuitive is for it to become standardized. A game that bucks trends ought to take some getting used to. That's the way unique things work. However, if you turn Resident Evil 5 into Gears of War, you can bet your life that complaints would quickly arise claiming Capcom was just ripping off other games and didn't try to be unique. It's a no-win situation.
Sticking with Killzone 2, one early complaint arose among gamers when Guerrilla confirmed that there would be no co-op in the game. Co-op is enjoying something of a revival recently, mainly thanks to the dominance of online gaming, and a great many titles have included the option, some of them even making it the central point. However, when Guerrilla chose to eschew Killzone 2 in favor of a strictly single-player campaign, people bitched. A few said they wouldn't be buying the game without co-op. Many expected it to be there, as if it were a required feature.
Quite why we need every action game to feature co-op when there are already plenty of great co-op experiences to choose from, I do not know, but this is a fine example of what I'm driving at when I ask if we're helping to over-standardize the industry. Calls for co-op in every FPS or action game that comes out serves only to devalue the truly great co-op experiences, to help them get lost in the shuffle as every developer crams in some token two-player modes. What should be an inspired and surprising extra feature is now an expected requirement for a great many people, and that serves only to get in the way of unique experiences, not to mention stretch already thin resources as developers force in extra features just to keep demanding gamers happy.
Let's take another example and look at BioShock. In 2007, 2K Boston created a fantastic single-player FPS that resonated with a great many people and provided one of the most enjoyable story-driven videogames to have been released in recent years. However, despite providing a fantastic single-player experience, there were still complaints that the game needed multiplayer in order to be worth their time. In fact, it seems almost a given that multiplayer will be a part of BioShock 2, even though we already have Halo 3, and Killzone 2, and Gears of War, and Call of Duty, and Unreal, Quake, Far Cry, even a crappy and forced bunch of online modes in F.E.A.R 2. Just game after game with a token frag fest thrown in.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think that "innovation" is particularly important, at least not when it comes at the expense of fun. What matters is that you do something and do it well, whether it's new or not. However, we as gamers thirst for fresh ideas, and love to see some inspiration in a game, while at the same time we have come to expect things that should never really matter so long as the game is good. Co-op, multiplayer modes and instantly familiar control schemes have become obligatory, and woe betide any high profile game that does not fit into a neatly shaped pigeon hole.
There is no real solution to this issue. As I already stated, it's human nature to shy away from things we're not used to, and to criticize anything that doesn't have familiar and comfortable features. However, the next time you complain that something doesn't have co-op, or that there's no token "capture the flag" mode, or that you have to get used to the controls, bear in mind that this industry is already too afraid to break from tradition. Let's not make it even scarier.