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Beauty is skin deep: Calling out the graphics pimps

8:01 PM on 05.08.2008 // Jim Sterling

There is a term among the gamer community the describes a certain subsect of gamers interested only in how impressive a game looks -- "graphics whores." These are people who get excited over how a game looks more than how it plays, and will easily dismiss any title that isn't up their visual standards.

Just like there can be no smoke without fire, so too can there be no whores without pimps. These are the people that justify the shallow judgment of a title based purely on aesthetics, mainly because that is how they are selling their games. Prompted by the recent resurgence of Killzone 2 talk, I decided to voice my feelings about the "graphics pimps," and why I am sick and tired of hearing about how great a game looks.

Hit the jump as I call out the graphics pimps and all their beautiful chicanery.

First off, let it not be said that graphics aren't important, because they most assuredly are. Just like nobody wants to read a book printed in a bad font or watch a badly shot film, nobody wants to play a game that looks like complete and utter garbage. Beautiful visuals have their place, and can make a good game even better by virtue of slick animation and gorgeous scenery. However, graphics alone do not a game make, and with the ever-increasing thirst for high-definition eye candy, the focus on gameplay sometimes seems worryingly absent.

Killzone 2 is certainly not exclusive in this, but it has certainly been one of the most obvious. Developer Guerrilla and publisher Sony have almost obsessively sold Killzone 2 on its visual quality alone. First they tried to fool us with the notorious "in-game" footage that turned out to be little more than a fabrication, and ever since then the developers have been desperately trying to make the game look as good as they claimed it would, and convince us that it will look amazing.

Nary a word, however, is said about how the thing will actually play.

This is becoming increasingly frustrating, because I honestly don't care how good a game looks if it all falls apart when I finally get a controller in my hand. There have been many games that are graphically impressive but lack anything of value beyond the visual aspect -- Black was a perfect example of this, a game that proved you actually can polish a turd. However, many gamers seem to buy the story over and over, letting developers pull the wool over their eyes and dazzle them with pretty pictures. Distracted by such photorealistic treats, gamers don't stop to think whether or not it will actually be a good game, or just a good-looking game.

I'm a gamer, not an art critic, and if all I cared about was how something looked, I would spend my time reviewing paintings. I have become sick of the term "in-game footage," and am of the opinion that any developer who uses that term is a developer not confident about its title's gameplay. If all you can talk about is what's on the surface, I am led to believe that there's very little depth under the hood. It's all well and good to wow us with gorgeous images, but sooner or later, you are going to have to deliver something of substance, or get the fuck off my radar. I have no time for vapid and shallow non-entities with nothing but looks on offer -- the game equivalent of Paris Hilton.

The way Killzone 2 has been marketed offends me. I find it pretty vulgar to see a game sell itself purely on something so utterly cursory, especially from a series that lacks pedigree. Many of us seem to have forgotten that the original Killzone was an average and generic FPS across the board -- repetitive and unable to stand out on anything but -- unsurprisingly -- how good it looked for a PS2 game. 

The market has pretty much proven that it cares more about games than graphics. One need only look at the last generation -- and the massive success of the PlayStation 2 -- to see that. Despite its hardware being inferior to that of the GameCube and the Xbox, the PS2 is still the most successful home console to date with worldwide sales of over 127 million units -- a number that increases even in this current generation. It beat its graphically superior competition because it had the best library of games, not because it had the best water effects.

Going back a generation before then, one need only look at how the Dreamcast failed to gain enough momentum to replace the original PlayStation before the PS2's arrival. Handhelds, too, have gone to show how looks aren't everything -- the Nintendo DS is a wild success story, despite not being as powerful as the PSP, which is only now starting to gain big momentum in Japan.

Need I even mention the Wii?

The fact is, Killzone 2 may very well be an excellent game -- but I don't know its gameplay potential, and I don't have the first clue because all I keep hearing about is how good it looks. I haven't been given anything to convince me it will be a good game, only a good piece of eye candy. It's not like we ever truly know how enjoyable a title is until we get our own hands on it, but we usually have a clue as to whether the game will impress us, and I must confess that outside of some lovely animations, I have not the slightest inkling whether this is a game I want to play, or merely look at and say "that's pretty, now give me my Metal Gear Solid." 

By all means, if a game looks gorgeous, then show it off. However, if that's all you can talk about, then don't expect everyone to be filled with confidence, because beauty is only skin deep. Stop saying things like "this is in-game footage" in a desperate ploy to impress us, because it betrays your own one-dimensional approach to game design. If that's all you care about, then I don't expect anything more than generic gameplay from vapid designers. You could well be creating an intense and jaw dropping playing experience, but that's not the impression you give me when all you're talking about are the aesthetics.  

I love a beautiful game, but I love beautiful gameplay better. That's all I'm trying to say.

Jim Sterling, Former Reviews Editor
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Destructoid reviews editor, responsible for running and maintaining the cutting edge videogame critique that people ignore because all they want to see are the scores at the end. Also a regular f... more   |   staff directory

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