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My name is Ken. I have a deep passion for art and storytelling, video games in particular. You can follow me on Twitter here:
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Murdered: Soul Suspect was a bit of a disappointment to me. I really love the concept of a murder mystery/detective/investigation/whatever the hell you want to call the genre game, which is why I really wanted this one to succeed. Sadly, this was not the case. As a video game, it's painfully average, but as a mystery game, it's a sad failure.

A mystery game should have a strong focus on clue-gathering and investigation. Anything else takes away from the heart of the experience, and simply isn't what we came for. At their core, mystery games are essentially an evolved form of the puzzle genre, and most often takes the form of a point and click adventure. The satisfaction doesn't come from a grand sense of adventure or a high skill level, but in the "a-ha" moments when you finally piece together the mystery for yourself. Therefore it's not hard to see that such a game - one that focuses on critical thought over action - might have trouble hitting the mainstream market.

So maybe some compromises are made in order to vary up the gameplay. This isn't an entirely unheard of. L.A. Noire had tepid gunfight sections and Deadly Premonition had shoehorned combat that ranges from laughably stupid to mind-numbingly boring. 

Murdered: Soul Suspect comes in as the worst version of this concession, with "stealth" mechanics that boil down to using Detective Vision and waiting for the one enemy in the game to turn their back so you can execute the same kind QTE every time. There's really no fun to be had here, and all it does is pad out the game's length with sections that will have you groaning whenever demons show up.

These demon sections are a huge black mark on an already mediocre experience, but they're not the reason the game fails in my eyes. Heavy Rain and L.A. Noire both had action segments, but these could only detract from a satisfactory detective experience. Murdered: Soul Suspect may commit some of the same sins these game do, but it lacks the strong core to which the others return. The heart of the experience, the mystery solving, is just unsatisfying, which sinks the whole game for me.

Action games test your reflexes and quick-thinking ability. On the opposite end of that spectrum lie strategy and puzzle games, which focus on deeper thought. If you're playing a first person shooter, you have to make quick, shallow decisions with short-term consequences. If you're playing a grand strategy or investigation title, you should be mulling over complex conundrums that have a deeper impact on the experience. Critical thinking isn't something that games do too often these days, but you'd think that an investigation title - a game in which the express intent is to unravel a mystery for yourself - would feel right at home with this.

You can probably see where I'm going with this. A mystery game to me is about deep thought and puzzle solving, two things that this game fails to execute properly. The heart of the game is searching crime scenes for evidence and using those clues to unravel a little more of the story. Having a keen eye for evidence is an important part of being a detective in these games, so we're doing fine so far.

Unfortunately, what you do with these clues isn't very interesting. The core gameplay is just stating the obvious. After finding a few clues, you need to pick out which ones are relevant to the case, which has nothing to with critical thought, but rather trying to understand the game's weird logic. Common sense isn't a very satisfying puzzle to solve.

The game arbitrarily gives you a limited amount of guesses to the correct answer, but it's impossible to fail the investigation, and even if you do screw up, you're prompted to try again right away with no real consequences. With nothing at stake and no real challenge, it's easy to get bored with a series banal point and click "puzzles" that feel more like an interactive cutscene broken up and sold as a video game.

Sometimes, the game's attempt at interactive storytelling is just laughable. During one scene, you'll look at a corpse and hear a noise, with the game prompting you to determine what part of the scene made that noise. You get three chances and three choices, and if you pick the wrong one, the game boots you out of the menu and forces you to go back in, with absolutely nothing lost.

Other puzzles play out like a high school exam. For example, you might be shown a picture or memory of something or someone, with a variety of descriptive verbs and adjectives floating around them. The way you solve these is to find the answers that are ridiculous or don't belong, leaving only the most relevant ones. Now you aren't really thinking like a detective, you're thinking like a school student taking a pop quiz.

At one point, you see a key drop down a vent and chase after it, ending up at a screen with three objects: a fork, a spoon and the key for which you were just looking. The game then asks you to pick up the thing you need, but only gives you three chances to get it right. That's three chances and three choices. How is that even a video game mechanic?

This level of simplicity in its interaction makes it feel like you're watching Dora the Explorer. You're on a linear track with no way to fail, shouting obvious answers at the screen, and even if you do guess incorrectly, the outcome remains the same.

Failure carries only the risk of the slightest of minor inconveniences, nothing else. In L.A. Noire, there were points where it became possible to get an undesirable outcome to the case, or at least solve the mystery in a less-than-optimal fashion. Misreading suspects, not using the right clues in the right places, and drawing incorrect conclusions can all negatively impact your score and ranking, as well as the outcome of the case.

The evidence found in crime scenes can be used to catch suspects in a lie, if you know when to use them. If you have hard proof that contradicts their statements, you can use that against them. The game never brings up a prompt to tell you to use your clue, you have to use your brain and remember what clues you have and can use.

For all the shit I give it, Heavy Rain might have some of the best investigation mechanics in the mystery genre. During certain scenes in the Norman Jayden chapters, you'll be able to fully investigate a crime scene and collect evidence. You don't need to pick up everything, only the most relevant pieces, and if you don't get them all, the case is unsolvable, which can lead to one of the bad ends unless you successfully gather the right information as Madison.

The climax of Norman Jayden's investigation arc isn't a shootout or a boss fight. The game takes all of the evidence you found, spreads it across a desk, and forces you to piece together the puzzle by linking the clues and forming a coherent narrative (something the game itself sadly lacked) from them. That's the ultimate mechanical culmination of the mystery, actually solving the mystery.

If you don't have all the clues, you won't be able to piece the mystery together, and you will fail. There are one of three outcomes: you solve the case in time, you give up, or you run out of time and die, due to some contrivance for which the plot never really gives proper exposition. It might seem a little silly, but having a time limit adds an element of challenge missing from the finale of Murdered: Soul Suspect.

The climax of Murdered: Soul Suspect's is very underwhelming by comparison. Like the "Solving the Puzzle" chapter in Heavy Rain, you have a time limit to solve a simple puzzle. The problem with this final level is that you have about ten seconds to figure out what it is, which runs contrary to the entire rest of the game and the genre as a whole. 

Having to figure out the game's logic in such a short time doesn't add any sort of tension to the game, and will most likely only add to the frustration when you fail. And if you do fail, you're just put back a couple seconds earlier to try again and again until you get it right. The time limit in Heavy Rain on the other hand is just long enough to not be frustrating, but also strict enough to make you stress. It's a tough balancing act, one that even Heavy Rain doesn't do perfectly, but Murdered: Soul Suspect just seems to fail miserably in the attempt.

Murdered Soul: Suspect is a mediocre game with good ideas that sadly fails as a mystery game. It saddens me that it wasn't enough to save Airtight Games from being shut down because despite some very poor design decisions, it could have been a great game if it's concepts were fleshed out a bit more and maybe if they had some more time and money. As it is, it doesn't challenge the player, it never makes them think, and it certainly doesn't warrant a $50 price tag. It turns out your own murder is actually pretty easy to solve.

Perhaps if the developers had some more resources, this would have been a much better value, both for the player's time and money. Development troubles aside however, what ultimately sinks Murdered: Soul Suspect is a lack of competence to back up their ideas. 

Murdered Soul Suspect doesn't seem to understand what makes solving a mystery fun, and like many similar games outside of the occasional point and click, it has no idea how to entice the player with thought-provoking gameplay that doesn't involve violence and twitch reflexes. It's a real shame too, because the premise of solving my own murder as a ghost is actually pretty cool. Sadly, we may never get to see what that game would have been like.

Oh wait, yes we can. Go play Ghost Trick.

The industry is obsessed with day-one purchases. Publishers love pushing the idea that you should pay a large amount of money on software - often times without the possibility of a refund - about which you know very little. For a game that's complete garbage like Aliens: Colonial Marines , getting as many sales on day one before people find is essential. If you don't sell a game like that as quickly as possible, you'll lose out on the ignorant impulse-buyer crowd.

Day one impulse purchases are very important to the industry for games well-made and shitty alike. Developing a computer game is a complicated and expensive process, so I can't exactly fault publishers for trying to incentivise consumers to make a risky day one purchase in order to make back the money they spent trying to make the product itself. Still, there's something contradictory about it all that really makes me scratch my head.

With every big release, publishers insist you buy the game right away. They incentivise you to do so with lame pre-order bonuses that will inevitably be on sale later down the line. They hype up their release to such a point where you can't wait even one day later than you have to get your hands on a product you've never played before. The intent here is to coerce you into buying their product now by capitalising on the fear of missing out.

Missing out on pre-order bonuses makes me feel like I've been punished for being a patient consumer. If I had bought the game before it was released, I could have gotten that timed exclusive offer that I'll now never get. Normally, this would all make sense... if I didn't feel like nearly every pre-order and day one purchase I've made was a huge mistake.

The  Last of Us: Remastered releases tomorrow, featuring slightly better graphics and a decent framerate, along with an actual options menu (perhaps a first for a console game) and a slew of additional content. All of this is available for the same price for which The Last of Us was sold a year ago. The original game is now clearly an inferior product to the new version, but they both cost the same at release.

In my eagerness to play Naughty Dog's newest title, I ended up getting the worst version of the game, the one with the least amount of content and a low framerate. Now my options are to stick with an inferior version of the game or pay full price for an upgraded version of a game I already own.

When The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was still in it's hype cycle, I pre-ordered it for reasons I can't possibly remember or justify. They were never going to run out of copies, so why bother pre-ordering? The game was going to be rife with bugs, so why play the worst version of that game and not wait until all the bugs are fixed and the expansions are released? For a paper map? Now that the Legendary edition of the game is available, I really have to wonder why my adventures in Skyrim couldn't wait.

The same is true of Grand Theft Auto V. Again, I bought into the hype for one of the most overrated games of the previous generation, because I just had to play it as soon as possible. What I ended up playing however, was a very tepid experience that easily could have waited at least a year. Now the PC version is on its way, and I feel like an idiot for ever wasting my time and money on the inferior console version.

I bought the first two Borderlands games before the DLC was released, at the behest of my buddies who wanted to play with me. They eventually lost interest in the game, and when I found out I could get a Game of the Year edition for a fraction of the cost with twice as much content, I felt like a real dummy for paying so much for relatively so little.

What I'm getting at is that despite the industry's insistence that I buy their games right now, they seem to be going out of their way to make me feel stupid for doing so. I'm getting mixed signals from publishers and developers very eager to double dip their consumers as quickly as they can. Of course, I can't really get mad about a great value, but seeing how every game has DLC and a Game of the Year edition, it really makes me wonder if there's any point to buying anything on day one anymore, even as retailers insist that I do.

Is there any reason to pre-order any more? Had I pre-ordered Metal Gear Rising: Revengance on day one, I would have gotten one out of a small handful of cheap pre-order items. When the PC version came out less than a year later at half the cost, I was able to get the best iteration of the game with all of the DLC included. That's a value of about $80, for less than $30, because the only pre-purchase incentive I needed to buy a Platinum game (other than the sheer merit of it being a Platinum game) was a discount, and that's after the price was slashed in half!

It strikes me as almost hypocritical that the publishers and developers of the gaming industry desperately want me to buy their game the day of release, but turn around and make me feel stupid for doing so just a few months later. In certain situations, if I can save a little bit of money by getting a discount on a game I know I'll want and will be good (i.e. Metal Gear Rising: Revengance), I'll probably pre-purchase it. For the most part however, I won't be buying very many AAA console games, and I certainly won't be paying full price on day one for a game I know will be re-sold as an improved version bundled with more content at a lower price. With dozens upon dozens of better games in my back log, why should I buy anything on day one anymore?

Ubisoft's been the centre of attention the past couple of weeks, mostly because of their general incompetence and terrible business practices. In light of the recent Watch Dogs debacle, in which Ubisoft made a build of their own game and then hid it, it's no surprise that consumers and gamers in general are lashing out out against them, accusing them of being a greedy corporate hacks and general slimebags, and then idiots as they trip over themselves with terribly transparent PR.

Ubisoft is pretty much the laughing stock of the industry at the moment, when this really shouldn't be the case. Watch Dogs was meant to be the spearhead of the generation, and though it's not the best game ever, it's not the game they showed us. Needless to say, a lot of people were upset at its mediocrity and general jankiness, which must be absolutely embarrassing after such a long delay. Yes, it's easy to hold a self-righteous attitude and look down on them, but in truth, they've already won.

From Gaf threads to belligerent comments on YouTube, most of the reactions I've seen thus far are mocking Ubisoft, when they should really be considered the envy of the industry. We've reached such a point where you don't even need to make a good game anymore, only the illusion of one. The game we were shown at E3 2012 was just that: an illusion for most players. 

So what I'm trying to get at here in all this nonsensical rambling is that I'm experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance here. On the one hand, the Watch Dogs we were shown was a technological marvel. On the other, the Watch Dogs we got was painfully average. At this point, you're likely to do one of three things: accept that you made a bad purchase and move on, lash out at Ubisoft because you failed to be a responsible and informed consumer, or desperately defend the game, lest your ego take any damage.

So how can you be an informed consumer? I'll tell you. You can't. Not before release, anyway. Everything you're seeing and being told about the game is marketing material, whether it's a CG that is in no way representative of the final product (a la Dead Island) or even a gameplay demo full of outright lies (a la Aliens: Colonial Marines). If you buy the game before the actual real product is out, you are gambling your sixty dollars on something that can easily be a terrible game. If you want to wager your hard-earned money on a crapshoot, do it in Vegas; at least then you'll have a funny story to tell.

In all seriousness, please think very carefully before you pre-order. Not only do you risk wasting a lot of money, you're hurting the industry and the medium as a whole by encouraging bad business practices. Watch Dogs has been met with mixed reception and very ugly controversy. None of that matters, because Ubisoft has already won. If you pre-ordered and got burned, they already took your money, and all the bitching in the world won't change that. They won't face repercussions, they haven't learned their lesson, and now that Watch Dogs has become their biggest launch title ever, they have every reason to pull the wool over our eyes again.

You might think the corporate higher ups at Ubisoft are all idiots, but they deserve to be lauded for being able to not only profit, but break day-one records for a game that was marketed as something entirely different. They didn't have to make your dream game, they only needed to tell you that they were. If you pre-ordered Watch Dogs based on what they showed you, you're a part of the reason they didn't need to make a good game. When a game's profit is practically guaranteed months before release based on hype alone, what incentive do they have to make a good game?

The bottom line is this: think before you buy. If the game comes out and it's everything you wanted and more, great! Go out and buy it. They'll have enough copies. If they don't, you can buy it digitally, where there is no stock. If it's a real stinker, then you dodged a bullet. Comparing the risk of losing a lot of money versus simply waiting, when you get the game at the same time, is there any real reason to buy a ticket for the hype train?

Oh never mind guys. You can get a different coat. I'd buy that for sixty dollars!

Why am I always the chosen one? In so many games, the entire world revolves me, the grandest and most perfect of all heroes sent from on high, pre-ordained by the gods to fulfil the ancient prophecy and save the forces of good from the ancient evil. As fun as all of that can be, the formula gets boring after while. Why do I have to be the chosen one all the time? Can't I be anyone else?

You're probably familiar with the trope, as it's not one exclusive to RPGs or even video games as a whole. You are the chosen one, chosen by fate to carry out your destiny, which is just another way of saying "you're gonna win". I almost feel bad for the antagonists who try to oppose me, especially when I have fate on my side. So why does being the protagonist have to come with this sense of empowerment, even when facing insurmountable odds?

Of course, some games handle this trope better than others. Let's compare the three most recent entries into The Elder Scrolls, starting with the latest. In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you are the Dragonborn, the hero sung about in legends who has been foretold to defeat the evil dragon Alduin. The story here is as straightforward as it gets. You are the hero and/or heroine born with the ability to defeat the big bad, and upon discovering your gift, you head to the mountains to train with some old monks who will help you hone your abilities. After finding a few magical MacGuffins, you eventually defeat the great evil, just as fate foretold. If any of that sounds like a spoiler... it shouldn't. The story in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is as cookie-cutter as it gets, with the general gist of the plot's straightforward direction being stated more or less outright from the get-go.

In that game's predecessor, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you play the Hero of Kvatch, a mysterious nobody who receives a get out of jail free card from the gods as part of an orchestrated plot to save the world of Nirn from the invading forces of Mehrunes Dagon. Pretty standard stuff. Aside from being chosen by the gods to save the land, you're nobody special. You don't have any powers or anything unique outside of being given the chance to start your journey in the first place. What's really interesting however, is that you aren't necessarily the "chosen one". Rather, Martin Septim seems to fit the trope more closely than the actual protagonist. Instead of playing as the most important character, around whom the whole world revolves, you are instead tasked with finding said character, and helping them fulfil their destiny. Compare this to the more recent Loren The Amazon Princess, a turn-based RPG in which you are not the main heroine, but instead her aide.

Finally, we get to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, in which you play the Nerevarine, who may or may not be the chosen one of legend. As the player character, it is your duty to unite the land, put an end to the blight, and smite a false god. All pretty good stuff, but what's most interesting is one of the requirements for being the, or rather a Nerevarine. During one of the game's main quests, you are infected with Corpus, the disease ravaging the Dunmer people. After drinking a potion that may or may not cure you, you keep only the positive effects of the curse, with the negative ones being annulled. Whether you're cured because of the potion, or because you are indeed the proper incarnation of a god, remains uncertain. Are you truly the chosen one? Or are you just what the people of Morrowind want you to be?

In the case of the Nerevarine, where you may simply be filling the role the Dunmer want you to fill, the player character isn't necessarily a true-blue chosen one, just the right guy in the right place at the right time, telling the people what they want to hear. Expanding upon that idea, the Chosen Undead in Dark Souls is probably my favourite example of the this trope, as it turns the traditional idea of "the chosen one" completely on its head. At first glance, it's your pretty standard affair. After being freed from prison, you set out to fulfil an ancient prophecy which states that, after escaping the Undead Asylum, you'll go on to ring the two Bells of Awakening, gather the four Lord's Souls, and ultimately overtake Lord Gywn as kindling for the First Flame, to keep the Dark at bay.

At least, that's what most players are duped into thinking the first time around. In truth, you're not the chosen one, but rather, one of many applications. Your liberator, Oscar of Astora, only freed you because the denizens of Lordran want to throw as many people at the prophecy as possible, hoping somebody will fulfil it in a desperate attempt to stave off the end of an age. After ringing the two Bells of Awakening, the player will find Frampt, who fills the player's head full of grand ideals about being "the chosen one", destined to put an end to the curse of the undead. Now, if you sequence break hard enough and do some digging, you'll instead meet Kaathe, who gives you an alternate proposal. Upon close examination, it should become apparent that the entire prophecy is a farce fabricated by a failing hierarchy to manipulate you, the player, as a pawn in a losing game. Instead of using tired tropes as a crutch, Dark Souls decides to instead subvert it, turning it on its head, and giving players one of the most intriguing stories in an RPG to date.

I won't dismiss every game that borrows the concept of the chosen one, however. The first example that springs to mind of this being used well is Brütal Legend, in which the player character Eddie Riggs is a warrior destined to travel to the Age of Metal and liberate humanity from their demonic overlords. Considering this game's tongue-in-cheek homage, this doesn't feel offensive in the slightest, especially when the main character doesn't really get the credit for his actions. Like the Hero of Kvatch, Eddie's job is to get someone else where they need to be.

In a world-changing story, your protagonist doesn't have to anything special in order to be important. Commander Shepard in Mass Effect is the hero because they're willing to take the antagonistic body seriously. Because they're good at what they do, they're given the chance to continue their quest. As silly as the plot is, you're given a second chance in Mass Effect 2 because of what you did, not who are. Compared to the Hero of Kvatch, whom the gods choose to save to start their quest seemingly at random, Shepard is a far more compelling character, which is saying a lot, because Shepard is really pretty boring.

Honestly, your character doesn't have to be important at all. The protagonist doesn't need some special power that no one else has in order to be interesting, it's more inspiring to hear the story of an average Joe rising up and being recognised for their actions. If you're not going to change the world however, I should be able to go about my life as a (relatively) normal person. The motto for The Elder Scrolls is life "another life in another world", but that's never the case. You have to live a pre-determined life of valour and excitement. If a game let's you ignore the main plot, than you should be supported in doing so. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered there was no real questline for the the Bard's College in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, even though you could rise to fame and glory several times over.

Sometimes, it's more fun to experience a more personal plot with a down-to-earth, grounded character, instead of the extra special centre of attention power fantasy we get all too often. I'd rather be an anti-hero like Geralt of Rivia or even a sidekick to the real hero, as is the case in Loren the Amazon Princess, where you don't even play as Loren the Amazon Princess. And you know what? I'm lazy. Let someone else save the world. If I can ignore the plot, let me pursue other meaningful activities, such as mercantile and pacifism. Part of the reason video games are so much fun is that I can be anybody I wanna be. If that's the case, why am I stuck playing hero all the damn time?

Let's not beat around the bush here: Steam is great. It's a fantastic platform full of great features. Though I'm primarily a PC gamer, I do occasionally like to play on consoles as well. When I do though, I find a myriad of annoyances in comparison. Whenever I go over to my PlayStation 3, I find that, aside from the ridiculous level of difficulty presented in simply trying to navigate the store and find my own games, my biggest complaint is just how bare-bones it all feels. Though its features aren't always perfect, Steam is at least making an effort to move forward and make their platform better, which is a lot more than I can say about my five or six years owning a PS3. As a disclaimer, let me mention now that I've never owned a Microsoft console, so most of the comparisons I make here are from PlayStation 3.

1: Trading Cards, Badges, and the Community Market

After achievements were introduced, everyone followed suit. So why hasn't this caught on? Personally, I feel that trading cards and badges are a lot more fun to collect than achievements most of the time, since you can't make any money off of them. For the uninitiated, trading cards on Steam are doled out randomly as you play games, with the additional chance of getting a booster pack every week. The best part about this is, if you don't care about them, you can only really benefit from having them. Don't want trading cards? Sell them on the market. You won't get huge piles of cash from it, but considering the vast amount of titles you can buy on Steam for just a couple of dollars, selling a digital trading card for ten cents doesn't seem so bad.

Of course, if you trade or buy more trading cards, you can unlock badges, which grants you Steam profile backgrounds, emoticons for chat, and showcases, which allow you to customise your profile page on Steam by showing off your favourite games, rarest achievements, or just your favourite mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Of course, the things you get for competing sets can just be bought on the Community Market. Want a nifty new background? It'll probably cost you about four to ten cents, and most of that goes to another player, not Valve. It's a nice little feature to be sure, whether you in it because you're a completionist who likes to collect everything, or just a regular gamer who wants a little extra cash to put towards getting that game that's been marked down to two bucks.

2: Using Your Own Avatars and Skins

Want a new avatar on PSN? That'll set you back fifty cents. Want a new avatar on Steam? Upload it! It's just that simple. It seems like a really cheap cash grab on the part of Sony and Microsoft to charge for tiny images that I want next to my username, when almost every other online service ever just lets me upload whatever I want. When you have to charge money for such a simple, no one wins. Sure, you do pay money to customise your 3D avatar on 360 and Xbone, but that's a little bit cooler than a flat image, I suppose. Of course, Sony does this with Home, but that sucks.

Meanwhile, if I want to change up the look of my PS3's menus, I need to buy a theme for about two bucks. On Steam, it's completely free. You just download and go. If you want a background on Steam, you can unlock those as you play if you're patient enough, or just buy them for a few cents. Of course, I realise there is a method for downloading free static themes for your PS3 online, but that requires you to use the PS3's web browser, so fuck that.

3: User Tags and Reviews

Too often, I've wondered as I browse through the labyrinthine annals of the PlayStation Store: is this game just a steaming pile of shit? From there, I either leave the store or head to the Internet to find some helpful reviews. On Steam, this isn't an issue. Any user who owns a game can review it, and those reviews end up on the bottom of the page for possible consumers to read. The negative aspect of this is that you'll get a few joke reviews, but it's still better than nothing. Being able to scroll down and find a quick community consensus is a neat feature, why don't more platforms take advantage of this?

Then you have user tags. Again, this is another system prone to abuse, and that abuse goes both ways. As funny as it is to see *Call of Duty: Advanced Wafare* in the "Kawaii" and "Point & Click* categories, it's really annoying to see a first-person shooter when all I want is to play a kawaii point and click game. That being said, it can be very useful, and I'd say the positives outweigh the stupidity of some users. Being able to look at a glance and see tags like "GFWL" and "Uplay", or just "Roguelike" and "MOBA" can serve as a very useful indicator as to what to expect when buying the game. Again, not perfect, but much better than the nothing you get on console.

4: A Store You Can Actually Navigate

Maybe the Xbox Live Marketplace is better, but from personal experience, I can attest that going to the PlayStation Store is a joke. If I want to search for a game, I need to enter one letter at a time using this really weird series of columns, even though the PS3 has a keyboard feature. This makes finding games that I want a very difficult thing to do. For example, I was recently looking for Shin Megami Tensei title. When I typed "Shin " (You can't type any more than that), I was given all of the Persona games, a couple of Shin Megami Tensei Games, and Shin Chan. However, one of the Persona games didn't show up, because it was listed as Persona 2, whereas the other games were listed as "Shin Megami Tensei: Persona".

Look at that. What is that even? On Steam, I can type in the word "Resident", and in about a second, I'm given a quick list of several Resident Evil games, and their respective costs. Is it really so hard to include a search bar?

5: A More Easily Accessible Library

As a PC gamer, this is my biggest grievance against the PS3. Where the hell are my games? My PS3 doesn't have enough room to hold my entire library, and because I can't seem to swap out the hard drive, it never will. The problem here isn't memory, though. The problem is accessibility. I can't find my games. If I want to re-download games on the PlayStation Store, I have to go through a list of everything I've downloaded there, or search for it which, as the above image indicates, is a pain in the ass.

Now look at that. All of your games are listed in one place. One click brings me to all of my games, downloaded or not. Compared to the alternative I get on console, which just dumps whatever I have downloaded into one column, this is absolute perfection. Hell, I can even add non-Steam games! Even if it's not on Steam, it's still on Steam.

6: Tracking Time Spent on a Game

So everyone can see how much of your life you've wasted.

Dark Souls is a game renowned for its innovative-and perhaps, controversial-multiplayer elements. Whether you think it's seamless or intrusive, it certainly shouldn't be ignored. The overwhelming odds and constant threat of danger are offset by the ability to lend a helping hand to other players in need by leaving messages and offering to help against a boss. One-on-one, that giant golem might seem like an implacable threat, but with one or two companions fighting by your side, victory is more tangible than it ever was. When you're bashing your head against the wall trying to beat a boss, it's comforting to know there's a community of stalwart players ready to fight by your side. The idea that human beings can overcome any obstacle when they're working together isn't an uncommon theme in literature and media. Mass Effect for example, presents the player with a conflict that becomes increasingly dire as the trilogy progresses. Through sound, dialogue, and other narrative elements, those games immerse players into a seemingly hopeless that can only be overcome by setting aside differences and working together.

In the Souls series, it's taken one step farther. Players aren't shown and told how hopeless and dire the situation is; they feel and discover it for themselves. This hands-off approach to storytelling and game design makes a scary first impression on new players. Those who persevere however, will find themselves part of what I consider to be the best, most diverse communities in the video game medium.

The "Dark Souls community" isn't just great because of how supportive everyone is. The playerbase is full of all kinds of players who will both help and hinder you on your quest to do that thing that guy told you to do twenty hours ago. Whilst there are plenty of white knights willing to come to your aid, there's always going to be a few rouges lurking around the corner, waiting to take advantage of you. Believe it or not, Dark Souls does have morality system. Morality is a bit of a hot topic in video games, with most employing binary meters that tell you directly how good or evil you are. The land of Lordran however, is a dark and dangerous place. Much like in the real world, being a total scumbag tends to be much more profitable than white knighting. That being said, there's no actual morality mechanic outside of sinning, which is actually pretty straightforward. If you hurt NPCs, they deal with you. If you invade another player's game and murder them, you can be indicted. Sinning carries the risk of brining down the wrath of the Darkmoon covenant. So why do these things? Well, whilst most games have morality "points", Dark Souls has only currency. Much like in our world, these things are valuable, and sometimes, people will do dirty things to acquire them.

When you invade a player's world, you are essentially breaking into their home, murdering them, and robbing them. Maybe you just need souls, and you're not afraid to take it from someone who might be weaker than you. Maybe you just want a challenge, an honourable duel to the death. Either way, it remains a possibility that you are making someone's day worse for your own personal benefit. This frontier risk-reward system plays well to the games' dangerous atmosphere, where "good" and "evil" players contribute to create a dangerous environment that can actually reward griefers and murderers.

Let's take a look at some of the other covenants. On one side, you have noble do-gooders like the Way of the White, Warrior of Sunlight, and Princess's Guard. These covenants exist so straight-edge players are able to more easily assist up-and-comers. Through these factions, veterans can assist those who are in need of help. Of course, jolly cooperation is incentivised as well. Joining in on boss raids can earn you a fair share of souls and other valuables. On the seedier side of Lordran, you'll find the sinister Gravelord Servants and Dickwraiths. 

These groups will actively antagonise players in order to gain their humanity, an uncommon and valuable resource coveted by many. Then of course, there are those who simply want to watch the world burn. By invading your world, infesting it with phantoms, and killing you, they get the thrill of overpowering an actual human being in a playing field that isn't always so level. PvP can be unfair at times, but even I will admit it does match the game's tone.

Then there's a the Forest Hunter covenant, a band of brigands that protect the Darkroot Garden from any intruder who enters its boundaries. This area of the game serves as an excellent example of the flexible and unseen morality system in Dark Souls, and how the community can come together to make the most of certain situations. For the uninitiated who enter the forest, they'll likely be torn to be pieces by what are essentially high-level highwayman preying on the unprepared traveller. When I first went into that forest, I was made a victim. It was the purest example of " you came to the wrong neighbourhood motherfucker." After being cut down, I decided to investigate. After making my way past the sentries, I joined the covenant to see what all the hoopla was about. As it turns out, joining sides with these bandits could be quite profitable. However, you aren't always going to get unwary scrubs. There are those who come prepared into the Darkroot Garden, and they don't come alone.

Whilst the Forest Hunter clan can attack an unwitting passers-by, that doesn't mean they lack the means to fight back. Whatever its original intended purpose, Darkroot Garden is more-or-less a PvP warzone. Crossing back over to the other side (and returning to my usual covenant, Warrior of Sunlight), I found plenty of comrades willing to fight by my side before entering the garden. I can't really say what the original developer intent was for the Darkroot Garden, but the community has taken this area protected by bandits-real players-and teamed up to fight back. There's plenty of hostility and treachery in the Dark Souls community, but that only leaves more opportunities for camaraderie and teamwork.

There are plenty of role-playing games out there that tote robust alignment systems and difficult moral decisions as the forefront of the experience. Dark Souls tackles morality in a different way. Instead of giving you specific routes, and outright telling you what's right and what's wrong, the game's approach to a moral system is simply how you interact with other people. Whether you're doing it just for kicks, or you want the material rewards invasion can bring, you have to hurt other players-actual people, to be "evil". Likewise, being a "good" guy constitutes helping real people along, making their experience a little easier, a little better. By giving you the opportunity to do real good and real harm to other actual people, Dark Souls creates a deeper, more realistic, and more mature approach to morality that other games can only hope to imitate with artificially contrived systems.

Let me give you one more anecdote. In most of the PvP matches I've played, it's customary to bow before fighting. Those who do are generally considered honourable people, even if they are here to kill you. Of course, there are those who will attack you mid-gesture, because you're wide open for an attack. This has happened to me before, and the result is me being punished for my idealistic nature, and someone else profiting from being dishonourable. Sounds a bit like our world, doesn't it?