The thing about the video game industry is that, like movies, there are many different types to choose from. With the industry being close to the $11 billion range*, many different companies have found their niche in in creating games of certain genres for players. Take EA Sports, the athletic division of EA Games. They have released a new sports game for football, soccer, basketball and other sports almost every year like clockwork. They have to; their consumer demands it. Another company, Ubisoft, has pooled many offices together to be able to release a new Assassin's Creed game every year. These companies know what their customer wants and continue to provide.
However, every gamer is different, and I think that that makes for an interesting introspective into what exactly you like in a game. In movies, the director only has a couple of hours to fully tell a story with all of the details he or she wants to include in it. Books can offer a lot more time and space to tell it, but they require much more patience from the reader in order to experience it. (Which, in my personal opinion, is why many people hate reading these days.) Games give so many different things in a much broader sense of time and effort, and they allow for mistakes to be made. So, when I think of a good game, I try to list what elements create a sort of template that those good games fall into. I came up with five different qualities that I find make a game worth purchasing.
Story: In a game, I have to be able to know what's going on. I admit that some games are about the gameplay, and the story sometimes suffers for it. I'll get into those in a bit. However, the games that stand out to me are the ones that get the player emotionally invested in the characters. RPGs, especially Japanese ones, are notorious for getting their stories on point and making the player become part of that world. Though the Final Fantasy series is an obvious example for me concerning this one, the most recent JRPG I played was Ni no Kuni. I was skeptical when I borrowed it from a friend, but he told me how amazing the whole game was. So I tried it and loved it. The characters were rich and original, and the plot was light-hearted and dynamic at the same time. Though I won't go into it more, since I already covered it in a previous post, The Last of Us is another prime pick in the story department for me. I can't even describe completely how this is so, because if you haven't played it yet, you certainly need to.
Gameplay: As I said, sometimes a game is allowed to suffer a bit in the story if the gameplay is an incredible experience. In fact, I think that the gameplay can sometimes be a story of its own; a way of guiding the player through experience rather than dialogue or plot. I think back a little to my PS2 days and remember playing the first Zone of the Enders. I barely remember the story part of it, though I don't think that it was that impactful. However, what I do remember is the powerful feeling of being in complete control of a mobile suit that moves very fast and attacks swiftly. The gameplay sent me further back to my elementary school years when I used to watch Gundam Wing on Cartoon Network. (Did anyone else watch Toonami in the afternoons after school?) That show was the epitome of mobile suit animation, and Zone of the Enders made me feel like I was a part of that genre. Other examples I can think of with strong gameplay are Vanquish, Devil May Cry (the original one) and One (this title is PS one title, in case you haven't heard of it.)
Replayability: Usually, one of the first questions that pop in my head has to do with the length and content of the game. If I think I can beat the game in five hours, I rarely buy it. That's what redbox is good for. If a game has enough content to last it a long time, I usually think about owning it. I mean, who wants to rent Grand Theft Auto V? If this same game gives me reasons to keep playing after I see the credits roll, then it gets a high mark in my mind. Games with replay value have a sort of Matrix trilogy level in my mind: every time I watch those movies I get something new out of it. I want my games to do that too. Going back to when I owned a PS One, I remember the concept Capcom used for Resident Evil 2. The idea, if you are unfamiliar with the original version of the game, was that you had to play it twice to see the real ending. The game was on two discs: one disc with the male lead, Leon, and the other with the female lead, Claire. You decide who you want to play as first and pop that disc in. Beat the game, and you get an ending. However, load your finished game on the other disc, and you play as the other person and experience what they went through while you played your first game, as opposed to the tactic back then of just selecting different characters that walked the same path. It was only by doing this that you got the true ending. That was really cool to me, and I'll never forget how that worked. Mass Effect is another solid replay choice due to its enormous choice system and how that relates to the story. I get lots of fun out of asking other players what choices they made and how it turned out for them.
Production Quality: I put this lower on the list because I think that the above-mentioned elements can make a game shine even if it doesn't quite look amazingly realistic. Granted, if a game is next-generation, it needs to look and feel that way. One thing that really bothers me is forced voice acting, or just terrible acting in general. If you're trying to create a compelling story, having the characters sound like they're working for $2 a day doesn't really help. I got that feeling when I recently replayed Rainbow Six: Vegas via the free Games with Gold promotion. I remember liking the game when I was younger, but playing through it now didn't go so well. The actors sounded terrible, and the graphics were glitchy.
In finding games with high quality production, I look for what the game is doing and how it does in comparison to other titles in its released year. I think that's one reason why I loved Final Fantasy VIII so much, even though it took my RPG V-card all the way back in the 4th grade. Yes, VII was amazing for its time, being the first CD-based FF title. However, with VIII I saw what amounted to real people in that game. They stood tall, were able to look right at the player and even had certain gestures that looked human. No voices, of course, but that was the standard for the day. Fast forwarding to today, you need a lot more in your production quality. I admire and respect Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear series, for how much time and effort he puts into story, visuals, music and voice acting. His newest title, Metal Gear Solid V, is created using its own graphics engine. He's also bringing in Hollywood talent to voice his characters, such as Kiefer Sutherland. Finally, he is continuing to work with composer Harry Gregson-Williams to score the game. These things are those little details that put a game over the top in my mind.
Multiplayer/Co-Op: Now, I'll admit that I am not the most competitive in video games. I enjoy playing the single player immensely. The MP is just an added bonus that I try out to see how it works. If a game ties in the MP experience with single player, I become intrigued. I applaud the efforts of the team at BioWare for using Mass Effect 3's MP to help aid your single player war efforts. Also, The Last of Us uses a sort of meta-game objective of collecting and maintaining a surviving camp as the driving reason for playing the MP. And, I think I'll skip past the painfully-obvious example of Call of Duty. That's a dead horse right there.
I think another good example would be anything that Rockstar does. Their Social Club experience brings players together over multiple titles, a sort of meeting place you find friends with in each of the Rockstar titles you play. Though I haven't attempted the GTA Online fun yet, I spent a lot of time doing multiplayer in Max Payne 3. Abilities to create clans or groups that stay with you from one title to another is an alluring and smart move on Rockstar's part. It also helps create friends to play and connect with, and I need friends. (That sounds kinda depressing, but I wouldn't mind having more PSN friends. Look me up: MogwaiOfOwnage.) Anyways, I'm always interested in a new kind of multiplayer experience.
Also, co-op is huge with me. My friend and I bought Dead Space 3 within the first week of its release for the soul purpose of playing it together. The story was created with two players in mind, and that's how it should be experienced. Getting more content and gameplay through co-op is what partly drives that whole experience, I think. Another example is any of the Army of Two games. The only thing that suffers about those is that you kinda lose a little bit of the fun by playing them alone; you really have to play those games with two people. You just feel cooler that way. Splinter Cell: Blacklist has a great new co-op feature that helps everyone in their single player campaign.
So, that's my criteria for a good game. I'm sure that I skipped over some genres, including sports. (I enjoy a few sports games, but they're really not my thing.) However, these are just my opinions. Many gamers probably have different standards for what they consider a good game. That's the great thing about the video game industry: in the community of all things games, there are so many different reasons to play.
*Info taken from http://www.esrb.org/about/video-game-industry-statistics.jsp