There’s been a lot to talk about since this past E3, but you know what’s piqued my interest the most? Street Fighter 5. As I’ve said in the past, the only trailers/footage I’ve grown to trust is what comes from fighting games, because they give the best indication of what the final product will actually be. That’s not to say that SF5 hasn’t changed since its introductory trailer, but Ryu could throw fireballs then, and he’ll probably be able to throw them in the full version. No broken promises there, I hope.
There’s been a deluge of info and footage on the game recently thanks to Eventhubs and friends, and right now it’s looking really good. I mean that from a gameplay perspective, naturally, but even when I watch non-HD, non-60fps videos on YouTube, I still can’t help but think, “Wow, what a good-looking game.” I think what clinched it for me was seeing Birdie in action; his Super is at once a weaponized joke and a striking display.
So with the stage now set, let’s talk about DEM GRAFFECS -- and prove just how shallow we can all be.
As a guy who’s never put much stock in graphics, I can’t say I’ve ever been too harsh on a game for having weaker visuals. I mean, one of my favorite games ever is Devil Survivor 2, and you could argue that its graphics are pulled straight from the Game Boy Advance. Speaking personally, I think that what matters most isn’t so much how something is rendered as much as what is rendered. Creativity and art design rule the day -- though I guess that the “how” part of it plays a part when it comes to the style of the visuals. So the comparison breaks down a bit.
If I remember right, one of the big selling points of the Xbox 360’s Eternal Sonata was that it looked beautiful -- that it made amazing use of the then (relatively) new hardware to create an amazing world. Same goes for the PS3’s Valkyria Chronicles. Games like those and more had strong visuals that added to the experience; if a game tries to invite players to explore and marvel at a virtual world, then one would hope that they’re visually arresting, right? Maybe that’s part of the reason why I like BioShock Infinite to this day; its city in the sky might have been full of gun-toting mutant jingoists, but damned if they didn’t know how to spruce up the place.
It’s easy to be down on what it seems like most devs are putting out these days, but it’s not as if we’re doomed to an endless stream of brown and gray. (See: plenty of Wii U games, plenty of fighting games, and what has to be an incalculable number of indie games.) I think at this point we’ve all acknowledged that there’s some sort of problem; Cracked has made some handy infographics in the past, after all. There are a lot of games that look or feel pretty similar to one another, and even if they have top-of-the-line graphics and engines and whatnot, the problem is what they’re trying to show. In a world where Platinum Games exists, running through an area while things fall apart around you can’t even begin to qualify as spectacle. But I digress.
Like I said, I put more stock in what gets rendered. Sure, it’s one thing to make a photorealistic city or a lavishly-rendered weapon, but if I wanted realism -- the definition of which is debatable even at this stage in gaming history -- then I could just run a Google image search. Conversely, if I want to be wowed by the sprawling, arabesque environments of Xenoblade, the industrialized decay of InFamous, or the nightmarish hellscapes of Bloodborne…well, I could probably also run a Google image search or give DeviantArt a shot, but hey. You can’t jump around like a ninny in DeviantArt. Speaking of jumping, let’s go back to where we started with this post and chat about Street Fighter 5. Or to be more precise, Birdie.
The very second I saw Birdie’s win animation, I thought to myself, “Yep. I’m probably gonna play this character some.” (I have my doubts that he’ll be the game’s only grappler, but if my guess is right and my main T. Hawk gets cut, then he’ll be a welcome substitution.) In all fairness, that extends to pretty much all of Birdie’s animations; he’s grown into a slob -- literally, in this case -- but he’s still a thug who likely cares deeply about looking cool. He’s not exactly the best at looking cool, mind you, since one of his jumping attacks has him planking in midair; still, I can see the effort and artistry that went into him even at this stage in development. Also, Chun-Li looks amazing in every sense of the word.
I’m not quite ready to call SF5 an audiovisual masterpiece just yet, but it’s definitely getting there (holy crap, that character select theme). I want to see more stages, and hear more music. But more importantly, I want to see those characters -- because that’s what matters most here. I’m not just saying that in terms of gameplay, though that’s certainly a part of it; I’m saying that because of the game’s ability to convey so much without a single word. If Birdie’s animations are any indication, people won’t just be playing as the World Warriors. They’ll feel them.
In a lot of cases, we can’t count on video games to deliver a good story. Street Fighter as a whole is well among them; there have been baby steps, sure, but as of yet there’s been nothing consistently substantial. So when it comes to getting a player invested in a character, the only option left is with the gameplay -- with animations and style that conveys practically everything you need to know about a character in minutes, if not seconds. And it works. I’ve used Birdie maybe three times total thanks to the PS2’s Street Fighter Alpha Anthology, but I practically know jack crap about him. Yet after seeing a handful of matches with him in SF5, I feel like I’ve known him for years -- like he’s a weird uncle of mine who’s also British for some reason.
I know that the Chun-Li from SF5 is a vastly-different Chun from SF4; she’s more mature and fiercer, and significantly more serious. She’s fighting to do justice, not show off or play around. Same goes for Ryu; he may have the same three moves we’d expect of him, but his brutal attacks prove he’s not just a martial artist, but THE martial artist that’s overflowing with power. (That HD Denjin!) Somehow, Bison is a dictator, a menace, and a madman all at once. Nash is a wellspring of calculated violence hiding behind some well-kept glasses. Cammy is…well, after seeing Combofiend demo her, I can’t help but agree with the assessment that she’s got a permanent duckface. But she’s aight.
I’ve always put a lot of stock into characters -- in video games or otherwise -- and SF5 is a pretty good reminder of what it means to be a good-looking game. I can only begin to imagine how much effort is going into each of the World Warriors, let alone the game itself; still, I can see that it’s paying off. It doesn’t take much to confirm that the latest installment is a completely different beast from its predecessor, even if you have no idea what a V-Trigger or Critical Art is supposed to be. Visuals aren’t everything, but they sure as hell can do a lot to leave an impression…which is kinda important in an audiovisual medium. But I could be wrong. Maybe. It’s possible.
I don’t want to play The Generalization Game, since that’s a game I tend to lose. But in light of SF5, and plenty of other games before/parallel to it, some of the other stuff out there just can’t compare. I wanted to tap out of the Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate trailer and gameplay mere minutes in -- and actually did when it showed off a carriage sequence that gave me nightmarish flashbacks of Watch Dogs. As you can guess, I’m sick of set pieces where stuff falls apart around (or falls from under) the main character, because A) it seems like a waste, and B) it’s not nearly as exciting as devs seem to think. And when the animations practically ignore form for the sake of function -- when it feels like what’s being done on-screen could be done by any old schmuck -- then that’s kind of a problem. Unless it’s an FPS we’re talking about, but that can create more problems than it solves. No sense in dwelling on it, though; we live in a world where Guilty Gear Xrd exists, after all.
As always, the golden rule is “whatever you do, do it well.” I have my preferences, obviously, but I know there’s more than one way to do it. Good designs, good animations, good style, good creative vision, whatever -- the focus on one or the mix of them all can create one amazing product, no question. And that’s exactly why I’m opening the floor for those of you reading this. I’ve played my share of games, but my experience is still pretty limited -- so feel free to weigh in with your own shining examples.
The question at hand is the same one from the start: what’s the best-looking game you’ve ever seen? Why was it the best-looking? And as a corollary, what does it take for a game to look good for you? Raw graphical power? A sense of aesthetics? Striking animations? The fabled ten eighty peas? Feel free to weigh in at your leisure. Share your opinions and experiences, and show others (or just me) some good-looking games.
Also, don’t mind me, but I’m going to preempt everyone and toss this out there.
Okay, so why isn’t every dev on the planet tapping the PS4 and Xbone to do stuff like THAT? WHY?!