I recently watched this video about the original Thief game, and how original, experimental, and exciting it was, and how modern games lack many of the elements that made the original Thief great. My takeaway from it is that modern games are too influenced by modern games, and too many games do the same thing.
How many zombie survival games have you seen? Or games that have tacked-on crafting systems? Remember the modern-warfare pissing match between the big publishers from a little while ago? It seems as though the industry has homogenized over the last several years so that the safest, most consumer-friendly products are tossed out to garner the largest possible audience.
But do we want to play those games? Or do we want to play games that matter. We should want to play games that intrigue us, and even if we may not like them, we can still say, "that was interesting."
So I want to look over some of my favourite games and share what about them is relevant, important, and what makes them matter and stand out in the ocean of games we wade in.
Resident Evil had existed as a series for many years, but REmake refined the survival horror genre to it's quintessential form. The series had been a schlocky, cheesy romp that gave players some genuine scares, but they were usually in between bouts of hilariously bad dialogue. REmake did away with a lot of the cheesier elements, and crafted what can only be described as raw survival horror, something few games dare to do.
A lot of horror games claim to be horror, and they'll have scary looking enemies and some creepy environments, but are usually just action games in disguise. Even later Resident Evil games are guilty of this. However, few games embody the elements REmake claims to. Every element in REmake served the purpose of making the player more scared.
For example, the addition of Crimson Heads! In REmake, zombies that you kill only stay dead for so long before they come back as more powerful, faster creatures. This adds a risk factor, where even killing zombies can create something more dangerous down the path. The mansion is moodier, rain slides down the windows, your character's shadows are accented by the lightning, or the thick taps of a type-writer as you access your inventory, as opposed to the more bloopy-DOS-inspired menu of the original game.
There isn't one mechanic in the game that's meant to be empowering. Walking into new rooms is terrifying, because you don't know what's on the other side. Oftentimes you can hear enemies nearby, but because of the stiff camera angles you can't see them. Everything in this game oozes tension and horror in a way very few other games do. This game doesn't matter because it's a survival horror game, but it matters because it's the rawest, most pure form of survival horror that embodies, refines, and adds to the original formula that the original game created.
MGS3 Snake Eater matters because of it's devotion to the stealth genre, and how it lends itself to Kojima's satirical, yet tragic style of storytelling.
Entering the game for the first time reveals some stiff, unusual controls, but all of it is workable. The hook to the gameplay is in how the player can hide from the enemy. Line of sight is important, but so is camouflage. Camouflage plays a huge role in MGS3's stealth system, as it allows for the player to sneak into areas and come up with more ways of reacting to the enemy. No kill runs of this game are common, because the stealth system makes it easy to avoid detection. Even then, there's a split-second gap between when an enemy sees you and when an alarm is raised, giving the player plenty of time to react.
But MGS3 was different from previous MGS games and even other stealth games at the time. Previous games relied on a strong radar system, whereas MGS3 preferred the use of visual and audio cues. You had to listen for footsteps in the grass. You had tools to detect enemies, such as microphones and a radar tool, but neither were very useful and the radar only worked on moving enemies, and made a loud sound when used. It basically made all of it's signature tools less useful to make the player more observant.
MGS3 feels like the last stealth game from an era where, afterwards, stealth games had to be just as much about empowerment. Dishonoured is a fantastic game, but the stealth feels slightly undermined by the strong list of loud and useful killing tools the player has. MGS3 had loud tools, and there were many forced combat situations, but stealth always drove the gameplay. It asked the player to be observant, creative, and think before acting.
Bloodborne is definitely the most recent game on this list, and it's been getting a lot of deserved praise. It earns a lot of it's important material from it's predecessors, such as the importance of earning materials and the moment-to-moment energy of every fight, but it does a few things different that makes Bloodborne matter in the long run.
For starters, the city of Yharnam is so full of detail. It really does feel like a selling-point for next-generation consoles, but the world is filled with litter, the people look dejected, hair is matted and filthy, moss and dust hang on surfaces, and the overwhelming glow of the sun or moon light everything in the world, exposing and hiding important environmental details. But more than that, the game's art direction is phenomenal. Bloodborne is heavily inspired by the work of HP Lovecraft, who wrote about creatures so hideous, that to gaze upon them would drive you insane. While the monsters in Bloodborne won't drive you crazy, they are absolutely creative and drive the player's imagination.
But what makes Bloodborne matter is the skill that the player develops as they play the game, and how the game reflects that skill. Bloodborne is a much faster-paced game that it's predecessors, ditching blocking for a lithe dodge. As a result, combat looks and feels slick, and even amateur players look pretty damn cool as they flip around monsters and bosses. But developing timing for attacks, understanding each weapon's movesets, understanding enemies and knowing which ones are out of your league, and being thrust into difficult scenarios and walking out battered, poisoned, without any items left, but a victor feels immensely satisfying. Bloodborne demands good timing and skillful play, but rewards with a fantastically stylish world and equipment set. The more you play, the cooler your weapons and armour sets become. The more capable you look.
The game rewards you with mastery, not by making you feel powerful, but by making you look powerful. Bloodborne knows when it's weeded out the weak, when it no longer gives players noob-traps and when it can finally start respecting it's player. That's why Bloodborne matters; it knows it's hard, but if you persist, the game respects you for it. Even as things get worse, the monsters get more terrifying and the world becomes more twisted, because you've gotten so far, and your character feels customized and hand-crafted by you, you can't help but think, "I can do this."
That's it for now. I may come back and do another one of these, as I have a lot to say about more of my favourite games. This is very outside the realm of the content I usually write, but I will be returning back to my normal content when my winter vacation ends and I go back to school.