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Top 5 ‘WTF?’ Moments in Gaming Innovation this Generation

By Jon I in Opinion Pieces

Correct me if you feel I’m wrong, but I’ve seen so much let-down, missed opportunity, generic/vague washover, and flat-out devolution as a gamer this gaming generation that I feel the need to speak up. How many of you out there can relate to me? When you are such a big fan of a franchise, it is nearly impossible to be satisfied with the evolving progress of said franchise.

Yet generation after generation we have seen Super Mario move into 3D, we’ve seen Resident Evil move to over-the-shoulder camera angle, we’ve even seen Final Fantasy go from being all about gameplay and story, to all about cinematography and story, and we’ve seen shooters redefine the online play-space over and over… until this generation, when the standard of innovation fell off a cliff for some blockbuster names.

Here is my personal Top 5 Smallest Advances This Video Game Generation based on my own personal bias and interests as well as my reactions to events in the game industry. I don’t expect everyone to agree (especially not with all five) since we all have our own viewpoints and opinions surrounding these largely popular titles, but hear me out.

5. LittleBigPlanet 2 – Looking for love in all the wrong places, LittleBigPlanet was rejected as an Xbox 360 exclusive and found its home on the PlayStation 3 where custom network solutions and User Generated Content are championed, not shunned. After the original’s huge success, many people found themselves playing endless community levels inspired and created by everyone from 3 year old geniuses to bored adolescents spending a few minutes on something they will never complete. The true gem of LittleBigPlanet was definitely its creation system, but did they have to give up on the rest of the game?

LittleBigPlanet had Story Mode levels that were truly unmatched by their User Generated counterparts. The sequel might not be able to hold that same achievement, for better or for worse. Before the beta was even complete for LittleBigPlanet 2 we saw gamers trying to recreate Final Fantasy VII just to prove how advanced their ‘LBP2 skillz’ had become. This is truly great, but somewhere along the line LittleBigPlanet needs to re-define itself before it loses its soul to random vagueness that User Generated communities can sometimes cause.

The little sack-boy story took a good evolution but if the creation mode insists on being the most important, we are going to need to see an adult version of this game with guns and more realistic graphics. Playing with sacks all day gets old, and this sequel came very fast and very disappointing for me. Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m asking for too much in the post-Guitar Hero era. Don’t get me wrong, LittleBigPlanet 2 is an amazing game that’s probably one of the best throughout the year it released, but it could have been so much more if it wasn’t rushed out for a cash-in.

4. Final Fantasy XIII – Just like the other franchises mentioned in this post, this game strikes in my heart as a very important moment in gaming. Upon the release of Final Fantasy XIII I found myself intrigued, mystified, and very curious. The greater half of vocal majority players online and die-hard FF fans voiced their internet rage (and in some cases in person) over what is probably going to go down as the “worst Final Fantasy of all-time”. Even being worst in such a series as Final Fantasy still doesn’t mean the game is automatically horrible. I found enjoyment in it and feel like I understand the system that was put in place for the battle to shift from individual actions to over-arching strategies.

However, this game really brought to light the issues that the fan-base has with Square Enix and their new direction with the title that has been ever-distant from the original FFVI + FFVII styles that made the franchise so popular in the first place. Like with Resident Evil’s progression over time, we see increased focus on graphics, increased invasion of Action elements at the sacrifice of Adventure and Role Playing ones, and worse – a failure to respond to the fans’ needs for innovation. Just when I thought things were going to be saved, the ‘Gestalt mode’ made me cringe as I found it to be a never-ending Chinese torture session of missed opportunities for amazing gameplay design.

Final Fantasy is a game that has always pushed the envelope. It makes a point to be different every time, so asking for it to bring back some of its roots into the formula might be a little out of line. However, I do think its worth noting the similarities between the largely beloved Final Fantasy X and the largely hated Final Fantasy XIII. Both games sacrificed a lot to bring what is essentially a linear experience to the gamer world in which Final Fantasy is still well represented. It worked the first time, but maybe it’s time to learn while you are ahead and keep FF an RPG game with a more believable illusion of freedom than was presented in FFXIII.

3. Unreal Tournament 3 (PS3 Version) - This game could have been a masterpiece, especially the PlayStation 3 version which was a timed console exclusive by Epic Games (though no one would know that thanks to their $0 advertising campaign supporting that factoid). The exclusive features on the PS3 to justify this? Oh no big deal, just MOD SUPPORT, and FREE MAPS from the UT3 ‘modding’ community. This was an amazing feature to include, in fact revolutionary to an industry that now champions DLC as a way of selling every little enhancement, map, and feature that gets added to a game after release.

Why then, was it never implemented in full? Epic Games seriously dropped the ball in a way that is unforgivable this time with the failure to make the maps and mods smooth to play on and share on PS3. If you head over to UT3Mod.com right now you will still see new mods and maps being released periodically for the 2007 FPS game. However, despite Epic Games teaming up with the creator of this website which hosts maps and mods across the entire, massive UT3 Mod community, the “mod browser” offered in-game (and released a long time after the game) is a joke at best, doing almost nothing to simplify installing these mods and maps.

The pinned “2020″ post of how to install maps using the PS3′s Web Browser should be a testament to how useless this feature truly is. The game also claims to “auto-download” custom material from servers running this content, however it never seems to be that simple and installing is always a must anyways. Unreal Tournament 3 should have taken the world by storm, but it was missing that ease-of-use LittleBigPlanet had when it comes to accessing User Created Content.

Those of us patient enough to actually roll with the archaic system got to see everything from UT3 snowboarding to playable characters like Cloud Strife and Marcus Fenix on the PlayStation 3. You have a lot to learn from Sony and Media Molecule on this one Epic Games. But you should have already known better having already had a successful and alive mod community. Another case of dollars over innovation, disappointing and definitely a ‘WTF?’ moment for this generation of video games.

2. Resident Evil 6 - The game is still not here, so the verdict is out of course. However, from the looks of what we are being shown so far, I have to be honest – I’m a little disappointed already. With Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube came the first major re-draft of the Resident Evil series since the original trio debuted to huge popularity on the original PlayStation system. Gracefully done, RE4′s formula brought a lot of Action elements into the series which seems to have been necessary due to hardware limitations that were introduced by pushing graphics to the limit for the generation of consoles it debuted for. RE5, while a beautiful looking game, should no longer have been pushing those limits on current hardware.

Rocking a GUI nearly identical to RE4 though we saw RE5 rise to great popularity amongst a typical amount of negative fan feedback (you can’t always please everyone right?). I personally relate to people who miss the more survival-horror, exploring roots of the franchise. However, I do feel RE4 and RE5 were done very well, and thus acceptable evolutions of the series. But for Resident Evil 6 to continue making minor tweaks to this formula without re-defining the game again causes me to feel slightly robbed.

I take a jog down memory lane and realize that we are playing the same original concept that debuted on the GameCube so many years ago. At this rate it seems Capcom is never going to give us that mystical, fantasized balance between Action and Survival Horror that all true RE fans crave. Instead they want to try and bring us that same compromise but with the same UI we’ve been playing since RE4.

Many fans are okay with the small tweaks Capcom is bringing to the table with this new installment, I just pray we see a new engine and facelift to the game and aren’t doomed to keep playing RE4 re-arrangements generations into the future.

1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 - To break down an exhaustive list right now about everything that innovation junkies find troublesome with the COD franchise would be redundant; that’s what google‘s for. That being said, some of the worst points that can be pointed out are the maps, the greedy DLC structure that ELITE didn’t make better as promised, the lack of acceptable bullet tracking and hit detection (that the Kill Cams prove as well as YouTube), and best of all a major lack of change while game after game was presented.

That sure was a mouthful, and if you love this franchise still then you won’t feel my pain on this and will probably see my view as that of a hater. Either way, the fans of Call of Duty are sectioned off to so many different segments. There’s COD4 killers out there still believe it or not, even as COD9 (Black Ops 2) approaches. More importantly there’s MW2 players with and without the DLC, MW3 players with and without ELITE, Black Ops players that don’t know up from down anymore, and World At War players screaming “I’m still here!”, but nobody can hear them.

How are we supposed to be interested in this as online multiplayer veterans of the gaming industry? How many times will people be willing to buy the same thing over and over again? I suppose we will have to wait and find out when some real competition surfaces, since currently no shooter is able to challenge good ole’, all American COD.

Conclusion

Love it or hate it, every game has its pros and cons. That doesn’t mean we should lie down and accept “good”, “okay”, “decent”, games that are “straight” at best and only called the best by those who are following the dollars. Most of these games are not completely garbage, and actually some of them are very high quality productions. The reason these games were chosen is because they have all given the feeling that much more could have come of this. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if every game company worked with Mod developers and Indie designers and threw all of the corporate complications out the window to go beyond the mainstream redundancy we see today.

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