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New Challenger: E3 – Electronic Entertainment Ennui

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For months now my copy of Gran Turismo 5 has been giving me dirty looks from the dark corner of my desk it landed in when I ejected it with disgust from my PlayStation. So what? I waited months for that game. Years even, and I don’t even play that many racing games. There was just something about GT5 and its status as the PlayStation 3 flagship game that gave it a monolithic reputation as a must-have title. Imagine, then, the disappointment of many on release day, the excitement of thousands of gamers reaching fever pitch as they liberated the game from its shrink-wrap prison. The first sign of trouble in paradise was the sheer size of the install before truly getting into the game, not to mention the amount of internet grumbling on the subject of premium and standard cars. Surely the game would still stand up as one of the all-time greats; surely it would be worth all the delays, promises and waiting. After all, they had long enough to get it right, right? Wrong. Many, many gamers experienced a giant wave of disillusionment when they first started to play GT5; a sort of world-weariness better known as ‘ennui’. I know I did.

So, E3 is coming up very soon and I’ve been trying to decide if it truly is a haven for those who love video games to celebrate and revel in the excitement of the future, or whether it’s the first step on the long road to inevitable disappointment that is adding to the overwhelming sense or boredom enveloping a lot of gamers today. I work with a lot of people who play games and who openly admit that increasingly when they buy games they’re ready to trade them in or just put them back in the case and forget them (much like my GT5 experience) after a week or so. Why is that? Games are so expensive now that each purchase ought to bring a meaty slab of playability, excitement and interest to the table. So where do things go wrong? Why is the number of people feeling like this increasing so rapidly? Obviously, in the space of this column I can barely scratch the surface, but I’ll make like the plucky Brit I am and give it a go.

One of the most obvious offenders is marketing. A well-executed advertising campaign stirs up gamers’ expectations into an enormous frenzy, leaving the reality of the game far behind the idea of how good the game is going to be. The disappointment that meets gamers who go out to grab the latest titles is often a result of being told and shown why they simply must have the game and how much better than similar or previous titles. The problem, which is becoming a bit of a recurring theme for me, is that the same ideas are just being rehashed into slightly improved versions of originals. I don’t mean game mechanics; more the torrent of sequels all over the market just coughing up the same things time and time again but with little improvements. However, this is not the only central issue.

The focus is now shifting from the individual to the group, so people like myself who are primarily out for a genuinely rewarding and memorable single-player experience are often left with half-hearted games with a big multiplayer component. In this case, the reason a game falls below expectations is because of the developers. Dead Space 2 is a very good example of this; was there any need for an online multiplayer section? No. And many reviews and impressions of the game discussed this very thing. Bioshock 2 was another game that fell prey to the idea that multiplayer somehow makes a game better. It may well add longevity to the game and I understand why multiplayer is almost a staple in modern games development, but when it happens at the expense of the rest of the player’s experience it should not be seen as a good thing. Both these games suffer from single-player campaigns that are not even a shadow on the first instalment, which is shameful when they are two of the strongest and most impressive new ideas on disc this generation.

Downloadable content is quickly becoming a very large point of contention for me. The very idea of holding back something that was conceived of in the process of making the game, just so it can be sold for more revenue from release day or shortly after. Even pre-order bonuses are becoming excessive, especially the ones that are just DLC, which should be a part of the game anyway, lumped in with the game at release, so long as you basically committed to purchase the game in such a way that the publisher knows the very bottom line income to expect. I always feel annoyance towards games that do this, not least because I am aware that if I did not pre-order then I’m already missing out on something. And is a mild feeling of resentment and exploitation any way to feel before starting to play a game?

What about gamers themselves? Are the people who play the games responsible? Perhaps the game should be played with more attention, or gamers should be pickier about the titles they invest in so as to get more out of the few games they do spend money on. However, why, and even how, could the target audience of video games be held responsible for not enjoying the products created with them in mind? Surely the onus is on the developers to make something the consumer will enjoy as much as possible or they have failed. (And that really is a scary thought!).

With this in mind I will be watching avidly for E3 press releases, news and glimpses of hardware, but I will be wary of getting my hopes up too high for anything that looks good because, more likely than not, it will look a darn sight better than it plays, which is why I’m worried about playing Duke Nukem Forever

Lastly, I can’t resist giving a small mention to the PlayStation NGP, expected to be revealed in all its pimply detail at E3. After calling Nintendo handheld systems babysitting devices and so dubbing their users children, Sony have announced they are reducing the new PSP’s specifications so as to arrive on the market in direct competition with the Nintendo 3DS. Nice one.

Video games were a part of Chris's life from the Mega Drive onwards. He has many happy gaming memories, including the first time he collected all the chaos emeralds in Sonic 2, collecting all SSBM's trophies (yes, all of them) and, more recently, collecting far too many platinum trophies on his PlayStation 3. In the real world, he has a degree in French and is currently living in Frankfurt, Germany. Follow him on Twitter @DPrime_Chris

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