We’ve seen it too many times now. That one specific genre or series of games that will not stop putting out a similar product repeatedly until everyone is sick of it. From typical nerdy tropes, cliché zombie outbreaks, Call of Duty’s yearly installment, Assassin’s Creed’s relentless releases, and even beloved Nintendo series, it can often seem that very few developers care about the lasting value of their games.
Call of Duty is consistently criticized by many for its refusal to change or innovate its core mechanics. While many installments take place in different periods of time that allow for new weapons and scenery, the core of the game is identical every year. Despite its heavy criticisms from fans, COD is consistently one of the best sellers every single year. This can be hard to criticize. While many hardcore gamers may scrutinize this series for its lack of innovation, maybe it is clear that this series is not meant for that audience. If people hate its redundancy so much, how does it sell so well? The answer is simple; the people that speak out against COD every year are the vocal minority. They may not be pleased with this yearly product, but plenty of other gamers love them and look forward to each release. This series has almost become the villain in the video game industry, but this animosity isn’t necessarily fair. Yes, the similarity in these annual titles has pushed me away. It has been several years since I have given them my money or attention. While I do not plan on buying any more of their games (unless they create the highly coveted Modern Warfare 1&2 remake), I think they are a fantastic part of the gaming industry. The series consistently gives millions of gamers in the world something to look forward to and has brought video games even closer to the forefront of entertainment. It is not exactly my cup of tea, but it is keeping countless others satisfied on a yearly basis. So who am I to want that to stop?
Assassin’s Creed is also a large offender of over saturation. While Ubisoft may not be taking part in all of the mobile entrees, the combination of several studios has created a staggering twenty-two titles in the Assassin’s Creed universe since its original release in 2007. The past two years have not gone incredibly well for the series. After receiving a considerable amount of backlash in 2014 for their double release of the problem ridden Unity and critically underwhelming Rogue, Ubisoft saw a dip in sales for their 2015 release of Syndicate. Realizing how this over saturation is beginning to take a toll on them, Ubisoft has decided to take a year off from releasing a major title during 2016. However, their presence will still be known with their 2.5D trilogy collection (Assassin’s Creed’s Chronicles), a mobile game, and their first film. While I admire that they are taking a year off to improve mechanics, reinvigorate, and build hype for their major 2017 release, this is hardly a “break”. They are still relentlessly releasing content and continuing to over saturate their own IP. I love a lot of Ubisoft’s content, but they have severely disappointed me with this series. I really loved the integration of the Animus, Desmond, and his ancestors for the first four entrees to the series. However, half way through the 5th installment I was no longer enjoying myself. Every game began to feel the same, lacked innovation, and ultimately felt flat for me. Maybe this series is just not meant for me, since they are clearly selling very well and delving into other forms of media. It still saddens me that this thing I once I loved now seems to be a money grabbing trope, rather than the thought-provoking and fun series I once knew. Perhaps they’ll continue this trend and take more time off between releases. I think a breath of fresh air and a new take on the series (where is our Japanese AC?!) could really do a lot for Ubisoft and one of their most popular IPs.
To play devils advocate, I want to talk about a series that is definitely becoming over saturated, but often gets a free pass and still gets me to buy every yearly release. The Legend of Zelda is a yearly release that seems to stay under the radar from this sort of criticism. To be fair, Nintendo certainly does try to break the mold with this series. Nintendo often tries to expand the Zelda universe and create varying and lasting experiences with most of their yearly titles. While some of them may fall flat (I’m looking at you, Hyrule Warriors), I appreciate the diversity and breath of life these entrees bring to the series. Nintendo has also become a “victim” of remastering and remaking old titles that their fans loved in the past. However, they do not simply copy and paste titles that are four or five years old with a fresh new coat of paint. They take older classics, freshen their aesthetics, add new features, and change or fix parts of the gameplay that fans consistently complained about. The latter can be seen in the 3DS’s streamlined water temple in Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker HD’s more bearable Triforce piece collecting and faster sail, and Twilight Princess HD’s reduced tears of light gathering. While there may have been over 10 Zelda titles in the past decade, they seem to remain fresh, or at the very least recapture the magic and nostalgia of old releases.
The gaming industry is in a very interesting position right now. With HD remakes and yearly releases becoming staler than ever, developers are going to have to either adapt and add variety to their series or avoid releasing games so frequently. This lack of originality may be very prominent in several mainstream series, but there are still a slew of innovative and fantastic developers that continue to break the mold with titles such as Undertale, Splatoon, and Ori and the Blind Forest. Gaming is doing just fine, but we must continuously advocate for originality, or else this still young form of media will become stale much too early.
Entertainment comes in numerous forms. Everyday we read books, watch movies, play video games, listen to music, and play or watch sports. We look towards entertainment and hobbies to enjoy ourselves and have some sort of escapism from the arduous task that is life. Some people have a passion a few of these forms of entertainment, while others dabble with them all. While it is impossible to state that one of these pastimes is definitively the best, there is certainly one that encompasses the rest.
Video games are a very exceptional form of entertainment. While there are plenty of mind-numbingly simple and mundane games in the Google Play and Apple App Store, there is also an incredible amount of games that take the best bits from all forms of entertainment, and combine them into one masterpiece.
Video games often act as some sort of “greatest hits” of their entertainment siblings (e.g. cinema and novels). Let’s take a look at a game like The Last of Us. This game is highly regarded by almost every person in the gaming community. From the outside, it may be hard to understand the appeal and magnificence that lies within this game. It may just seem like your typical over the top and cliché zombie story. However, it is near impossible to deny its brilliance after playing it for a short period of time. It perfectly captures the excitement and drama of top quality films, while retaining the superb detail and character progression that is found in novels. Even musically, the Last of Us does not fall short. With the score recently coming out on vinyl, you can experience what is truly an engaging and emotional soundtrack.
The most evident hobby in my family is the enjoyment of sports. They enjoy the intense live action and competition that sports provide, and even participated in such events when they were younger. The Last of Us also brings this to the table. Alongside the superb single-player campaign is the exceptional multiplayer mode. It takes the most intense bits of the single-player campaign and mashes them into a competitive setting that makes every single round feel exhilarating and frightening. While I may not be the biggest sports fan, I imagine this is how my brother and father feel when they watch the Patriots and Red Sox play in the playoffs. Competition is an incredibly healthy part of the human psyche. We strive to improve ourselves, defeat others, and become the best. The beauty of video game competition is that it is always a possible hobby. Sports can be a fantastic hobby, but the sad truth is that it’s not something we can do forever. Plenty of people love to play football, but there comes a time where you must hang up your jersey and retire before you cause some serious damage to yourself. Thankfully, video games aren’t quite as serious. Competitive gaming is something that is accessible to almost every single person, whether they are a professional or a complete beginner. Whether you are a misbehaved six-year-old, an incredibly “hip” eighty-seven-year-old, or a skilled twenty-year-old, Xbox Live and PSN are always open to new and adept competition.
Finally, it is important that I address the most essential part of video games. The interactivity of this pastime is the base and most crucial part of the experience. This is the area where video games truly excel and surpass any other form of entertainment. Music, cinema, and novels can compel us to think and see in new ways, but none of them can truly give us the freedom and choices that video games do.
With all of these aspects combined, it is clear that modern video games are truly an art form (when done right), that deserve as much respect as the next Hollywood blockbuster (if not more). While the Last of Us may be a perfect example for these claims, there are countless other games that provide the same kind of content. Thanks to the increasing popularity of speedrunning, even single-player games have the aspired completive edge. Video games are certainly not the definitive and proven “best” form of entertainment, but I dare you to argue that they are not the most diverse and well-versed pastime that we have today.