Today’s gaming industry is a fast moving one. Trends come and go, games flourish or wither depending on a large number of variables – developers on the climb one month, find themselves languishing and in danger the next. At the heart of the goings on is the game and the humble gamer. Generally we are an easy bunch to please. I know that we have a reputation for being a fickle crowd, but those people I truly believe are in a minority. There’s plenty of variety out there currently and getting hold of games has never been easier or cheaper. Are we really getting value for our money though? Are developers giving us what they were ten years ago? In some ways that humble gamer has never had it better but in others we’re being robbed.
Going back ten to fifteen year’s we find ourselves in the late 1990s. The consoles are dominated by computer games both original and sequels. That was it. No downloadable content, add on maps or extra modes that gamers could rely on to boost the game when they had finished with it; like we do today. PC Games have had expansion packs, bite-sized prequels or sequels for a lesser price, but not always of the same quality. However with console games, you literally got whatever was in the box and that was it. Developers had to ensure that their product not only met a certain standard but also had a very important factor: Replayability.
Replayability was key and just as important as any other aspect to the game. Replayability or replay value allows the gamer to go back to a game and play it again. Sometimes they do it for fun, other times because there is something specific they want from a second playthrough such as a story arc, using a different character or unlockable content. The key factor of replayability back in the day was doing it because you want to do it, rather than out of necessity, something which I’ll explain further into the article.
I’m thinking of some of the games from that era and I’m looking specifically at GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64. It’s a classic we are all familiar with and it had fantastic replay value among other great attributes. One of the reasons for the great replay value was the single player mode. It was loosely based on the movie of the same name and had three difficulty settings that not only changed the speed, damage and tenacity of the enemy but also changed available weapons and gadgets and most importantly the objectives. The change in objectives made each playthrough of a level a totally different experience. Taking the first level as an example; your only objective on the first setting is to literally get to the end of the level. By the hardest difficulty you’ve got to hack two separate computers, plant a communications bug and still escape, all with less chance of getting out alive against a tougher enemy. That’s replayability. If they’d added extra paths to the objectives then it would have been perfect.
Compare this to a current title from today such as the Call Of Duty series. There are multiple difficulty settings, but they alter very little. You still have the same opposition, in the same places, with the same weapons, the same objectives, and the same paths through all of it. All you get for upping the challenge is getting spammed by extra enemies, nearly instant death and a heavy reliance on regenerating health. Maximum frustration and zero single player replayability. Not to mention that single player campaigns are becoming shorter in titles where the developers believe the multiplayer will be key factor to the title.
Of course this isn’t a reflection on all first person shooters. Bioshock, Far Cry 2, even Crysis 2 offer some replay value albeit small and not to the same sort of levels. However as developers see that big selling titles routinely have an online aspect, how long is before single player replayability is compromised in place of a multiplayer feature that offers no replayability either. Obviously everyone is reading this and wondering when I’m going to talk about the multiplayer and realise how wrong I am.
Well no, not really. GoldenEye’s multiplayer has gone down in history as one of the greats, and while it may not hold up well under the test of time it is still a classic. “But it lacks replayability compared to Call Of Duty’s multiplayer!” I hear you shout. No it doesn’t. You see since Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, they have had absolutely no replayability whatsoever. Its packing repetition like it’s going out of fashion.
Call Of Duty asks you to complete the same tasks, in the same levels, using the same weapons, all for experience points which you gather to level up enough to reset the whole process and start again; just for bragging rights! The insanity of this process boggles my mind. I admit I’ve been there, playing as part of the process. After Black Ops I really evaluated just what the hell I was doing with myself. I’d dumped over a total of six days of my life into this game and all I had to show for it was a different coloured badge at the end of my name. I’ve not picked it up since.
There is a huge difference in gaming between replayability and repetition. Replayability must be in titles like Call Of Duty and GoldenEye when nothing, or very little, changes based on the amount of hours you sink into a game. That’s why first person shooters such as Borderlands work so well. The enemy difficulty scales compared to yours and you have more weapons then you can shake a stick at. That’s equally why experience points systems should just fuck right out of first person games for good. They work perfectly in role playing games, where you gain loot, and greater prizes for the hours you put in. A balance needs to be found in online shooters to push first person shooters away from this mindless grinding. Black Ops is a minor nudge in the right direction but the hours I put in doesn’t justify a limited use of a bullet ridden wallpaper and leopard print Kalashnikov.
In closing replayability is still there in some forms of first person shooter; but as games such as Call Of Duty become less of a game and more of a brand, everyone will be beating that cash piñata until it finally smashes and we see what they’ve turned our beloved series into. The disturbing thing is that we see games such as Bioshock 2, and Dead Space 2 adopt multiplayer games both with experience points systems. While this didn’t affect the superb single player of the latter how long will it be before it does?