Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Better paint, same vehicle

I have pretty much been a life-long gamer from my early childhood. The games that I grew up with couldn't rely on fancy graphics to translate their fun to the end gamer - they had to rely on solid game mechanics and a desire to entertain. I defy anyone to say that the concept of space invaders isn't solid. The fact that only one bullet can be fired while on the screen is a master stroke.

Rather, than spew out a slurry of multi-coloured projectiles at your adversaries, you need to line up and predict the flight of your enemy to allow your shot to hit at the point where your enemy will be, rather than where it is at this moment. You also have four barriers which deteriorate with your shots or your enemies, giving a diminishing strategic advantage for the short while that barrier exists. Some of the game mechanics were 'environmental' though. One quirk was that as you reduced their armada the game would run quicker. This in turn ramped up the tension as the remaining alien ships hurtled dangerously towards you. With those few game mechanics, the game became a must-play. Also, it was pretty much the only game of that style at the time.

Turning to modern day games, maybe I'm a grizzled old gamer, but I'm not inspired by a large number of blockbuster games. If you were to strip out all the fancy graphics and set pieces, what would you be left with? What indeed. I think if you squint hard enough, you'll see that Gears of War is, at its most basic, really just space invaders. Sure, you're moving from cover-to-cover while chainsawing the horde, but if you really look, you'll see that you're just a green block shooting at an invader while sneaking out from behind a non-deteriorating barrier, oh and you're spraying bullets as well, hoping that one of them goes in the direction of your adversary. At its most basic, the gameplay mechanics are flawed. So let's do a break-down of the basic features for both games:

FeatureGears of WarSpace Invaders
Cutting edge graphics (for the time)YesYes
Strategic single fireNo*Yes
Increasing difficulty based on number of enemies leftMaybeYes
Deteriorating coverSometimesYes
Enemies moveSometimesYes
Game of skillSometimesYes
One shot death / killSometimesYes
Ability to complete level without being shotIf you're luckyYes
Melee combatYesNo
Awkward dialogYesNo
Awkward 'bromance'YesNo

*except sniper rifle, but then, you don't need to lead the target, so no.

Maybe I'm being a bit harsh about Gears, it is fun, but its core gameplay isn't. It's fun despite the basic concept of a skill-based game being broken. Space Invaders either lucked out or had a different agenda when it was created. It reinforces the need to destroy the invaders within an immediately visible time frame (avoiding them flying into you). It's harrowing to know you have to 'lead' the shot to shoot that final ship as it steadily moves towards you. It's that tension that Gears misses out on. If there was more emphasis on accurate shots and having cover that would always only handle a certain amount of shots before destroying, the game would basically be fixed. Without it, you can go for a coffee and basically be safe. Well, that is until they decide to come up and say hello to your chainsaw. - YAWN - 

Gears is for those that like pizza (who doesn't?) and don't care if they put on a few pounds while eating it. Space Invaders is like a good sandwich. It still fills you up but, you don't pay for it later in the gym. It has everything you need and nothing more. You play gears for the spectacle, for the action, but not for the game. I'm not sure whether that is a good thing.

Note: Gears isn't the only guilty party, but simply an example of modern gaming.