Monday, March 30, 2009

Wanted: A good bang for my buck

I'm on record as an advocate of shorter games. I'd rather play an expertly paced 10-12 hour game, one which keeps surprising me and has the good sense to quit while it's ahead, than one that repeats itself for 40 or 50 hours and focuses too much on minutiae.* When the biggest criticism of a game is that it's too short, I think to myself, isn't that a good thing? Shouldn't a good game leave you wanting more? I think it's a better use of my time and money to play something short and sweet, rather than something that outstays its welcome.

But even I can't believe how short Wanted: Weapons of Fate is.

I sat down to play this game at around 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon. By 5:30, the end credits were rolling. This isn't the kind of game where the single-player mode is a perfunctory intro to the real game -- that is the whole game. There's no multiplayer to be had. You can play again on higher difficulty, or with different costumes, or with certain challenges, like only using physical kills, but nothing that fundamentally alters or expands the gameplay experience you've already had.

The tricky part is that Weapons of Fate is actually pretty good. I could make some token complaints, especially about the unimaginative boss battles, but it succeeds at its main goal, which is to give players the ability to bend the trajectory of a bullet. That's fun. The environments were varied enough, and the battles pitched enough, that there was a real sense of progression through a story. When the game ended, I felt I could have happily kept going.

Trickier still: if it had been fully twice as long -- a still-slim 8 hours -- without introducing any other new ideas, it's likely that I would have gotten tired of it. I can't say for sure, but even Wanted's last level, a chase up the stairs of a bell tower, starts to feel padded. So does the game deserve props for getting out while the getting is good, or reprobation for charging $60 for what ends up feeling like half a game?

Maybe both.

Related: A New Taxonomy of Gamers: Supply and Demand

*Fallout 3 excepted, of course!


Derik said...

I always felt that as long as the game was innovative enough to alter gameplay through multiple plays in the campaign, it doesn't matter how short it is. Just look at Fallout 3 or Portals; the campaign in both is relatively short, but it's fun to play through time and again just to see what you can do this time through.

Michael said...

Speaking of Fallout, have you tried the new DLC? I ignored your advice regarding Operation: Anchorage and was disappointed. I promise to abide by your review of The Pitt!

gatmog said...

I only played the demo, so I can't really comment about the game's overall length.

The game itself resulted in a very different experience for me. I never read the comic, but enjoyed the movie for the brainless and ultra-violent entertainment that it was. The game had a chance to capitalize on these themes, but did not. It is boring. Even the act of bending bullets - what is essentially selling the game - is completely uninspired when they have a *movie* in front of them for reference.

Rather than repeating myself, I'll leave a link to my thoughts on the demo. Naturally, I suggest you read it.

Weapons of Fate

Joe Tortuga said...

I'm a proponent of smaller, more focused games, but then I also thing they should be cheaper. I'm not sure where that sits in the rental world, since short games lend themselves to rental. (DLC may be the answer to this)

Still, the Wanted Demo turned me off pretty quickly with it's "Pussy" level difficulty. That and I don't have any gaming history with cover mechanics (besides a frustrating Gears experience), so I just quit it. I think quitting before you repeat yourself is a good plan.

If you can add gameplay in DLC, and sell your games cheaper it's probably an excellent plan

robyrt said...

Wanted is an unfortunate victim of the tacit agreement to price next-gen video games at $60. In a world where games were not looked down upon for costing less than full price, it could probably have made more money at $40.

Do you know whether Prince of Persia saw returns from cutting its price to $40 a few weeks after release? If so, this opens the door for future short-but-good titles to do the same.

Mitch Krpata said...

It is strange that everybody has agreed to charge $60 for a game, no matter what. I'm reminded of the story that when Left 4 Dead was discounted by 50% on Steam, sales increased by 3000%. Bill Harris wrote an excellent analysis of that, as well as the larger question of pricing. With what I've read about Wanted so far, it's got to be the case that the price is going to cost it sales. If it were a $20 game, people would be recommending it no problem.

Michael, I have not yet played the Pitt -- probably because Op:Anchor was so disappointing!

Gary A. Lucero said...

I don't mind short games per se, but if it's short because they spent the time adding multi-player (COD4, for instance), then I don't want to pay $60, because I basically never play online multi-player games. That's a rip-off for me.

As far as Wanted goes, I think a short, second or third tier game should be cheap: Hopefully $29.95 but $39.95 isn't totally unreasonable.

I can buy Anchorage or The Pitt for Fallout 3, a game that I will play a total of 200+ hours before the end of April, undoubtedly, for $10 and get 5 hours of game play out of each. I would rather do that than buy a game I may not like for $60.

In the end it's not the length but what you do and how challenging the experience is. HAWX and Halo 3 are two games that I bought and finished and neither took just a few hours. I died many, many times, and only played them single player, and they were well worth the money. Neither is a game I'll ever play again, but I still felt they were worthwhile.

Gary A. Lucero said...

Mitch, saw your comment about Anchorage. Anchorage is awesome! Played through it again yesterday and it may lack narrative, and maybe that's what turned you off (I can't remember what you said at the time but I vaguely remember you not liking it), but it's such a different experience than the main FO3 storyline, and I really dig it.

Plus, when you get out and you have tangible benefits from playing it, with cool armour and a great single-shot rifle, it makes it well worth it.

I finished The Pitt yesterday as well as the 2nd playthrough of Anchorage, and they are both great.

Keep it coming Bethesda!

Filipe Salgado said...

I have to agree with the price issue, but as somebody pointed out, the option of renting the game is available.

gatmog said...

With what I've read about Wanted so far, it's got to be the case that the price is going to cost it sales. If it were a $20 game, people would be recommending it no problem.

Actually, if WANTED were a $20 game people would be calling it "movie tie-in shovelware". I doubt they'd give it a second look.

I'm surprised that no one has commented on the possibility that the game's quality is the reason it won't sell. It is currently sitting with a metacritic rating of 66%. Sure, it may provide some mindless third person action that's fun for a half an hour (or maybe four!), but has anyone looked at this game as a representative of the source material? Or, more importantly, as a good game?

I didn't get to play the whole thing, so maybe that's a valid reason to completely ignore what I had to say. However, in many of the reviews there are complaints aplenty about the small, generic arsenal (in a game about ASSASSINS!), limited variety in game mechanics (press LS to bend bullet!), and obviously what you all have pointed out here: length.

You even say yourself that had the game been longer than four hours, you would have been tired of it past that point.

Maybe it's a credit to the developers that they quit while they were ahead; it was impossible to go any further with the concept. But that isn't a tight narrative packed with action, it's lazy video game design with a hollywood property on the box.

I don't want to sound like I loved the movie, because I didn't - it was actually kind of stupid. But I'd feel completely ripped off - even at $20 - with what GRiN cobbled together for Weapons of Fate.

Mitch Krpata said...

I actually thought the game was just as good as the movie, which is to say that neither was amazing, but both were decent enough, worthwhile uses of a couple of hours of my time. I'm used to playing film adaptations that seem to share little in common with the source material, and that wasn't the case here. As far as retaining the "feel" of the movie, this is one of the most successful adaptations I can think of. (No idea how well it compares to the comic.)

The limited arsenal doesn't bother me, either. You earn a total of (I think) three guns over the course of the game, but at the same time you are constantly gaining new abilities to use with the guns. It's pretty much the same thing as getting new weapons -- the "shrapnel storm" ability, for example, is essentially a heat-seeking missile. It just happens to be shot out of an automatic pistol.

I have read that game publishers argue that a $60 price point gives the *perception* of quality, which may be the case here. But I don't know. The low cost of downloadable games has been a boon for incredible (and short) games like Braid, Flower, Portal, etc. I think if a game is good, word will get out. If Wanted's length is being mentioned in every review, that's got to be because it costs the same as every other game.

Simon Ferrari said...

The relationship between cost and demand on our perception of a game's quality has always stumped me. If a game scores around an 85 or above on Metacritic and it's in one of my genres of choice, it's an insta-buy. But if I find a game that scored a 65 on sale for 15 dollars or less, I snatch it up and enjoy every minute.

Makes me wish reviewers could account for this in some way - "if it goes on sale for half price in the next six months, this gets a B+" or some such nonsense.