Wednesday, July 28, 2010
My review of DeathSpank is up at thephoenix.com. This was a terrific game. While I focused mostly on the humor in my review, I'd also like to mention how great-looking it is.
Remember the graphical arms race that marked every new console launch for years? My memory of the 16- and 32-bit generations contains lists of how many colors a system could display, how many polygons it could process (flat-shaded or texture-mapped), and how many special effects it could handle in hardware (alas, the Sega Saturn couldn't do transparencies!). Every mention of video game systems was about graphics.
Since the launch of HD-compatible systems, the cries of the graphics hawks have mostly been silenced -- perhaps because the best-selling console of this generation is emphatically not HD-compatible, or perhaps because graphics really are good enough at this point. They will continue to improve, and I'll welcome that, but today's games are making bigger strides in areas besides the visual.
The war cry always was that graphics are no substitute for good game play. Now that battle has been won. But it's also not the whole story. Raw graphical processing power is no substitute for good gameplay. Inspired, visually appealing art is a huge asset for any game. Sometimes it still can overwhelm a player's better judgment when the gameplay is less than ideal. (But we'll talk about Limbo another time.)
DeathSpank isn't just funny and fun to play, it also shows you interesting things all the time. The cotton candy-colored enchanted forest, the glowing orange demon mines, the fetid green swamps -- these are all equal to the zaniness of the story and the dialogue. The graphics amplify what's happening in the game; they don't overwhelm it.
One last point on this: it's interesting that you have to go to the budget space to find games that take risks with their art direction. The majority of AAA console titles all strive for realism. It works for some of them (the fidelity of Red Dead Redemption gave the proceedings the right measure of seriousness), but it's astonishing how many games about alien worlds and altered dimensions are incapable of imagining anything but gray industrial corridors. I guess it's a risky business move to delight your audience.