Friday, February 06, 2009

Request hour: The hardcasualist's lament, review scores, and underrated games

Tyler echoes the hardcasualist's lament:
I don't play games that often. I own a Playstation 2, and own exactly zero games for it since I lost Guitar Hero. Other than that, I'll pull out the rare old favorite for the PC, play some web-based game, or load something on my iPhone. Occasionally there's a game I really want to play (Rock Band 2!), but to lay out the cash for a current console and a game or two is just not reasonable. Basically, the bar to entry for an extremely casual gamer is way too high.

Never mind that, I'm not even sure I'd be able to figure out how to play some of the newest games coming out before getting frustrated and giving up.

What should the video game industry do about us old fogeys who have more interest in games than Windows Solitaire, but not enough to go buy a PS3? Are there PC games that are more than browser-based time-wasters but don't require the latest and greatest hardware? Or are mobile devices the next gaming platform? Or what?

I was going to say that Nintendo had people like you in mind with the Wii, but that's actually not the case. The Wii was made for lapsed gamers, not people who were priced out of the next generation. There is still a large segment of people who want the graphics and the "hardcore" experiences of the PS3 and 360, but aren't willing to commit the capital. And let's face it: the so-called casual market, the one that plays Peggle and Bejeweled, is another group of people entirely. There's kind of a donut hole here.

But: the PlayStation 2 is actually still getting quite a bit of support, including Rock Band 2. You just can't download new tracks. And some noteworthy PC developers, like Valve and Blizzard, make sure to support lower-end systems, which means you don't need a cutting-edge system to play Left 4 Dead or World of Warcraft. Additionally, the Xbox 360 is rapidly approaching a true mass-market price point, so before long it may be a perfectly reasonable expenditure.

I think the most interesting part of this question is in the middle, though, about trying to learn how to play some of these new games. It's a real problem. I remember experiencing a moment of panic the first time I ever held the original Xbox controller, thinking "This is too much." But ultimately, playing games is work. They ask a lot of you. It's a matter of how much effort you're willing to put in to get out what's there.

I think the trick is to know what kind of complexity is right for you. For example, I'm fine at handling all the button combinations necessary to play a first-person shooter, but you can't streamline the interface of a strategy game enough for me. Think about it this way, too: you're a fan of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but those certainly weren't easy to learn.

Danilo Vujevic really asked:

Do critic review scores actually mean anything?

A score can be helpful, but it's not the whole story. I make no secret of my love for Metacritic: it's an excellent way to get a snapshot of conventional wisdom. And it's often right. Games with a Metacritic score of 90 or above, in many cases, are games that I think are fully deserving. Having said that, I'm usually more interested in the score that goes completely against the grain. I'd rather read the dissenting view of a game like Fallout or Grand Theft Auto than another one that calls it the greatest game of all time. And I'm often intrigued when a game's Metacritic spread spans 40 points or more. So I guess I'd sum it up by saying that scores do mean something, but you're doing yourself a disservice if you rely on them exclusively.

Matthew Gallant asked:

What games do you feel are critically underappreciated? Games you loved that were overlooked by both bloggers and the gaming community at large.

I would have said both Yakuza and The Darkness, but at least in my circles those both seem to have gotten a little more attention recently. I still think they're both underrated and overlooked in the world at large, though. Both games have excellent stories starring fascinating lead characters, and showcase strong play mechanics. The Darkness, in particular, didn't get nearly enough credit for how well it executed its basic gameplay. Snaking along the ground as a tentacle before lashing up and eating an enemy's heart just never got old.

I'd love to dazzle you with some out-of-left-field pick from years ago, but my tastes have always run to the mainstream. Most of the games I'd pick are probably not under-represented in the hearts of people who read gaming blogs -- games like System Shock and (surprise!) The Secret of Monkey Island. But maybe you'd be surprised to learn of my deep, abiding love for FreeCell, the free Windows pack-in.

To be continued on Monday.


Gary A. Lucero said...

If you listen to podcasts and read blogs you'd think everyone owns every console. Well, I have owned every console, but not all at once. I've owned all of Nintendo's offerings (Gameboy, GBA, DS Lite, Gamecube, Wii), Sony's PSP, PS2 and PS3, and the original Xbox, but right all I own is the Xbox 360and I of course have a relatively inexpensive PC.

Why? Not only can't I afford to own them all at once but I can't afford to buy games for all of them and I don't even want to. I wasted a lot of money trying them all but the only ones that really were fulfilling were the original Xbox, the PS2, and now the 360.

As far as "what should old fogeys do," I'd say "buy a 360." Not only is there a ton of fairly cheap games to buy, but XBLA has a bunch of good stuff too. Buy an Arcade for $200. If you like it you can always pick up a second hand HD down the road.

It may not be the cheapest option but if it's important to you, it's also not that expensive either.

Matthew Gallant said...

I know you're holding out on me, Krpata! Papa needs material to steal for his hidden gems series.

When occasional gamers like Tyler ask me which console to get, I always suggest the PS2. It's small, cheap and still looks great, and it has a huge varied library of now-cheap titles. There are still too few good reasons to jump into "next-gen" in my opinion.

Mitch Krpata said...

Look, these questions have put me under a lot of pressure.

Michael Miller said...

Hooray for the FreeCell shout out!

Iroquois Pliskin said...

whoa I just realized that "the hardcasualist's lament" is possibly a callback to a piece I wrote like months and months ago. Any chance we can turn this into a thing?

Mitch Krpata said...

You better slap a trademark on that while you still can.

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