We can just about understand the way things used to be. When games came on cartridges, the only way you could play a sports game with the correct player names was to either type them all in yourself (which took hours), or buy the newest licensed version. But things have changed.
The advent of DLC has meant that all games could, in theory, be updated via a patch downloaded from the internet. This could either be for free (like many elements of the vastly expanded Burnout Paradise), or paid for (like Pain). This could even help the game manufacturers make better games, as they could spend two years making each proper new version, tiding over their loyal fans with a simple update in the meantime.
But alas, we still get full-price yearly updates with very little truly new content, to the point of nausea. So let's cut through the PR hype and take a look at the kind of updates we're getting right now and whether yearly updates are worth the effort - and the cash.
Let's put this into perspective. The original John Madden console game came out on Mega Drive/Genesis in 1990. So we're talking about 20 years of yearly sequels. And people were starting to complain that the game wasn't changing much each time as early as 1994. So that's about 16 years of dubious incremental updates then. Houston Texans, we have a problem.
We're not saying the long-running series hasn't made genuine progress. Battery back-up let you save your games after a couple of years, which evolved into hard-drive saves and transferable data via memory cards. Team rosters went from fictional to real to international minor leagues. 3D graphics shook things up around 1996 and then got better each time, bit by bit, just like the rest of the game, if the Metacritic averages are to be believed.
But that was 14 years ago now. Let's see what we really got for our money in the latest version.
Biggest changes over last year
- Pro-Tak animation system (allows for more control during tackles)
- New online franchise career
- 9-man gang tackles
- Button-mashing 'Fight for the Fumble' system
The biggest genuine improvement here is online, where Madden NFL 10's franchise season is just superb. With an iPhone app that lets you tweak your books and rosters while you're away from your machine, you may as well be head coach of your favourite team, Blackberry in hand.
But if you're not online? We'd wager that mashing buttons to recover a fumble probably won't become a series staple. And gang tackles where one man can overcome all nine opponents with the right button presses? Hmmm…
Is it worth the upgrade? For online players – yes. Offline players? No.
Oh God, where are we with this one? Guitar Hero 6? 7? 67? OK, well let's put aside the 'Smash Hits' re-release and look at the differences between the last two major iterations, Guitar Hero: World Tour and Guitar Hero 5.
Biggest changes over last year:
- Party mode
- Play with multiples of the same instrument
- Play set list straight off without unlocking songs
The most welcome feature is Party mode. You can drop in and out without failing the song for everyone else, leaving the game to play music in the background when nobody's at the controls.
But how, exactly, was any of this impossible to do with a patch via DLC? And a party mode is nothing compared to the old days where we got genuine progress like in Guitar Hero III where we got breast physics for Judy Nails:
Overall, the series has come a long way since its revolutionary debut on PS2 in 2005. We've seen cover artists dropped in favour of master recordings (and special re-recordings by some artists like the Sex Pistols), the addition of custom soundtracks, online play and 'me-too' addition of drums and vocals. That's about as far as you can take the genre on current tech. Now we've got it, all we need is DLC. Thank you very much.
Worth the upgrade? What, to Guitar Hero Smash Hits? Where you get to pay full price to play old songs you already have? No way.
On the next page: Call of Duty...
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