There are many rubrics to judge a game by, like graphics or controls. The varying lengths of different games should be part of that equation too, but as of late, a single-player campaign’s duration is being given more and more weight by gamers. For example, when it’s public knowledge that a game only lasts six hours, some will write it off completely. And while it’s a consumer’s right to spend their money how they choose, this hasty judgment means many have missed out on some really stellar games in the last six years.
As this generation comes to a close, and most developers have begun to find new--not always welcome--ways to extend playtime, we’re celebrating titles that told stories that were exactly as long as they needed to be. In a time when shorter games were going to XBLA/PSN/Steam, these retail releases dared to be different. These experiences may have been brief, but they stuck with us longer than many games that put content quantity before quality.
Perhaps the game that best epitomizes wasted potential this generation, we’re glad EA took a chance on Mirror’s Edge, even if we’re still a little annoyed the publisher never gave it a sequel. Mirror’s Edge made platforming work in a first-person perspective better than ever before, teaching players how to fluidly navigate a stage. The most skilled gamers could quickly connect free-running moves to blast through a level with exhilarating deftness. Of course, this also meant that the game could be beaten in a handful of hours if you learned fast enough.
But the colorful, stark, and oppressive world of Mirror’s Edge is so unique that we can’t fault DICE for building such a finite amount of it. And if you’re looking to make it last longer, might we suggest playing the game the ideal way: without guns. It’s more fitting for protagonist Faith to not bother carrying around bulky weapons, instead relying on her nimbleness and parkour prowess to take out her assailants. It’s a badge of honor to beat it that way, and the extra challenge will likely add a couple hours to your game clock.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
Shattered Memories had a lot of reasons to be overlooked. It was a seemingly unneeded remake, it was a Wii game with waggly controls, and it didn’t feature many of the things people associated with the Silent Hill series. On top of all that, it could be beaten in an afternoon--but that’s all the time this introspective game needed to tell its specialized tale of love and loss.
The game started just like the original with Harry Mason crashing his car in Silent Hill, then beginning his search for his daughte. But things change quickly: The narrative makes subtle shifts based on player choices and sporadic interviews with a therapist, though none of it makes much sense until you reach the surprisingly touching finale. Perhaps those shifts in plot will inspire some to go through the campaign multiple times to see the different results, but we preferred remembering our time with Shattered Memories as the only life Harry lived in the world of Silent Hill.
Brevity is a negative thrown at almost every title Platinum Games puts out, but the developer enjoys focusing on a maximizing its time with player. Platinum wants to take insanely explosive action to new heights, and the devs usually focus that brilliance into a selection of finely-tuned stages instead of stretching it thinly over 16 hours of play. Vanquish is the guiltiest of all Platinum’s games in this respect, but we’re glad the adrenaline-fueled title didn’t overstay its welcome.
Protagonist Sam Gideon’s Augmented Reaction Suit should take much of the blaming for the fleeting feel of Vanquish. It turns him into a super soldier on rocket roller skates that moves from cover to cover at fantastic speed; if that means the chapters are shorter, so be it. We’d rather run at 200mph and punch a robot 'til it explodes than blind fire at said robot for 10 agonizing minutes.
Child of Eden
For music aficionados, an album’s qualities aren’t really judged on the number of tracks or total length of all the songs, because the audience doesn’t intend to only listen to the album once. That comparison doesn’t always work for games, but it fits perfectly for Child of Eden. This rhapsodic shooter may seem fleeting, but that’s only if you didn't take the time to hear all its tracks more than once.
Child of Eden was the follow-up to Rez that many had waited nearly a decade for. And just like Rez, the stages paid dividends to replays and exploration. But the heartbreak didn’t end in low sales: not long after Child of Eden’s disappointing profits, creator Tetsuya Mizaguchi announced he was stepping away from development for the time being. We hope Child of Eden’s lack of success doesn’t make his exit from game design permanent.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
Partially thanks to the Assassin’s Creed filling Ubisoft’s free-running-guy-with-a-sword niche, this generation was a quieter one for the Prince of Persia franchise. After a would-be reboot, The Forgotten Sands saw the Prince return to his Sands of Time roots just as he got his own feature film. You’re better off overlooking the movie, but Forgotten Sands is classic PoP gameplay in a lovely HD package.
True, it can be beaten in a weekend, but that weekend will be filled with the series’ dependable 3D platforming, improved combat, and clever new uses for the franchise’s time manipulation mechanics. We’re not sure if the short play time scared people away, or if it was the assumption it was based on the film--we promise this is Gyllenhaal-free--but trust us when we say that your fears are unfounded.
Developer CyberConnect2 has been creating dependably good Naruto games for years, but most non-fans have missed the team’s steady flow of quality. Last year the team decided to put its Naruto skills to good use, by creating the anime-infused, furious action title Asura’s Wrath. The episodic tale of revenge seemed too steep at the initial $60, given the fact that you’ll be watching cutscenes at least as much as you play, but the game is too absurdly awesome to miss.
You punch people until all six of your arms explode off your body. You piledrive a spaceship. You fight a boss so big that his finger can crush mountains. If such inspired absurdity was at the cost of a couple fetch quests, we’d gladly pay that price again and again.
The House of the Dead: Overkill
It’s hard to fault any House of the Dead game for being short. The series is rooted in arcades, and most entries in the series are meant to be beaten in 90 minutes at most. Compared to that, the (one-time) Wii-exclusive House of the Dead: Overkill is a Tolstoy novel. Well, if Tolstoy loved blood, obscenities, and strippers.
Built as a tribute to grindhouse films of old, Overkill was proudly lowbrow, and for a time it had the honor of the most f-words said in a single game. Even with all that going for it, some weren’t interested in a brief stay in this haunted shooting gallery, not even when it was rereleased for PS3’s Move with an “Extended Cut.” Sadly, works of art like Overkill often go unappreciated in their time. C’est la vie.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare franchise
Call of Duty makes Activision approximately $700 trillion a year, and its multiplayer mode is one of the most consistently played in the world. However, while many sink hundreds of hours of playtime into the online shootouts, the game’s single-player is remarkably good at packing a huge amount of action into one compact campaign.
CoD’s solo modes have had some of the most involved action sequences in gaming ever since the first Modern Warfare. Most campaigns are finished in under five hours, but by the time they reach the end, players have been treated to dozens of jaw-dropping moments. These story modes may not be deep, but they're better popcorn fare than almost every big-budget film of the last decade, so it’s no surprise that there are many CoD players out there that never even touch the multiplayer.
…burns half as long
And much like the games on this list, this feature won’t overstay its welcome either. But, were there any awesomely short games we forgot? Remind us of them in the comments.
GamesRadar is the premiere source for everything that matters in the world of video games. Casual or core, console or handheld - whatever systems you own or whatever genres you love, GamesRadar is there to filter out what's worth your time and to help you get even more from your games. We deliver the best advice, the most in-depth features, expert reviews, and the essential guides for all the top games.