Due to their limitless creative freedom in building characters and worlds, video games have an uncanny ability to make anything awesome. All kinds of things that would be rubbish, or at least fairly pedestrian, in real life, become ludicrous fun when games get hold of them. Farming, fighting, paper rounds, goats Theres seemingly nothing that games cant make cool.
Except, it seems, things that are already cool in the real world. Or real-world fiction. You see there are plenty of awesome things that, despite their massive potential, usually tend to be a bit disappointing in games, at least once they step out of the cutscenes and become actual gameplay mechanics. There are a few great exceptions for each of course, but really, this stuff deserves better.
Should be awesome because: Think a meteor killed off the dinosaurs? No. The dragons embarrassed them away. Then they just buggered off on a whim, because they were too cool to hang around. Fricking huge great lizards that breath fire, walk and fly with equal adeptness, and are far more suave and better-kempt than those snarling, stomping, feral peasant-lizards, they can often speak English too. And probably drink tea. Being a dragon in a game? It should be amazing.
But unfortunately 90% of the time theyre rubbish. Maybe its because theyre too awesome. Putting dragons up against human-type enemies is so unbalanced a fight that the lizards devastating powers feel wasted. And while combat is usually okay in the sky (if essentially a reskinned air-combat sim), on the ground a lot of devs try to evoke the beasts apocalyptic heft by making them slow and heavy. Screw that. I want a leaping, fluid, tail whipping dragon with the agile physicality of a Xenomorph and the fight skills of Bayonetta. And fire.
Notable exceptions: Panzer Dragoon (even though the dragon acts a bit more like a fighter plane), and Divinity: Dragon Commander. Because you get a dragon with a jetpack. Look, Im stretching here.
Should be awesome because: The only thing cooler than robots? Giant robots. And you know the the only thing cooler than giant robots? Giant robots that are also tanks, that you can pilot as a normal-sized person, thereby emphasising your empowerment from meaty weakling to rollicking great deathbot with a warm human heart. And rockets the size of buses. Being a gun-toting action-bastard can be fun, but being a railgun-toting, 30-foot, titanium action-bastard capable of running faster than a family car and punching buildings in half? The dream.
But unfortunately Mechs often blunder into the same problems as dragons, in that the sense of empowerment is lost through bad match-ups. When solely fighting other mechs, the sense of scale and power drops away in favour of attritional, long-range shoot-outs and lumpen movement that resonates more with the walking tank side of mechdom than the awesome, metallic Rambo factor. And when mechs appear as bonus diversions in FPS, their ability to liquefy human enemies on sight diminishes their badassery further, making them too tough to be truly cool. Little more than turret sections with limbs.
Notable exceptions: Titanfall, for combining multiple scales of combat with fast, pacey mechs and a focus on close-range duels.
Should be awesome because: Stick with me on this one. We all know that water levels are almost invariably shit. But they could--and should--be great. Great games, particularly 3D ones, are all about the joy of movement and control. Theyre about exploration, mastery, and tactical dexterity in space. But generally, jumping aside, they limit us to a fairly flat plane. Water however, with its flagrant disregard for ground-based physics, should unshackle us, freeing us from such constraints so as to positively fly! (swim). They should provide a joyful, kinetic sense of explorative freedom, breaking up the standard gameflow with a temporary, plausible empowerment while at the same time furnishing a relaxing, slower-paced, ambient break.
But unfortunately They dont. Because theyre almost invariably shit.
Notable exceptions: Super Mario 64, for nailing the balance of fluidity, ambiance and control. So why Galaxy didnt get it right is a mystery.
Should be awesome because: The whole world-saving, girl-rescuing, crazy-ability-having, muscle-festishising power-fantasy that AAA games are built on has its roots nowhere but in the pages of early superhero comic books. Plus, games should be able to evoke a real sense of who and what those characters are, better than any other medium. Films can provide better, flashier visual representations of their powers, but only games can provide a real, kinetic sense of what its like to be those characters.
But unfortunately Its almost impossible to hold together the narrative integrity of the superhero power-fantasy in a game that inherently needs frequent lose-conditions. You either end up in a ridiculous situation where Superman gets beaten up by street thugs as he walks to an objective, or you create a boatload of tertiary, dull uses for the hero in questions powers (Hellooo, Peter Parker, balloon-saviour). Then theres the fact that games have been crafting finely-balanced, super-charged power-fantasies of their own for years, thus making proper superheroes both fairly unnecessary and even tougher to make stand out.
Notable exceptions: The Arkham series. Namely because Batman has exactly the vulnerabilities and balanced abilities that a game character needs.
Should be awesome because: Watch Night of the Living Dead. Remind yourself what zombies really mean. Theyre the unrelatable, insurmountable, ever-growing, utterly tireless march of death. They are the loss of hope. The endless siege. They are constant, pitiless threat with no respite. They are an ever-extending horizon of devastation. In games, they should provide bleak, atmospheric horror and desperate, tactical action. They should furnish some of the mediums most affectingly dark narratives. They should be a nightmare.
But unfortunately Im not saying that there arent any good zombie-based games. Of course there are. But think about how most games use zombies, as opposed to the above. Theyre usually convenient, consequence-free bullet-fodder, little more than gore-accommodating excuses for low-level AI and identikit character modelling. They pander to the most cynical reasons to use the undead in game design, rarely implemented with deep thought as to what they truly represent as a unique horror entity. But they're easy. That's why so many games have them.
Notable exceptions: The Walking Dead, for taking a human, narrative angle, and Resident Evil 4 for the sheer sense of oppression. And the cabin siege. Though the Ganados arent technically zombies. But whatever.
Should be awesome because: Theoretically, the heady duel of plane-on-plane is a dizzying, tactical ballet. A maelstrom of free-flowing, multi-directional one-upmanship than thrives on action, reaction, bigger-picture thinking and precision aim. These are the things that great multiplayer FPS is built around, so to remove the ground and replace it with total, improvisational command of space, at the speed of sound, should be a flawless fit.
But unfortunately The problem with moving through the sky at Mach 1 is that, without real-life g-force, it doesnt actually feel very fast at all. Look out of the window of any passenger plane you might find yourself on. What do you see? A large expanse of distant, static clouds and never-changing blue. Couple that sense of non-speed with the distances air battles are usually waged over and, particularly in modern-set, more realistic games, youre looking at a whole lot of time spent lining up two small dots, firing, repositioning, and repeating.
Notable exceptions: Star Fox 64s all-range levels, for keeping aerobatic combat close-range and accessible, and War Thunder for getting the arcade/realism blend juuuust right. And Afterburner Climax, of course, for just taking the shamelessly linear, explosive rollercoaster approach.
Should be awesome because: Stop giggling. Im not talking about sex as pure titillation (I said stop giggling). No, you see my point is that as games increasingly encroach upon the territory of the Mature Narrative Medium, sex is actually going to become a really powerful tool (Seriously, who keeps laughing?). Film, TV and literature have been using sex and sexuality as insightful, meaningful in-roads to characterisation and plot development forever. If games are going to proudly step away from the kids toy stigma--not to mention drop the well-founded reputation for juvenile sexual exploitation--they need to proudly and smartly use this stuff to take on the big boys of storytelling (Honestly, if I have to tell you one more time).
But unfortunately Games writing just isnt treating sex maturely at the moment. At best, even if used tastefully, its more of a tick-box for maturity rather than something that really adds any in a meaningful sense. Generally used in the same way that vapid, blockbuster cinema does--ie. as a disposable script-filler and cheap way of upping the emotional odds--at best its just there. And at worst, when visual explicitness and inadequate graphical fidelity smash headlong into each other, its a bona fide living nightmare of dead-eyed zombie-humping.
Notable exceptions: Er
Son, I am disappoint
So that's my list of things that games should be doing better. But what about you? Do you think I've got any wrong? Do you bloody love water levels in all their forms? Are there any other awesome things you think that games aren't doing justice to? And if so, how should they fix them? Let me know in the comments.
And while you're here, why not have a look at (and ideally a read of) some of our related features? The absolute worst water levels would be a good bet, as would our list of The worst superhero games of all time.