Some of my fondest memories as a kid involved heading to an arcade, getting a few dollars from my parents, and plunking a few tokens into some games. One of my favorites was Rampage, which put you in the shoes of one of three humans who find themselves transformed into a building-sized caricature of a famous movie monster.
The concept is immediately familiar to anyone who has seen even the briefest of clips from a Godzilla or King Kong movie: as one of these giant monsters, it is your job to level every skyscraper, swat every helicopter, and eat every human in sight. Your mundane life as a pencil-pusher for some faceless corporation is but a distant memory - the only thing your monster brain understands is destruction. Slowly punching out the supports of a building, then watching it crumble to the ground, provided a thrill few games at the time could match.
You'd think getting to play as a giant monster to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting populace would be a relatively common power fantasy for video games. But it's not. The first Godzilla flick may have been a poignant commentary about the consequences of nuclear energy, but that's not why they made a God-zillion of those movies - it's because it's a ton of fun to watch monsters duke it out in populated urban centers while people-shaped specks run screaming. And it's something that modern video games have trouble getting right.
A good giant monster game is able to provide a few important things: a phenomenal sense of scale, an ability to destroy everything in the environment, and sense of weight and impact from the monster's moveset. Helicopters, tanks, puny humans with their rifles and rocket launchers - these things are mere trifles for a giant monster. You should be able to bat them out of the sky with a swipe of your scaly hands, or better yet, be able to grab and hurl them at your opponent, who is an equally large monstrosity with its own set of unique powers. Levels need to be spread out enough that there's room to maneuver without getting caught in the environment, but dense enough that something is getting broken no matter what. And they need to be flashy - lots of explosions, sparks, and crumbling debris. In short, the idea is to take the mindless entertainment of Pacific Rim, with its giant robots, screen-filling kaiju, and explosive action sequences, and convert that into an interactive experience. Apparently, this is much harder than it sounds.
Evolve attempted to give players control of a hulking, unstoppable beast, but it wasn't as successful as it could have been. Playing as the monster in Evolve should be great, as you devour local wildlife to grow and gain more powers. Instead, you're stuck running and hiding from piddly little hunters in between snacks. It's a neat concept, but it's all ultimately a bit wasted when you're going up against something so small. Playing as a hunter is thrilling because you're going up against a foe much bigger and stronger than you, and you have to coordinate with your friends to slowly wear it down - when the tables are flipped, the experience falls flat.
Then there's recent travesty Godzilla, which fails spectacularly in nearly every respect. It might be a comprehensive history of everything Godzilla, but not unlike the giant lizard, it's a slow, cumbersome beast, and feels more like an attempt to cash in on a Hollywood blockbuster a year too late rather than an actual attempt at making an adaptation worthy of the legendary movie monster. It also looks like a PS2 game, but not in a good way - its levels are sparse, and while Godzilla can flatten buildings with his laser breath, all of his moves lack that 'oomph' you'd expect from a proper modern console title.
Lately, it seems like games just can't get this whole mega-monster thing right, when they even attempt to do it at all. But when they do get it right, they provide excitement few other experiences can match. Take War of the Monsters: developed for the PS2 by the studio that made Twisted Metal: Black, War of the Monsters is one big love letter to the best and worst B-movies of yore. Combat is swift, each of its varied monsters has an assortment of special attacks that would fit right in a Ray Harryhausen movie, and buildings crumble into dust as two titans clash across an array of environments.
Hell, even Godzilla got it right with Destroy All Monsters Melee. Far from the lumbering pace of the recent PS4 title, Godzilla: DAMM is a snappy one-on-one fighting game that pits iconic Japanese monster movie villains against each other. It's a throwback to arcade classics like King of the Monsters, and it doesn't just nail the authenticity of the various moves and characters from the Toho classics; it's also a highly entertaining brawler in its own right.
Both are successful in providing the thrill that comes from levelling an entire city, of combating strange otherworldly forces with an equally powerful monster, in ways that Evolve or the recent Godzilla game just can't. That's not to say developers couldn't pull it off in 2015, if Hollywood is any indication. The schlocky Pacific Rim and the more serious Godzilla reboot were hundred-million dollar productions, and were both hugely profitable endeavors and highly entertaining - not too shabby for movies about dudes in dinosaur costumes with visible zippers fighting over cardboard box-shaped skyscrapers. Their success gives me hope that these similar experiences can translate to into a modern, big budget video game.
Imagine something with, say, the destructive capabilities of Battlefield 4 or the upcoming Crackdown 3, but instead of playing as the wimpy human with your impotent pea shooters, you're a monstrous beast shoving scenery around like it was made out of paper. The power of these new consoles can allow developers to create a physics-based wonderland, granting players the opportunity to live out their wildest giant monster fantasies. War of the Monsters and Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee both nailed the feel of playing as a giant monster, but they're held back by the consoles they were made for. Now, imagine them being filled with thousands of tiny people running around, hundreds of tanks and jets swarming the area, and a single blast that causes an entire skyline to fall to the ground like dominoes, all rendered in the gorgeous, high-definition style we come to expect from AAA gaming.
Sounds pretty great, right? And I think it's totally doable - it's just a matter of focus, taking a few liberties where you can, and treating a property like Godzilla not as a cash-in, but with a care that a beloved 60-year-old franchise deserves. The joy of being a big monster doesn't come from swatting a couple of bothersome flies - that's merely window dressing, next to grabbing something just as massive and deadly as you and throwing it into what remains of Frank Lloyd Wright's legacy. And just because the Godzilla in the movies moves like a 30-story-tall lizard doesn't mean he has to move like that in his video games. I look forward to the day when someone can take the polish and fidelity only the PS4 and Xbox One can provide and make something on par with my memories of playing Rampage in the arcades. Hopefully that day is soon.