How gamers perceive games has changed greatly over the years. Right now, games are seen as either altogether great or altogether terrible; the overwhelming number of games getting released on a monthly basis and the growing need to justify the games one selects from the deluge kind of ensures that kind of reception. Back when the industry wasn’t flooding the market with games though, it was easier to see and accept a game’s flaws. They could be simply average and still be worthwhile. They could be below average, but worth it for the single new idea they introduce. They could even great and yet still disappointing at the same time. It was just a matter of being willing to see it.
Let’s take a look at Mass Effect 2 for example. Mass Effect 2 has received a great deal of praise over the years, and rightly so. It takes the Mass Effect story to new and darker places, allows players to see a side of the galaxy that wasn’t present in the first game, and it builds on both the combat and companion gameplay. It does a lot of things quite well, and remains a personal favorite for all those reasons and more. However, Mass Effect 2 is not a perfect game in my opinion. It gets quite a lot right, but it still fails to live up to the original in a couple of key places.
Despite its high-stakes story, beautiful locations and competent combat, Mass Effect 2 feels like a shallower game the original. Its worlds are certainly better made and better rendered, but they seem so much smaller than what came before. Planets consist of a handful of rooms and specific mission locations. That’s it. There no sense of scale. No walking for a couple of minutes in order to reach one’s destination in the Presidium. No driving along snowy pathways or crumbling highways to reach the next area on Noveria or Feros. That was replaced by what amounted to a “start mission?” prompt. Uncharted worlds were completely cut too. Sure, they were a chore in some ways, but dropping onto them really made one feel like they were discovering something; and some of those worlds really did look alien and spectacular. Real exploration was a tent-pole of the first Mass Effect, and it was completely taken away in Mass Effect 2. Exploration wasn’t the only feature that got the axe though.
Mass Effect was an RPG with third-person shooter elements. Starting with Mass Effect 2 though, the games became third-person shooters with RPG elements. It may not sound like much, but that distinction actually makes a huge difference. Mass Effect allowed players to fully define what kind of combatant their Shepard was. Was he all-in on pistols or would he only use them as a last resort? Could he use every weapon competently or could he only use a couple? Was he an okay biotic with an incredible gift for tech or was a soldier who could also use throw? All of these builds and more were possible in Mass Effect 1. Mass Effect 2 locked players into specific classes and let them customize within those classes just a little bit. Each class may have been more distinct, but it never felt like they were being improved through the player’s experience. Not so in Mass Effect 1, wherein a player could start out with no skill in sniper rifles, flailing wildy when trying to aim, and by the end become a cool-headed marksmen with nerves of steel. In short, Mass Effect 2 was a very different game from its predecessor. It was, and is, good, very good even. It’s just that it dropped much of what defined Mass Effect in the beginning, and I think it suffered a bit because of that.
I’m certain I’m not the only one capable of taking a step back and seeing the flaws in my favorite games. I’m also sure that there are plenty of other people out there who can enjoy an entirely average game for what it is. Still, it’s important to draw attention to these ideas, lest they get lost in the hyperbolic and over-reactive tsunami that is the wider internet. It’s just as okay to see value in a below-average game as it is to see fault in an otherwise amazing game. Games are multifaceted creations, and it’s okay to accept them faults and all.
What’s your take on modern video game reception? What are some games you enjoy despite some obvious (or not-so-obvious) faults? How about “bad” games that are nonetheless enjoyable?
Lede image captured by Flickr user: Ryan Somma (cc)