For the past week, I’ve been playing Mafia II. Like most people, I like the idea of playing a title that offers a rich story, gives me opportunities to do more than one thing, and lets me enjoy a GTA-like experience.
But as I play the game, I continue to have an unnerving thought: it represents everything that the gaming industry has become. And by doing so, it properly illustrates the issues that old-school gamers like myself find with the gaming business.
See, Mafia II is a fine game. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, and for the most part, I think the average gamer would like it. But it’s mediocre in every way.
[Image: Sleeping Gamer by Adam Reeder]
The game’s graphics are good, but not great. There are bugs that will annoy even the most laid-back gamer. The storyline is so-so. And the action, while fun, can become derivative over time. Taken as a whole, Mafia II is a solid, but flawed experience.
As I look beyond Mafia II and consider all the other so-called “major releases” over the past few years, I’m struck by how similar its experience is to all the others. The gaming industry has been inundated with mediocre titles in 2010, and just as many heartbreaks have made their way to store shelves in the past few years.
Take, for example, Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Is it fun? Sure. Is it unique? In some ways, yes. But its storyline is somewhat shallow, and the average player will likely turn the game on only when they want to have mindless fun. It’s decidedly solid, but it’s flawed.
The same can be said for Heavy Rain. I know that, like Battlefield: Bad Company 2, it gets all kinds of props from gamers, but the controls are atrocious in Heavy Rain. And only the gamer that is fine with little action will understand what all the allure is about with that title. It is, once again, a solid, but flawed game.
Although the list could go on, I think the aforementioned releases speak to the issues developers are having. On one hand, they want to create the be-all, end-all for games, and they have the ability to do so. But they’re ruled by development budgets, time constraints, and a pushy publisher that wants to get games out for as cheap as possible to reap the biggest reward.
The only problem is, that’s not necessarily possible. So, publishers and developers have decided upon a middle ground. That middle ground allows the developer to create a worthwhile game that will do just enough to captivate audiences, while the publisher can capitalize and turn a quick profit.
Of course, there are some exceptions to that rule. As mentioned Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption, and even God of War 3 show that with the right vision, a near-perfect game can be developed. But they are few and far between. And they represent the “old school” of gaming where quality mattered more than sales.
But maybe we shouldn’t complain. As 2010 has shown us, there are a lot of really great franchises in the gaming space. And those franchises have helped push the industry forward from a niche to an entertainment medium.
But I’m sick of solid games. I want more epic adventures that push game-development forward. I’m looking for the Citizen Kane of games that changes everything. But so far, we’ve been given Mafia II.
Don Reisinger is a technology and video game columnist. You can see what he's up to each day on Twitter by following him @donreisinger.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SlashGear