December 17th, 2010
A few hours into God of War III, after the thrill of lustrous graphics wears off and the quota of mega set-pieces is spent up, it becomes widely apparent that replaying the original God of War for the third time over isn’t all that fun anymore. Following the tremendous height of the opening sequence ascending Mount Olympus on Gaia’s back (however contrived it may be), God of War III‘s new ideas and samples of sharp design are few and far between, and in conjunction with the facade of epicness the visual purpose, I found it difficult not to feel anything but pure deceit.
Never Judge a Book by its Cover
Graphical fidelity, being part of the context, what the player actually sees and therefore interprets the game to be, asserts a great deal. To us visual creatures, a high-end visual presentation suggests premier quality and importance, while a low end production suggests modesty, simplicity, cheap or poor quality and/or niche appeal. This appraisal is obviously a false one, but it’s a natural one as well, one that we can’t really avoid. As much as I trumpet on about rule systems and whatnot, it stands that when I see a game like God of War III, the visual presentation has an effect, a psychological effect denoting importance.
Disconnect between the presentation and the reality of the gameplay (rule systems, mechanics) can therefore be dangerous for a high production title and, on the other hand, a non-issue for a low production title. When a God of War III show-ponies high technical prowess and then fails to match this level of excellence in regards to game design, players get suspicious. (Such is the case with the contrived battles against the titans). And players ought to be suspicious since, due to the psychological component of appearances, they’re effectively being fooled into thinking that something is greater than it realistically is. At some stage there has to be a realisation.
The realisation creeps up on as with our ever-shifting interpretation of the visuals. As we familiarise ourselves with the visual construction of a game, the original impact and magnitude that the presentation had on us loses out to a more functional interpretation. Bumps in our conciousness for aesthetics occur when the game sparks our interest again with new environments, characters and effects. While game designers are getting better at engineering these types of bumps, along with other poor design tricks to keep players going, there will inevitably be a realisation point. And once the player arrives at that point, their enthusiasm sours.
In my eyes, God of War III failed to maintain visual interest through its mid-section of similarly-looking Greek-inspired architecture and underground labyrinths, as opposed to God of War II which traveled through snow, forrest and sky. Most importantly, however, is the fact that the game was getting continually less interesting the more you played it. That is, in addition to a sheer drop in pacing, the past 4 articles of criticism began bubbling to the surface in my subconcious.
Hollywood is Dead
For me, God of War III drilled the “graphics are ultimately superfluous” argument into the forefront of my brain and has completely turned me off of what Microsoft and Sony are marketing as “hardcore” experiences. These companies are training us to buy the virtues of hollywood and not the virtues of good design. Not that the two are mutually exclusive mind you, but rather one set of priorities can come at the detriment of the other. An industry that has mindless expectations for these supposedly Titanic sinking experiences wrapped up in digital glitter is not an industry that I want to support.
And so there is probably a point of contrast, a game that stands in humble opposition to these free-roaming Goliaths—and that game is CrossworDS (also known as Nintendo Presents: Crosswords Collection in Europe). Here is a game free of glamour and pretension, and faultless in its design.
I’ve been playing CrossworDS regularly for 6 months now and have got a great deal of enjoyment out of it over such a long duration. Here is a title which is humble, unassuming and delivers precisely on what it set out to do. Furthermore, CrossworDS has enriched my life and the lives of people around me. CrossworDS has:
- given me much enjoyment and satisfaction over a long period of time
- improved my ability as a wordsmith
- been the last game since Doctor Mario that my own Mum (whom never plays games) will ask me to set up so that she can play for hours at a time
- been a wonderful tool at helping my Chinese girlfriend practice English and a great 2 player game that we can play together
God of War III aims at an insurmountable high point, fails epically and leaves the player ultimately feeling hollow and malnourished. I’m not just singling God of War III out though, other PS3 games of a similar vein have left me feeling the same way. These games are like fast food for the soul, getting worse as they try to be all the more gigantic. In which case, God of War III is the last bout of food poisoning I’m willing to stomach. Good design and humility all the way!