So in the midst of all the Fallout 4 reviews, news, reactions, review-roundups, frame rate and graphical hiccup discussions, and much, much more; I thought I’d chime in and give my two cents on the various topics…with an article that has nothing to do with anything related to Fallout.
“Gameplay”…The word that most of you think you understand, but really don’t. And don’t worry, I don’t think I completely get it either, which is exactly why I’m going to ramble on for a 1000+ words giving my thoughts on it…sounds legit.
But seriously, “what is gameplay?” We constantly hear it from journalists and developers all over the world. We ourselves use it multiple times when describing why our favourite game is our favourite game, and why a game sucks because of its “shoddy gameplay.” None of you use “shoddy”, but I lived in England for a year so it comes out every now and then. But again, what the f#ck does that mean, “shoddy gameplay“? For me, in the simplest terms, gameplay is exactly what it says it is, how does a game play. To simplify further, how does it feel. Now, yes that is very vague, but it’s something that cant exactly be specifically defined. “Gameplay” can refer to an assortment of things depending on the game. Anything from how the controls feel – the translation of button input to what happens on screen – and how smoothly your interactions translate to your character movements and/or game mechanics. It’s something that when explaining in such technical terms, still doesn’t explain why when a game is less “fun” because of it’s gameplay.
Let’s give some personal examples.
Because they’re more fresh in my memory, I’m going to talk about the recent titles I’ve played and how their “gameplay” is what primarily gave me an idea into why I liked/didn’t like the game.
1.) Bloodborne. Never having played a “Souls” game in the past, I knew I was going to get slaughtered in this game. And I did. But, what kept me going was how incredible, and I say again, the game plays. The controls are some of the tightest I’ve ever experienced, the animations were smooth and never skipped a beat(frame), and everything about the combat mechanics and both player and AI movements were near perfect. Which is exactly why every time I died, I knew it was my fault and not the games’. It simply played beautifully. Ruined my life, but that’s for different reasons.
2.) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Again, never having played an MGS game before and currently going on a binge to catch up on all of them, I didn’t know what to expect out of this one seeing how it’s the first one I played and just finished. The game was incredible, from story, to the characters, to gameplay “mechanics.” I say “mechanics” because although I loved the level design, camouflage suits, stamina bar, weapons/equipment, and everything else, the game “played” – I don’t want to say horribly, but – “awkwardly.” This could be because of the odd Vita controls, but even getting used to that, it didn’t help. The shooting felt horrible, Snake sometimes would move in the weirdest ways, the AI had random spikes of super intelligence and then idiotic behaviors. Every time when I thought I was getting used to the controls and the mechanics of the game, it did something gameplay wise that got me frustrated and took me out of the experience. Again, this could be due to the control mapping on the Vita, or simply because the game didn’t age well (which is funny because I love how MGS1 plays), but it’s still something that I took notice, and is an example of a game where I absolutely loved everything surrounding it, except for the core gameplay.
3.) The Witcher 3. Another game that I absolutely loved, and have sunk over 100 hours into, but mainly because of the story, characters, and especially the world encapsulating you the player. Oh and Gwent, definitely Gwent. My enjoyment came out of exploring every nook and cranny, taking in the vast vistas, and meeting different characters; rather than the core element of the game, which is combat. I didn’t enjoy it. Every hit on an enemy didn’t feel rewarding, like as if you didn’t hit it. Geralt’s odd twirly strikes both looked weird and again, didn’t seem to have the “punch” when his sword met an enemy. Character movements both on foot and on the horse felt a little off, like this weird sense of “floatiness” rather than being “grounded.” And just these minor quirks and hitches when actually playing the game simply took me out of the incredible experience.
And again, I may be nitpicking, but this isn’t a review for these games, they’re a couple examples of recent games that I’ve played wherein I notice that my controlling of these characters and their actions simply didn’t feel as tight and immersive. But this begs the question, “What is “Perfect” gameplay?” and “Why is it an element that makes it so hard for newer games to master?”
The Order: 1886 is every games journalists punching bag when talking about “gameplay.” And rightfully so. It’s the perfect example of a game that although looks absolutely fantastic, is very unsatisfying when you actually pick up the controller. It’s a generic third person, cover-based shooter. But here’s my thought, isn’t Gears of War the same thing? Those games, according to many, “redefined” the entire third person shooter genre. And don’t get me wrong, they’re games that I absolutely adore, but they are, more or less, a “generic” cover-based shooter. For the time they may have been revolutionary, but if Gears 3 were to release today, I can almost guarantee it would receive higher praise than The Order. Why? I’ve picked up The Order and played it for a couple hours, and got bored. But the thing is, it didn’t really play all that bad, in my opinion. Controls were fine, the shooting alongside the weapons were all good and fun, and it simply played fine, and was gorgeous to look at. It got bashed by reviewers and consumers because of the length, value, QTE’s, and whatever else, and rightfully so; but the way the game played was actually fine, good even. But I assure you if Gears 3 came out today, with a 6 hour campaign and no multiplayer, looked gorgeous, it would still get better reviews. I’m not saying great, but better. But why? Why does The Order not feel as good as Gears? I’m not talking about the characters, or the story, or the setting, or the weapons with chainsaws, I’m simply talking about how it plays. Because in all honesty I think The Order in what it sets out to do gameplay wise, works, and works pretty well. It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed playing it. But for whatever reason, I still would rather play a Gears game than The Order, even today. And I don’t know why. I can talk about character movements, gunplay, button input, and all those other things to give you a reason, but it all comes down to how Gears plays and simply feels better in the hand than The Order. (take a shot for every time you’ve read “feel” or “play” in this article.)
I’ve been on a binge for the past months playing every classic SNES and GBA game I can find. And I’ve noticed how
exceptionally well those games played. If I was given a choice between Skyrim and Super Metroid to be the only game I could play for the rest of my life, I would choose Super Metroid in a heart beat. Not only is it one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played with incredible sound design and ambiance, but it’s incredibly fun to play. Even the later iteration on the GBA, Metroid Fusion is incredible. Games like that, Super Mario World and Mega Man X, are perfect examples of “perfect gameplay.” They just play incredibly. They simply work and do what they’re set out to do. With simple and perfect mechanics, intuitive controls, and clever level/enemy design. It’s bare bones, but it works flawlessly. Which can be said for games like Pac-Man, Tetris, or even newer games like the original Angry Birds. I could play any of those games for hours on end without getting bored, something I can’t do with many games that come out now. Why? Because, say it with me, “they play perfectly.”
So, why? Is the evolution from 2D to 3D gaming that big of a leap that developers simply can’t get it right? Maybe, but I think there’s more to it.
You see games today have so much at their disposal to cover their ugliness. From graphics, story, characters, lengthy cutscenes, explosive set pieces, motion capture, huge massive worlds for you to explore, and more. And although all those things are great, developers now simply don’t focus on what’s most important. The Gameplay. I have the utmost respect for all those classic games because they didn’t have the technology to cover anything up, so they had to make sure the game played perfectly. And what little they could do with music, colours, and written dialogue, was only to enhance the experience, not to make it the main attraction, because that is a place that was always reserved for the core game itself.
I don’t know if we’ll ever get a game that scraps everything else and simply focuses on the “game.” But hopefully we will. What do you guys think about gameplay? What are some of your examples of games you thought had “perfect gameplay”? Let us know in the comments below!
Check out a more in-depth, 2017 version, video from Shaz below!