Computer games, as much as any other medium, are mysterious things. They can stir our souls, hotwire our adrenaline glands or disappoint us to our core. For every person who plays a game there is a valid and varied opinion. It’s one of the things that make the subject of a game’s relative quality a contentious issue. You need only look at a series like Zelda to see how entrenched and vigorous the views on either side can be. However, with one particular game I found myself manning the trenches alone, against what seemed like the negative reaction of the world. That game would be Mirror’s Edge and the reaction to the game from the worldwide press and public was, more or less, completely negative. Critics decried the feeling of dislocation prompted by the 1st person-perspective free-running mechanic, while gamers objected to the perceived lack of action and the steep difficulty curb. That and motion sickness; lots and lots of motion sickness.
From this cacophony of negativity, one person seemed to voice dissent and that voice was mine.
In many ways, Mirror’s Edge and I make curious bedfellows. As a long-time devotee of RPGs and never one for twitch-based FPS reaction-fests, I should have loathed this game. No, actually, I should have had no opinion on it at all. It should, all being normal, have passed right under my radar. So why didn’t it? Well, about 12 months before the game came out, on the b side of a gaming magazine video DVD, I came across a promo video for the game and it blew me away. Haunting piano music over the top of what appeared to be frenetic, exciting and dramatic action; I watched it over and over and it made me want to play the full game. Quite a successful marketing campaign in other words. Perhaps this coloured my perception of the final product, made me more ready to accept things others would not, but I enjoyed the game. Yes it has its faults and, yes, if pushed (pretty hard, admittedly) I can perhaps acknowledge that I can see why it would be something of an anathema to FPS veterans. In today’s gaming landscape a game that doesn’t stroke that part of the brain that craves danger and combat is already a few hundred thousand sales behind before it starts.
The thing is, to me, a significant part of what makes it a bit special is just that: it’s a bit special, a bit different. Dice have taken a risk and, in my book, tried to create a new genre, the 1st person platformer. Maybe I’m jaded, but a game trying to break genuine new ground in gameplay paradigms, rather than introducing a single new feature to an existing tired genre, is extremely refreshing and is worthy of praise. Yes it has flaws and is by no means a masterpiece, but it does not warrant the scorn it has received. I’m puzzled as to why it’s received such a reaction too. I understand that people may not like it, but to see such objection on this scale is remarkable.
Sadly, I believe the reaction to Mirror’s Edge from the industry as a whole is an indictment of the attitude of the gaming community at large. Now, more than ever, there seems to be an intrinsic negative reaction to change, to something different. It used to be so different. In the days of the Fallouts, Monkey Islands and Baldur’s Gates of this world, development and innovation in theme, mechanic or genre was something gamers flocked to. Look at things today and the industry is very different. Games like Psychonauts (a truly inspired and quirky game) and Mirror’s Edge receive either no reaction, or a negative one. This would be understandable if they were style over substance, but they’re not. They’re competently developed and implemented products.
So why are they being overlooked? To me, it seems to be the shift in publisher and developer dynamic that is the root cause. Games have moved from a labour of love to being a big-budget commercial undertaking, and with that has come the associated focus on marketability. Now I’m not decrying big publishers and developers as inherently evil or wrong. In many ways they have been a major impetus for progression, but it seems at a cost of more narrowing and uninspired progression.
Games have to make big money now and the best way to do that is to hit the tried and tested methods. Why change the formulae if the last game sold well? Yes, a new style may well sell more, but it could also sell less and that cannot be countenanced. This is understandable and isn’t going to change as long as purchasing trends remain as they are. And that’s the thing: purchasing trends have continued to favour the big-name template games. This is something that seems to have also changed, with public attitudes shifting to now favour the old favourites rather than innovative titles. I have no explanation for this. Perhaps marketing campaigns have taken their toll. Perhaps a young generation who have grown up with little innovation are naturally sticking to what they know and love. Maybe I’m just a crank who sees problems where there are none, who knows?
All I know is that, as far as I can see, the deluge of negativity poured on Mirror’s Edge is at least somewhat unwarranted and it’s a shame to see genuine innovation dismissed out of hand in such a manner. In my view, it is better for a developer to try to develop new concepts and fail than to have released just another mediocre offering. If we lose the developers who truly try and push the envelope, the industry and, by association, we will be much worse off.
I’m looking to experience and compile an archive of unusual or interesting games. I want to celebrate all that defines creativity in the gaming industry, both today and in time past. To do this I need YOUR help. Know of a quirky game you loved or a game you feel doesn’t get the recognition it deserves? Tell me about it and I will do my best to spread the word, or at the very worst, I’ll check it out! Find me on Twitter @paulizod or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at email@example.com