What makes a great game?
I love To the Moon. I always will. I have incredibly fond memories of playing it, though I’ve only ever run through it once. The story is unique, well paced and touching – I actually cried playing this game (a single manly tear).
But, is it a good game? I remember struggling through the beginning because of the awkward puzzles that were clearly forced onto the player. Luckily, these were scrapped halfway through, but that made them feel even more jarring and out of place.
It’s memorable, and the story is amazing, but I think it falls flat as a game. There’s little to no interaction, and what’s there is lacking, as all of the story is told through text. To the Moon would’ve likely worked better as a book or movie.
It’s a tricky question, though. Games are the sum of all their parts – story, sound (which I forgot to mention was also fantastic in To the Moon), graphics, gameplay, etc. In this case, the story and audio shined so brightly that the rest didn’t matter, or at least, mattered less.
Does that make it a good game? Personally, yeah, I think it does. I think it’s a great game, with crappy gameplay. But, the story more than makes up for it.
On the flip side, we have one of my favourite series, Devil May Cry.
This is essentially the polar opposite of To the Moon. The story in Devil May Cry is, in a word, trash. The voice acting is horrendous, the story is cheesy beyond mortal comprehension and some of the character relationships are questionable at best.
To be fair, I’m being a bit harsh – the first game I think this is all true of, but in the sequels (DMC3 and DMC4 were the only sequels) they managed to play with their reputation a bit and run with a super-cheesy B grade vibe to great effect. It’s still something of an acquired taste, though, and many still don’t see any appeal to the series’ plot.
However, what all critics and audiences can agree on is that the gameplay is phenomenal. Without talking too much about it, DMC is all about the stylish combat – players are graded based on how stylishly they defeat demons, rather than how efficient they are, and the grades are more important than anything in the games. This means style is everything, and when the combat system is so deep and refined, even a single encounter can keep you occupied for hours as you practice and improve. On that note, the games are extremely unforgiving; at the time, they had a reputation similar to Dark Souls, if not as intense.
This is similar to To the Moon, in the sense that one part of the game rose so far above the rest to make the entire experience shine. Games aren’t unique in this sense, but they take this multifaceted critical approach to a new extreme. A movie can be expected to be (critically) shunned for shoddy camera work or a bad story, regardless of how good another factor happens to be.
With games, people tend to ignore certain faults in favour of others. Games vary so wildly that no two genres can be compared the same through a critical eye – imagine comparing the new Call of Duty to Limbo. They’re both games, right?
I realise that films are similar in some regards. It’s not easy to compare Her with The Avengers, even though Scarlett Johansson is in both. However, both can be criticised in similar ways, such as pace, cinematography and plot.
I know this post is rambling a bit, so I’ll just wrap it up – games are so different from one another that some don’t even feel like they’re a part of the same medium. People often get up in arms over scores (“this puzzle game received 79, but this action game received 97, *publication* is so *expletive*”) but the fact is that all games just aren’t comparable. No single thing makes a game great, except maybe your own experience, which is so objective it’s worthless in terms of critique.
But, that’s the only thing I’d consider to be the crux of a great game – a great experience. Whether it’s intense, sad, happy or simply fun, I believe that a memorable experience is the only sign of a game that’s done it’s job.