Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Not Merchandising, Understand? NOT Merchandising!

Sunny and I went Christmas shopping today. She’s the only woman I know who when taken into a store and told she can pick out anything she wants will pick a set of cookware.

One of the things we bought was a copy of “Pirates of the Carribean : At World’s End”. The PC version of the game of the same name also came free with the movie. I’ll be honest, when a game and a movie come bundled together for twenty bucks, I don’t expect much from the game…but I tried it out today and can honestly say I was appalled.

First of all, let me be absolutely clear. This isn’t a game like the free Xbox games you can get from Burger King. This is a ‘real’ game, currently retailing for $40 on the Xbox 360, produced by Disney Studios.

How to describe this game? For starters, we’re talking graphics that would have been called bad five years ago…and that’s not an exaggeration. Grungy textures, blocky characters that look like they’re made from about 20 polygons each, a maximum screen resolution of 1024x768 and absolutely no lighting or screen effects. In complete honestly, the graphics in this game are slightly worse than the original Halo.

When a movie based on such a huge franchise can’t match the graphical quality of a game released nearly seven years ago, something just ain’t right. Put it this way, the recommended system to run this game is a PC with 256mb of ram and a 64meg graphics card.

Next we come to the downright lazy and bugged level design. Half the time you don’t know where you are, where you’re meant to go or what you’re actually meant to be doing. You fail missions for no apparent reason and end up running around like a lunatic trying to see if there’s a place you’re meant to get to that will stop you from failing. Certain levels are simple cut-and-paste of old ones (you fight on the deck of the Black Pearl no less than five times during this game). Also, a lot of the time you’ll be fighting and the level will just end.

Yep, no structure, no apparent goal, you’re just suddenly thrust into a situation and 10 minutes later the screen will go black and you’ll find yourself at the loading screen. Again, I’m not exaggerating. You’ll be fighting a bad guy, and mid-swing the fight will just stop…then on to the next level.

As for the actual gameplay, the box promises ‘The Most Dynamic Swordplay ever!’. This is true if ‘dynamic’ means ‘absolutely terrible pile of horse shit’. You have three attack buttons. ‘Fast but weak’, ‘slow but powerful’ and ‘grab’. There are a total of three combos you can use.

Ok, so the gameplay is simple, but you must get involved in lots of interesting battles, right?


Gameplay consists of fighting three enemies at once, over and over. You kill one and another one pops up until they finally stop coming. You get the feeling there’s a ‘velvet rope’ type of situation somewhere off screen:

“Ok, he just killed Steve. Only Bob and Ken are left now. Jeff, you’re up!”

“Why don’t we all fight him at once?”

“Are you mad? No, we stick to the plan. We attack him three on one until none of us are left or the level inexplicably ends. When we’re all dead there’s another 12 guys waiting 20 yards down the road.”

Yep, that’s the other thing. When you finally do get to the end of the three-on-one battle, you get to walk a few yards… and fight three more enemies. Repeat ad nauseum. You literally do the same thing over and over throughout this whole game. Once you’ve played for 5 minutes, you’ve seen everything it has to offer.

Oh, except the boss fights, which are all one-on-one…but all your combos result in the same move.

Put it this way. I would only call this game ‘impressive’ if I found out two ten year old kids had made it in their mom’s basement.

However, the fact it’s been put out by a company as big as Disney, I wouldn’t call it bad…I’d call it absolutely disgusting. How Disney had the sheer balls to put this effluent on the shelves and call it a game is beyond me.

Let’s face it, Movie games tend to suck as a rule. In the past 20 years the only movie game I’ve ever played that was honestly good was Spiderman 2.

This problem comes down to one thing. We’re talking about a product made by people who have no idea what it is they’re actually selling. Movie games are lumped in with the rest of the merchandise. They’re viewed in the same way as the action figures, the lunchboxes and the T-shirts.

Games are simply not merchandising. They’re a form of entertainment in their own right. You can’t slap a movie character’s likeness on a 10 year old engine and call it a ‘game’. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what tends to happen. A big movie release is coming out, so there has to be a game on the shelves in Walmart on the day it comes out no matter what.

What these people need to realize is that they’re expecting us to pay two or three times more than the movie for this game. If I’m parting with between forty and sixty bucks for a game I expect to have a piece of entertainment that was worth the money. Not something that looks like it should come free inside a cereal box.

It’s that attitude that’s the problem. Games aren’t merchandising. When ‘real’ games are in development for years, cost millions of dollars to make…you can’t go to some random game studio, give them a shoestring budget and tell them they have a month or so to get something on the shelves.

Put it this way:

The first Harry Potter book was a worldwide sensation. A record breaking best-seller.

Imagine if they’d made the first movie in a week, with a budget of a few hundred dollars. It was filmed on a regular camcorder in someone’s back yard, the witches robes were home-made Halloween costumes and the magic effects were made by people chucking handfuls of glitter at each other.

Now imagine that they charged full price for a ticket to see it, and put it on sale on DVD for $20.

My point is that this is exactly what happens with movie games. The only difference is we’re expected to pay two or three times the cost of the actual movie.

So, to sum up:

1) Games aren’t merchandising.

2) The average gamer is an adult male, aged 18-35…not a 4 year old who’ll be impressed because the main character kinda looks like the actor in the movie.

3) For a game to be successful, it has to be as good as the other games on the shelves. If your game was made in a month for a thousand dollars, it just doesn’t cut it.

4) Don’t expect us to pay full price for a game made on a shoestring budget.

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