A new generation of consoles is about to spawn an old debate. Can a game be good just because of its visuals and style? Sure, the new Xbox and PlayStation 4 games will look pretty, but when I personally review a videogame, there's one thing I keep in mind: substance over style. Some of the upcoming launch games might look appetizing, but there needs to be enough meat on the bone to satisfy my gaming hunger. Well, that’s true most of the time; there are some games, however, that get by on style.
We’ve all played a game that fits this bill. I’ve played it to hell and back, and chances are that you have as well. I’m talking about Borderlands, a game that has so much style it is pouring off the screen. Its actual gameplay, though, isn’t really anything to write home about. Often described as “Diablo with guns,” the game is filled with the same fetch and kill quests we’ve all been getting tired of from the MMO genre. Yet there is something about the game that keeps us coming back for more. There is the initial glee every time a new character splash screen comes up; the joy of hunting for a bazillion guns; and the thrill of fighting badass monsters. Replace the game’s graphical style, cast of characters, and plentiful weaponry, and it’d be just another dungeon grinder.
Borderlands isn’t the only example of this. Back in 2005, a game called Killer 7 was released for the GameCube and PlayStation 2. Never heard of it? Shame on you! But, honestly, I can’t blame you, Capcom didn’t really promote the game at all and its presentation is so over the top it is off-putting. Killer 7 is the complete definition of style over substance: a bloody, cell-shaded adventure featuring seven different assassins who all enjoy killing and swearing. The game itself? Oh, it’s a rail shooter. You know, like those older light-gun arcade games, only you actually control the rail your character moves on. So yeah, telling people that they need to play this rail shooter doesn’t exactly spur excitement. But proclaiming that Killer 7 is an acid trip’s worst nightmare, filled with more language, sex, and blood than you know what to do with is a fantastic way to raise some eyebrows and perk some ears. It doesn’t matter if the gameplay is lacking; Killer 7 is something that needs to be experienced.
It should come as no surprise that the game comes from Suda51, known for his completely over-the-top style. I mean, the man took a button masher and threw in zombies; put in a sound track created by Mindless Self Indulgences’ Jimmy Urine, and has you play as a cheerleader that shakes pom-poms, jumps, kicks, and chainsaws her way to victory. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like one the best button mashers I’ve ever played.
I’ve got more, too:
- Bulletstorm is just your average shooter with muscly armed characters except that it rewards you for the most insane kills imaginable. These kills include masterpieces such as the one where you pull in your enemy, shoot off his legs, kick him onto spikes, and then throw a grenade at his corpse which consequently explodes into a million pieces.
- Dead Rising is just some random beat ‘em up except for the fact that you’re trapped in a mall with thousands of zombies and can kill them by smashing anything you find over their heads.
- The original Super Smash Bros. is just an okay fighting game with one exception: Mario can beat the snot out of Pikachu.
Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here. There are still plenty of cases where style can’t successfully mask a game’s flaws. As I said in my recent Wildstar preview, the game focuses so much on style it refuses to elevate the gameplay above being a familiar and irritating MMO experience. Dead Island is a flawed hack-and-slash hiding under the mask of a zombie game. Doom 3 has so much style that you can’t see a damn thing due to the game’s severely dark atmosphere.
I still adhere to my rule of substance over style; it just happens to not be the number one rule. The number one rule a game needs to adhere to is simple: It needs to be fun.
Date: May 10, 2013