Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on November 27, 2006
Over the holiday weekend, long after my Technology & You column on the PlayStation 3 had been published, I finally had some extended time to play games and also watch them being played by some younger, and more game savvy folks. What I am about to say will probably win me even fewer friends in the gaming community that the original column, but I found that while the action is exciting enough, the games tend to suffer from a boring shallowness.
The problem for me is a lack of any real strategic elements to the games. I’ll generally exclude the sports games from this judgment, especially the better ones like Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL 07, which really do require some solid understanding of the game to play well. The problem I have with these is the sheer complexity of the controls. And I don’t expect a lot of strategy in racing or martial-arts games.
My real disappointment is with the genre known as first-person shooters, best represented among the initial PS/3 releases by Sony's Resistance: Fall of Man and Activision's Call of Duty 3. Despite terrific graphics and frame rates that make the action seem cinematic, at the conceptual level these really have not progressed very much from the "monsters in mazes games from the dawn of personal computing, where you wandered around a maze, hoping to kind and kill the various monsters lurking there before they killed you. The mazes are now battlefield farmhouses and enemy trenches and the weapons and controls are a lot more sophisticated, but the general idea is the same.
Both of these games feature stories that are little more than settings for the carnage. In Resistance, you fight alien mutants that have taken over Europe; Call of Duty is based on a badly distorted version of the battle for France after the Normandy invasion in world War II. The basic rule in both games: see the bad guy, shoot the bad guy. Each level requires you to solve some minor tactical problems: charge or advance stealthily, which weapon to use when. But there is no room for any strategic thinking; you just carry out each mini-mission as the game has planned it for you. The Xbox 360 version of Call of Duty at least had some little puzzles built in. In the PS3 edition, these seem to have been replaced by contrived situations that require you to use the motion-sensing abilities of Sony's Sixaxis controller.
I'm not asking game developers to turn their products into high-level intellectual activities. But it would be nice to see some elements that required players to exercise their brains as well as their reflexes.