My first post: What makes a great game anymore?

There are a glut of games these days and no way to play them all. What makes a great game now and why should you play it? Just as the case with Hollywood cinema, there are many sequels and copycats out there, so how do you sort through the mess?

Gaming as of late has become more and more commoditized and over-produced just how many other sources of media have become, including news, TV/feature films, and music.  This is an unfortunate result of when the technology built into gaming hardware now demands high production value from the software produced for it in order to create a smash hit.  Even more unfortunate is when a model for a smash hit is created, many studios try to imitate or even use the engines designed for the games that succeeded and each title starts to feel recycled.  Sometimes a series grows and stays at the same level, while offering a somewhat different experience each time as with the Resident Evil franchise, while others get stale and begin to lose their lustre until they are re-imagined (Mortal Kombat and Castlevania come to mind).

On the other hand, when new IPs and new ideas come about to reinvent or reinvigorate a foundering genre as a whole, as in the case of survival horror with Naughty Dog's in-development title "The Last of Us," or the recent detective adventure, LA Noire, hope is renewed.  These titles were not only new IPs, but look to raise the bar for their respective genres.

So what makes a game great these days? In the old days it was all about graphics, controls, sound, challenge, overall fun factor, and replay value.  Two categories that are never really measured though that are very consistent in excellent titles are the exploration factor and mood/emotion created.  

From the exploration perspective, look at most of the 2D "Metroidvania" themed Castlevania entries or even the title that inspired them the most (Super Metorid).  These titles were always compared to Metroid not only for their interconnected map sections and blocks that made up an area, but also for the hidden items and passageways that opened up new parts of the game, or puzzled you when you had to find an item or ability to progress.

With that said, exploration is one of the key ingredients missing from todays games.  Look at Castlevania: Lords of Shadow for instance.  Yes, there are some areas that can only be accessed with newer abilities and must be revisited later in the game, but there isn't the wealth of hidden objects and passageways that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night offered, which was successfully replicated many times in Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS entries.  The loss of item collection in Lords of Shadow has become a sore spot with fans along with the gameplay which feels completely copied from a God of War entry.  Lords of Shadow in it's own right wasn't a bad game and got rave reviews, but is a huge detour from what the franchise was all about and alienated long time fans of the franchise.  Could Lords of Shadow been much better simply with a ton of exploration and item collection thrown in? It would have certainly improved the experience, but what was really missing more than anything was the signature soundtrack from the likes of a composor such as Michiru Yamane, which brings me to the next point of what makes a great game (and is largely overlooked) - mood.


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