I was hugely excited to play Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Having been a massive fan of the franchise since its inception, I had expected the initial entry in the series reboot: Human Revolution, to let me down. Despite some of the video game’s flaws, it captured the essence of what a Deus Ex game was; the music, the story, the gravelly voiced protagonist. Deus Ex was a brother that had gone travelling around the world, and had come back with a new tan, new tales of adventure and a new pair of automatic sunglasses. Suffice to say, the video gaming experience this time around is vastly different.
For my brother’s next visit, a whole host of worries preceded his arrival. I heard about his dalliances with the “Augment Your Preorder” scheme, and subsequent introduction of a Day 1 edition after overwhelmingly negative feedback. He also got mixed up in the popular new fad: microtransactions, where you could pay real money to upgrade Adam Jensen’s array of abilities, without even playing the game. When my brother finally arrived on the 23rd of August, he looked an ill, broken man, complaining of numerous game-breaking glitches that could easily ruin your play-through.
Familial metaphors aside, when I finally got to playing Mankind Divided, the experience was vastly tainted. Despite the game receiving overall approval, I just couldn’t get into it. This feeling isn’t exclusive to Deus Ex. It was the same with Fallout 4, where buying the season pass was massively devalued by the fact that over half of the content was settlement-related.
Nearly every major release nowadays is coupled with a season pass, promising access to a future array of DLC, and it has now become an expectation rather than a bonus. I get the strong impression that this has lead developers, under pressure to push out post-release content, to cut content from the main game. Why else didn’t I have access to a particular style of chair in the vanilla version of Fallout 4? I remember thinking that the lack of any variety in the settlement creation elements of the game was a sure sign of future DLC.
It has got to a point where I can no longer ignore this constant barrage of additional payments we’re expected to make. I’m not so naive as to think that developers and publishers never had money on their minds in the past, but its importance has grown inexorably to a point where money trumps quality of experience. What pushed me to write this article was Sony’s PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro announcements, also keeping in mind Microsoft’s Xbox One S and Project Scorpio.
I can understand the various arguments that are being put across for why shortening the console generation cycle is beneficial. It allows console studios to become more competitive with PCs, and to keep up to date with the latest developments in hardware, such as 4K and VR. Even so, I’m still left with a bad feeling in my stomach. Not much is known about the nature of these future consoles, and various spokespeople for either company aren’t making the situation any clearer. For a brief moment, it was implied by Sony executive Masayasu Ito that the 4K HDR patch for existing games on the PS4 Pro would cost money for some titles. Microsoft’s Phil Spencer caused confusion by saying all versions of Xbox One will support all games and accessories, which can’t be the case, as the Project Scorpio console will have VR capabilities and hence VR exclusives.
In my opinion, it all reeks of money grabbing, no matter how loudly they all attest to be innocent of such intentions. How could money not have been the main goal when Sony decided to release two consoles in the space of two months? It’s only a matter of time before you have PS4 Pro exclusives, and Project Scorpio exclusives, as it’s only natural that developers are going to want to make full use of a newer console’s capabilities, driven as they are to compete and make better games. Sony and Microsoft know that this shift is inevitable, and they will utilize it to coax more of us over to their newer platforms.
Again, I have to emphasize that I’m not against companies making money. Otherwise there would be no video gaming industry to criticize in the first place. If I take a moment from my tirade, I may be persuaded to think of the modern day prominence of these money making tactics as a necessary evil. (I won’t be, but let’s go with for it a bit.)
As the technology behind video gaming grows ever more complex, so do the costs. From the graphics artist who has to work extra hours to cram an ever increasing amount of pixels into their designs, to the QA testers who need longer to check for a wider variety of bugs across a multitude of systems; people need to be paid. Then is it so bad that we’re being asked to part with a little extra cash to supplement the extra effort?
Yes. We see no return on our extra investment. If anything, the quality of product, and services around the product, have gotten worse. Gamers are subjected to a deluge of delays, such as with Final Fantasy XV, No Man’s Sky and The Last Guardian. Even when a finished product does come out, it’s riddled with faults, or the game has been overhyped to such an extreme that the final product bears no resemblance to what was promised. Again, No Man’s Sky springs to mind. And I in no way blame the programmer, as an example, sat hunched over her desk at 2AM trying to fix all bugs in the code for the upcoming release date. She just wants to her labor of love to be the best it can be, but overall control is taken away from people like this and given to those who think that we actually want microtransactions and the like in our games.
It’s this relentless bombardment of imperatives to purchase that I detest, and which makes gaming a little more upsetting for me the more it goes on. In some instances, the intention is so blatant that it borders on insulting. The recent swathe of game remasters, for instance, is a prime example of this.
Admittedly, I do like when a remaster is done well. I was a huge fan of the original Flashback game, and it’s remake in 2013 gave me all the right nostalgia tingles. That’s when a remaster is makes sense; when a game is summoned from the era of pixels and mullets and dragged into the 21st century. An example from the opposite end of the spectrum is the Heavy Rain & Beyond Two Souls Collection for the PS4. Aside from including a few extra snippets of content, I couldn’t tell the difference graphically. It controlled the same, looked the same, and played the same.
It’s as if game developers have run out of ideas in this generation, and so are devoting all of their time and effort to easy wins with game remasters. It definitely shows. The last generation had a plethora of ‘system sellers,’ such as Gears of War, Fable, Mass Effect, Uncharted, Heavy Rain and God of War. I struggle to find a game this generation that I would want to buy a console for so that I could play it. Taking games that already have hugely positive feedback, recreating them graphically, and lumping in all the pre-existing DLC to boot is the surest way to cash in for the least amount of work.
Video gaming for me used to be a pretty isolated affair. Not in the sense of single-player gaming, but in how we were a mostly ignored past-time, and the media thought of us all as quirky loners. The buzz around gaming has been growing at a staggering rate, and people have come to realize just how lucrative the video gaming industry can be. After years of increasingly aggressive tactics to part us with more of our money, I now feel like I’m a consumer first, and a gamer second. It sours the whole experience.
So as I spend my evenings with Adam Jensen, raiding the apartments of innocent citizens and relieving them of every scrap of wealth I can get my hands on, I can’t help but be amused by the irony, and at the same time feel that we’re all being laughed at behind our backs.