Gamers are always looking for the next big thing. We want a bigger battlefield with more guns, more tracks with better cars or an open world to conquer in hopes of quenching our RPG fantasies.
Determining whether a game is good or not isn’t an entirely subjective process, however. There are criteria to help you get past the hype.
The first thing you need to know is that opinions are like thumbs, everyone has one and nobody’s is any better than yours. Ignore the rabid fans of a franchise that will bestow accolades regardless of proof to the contrary. Even in a rough economy, some people have more money than sense but you don’t have to be one of them.
Games have one and only one purpose… to entertain.
That seems obvious but there’s a multi-billion dollar industry predicated on making you suspend your better judgment. I don’t trust the business of video games so I don’t put much stock in what it has to say about them beyond a release date.
if you can accept the premise that a good game is one that can transcend the sum of its parts then I can give you a few tips to choosing one that doesn’t disappoint.
1. - Never, ever buy a game on pre-order no matter how good it looks.
The reason is that pre-orders are a sucker bet. Promises of early access to DLC and exclusivity pale once the hype has worn off. Those extra few maps and a week or so of playing before everyone else won’t make up for that sinking feeling you’ll get when the game goes on sale for 50% off a month later. Pre-orders benefit game publishers looking to dazzle their investors not the players. Pre-orders are nothing but an extension of the hype publishers like to build up around a new game release. EA is facing a lawsuit from its investors because of broken promises based on hype. If that doesn’t convince you nothing will.
2 – DLC should never be the reason you buy a game
DLC or downloadable content should extend an already good gaming experience not be the reason you buy the game. A good personal example were the DLC expansions for the original “Borderlands” game. The core game was entertaining and the promise of more of the same was appealing. I’m always suspicious of new releases that include DLC in the announcement. It’s not unlike those free-to-play games that make you buy upgrades to complete them. Borderlands 2, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 are all guilty of this. Luckily, most of them are good games otherwise but not because of their DLC offerings.
3. – Do your homework
Don’t just check out the ads for a game, check out the developers. If you can find an earlier game by the same development team you can get a feel for what to expect from the new game. For example, does Battlefield 4 look interesting to you? Then you may want to check out Battlefield 3. It’s by the same developer, Dice, and it’s gotten as cheap as $10 since it’s a 3 year old game now. You should also make sure you know what you’re getting into. Some games like World of Warcraft are less about the game than the community. People have literally held weddings and funerals within the game environment. We’re talking about real events not virtual cosplay type affairs. WoW has become more of a social network than a game. If that’s what you’re into, go for it. Otherwise you’re just paying a monthly subscription to play an RPG with graphics from 2006 with a bunch of strangers that are going to slaughter you at every chance.
4. – Watch out for console ports
You’d think this would be less of a problem with the new Microsoft and Sony consoles being based on PC parts. Thing is, console games are still written with limitations in mind. That includes controls, graphics and an all too common reliance on calling home to the mothership. You can make the argument that PC games do that too and it was the downfall of the SimCity and Diablo 3 launches. The major problem with most console ports is that sales volume trumps quality. There are good console games that can take full advantage of the sandbox but that rarely translates to other platforms.
5. – Make sure you can actually play the game
This one’s obvious but there’s more than one factor you have to consider. If you pick a game that requires Internet access you may want to upgrade from that 2Mbit DSL connection you’ve had since the Bush administration. Whether it’s PC or console you’re not going to make many online friends if their game’s getting screwed up by your 450 millisecond ping. Building on that, Don’t expect your five year old gaming PC with an 8800GT to play Battlefield 4 with any quality or at all for that matter. It requires Direct X 11 (to look right) which means you’ll have to come into this decade with your hardware. Check the system requirements if you’re a PC gamer and don’t get excited over an Xbox 1 exclusive if you’re still rocking a 360.
6. – Try before you buy if you can
Some of the best (and admittedly worst) games I’ve ever played never cost me a dime. If you find a good free to play game that doesn’t require you to pay anything to enjoy it take advantage. It’s not uncommon for new and even established developers to try out a new concept using the free-to-play model. Some good examples are Star Trek online and Warframe (both available on Steam.) If you like the game you can throw a few bucks their way to show your appreciation. If you don’t all you’ve lost is a little time.
7. – The more hype there is the less I’m interested
This should be rule #1 but since I’ve been alluding to it throughout the article I figured this was a good time to drive it home. Look, the squeaky wheel may get the grease but you have to remember that something was wrong with it in the first place! The more noise a publisher makes about a game the more likely it can’t stand scrutiny. Games like Battlefield 4 had a built in market based on its predecessor but the game was relentlessly hyped for over a year. When it finally launched it was plagued with crashes, server outages and continuing issues so serious that it affected EA’s share price when sales didn’t meet expectations.
Those are some generalized rules of thumb for selecting a game no matter what the genre. They are the metrics I use to make a buying decision. Time is short and money isn’t that easy to come by anymore so a little legwork can save you a lot of both.