In Praise of Average Games

A celebration of the things that make you go ‘meh’

The Age of Outrage is a theme that occurs seemingly every week in the news section of our podcast. When we put together our agenda for the show, one of the running jokes we often have is ‘What’s everybody mad at this week?’ One of the things that has frequently prompted some torch-and-pitchfork behaviour in certain quarters of the internet is when a game receives an average score from critics, which draws the ire of people who for some reason feel these scores are a death sentence.

Much the same as the film industry, there is enough room in the gaming landscape for experiences that move us, inspire us and progress the art form (you know, like Con Air), just as there is room for the gaming equivalent of a popcorn movie: a fun time that we wouldn’t necessarily rush back to do over again, may have been a little silly and tropey, but we got some dumb fun out of it while we were there. (…Face/Off, I guess?). What follows are a couple of examples of games from recent years that didn’t reinvent the wheel by any stretch of the imagination, but illustrate how there are great experiences to be found in these largely average games.

 

Mafia III

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Lincoln Clay’s tale of betrayal and revenge set across the organised crime scene of a fictionalized New Orleans in the late 1960s have proven polarizing among critics, who can’t really decide whether they really like the game or not. What is without much doubt is that we have seen open world games done in much grander fashion. The Witcher 3 and GTA V have become standard bearers in the genre, and by contrast Mafia III’s New Bordeaux is smaller, glitchier, and feels much emptier. In addition, the gameplay feels quite repetitive at times, particularly in the first half of the game when missions to take over the rackets in each district feel almost identical to one another (and there are a lot of rackets).

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That being said, there are things about this game that kept me coming back to it over and over. The rackets are indeed a bit repetitive, but in that way they are also perfectly suited to short play sessions, which is how I happened to be playing the game. There is certainly something to be said (when you’re someone who doesn’t have the time or inclination to learn a fresh bevvy of mechanics and mission types every time) for a game that you can just pick up and get the satisfaction of rolling over a racket or two without much fuss. Furthermore, as you progress through your takeover of New Bordeaux and approach capos and lieutenants in the city the missions do start to branch out and feel different from one another. Gameplay aside, I do genuinely feel that Mafia III had one of the best stories of the year. The tale of Lincoln’s return from near death to tear apart the criminal empire that destroyed his life is one of beautifully single-minded vengeance that would not be out of place in a classic action movie. This is to say nothing of the game’s very well handled depictions of racial tension in the Deep South at the time, which added a very unique slant on the story. Perhaps best of all was the documentary-style structure the game’s story has that has obviously been done to death in cinema, but feels much fresher as an approach for a video game’s narrative.

 

 

Mad Max

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Mad Max had quite the renaissance last year. Fury Road was widely lauded and brought genuine interest back to its harsh post-apocalyptic world. When the Mad Max game came out though, it was met with astounding indifference, to the extent that it passed under my radar for quite some time. But as so often happens the cruel gods of boredom and PSN sales conspired and one night I got the game. Sure, the story could not matter less. In fact if you offered me 500 quid right now, I would not be able to tell you a single thing about the story of this game. On top of that, the metric ton of collectibles littered around this game, some of which are vital to gain upgrades to progress through the game, could be charitably described as annoying.

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In spite of all that, I sunk over 20 hours into the game. The reason for that was the gameplay. The hand to hand combat in the game has an immensely visceral nature to it- instead of coasting through button mashing I found myself recoiling and cackling at how over the top bone-crunching it all was. Car combat was a selling point for the game, and while fun I think what it overlooks is that the simple act of getting in a car and speeding across the wasteland felt fantastic, particularly with the stunning visuals the game has (Mad Max’ sandstorms are absolutely bonkers)

Deadpool

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This is likely to be the one I lose most of you on. Don’t get me wrong, Deadpool is a hot mess of a game. The combat is a half-baked hack and slash system that seems to lack the awareness of what makes those games fun, the upgrade system for Deadpool himself lacks any real ingenuity- just a classic ‘pay x to get y’ menu, and the difficulty curve for the game is all over the place. Generally speaking, any game with this perfect storm of awfulness would be enough to send me running, were it not for the fact that Deadpool has some of the most pitch perfect characterisation I’ve seen in a game. It often feels like I am actually walking around in a Deadpool comic. The humour and absurdity that are ever-present in the game are absolutely perfect for Deadpool, and really papered over the considerable cracks for me. It’s absolutely insane and I had a lot of fun with it.

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My basic point in this whole piece is just to remind people to chill out. It’s okay if critics think your game is bland. It’s okay if you know there are considerable problems with your game but you still enjoy it. It’s okay if a new game isn’t a genre-defining masterpiece. Just enjoy your games eh?

-Dave Ryan

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