Sunday, April 10, 2011

I am the hype machine....hear me roar!

Hype has set up home in the videogame household. It's kicked off it's shoes, fired up the kettle and now hogs the remote. Flicking the TV from one game trailer to the next, it smiles knowingly as the spark of excitement grips us and begins the first flames of what will become a raging inferno of need by release. The sort of hype generated for videogames these days is matched only by blockbuster movies and huge sporting events, but do we as gamers do ourselves any favours by buying into it?

Game trailers are generally a wonderful thing, capturing our imaginations, assaulting the senses, often leaving us with more questions than answers and giving a slight taste of the glorious banquet to come, it's just disappointing when you're expecting Michelin star and end up with McDonalds. Of course the trailers are only a small component of the hype machine. The real buzz picks up within forums as gamers whip each other up into a frenzy, developer interviews littered with soundbites, in-game footage, magazine articles describing in rich detail just how amazing game X is going to be.

The problem with hyping games to the max is the fact that so few can live up to it. Games that are still fantastic in their own right have left me disappointed purely down to the fact I was led to believe it would deliver so much more. Take the original Fable for example, thanks to the hype machine and the words of the wise one, Peter Molyneux, I was expecting a living breathing world in which every action would have a reaction and characters would have previously unseen depth and interaction. What I got was an excellent action adventure/RPG game but one I didn't really appreciate until going back to it a few months after release because initially, post hype, it had left me deflated. In recent times one of the games that had me most excited in the build up to it hitting the shelves was Heavy Rain.

Fantastic trailers again played their part as did the other cogs in the machine. Importantly though I was already a big fan of Fahrenheit, Quantic Dreams' earlier and very similar title. I was fully expecting greatness from Heavy Rain, it surely wouldn't let me down would it? Sadly it did.

Again it isn't a bad game by any means, in fact it's a wonderful game it's just that as with Fable, it took me going back to it before I truly appreciated the fact. The pre-release hype had dragged me in and built my expectations ridiculously high, as it turned out too high. Interestingly Fahrenheit, a game I knew next to nothing about before deciding to purchase it solely on the strength of the games cover totally blew me away.

I seem to remember quite clearly (which is impressive for me) the first time I was gripped by hype for a game. The game in question was Way of the Exploding Fist, a very tasty fighting title of it's time, laughable by today's standards but back then I spent hour upon hour trying to perfect my roundhouse kick and engrossed in the action, the game had delivered and all was well. But seriously, have a little think now about which games have managed to live up to your own expectations of them and which have fallen short. In recent years titles such as Assassins Creed, Alan Wake, GTA IV, CoD: Black Ops, Halo 3, Halo: Reach and many more have failed, at least for me, in delivering what I was hoping. Akin to a child at Christmas waiting in excited anticipation for the present they expect is a shiny new Millennium Falcon and the later deflation when they open a Scout Walker, it's still great and will still entertain but it's fallen short of your expectations.

Funnily enough the games for me that have delivered way above my hopes are the ones I hadn't really seen or read much about, the ones that had flown way under my own personal games radar. Singularity, Mafia II, MotoGP and suchlike hadn't built any real hype that I'd seen but delivered wonderful gaming experiences and had exceeding my low expectations by miles.

Now obviously the hype machine is here to stay, it holds the key to big money for the games companies as excited gamers make the titles fly off the shelves fuelled by hype driven excitement, and it's not a bad thing, it's great getting built up for a new triple A release, wonderful watching trailers such as the Halo:Reach and latest Battlefield 3 offerings and reading the multitude of interviews with folks working on the various games. I just hope we can start to see games delivering more regularly.

As I write this we've already had a few big hitting games reach the shelves this year, Bulletstorm, Crysis 2, Homefront. All three are excellent and entertaining blasts of fun and suspense, and all three also fall short on the hype they generated, only just mind you. As 2011 progresses we'll see the hype machine working it's magic again, titles like LA Noire, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Gears of War 3, Battlefield3, Uncharted 3 and a new CoD to name but a few will be subject to massive media campaigns and no doubt I'll be subject to a massive bout of excitement, but you know what, with the way things tend to go with hyped games these days, I'll be happy if just one of those titles lives up to the billing, delighted in fact. If one manages to actually deliver above and beyond the rest and realise my dizzying expectations, well, I'll be smiling for the rest of the year.

I hope it's Elder Scrolls: Skyrim!!