What do Devil May Cry 3 and Batman Begins have in common?
They have in common the fact that my feelings for the games are completely divorced from what the rest of the world seems to think about the games.
It seems the world generally really likes DMC3. 84% on Metacritic, with an insanely high 8.8 in the user votes section (I suspect manipulation of some kind - 8.8 is really quite out of control) and a respectable 7.8 on Gamefly's user votes. Although I liked the first Devil May Cry -- maybe I had more patience back then -- I have no interest in slugging my way through the same endless stream of minions to finally get another shot at the boss fight only to lose it again. Rumor is that in Japan there's a super-easy mode that they cut for the States version. I wonder what's going on in their heads when they make such a decision. And it's a good combat system, very snappy, but essentially a "stuff" game - give the players a big pile of "stuff" to try out as they search for dominant strategies. No depth here; just breadth. (Most game reviewers don't seem to know the difference - add another attack move and they say it makes the system deeper.)
Flip side of the coin, a game considered by the world to be too easy, Batman Begins. 66% on Gamerankings, 6.6 / 7.0 in the user rankings, 6.8 / 7.0 on the Gamefly user rankings. I just played the game this weekend, and enjoyed it immensely. I couldn't help thinking, "If I was designing a Batman game, this is how I'd do it. Splinter Cell inside, Burnout 3 outside." (Except I'd make it a seamless, continuous world, of course, so you could go back and forth from Batmobiling to action/adventuring at will...) So I look at the reviews and wonder why it is considered so resoundingly mediocre. It's easily the best Batman game ever made.
The sites I looked at all seemed to complain about the same thing. Which leads me to suspect some kind of groupthink collusion among game reviewers rather than this necessarily being the game's main problem, but supposing it is:
I guess Batman Begins is what happens when you take gameplay testing to its final extreme. They rarely let the player ask, "What am I supposed to do now?" Intrusive widgets appear on your heads-up display and tell you which buttons to press at what time. It's one of those games that plays you rather than letting you play it. And in so doing, they've somehow crossed over the line from Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, the linear game that everyone loves to Batman Begins, the linear game that everyone (except me, because I loved it) feels ambivalent about. It's a very fine line! PoP did just about everything *but* tell you what buttons to press (with the premonition points and the cutscenes examining the key features of the terrain you were supposed to travel on next).
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it's great that reviewer's tastes are becoming so refined they can tell the difference between a thrill ride game where you're pressing the "You Win" button over and over again and everything else. On the other hand...I had such a good time playing Batman Begins that I'm wondering if this hardcore aesthetic really represents. Can't I enjoy my mindless pleasure? The experience of feeling like Batman?
Maybe we're witnessing the death of the linear action-adventure. Much like with the PC adventure games of the last decade, where the market stopped growing and could no longer justify the larger budgets that games seemed to require, maybe the action-adventure market is capping out at around a million people - and with budgets continuing to rise, sales of just a million are no longer going to satisfy publishers. One day soon we'll be down to open-environment sandbox games and FPS's and nothing else.