I think there’s a problem with handheld gaming. It has an issue with identity. It seems to me that the systems are terrified we’ll find out that they can’t do what consoles can. I have a 3DS and, bar the current lack of games, I think it’s pretty cool. 3D without glasses, pretty awesome eh? People say it’s gimmicky and they’re right; but this system isn’t for spending hours with at home, it’s for dipping into on trains and in waiting rooms, so gimmicks are good. The problem is that the games try too hard to give you a console experience that the system simply cannot deliver.
One of the best games on the 3DS at the moment is Resident Evil Revelations and it is, indeed, a good game. I won’t be buying it though. I won’t be buying it because I have Resident Evil 5 on PS3 and for me the 3DS game just looks and plays worse than that. Perhaps I shouldn’t be comparing the 3DS to the PS3 but when you make a game that is similar to others on consoles you provoke such comparisons, and the 3DS is never going to measure up. It needs to play to its strengths in order to compete with the encroaching mobile gaming market.
It looks good, but not good enough
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is another game that was a console staple and has been placed on handheld systems. The difference is that the developers didn’t try to replicate the console experience, they created a completely different style of game that works with the system, rather than forcing a diluted copy of other GTAs. The result is a game that is unique, good and seldom compared to its console counterparts. This is what handheld systems should be aiming for; rather than games that make apologies for the limitations of the system, games that utilise the system’s strengths. And the 3DS has plenty of strengths, not least of all its 3D (without glasses!). Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is the first game I got for my 3DS and beyond the abysmal story line there is a good game. This is a mission based game that lends itself well to the dipping-in mode of play and the 3D is used to provide nice environments and effects. I’m not compelled to play for hours on end but for part of a bus journey it holds my attention and entertains. That is what I need from my 3DS, fun in moderation.
What the mobile gaming industry knows is its capabilities and its target market, this is what handheld gaming has to grasp. Embrace the ability of your system with innovative use of the tools available and recognise that the system is designed for short bursts of gaming not sustained periods of immersion like with consoles. In order to beat the mobile gaming market, handhelds must learn from it.
I’m playing Max Payne 3 with my friend and it’s not going well. I am once again on my face as he shoots me in the back. I curse him loudly as this is the fourth time in a row that he’s killed me without reply and it’s beginning to get embarrassing. I’m furious and I know he’s laughing at me; but like the last time and the time before that, I respawn and go after revenge with greater vigour than ever. It’s this competition that makes playing games with others so compelling, as it has done for centuries. The difference here is that my friend is hundreds of miles away. Take a second to think about that. In the digital age, my friend can press a button and 200 miles away I get pissed off. It’s amazing; and if I didn’t have my friend to play with it wouldn’t matter because I can play with anyone, from anywhere. This is online mutiplayer and it is a big deal in gaming.
Take Battlefield 3 for example. This is a game that has received widespread critical acclaim, IGN.com gave it 9/10 but right at the start of their review they say the game:
“…stumbles over a generic single-player campaign…”
So how can they justify giving such a high score? The answer is, of course, its multiplayer. While the ability of a game to stand on its multiplayer is not necessarily a new phenomenon (Mario Kart has always been about playing with friends), Battlefield 3 is among numerous others that only come with online multiplayer. So, while my friend is able show how inadequate I am from 200 miles away, if he was sat in my living room, we couldn’t play. Surely there’s something wrong with this? While I must admit that I’m enjoying Max Payne 3’s multiplayer, online play isn’t really my thing. I don’t like the feeling of embarrassment that comes with my name at the bottom of a scoreboard that strangers can see, I don’t like the 12 year-olds who swear at me, I don’t like the lack of laughter and I don’t like the realisation that the beer and snacks I bought were just for me, even if I am playing with friends. I know I’m in a minority with this opinion but why should I only be given access to half of the game? Gaming used to be an experience shared with friends, but now it’s difficult to feel like you’re sharing. Now that we can play with anyone online, does it really matter who we play with? If someone hacks into my friend’s account and plays Max Payne with me, will it make a difference? I doubt it, and I find that quite sad.
I don’t think I’ll ever be a part of the online gaming community and I’m ok with that. I’m happy for that community to exist without me but I still want to play games with my friends. I want to invite them round and make a little party of it. Online gaming will continue to grow but I hope that my children will still be able to know the joy of playing with people, real people who are really there really playing with them. Games are for sharing so let’s not bring down local multiplayer, because it brings us together.