The story in Valhalla Studios release Devil’s Third was only just warming up. There was very little I got to learn about our protagonist Ivan, other than that he is a “hard man.” A man so hard he has to serve a sentence of 450 years, a man so hard he hung around with terrorists, a man so hard he doesn’t need a t-shirt in order to fight in Russian snow, and a man so hard that the moment a player pauses to assess the situation he lights up a smoke. Ivan “Hardman” has to kill the bad guys, he has to save the world, just the usual things any “hard man” protagonist has to do. In fact, the only thing that sets him apart, aside from his kanji tattoos and his katana demonstrating that he is the final form of weeabou, is his mysterious relationship with an old colleague called C4. And just as they are reunited, secrets ready to spill, it all ends, just 4 and a half hours of gameplay in.
I don’t think anyone really believes a longer game is a better game. Tembo the Badass Elephant is a 6 hour game, admirable for $15, but only because you have to go back and redo levels giving it an artificial length. Bravely Default will set you back at least 40 hours, however, half of them are more akin to a mandatory “new game plus” than actual fresh gameplay. Length is important, but it also has to be examined against the value of other factors.
My favorite game of all time is Lollipop Chainsaw, a 6 hour game. One of the reasons it’s so brilliant is its fast paced action. Nothing is ever around long enough to get stale. Bosses are incredibly varied, and the story plays out to a full and satisfying conclusion. Lollipop Chainsaw is a great game and the developers solidly deserve their riches for creating something so amazing. If it had been any longer or indeed any shorter it wouldn’t have been the game it turned out to be. And yet for most gamers, they couldn’t justify spending $60 on something that while incredible, offered such a short entertainment span, in the same way you may not pay full price at the cinema for a 30 minute film.
Of course most games are not to be judged purely on the main story. Kirby is still a great franchise even if the majority of gameplay is found through the replayability and collectibles, and games which are built on their online multiplayer, such as Rocket League, cannot be judged based purely on the non-existent story. Then again, $60 is to most, still an awful lot of money, and if you are going to put that kind of wonga down, isn’t it good to infuse as much value as possible—have a great multiplayer with replayability and a bit of single player. Basically, can’t all games be Splatoon?
What we as consumers have to ask ourselves is how we value a game. I personally place great value in a fantastic story that is neither over nor underbaked—one that is as long as it needs to be, which often means 8-10 hours of gameplay. I know I am not alone. Yet lately it seems that developers have been taking the mick with us a bit. Titles such as The Order: 1886 and Devil’s Third come in at under 5 hours, they don’t have a story to speak of. Consumers are left wondering if they have been duped. Is a new standard being set where 5 hours is deemed acceptable for a full price title?
Perhaps Devil’s Third is a bad example because it has online multiplayer, which in a way offers unlimited entertainment opportunities. But the online mode is nothing particularly innovative in terms of other third person shooters, with the exception that it struggles to find 2 other players at times. The bottom line is, if I’m going to pay $70 for a game, I want it to be pretty spectacular, and part of that is having a well thought out and beautifully told story. Frankly, a good story is something that can’t be spat out in under 5 hours …
Most of the time.
What do you think of game length when compared to modern AAA game prices?