Great game, great graphics, good story, co-op mode, online play but only 10 hours long. Or words to that effect. I’ve seen a number of reviews that say something about the relatively short length of a game being negative despite the fact that the game, considered too short by the reviewer, would probably take me months if not years to actually play through.
How long is too long? What do we mean by length? How much weight should reviewers put on the price-point/length-of-game ratio in deciding whether or not a game should be recommended? The Ram Raider has a nice article about price point considerations which is what prompted me to think about how long a game takes and about getting old. Being an old cranky, jaded gamer…
Gone are the days when I could buy a game and then revel in it for long periods of time until I’d explored every nook and cranny and devoured all the content in the main game, unlocked all the ummm…. unlockables and played the whole game through on easy, normal and hard in single player and co-op. Younger readers may still be in this enviable place. My advice: enjoy it whilst you can because before you know it life just gets in the way. Sometimes in a bad way: working late at the office, attending friends’ weddings, doing grocery shopping, paying bills and just being too damn tired. Sometimes in a good way: relationship quality time, looking after little people you may have brought into the world, sleep glorious sleep, and generally doing the things people like to do in their free time.
These days, and I speak for some of the videolamer staff and some of my gaming circle friends, it is entirely possible to buy a game and not even take it out of it’s shrink wrap for days, weeks or even months – let alone play it, let alone complete it and certainly not play it inside out, upside down and become an online leaderboard legend. In a recent example, it took a friend and me about two months after the release of Resident Evil 5 to get round to playing it, despite buying it just after launch. Even then we knew we might not get a chance to get together to play it again for a while so we busted it in one 13 hour straight session. This meant that roughly a third of the game wasn’t experience by at least one player due to falling asleep around the 8 hour mark, and on top of that both of us were ruined for the next week because staying up all night when you are old destroys you. Absolutely. Much like the consumption of alcohol; you can no longer go on a 12 hour bender and be expected to function like a normal human being the next day. Or for the next week. And if you enjoy a beer or three with your gaming then expect a ‘session’ to knock you out of kilter for at least a fortnight if not forever.
Since the night of RE5 we’ve only played it twice more, completing the story mode again and having a quick play on mercenaries. Just to re-iterate: a self confessed gamer who loves Resident Evil so much he has a blog all about it has only played Resident Evil 5 three times in five months. Now compare my playing experience with, say, someone who has weeks to play it over and over for a review or some young whippersnapper who can dedicate as much free time as they wish. Very different experiences, I’ll hope you will agree.
Consequently, these days I am much more likely to play something that I can do in bites the size of a bus journey or in the half an hour or so it takes for oven based food stuffs to cook. So games that can be enjoyed over a long time in bite sized sessions get a look in. I’m talking about Animal Crossing, Brain Training, Wii Fit, Wii Sports, Wii Play, 101 Classic Book Collection and Viva Pinata. On the flipside reverse, it means that RPGs and FPS not divided up into convenient and predictably sized chapters start to gather dust on the shelves. Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest and Fallout 3 are but three games I’ve been interested in but in my heart of hearts know I would never be able to enjoy how they were intended to be enjoyed. And, oh look we seem to have a casual/hardcore games divide. This is partly because casual games are made for people with real lives and partly because it’s less hassle to play games which aren’t boring for the people sharing your life to watch. Also, in my case, it helps if you can easily play the game on the tiny picture in picture screen on the TV.
A case in point of games that are too huge to fit into my life is Final Fantasy III for the DS. I bought it when it first came out but every time I load it up I have no idea where I am, what I was doing, where I was heading or why my guys have no armour on or why they are all on seemingly rubbish jobs. I hate to admit to it but Gamefaqing to get me back on the right track is now a commonplace activity. The exception to this is the Pokemon series of games, in which I’ve managed to rack up hundreds of hours on, but even then the continuity allowed by being able to move your guys from one generation to the next means that getting to the end game isn’t half as demanding as starting a fresh RPG might be.
Therefore games with story modes that are roughly six hours (or a TTECNK if you prefer) long I can probably enjoy in my lifetime. Games of 10 hours or so can be done but will, in all likelihood, take months, and games significantly longer than 10 hours just aren’t gonna get played in my household, sad to say. I’ve been sitting on Okami, No More Heroes, and Zack and Wiki for months now. All good games, but games that I find it hard to book time into my not-really-that-busy-life for in order to savour and not have to worry about needing to save in a position in which it is ABSOLUTELY clear what I was going to do next for when I get a chance to play it weeks down the line. The controls also have to be pretty slick so that it doesn’t take an hour or so for the muscle memory to remember what is what. Even though “only six hours” might be a negative point in a review, for me it is much more appealing than “hours and hours of gameplay”. I’m also less likely to pick up games that are dependent on, or flourish in co-op because organising a player 2 is tricky, a player 3 is hard and a player 4 is all but impossible.
This also means that sometimes I can have a hard time finding games in shops because I am buying them months after launch, sometimes I end up feeling guilty playing a game for too long because there are other games I haven’t started yet and sometimes (and this is the worst) I know I will not finish a game when I start it. I’m also not going to pick up a slimline version of a console or a upgrade to a handheld because the technology is still sufficient for the games I am playing months behind the curve. Games and the gaming industry seem to be more and more geared towards the new generation of disposable cash, unoccupied younger gamers and less and less towards the cash stricken, time poor veterans, this is probably because a majority of the demographic is ‘them’ rather than ‘us’.
Of course all of this is very much subjective but I’d be interested to see what others think about it and how gaming fits into their adult lives.
That’s how for now,