Why Episodic Gaming Kills Immersion
Every month in Play Magazine, we take a hot topic and look at the arguments for and against. Episodic gaming is the subject of debate this time. First up is Retro Gamer editor Darran Jones, who isn’t a fan of the genre. Next week we will have the response from Play’s own Drew Sleep who stands up for episodic gaming.
While I’m not hipster enough to have played Life Is Strange, I have played plenty of episodic games since Telltale Games helped popularise them. Most of my issues with episodic games aren’t really issues with the developers that create them, but more with my own expectations, but I’m equally sure that they’re concerns that some of you may well share.
Firstly, I despise the long waits that can often come with episodic games. The popular ones seem to move along at a relatively brisk pace, but sometimes, you can often be waiting for months and months for the next instalment to come along and that’s just shit. Even a wait of a couple of months can grate, because it’s all too easy to forget what you were doing.
Immersion is another thing that can suffer in episodic games. I love being immersed in a game and I play things in my own time. With some episodes lasting little more than three hours, it feels like the story doesn’t get going, leaving you frustrated and unsatisfied. And I hate feeling frustrated and unsatisfied.
Episodic games don’t always feel cohesive, often coming across as disjointed, standalone chunks that might have sounded like a good idea in the development room, but don’t really work as well in practice. Many of Telltale’s early games felt like this, but it still crops up in newer titles. The Walking Dead Season 2 felt all over the place in terms of quality, while Jurassic Park was simply bad from start to finish. It’s almost as if developers are thinking, ‘Sod ’em, they’re only paying a fiver for it, this will do.’ Well, ladies and gentlemen, this won’t do. If you don’t want to put the full effort into making a proper game, then simply don’t make it.
But they will keep making them, because companies like Telltale have found that it makes them a lot of money, and let’s face it, we all like money. But that, of course, creates a new problem. No matter how decent many of the Telltale Games are the actual engines they run on are bloody terrible. Yes, I understand that it allows them to optimise the games to ensure they are as transferable to as many platforms as possible, but at least make it so they don’t actually run like shit. So much immersion is lost from the likes of Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead because the game insists on lurching and stumbling about like an inebriated chimp that’s just managed to open the lock on your drinks cabinet. Reviewers keep ignoring it, gamers keep ignoring it, so developers keep on doing it and it makes me madder than a sack of angry toads.
It could be worse though, I suppose. A company could simply be jumping on the episodic bandwagon because it’s the new cool thing to do. That’s right Resident Evil: ‘I-Could-Have-Easily-Been-An-Average-Standalone-Game’ Revelations 2, I’m talking about you. There’s clearly a lot to be said about episodic gaming (or shareware as it was called in my day) but I still feel that the companies currently involved could be putting a lot more thought into what they do. And we all know what the answer to that is going to be…