Time (Isn’t) On My Side… Quantity Or Quality?

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I have been having a game related problem for a few years that really came to a head in 2015. The issue is that the equation of my gaming life (time spent enjoying gaming in proportion to the length of the games I’m playing) seems to have reversed. Now, I am not one to often complain that games are too long but there does seem to have been a trend recently that has seen more and more games increase in size but not in quality.

There have always been, and hopefully will always be, games that sprawl in length and give you a chance to spend dozens of hours soaking up the world and the stories within it. Titles from the Fallout, Dragon Age, Deus Ex, Grand Theft Auto and Witcher series spring to mind immediately. These are games I love playing and can completely lose myself in. However they are also games I can set aside and know I won’t be finishing any time soon. They are a known quantity. Titles I can dip into as and when (I’m still thoroughly enjoying 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition despite being 50 hours in with the end nowhere in sight!). For me these titles aren’t really part of this problem – although the fact there are so many of them being released means I have to pick my battles in terms of what to play!

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The titles that have been more of an issue are games that, traditionally, you would expect to end a lot sooner than they did. Single player, non-RPG experiences – you aren’t creating a character, choosing a storyline or having a say in the way things unfold. These are games where I’m signing up to be told a story. To play through a set experience and take on control of a character in a world created to tell their tale. Games that have, up until recently, usually hit somewhere around the 10 hour mark. The Uncharted games are a perfect example of this, with the three titles in the series having playthrough times of 8, 9 and 11 hours respectively.

More recently I’ve encountered titles that, while very enjoyable for the most part, outstayed their welcome by a few good hours. Batman: Arkham Knight was a great example of this – a game with a memorable cast of characters and solid gameplay. I really enjoyed how the side mission activities linked in with the game world but the main story… Well, to be frank, quite a lot of the main missions genuinely felt like time fillers that were simply not needed. Stuff that was there to just pad out the hour count – especially the repetitious and tedious Batmobile missions.

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Watch_Dogs was another of these titles, clocking in at a quite unnecessary 18 hours of play for the single player campaign. And that’s without any side missions. The game itself was fairly middle-of-the-road, with some interesting ideas in a disappointing story with a poorly developed main character. Would these problems have been solved by a shorter campaign? Something more like 10-12 hours? No, certainly not but I do believe they could’ve been greatly alleviated because you wouldn’t have had the same level of repetition during gameplay.

However the worst offender for me over the last few years was Alien: Isolation, a truly phenomenal title that was damaged but it’s length. The game saw you take on the role of Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen – the main character of the Alien movies and general badass. However in this game you weren’t fighting the Alien, you were hiding from it, sneaking around. Hiding in lockers and creeping through the spaceship was thrilling and scary. The problem was the needless backtracking that added so much time to the campaign. If this game had been around the 15 hour mark it may well have been the best horror title around. But by the time I finished it (at around 20 hours) I was just glad it was over, those last two or three hours genuinely felt like a slog – which is a real shame in a game that good.

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As I said before, I’m all for long games and making sure consumers get their money worth. There is a place for games of all sizes and when you’re talking about top quality, open world titles then it’s all good. What’s troubling to me, and has impacted my gaming time, is the number of games that are simply padding their campaigns out just to increase the playtime in the hope of avoiding ‘The Order-gate’.

In case you missed it, allow me to explain. The Order: 1886 was a highly anticipated game from Sony’s Santa Monica Studios, a developer with great pedigree, that worked previously on the God Of War titles. However almost all the reviews criticized the short length of the game, leading to a flurry of forum posts and articles as to whether the game was worth paying full price for and whether consumers were being ‘ripped off’. The toxic conversation plagued the game and became what the title was known for. Which is a shame because it was graphically stunning and had a wonderful script.

For me The Order’s length, around 7 hours, was perfect for the game. Despite the positives I mentioned above, I actually thought the gameplay itself was quite mundane. However, when the credits rolled I genuinely thought, ‘you know what, if they made a sequel I would definitely play it’. I doubt I would’ve felt that way if the game had been twice the length. Another great story driven title from last year, Until Dawn, clocked in at 8 hours (and even gave you choices within the story) which was just the right size for the game.

I appreciate that as consumers we need to get our money’s worth from the games we purchase but should the length of a game be the main yardstick by which we judge titles? What about glorious experiences like Journey? Admittedly it’s not a full price title but it’s a good example of a powerful, moving game that only lasts a few hours. I guess my issue isn’t that these games are getting longer, it’s that I feel like the extra hours are being filled with boring, repetitive gameplay. And that is a waste of a gaming commodity even more valuable than my money… my gaming time.

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