Friday, February 4, 2011

Video game demos: Help or hurt?

Anticipation for a game is never higher then upon knowing that it’s a mere 2 or 3 months away from its official release. Usually during this time most developers will release a demo of said game to the public. There was a time when you needed access to a gaming magazine like EGM or GamePro(yes I was one of the five people who had a subscription to GamePro) in order to get a preview of an upcoming game; if one was in luck that magazine would contain a demo for a high profile game that many were foaming at the mouth to play. Now with the advent of Xbox Live and the Playstation Network it’s almost common place for developers to release demos for their games to the general public -- If only just to gage a reaction.

Then it is a valid question to ask: do video game demos hurt or help? Two examples come to mind that raise this conundrum. Both game demos released on the same day in-fact: Bulletstorm and Crysis 2.

Bulletstorm is not unlike Duke Nukem -- the classic shooter from the 90’s. Bulletstorm is surprisingly similar. It is all about over-the-top action and a “how can I kill this guy in the awesomest (it’s a word in the Urban Dictionary so I’m going to use it) way possible?” mentality. It’s fun! At least for the first couple of minutes, then you realize that aside from the whip (a weapon that allows you to toss around enemies and perform some of the games more elaborate combos) there really isn’t much to offer that hasn’t been featured in other shooters. I had high hopes for Bulletstorm, yet after playing the game I’m torn. Game demos are supposed to make me want to play the game.  Shooters are a dime-a-dozen; Bulletstorm features little that sets it apart from the pack. Some interesting concepts like the aforementioned energy whip are cool touches but an interesting weapon doesn’t make me jump up and want to cough up 60 bucks. Instead I became less excited about the premise that Bulletstorm offered as a whole. The reaction of discontent I had with the demo isn’t what the developers intended, I’m sure that is safe to say.

Of course a demo isn’t the finished product. Many changes can be made before the release of a game. We don’t even know how long ago this demo was put together, it could have been something cobbled together during the early stages of development. Still the general audience (which is me) may just pass on a game if they don’t get immediate gratification even in the early stages. There are just so many other games out there to spend time on…if a game doesn’t catch my eye right away, I’ll just go onto the next one that does.

The same can be said of Crysis 2: the visually stunning futuristic FPS. The demo that was released was a sample of the multiplayer online component; set to be featured in the final game. Once again demos are supposed to make me want to play the final game…I’ll pass on Crysis as well if the demo is indicative of the final game. You see the multiplayer isn’t without some nice tweaks to the standard formula. We have super-powered soldiers that have abilities ranging from supers-speed, strength, stealth, and armor. The armor abilities are an intriguing wrinkle that livens up seemingly standard shooter fare. I have to say I need more though. The armor options are nice; but in the end Crysis 2 just offers a simple XP and create a class system that has become a staple of many of the online games of recent memory. Call of Duty offers a similar experience; many FPS’s offer the same multiplayer formula as well. I’m not like some, I won’t shell out the money for a car that looks and drives the same, but has a shinier coat of paint.

Then again am I just expecting Crysis to reinvent the proverbial FPS wheel? No, I’m not asking that! What I am asking is why not just release a demo to select members of the public? Such as people who have already preordered the game. Then once the game is close to release allow the public to have access to it. Sure this sounds like a shrewd way of doing business, and the gamer in me hates this idea in truth; but I think developers want to show their games in the best light. A demo 2 or 3 months away from a games release is not the way to illicit a positive reaction in most cases. Heck I think Crysis 2 and Bulletstorm are good examples. Both games will be passes for me upon their respective releases. That doesn’t mean that I’ll never come back to them and play them in the future. It’s just that I’ll probably play them only after I’ve discovered them at the bottom of a bargain-bin! Sad but true!

Note: At the time of writing this article the Crysis 2 demo was still available on Xbox Live; it has since been removed.

1 comment:

  1. Hey.. My Bro who had a subscription to GamePro many many years ago.. Still got the Mags but anyways...

    I believe it helps in the way in getting their demo product out there for the masses to see if it buyable (playable) or find out it's broken like NBA Elite 11 which EA ultimately canned.