Innovation... Or Not
Something's been bothering me for the past few years: innovation. Specifically, the word "innovation" and how carelessly it's been tossed around by gaming "journalists." (Yes, the quotations marks are there to indicate a lack of authenticity and/or legitimacy.
More often than not, "innovative" seems to be a nonsense word--a cluster of letters with no real meaning, only a vaguely positive connotation. As often as not, it is applied almost solely to western games--whereas Japanese games are typically given equally meaningless labels, more often than not with negative connotations.
Halo 3, God of War 3, Killzone 2, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Red Dead Redemption and Uncharted: Drakes Fortune are all examples of recent games that you and I have both heard called "innovative" over and over and over again.
Well, they're not. Not at all. They're all great games, yes, but to innovate, something new has to occur. Halo 3 and God of War 3 were both, respectfully, carbon-copies (gameplay-wise) of their previous titles--as perfect an example of "last-gen gameplay" I cannot imagine. But when was the last time you heard a game blasted for having "last-gen gameplay" that wasn't Japanese? Hoo, boy, a lot of those Yakuza 3 reviews really pissed me off. And what of Dragon Age? An inferior 3D version of the same game that's been executed so much better by, say, every single Infinity Engine title... ever. Mass Effect? That dialog wheel? That's pure GUI. Nothing new in the game, not at all. Uncharted? That was just a third-person shooter. What did it bring to the table that was new? How did it "innovate?" It didn't.
These are good games--excellent games, mostly--and almost all very-well crafted, but not a one of them is innovative.
So what is innovative, and why?
Mass Effect 2 is innovative because of its dialog system--namely, the interrupt system, which allows players to have an immediate and visceral effect on how the narrative unfolds. That's never been done before--hence the innovation.
Tales of Destiny was innovative because it managed to merge roleplaying games with fighting games into a single cohesive units. "Fighting" no longer became a genre, but was relegated to a mere aspect of gameplay.
Valkyria Chronicles was innovative because it melded third-person real-time combat with grand turn-based strategy, packaged in an exquisitely beautiful product.
Halo was innovative because not only brought FPS games out of narrow, dark halways into the light of day in large, open environments--but also because it offered vehicular mechanics.
Shogun: Total War was innovative because, well, hot damn--have you played any Total War game like it? It created its very own genre, an RTS antithetical to the whole Command and Conquer/Warcraft style games that have dominated the genre for decades.
Do you get the point? It's a simple one, one I've likely overarticulated... but, as I said, it's been bugging me lately. I'm sick of seeing the word "innovative" used to hype up bland products. I'm sick of seeing the word "innovative" used to validate some twisted sense of racial or cultural self-superiority.
I'm sick of people not saying what they mean, and not meaning what they say. Are you?